Pass The Chalk Roundup #2

Since the last roundup, I’m happy to report that there is ‘a little’ more balance recently.  Not a lot.  Definitely not enough, but I will point out some things that I approve of in addition to some more criticism, of course.

I want to give a ‘shout out’ to the poor TFA staff member who is in charge of keeping track of my blog posts and reporting them to the higher ups.  I promise that when TFA begins to meet my high expectations, I will stop criticizing them, so your job doesn’t have to be an endless cycle.

Of course I’m not sure that TFA reads this blog or, if they do, takes it seriously at all.  When I see some signs of improvement, I like to think that someone is thinking:  “I hope that he thinks we’re doing better.”  They should ask this, and not because me and my critical voice are so important individually, but because I represent a large portion of the public and also a large group of TFA alumni.  If they can make me happy, they will satisfy a lot of other people as an added benefit.

Let’s start with the recent Friday 5.  I made a comment in my last roundup that I thought it strange that a high school student would be in charge of finding recent things that “made us think.”  I then got slammed by a TFA staffer on Twitter.  He ‘engaged’ with me for a few days before realizing what a great debater I am and then quietly disappearing.  Did he get in trouble for his ‘tone’?  Who knows.  Maybe he’ll be back.  Maybe someone else will pop up.  Maybe he was just the other guy, but with a new handle.  I have nothing against a hard working high school student.  I just questioned if that student had enough background knowledge to determine what sorts of things are worth of putting on the Friday 5.  Maybe the topics are chosen by someone else and the student just writes up the summary.  I did not intend this as a slam on a high school student, though, and I’m sorry if I hurt that student’s feelings, though I doubt I did.  It was just something to criticize me for when the staffer didn’t have any substantive facts to challenge me with.

This recent Friday 5 was pretty interesting to me.  There was a link to the Anthony Cody / Gates Foundation discussion, which is one of the more illuminating debates I have ever read.  The recent installment by Cody is an ‘instant classic’ called Can Schools Defeat Poverty By Ignoring It?  I cannot wait to see how the Gates people respond.  Surely they will say that the answer is yes and that KIPP schools prove it.  But the link to Cody was a definite example of ‘balance’ on the TFA Pass The Chalk Blog.

Then there was something for the ‘reformers’ a video trailer for ‘Won’t Back Down,’ the pro parent-trigger propaganda film ‘inspired’ by true events even though there has never been a successful school turnaround started by a parent trigger ever.

Then something else that I liked, a link to an article about an Olympic gymnast

And finally, we’ve been watching the Olympics and reading triumphant stories about winning athletes. But we also want to salute those who didn’t medal, like gymnast John Orozco, who grew up in the Bronx and overcame the odds to become an Olympian.

I don’t know if this was meant this way, but this surely goes against the StudentsFirst Olympics parody where our education system is an out of shape loser because it doesn’t get a gold medal.  This gymnast did not get a medal, but we are proud of him because he did very well, despite not overcoming all possible obstacles.  I wonder if Michelle Rhee agrees.

Next was a post about retaining teachers based on TNTP’s recent ‘research’ report called ‘The Irreplaceables.’  This report says that this country is retaining the bad teachers and letting the good ones go.  One thing the report says that 40% of teachers with 7 or more years of experience are not as effective as new teachers.  Of course this is not true.  Maybe if ‘effective’ is based on unreliable one-year value-added measures (which it is) it could seem like that.  Here is a great post analyzing this report better than I could ever do it.  I agree that teachers are not feeling respected so they leave the profession.  I also agree that more money would make some teachers want to stay teaching longer.  But to use flawed data to make this point defeats any good ideas that might have been in it.

I suppose I was once an ‘irreplaceable.’  After my fourth year of teaching, I was the teacher of the year at my school.  Then I quit and went to graduate school to become a computer programmer and triple my salary.  Would I have stayed teaching in Houston for $100,000 a year?  Probably.  Would that have significantly ‘saved’ more kids or made my school any better?  Probably not.  I think a problem with retention, especially with TFA, is that people come into the profession expecting to do just two years, so of course they are going to leave after that.  That was the plan.  Merit pay might keep some of them in for longer, but I don’t think that this will help much, and might just hurt.  If I were a new teacher now, I’d certainly be looking for a new job as this pressure to raise test scores, even though those higher test scores come at the expense of anything that makes school relevant to kids, makes teaching at a low-performing school a very unsatisfying job.

There was an Olympic comparison to our education system about how we must all work together like the U.S.A. basketball team.  And the players aren’t just the different people, but the different ideas.  One excerpt said:

Over the last 25 years, we’re playing a similar fits and starts game in education.  We look to one all-star idea at a time—early childhood education, charters, technology in the classroom, or assessments;  these are all important players, but we need them all in the game together.

Notice that ‘early childhood education,’ something that is not just a fad, but something that has been proven to help despite being very very costly is lumped in with fleeting fads like charters, ed tech, and assessments.

And finally there was an article about how TFAs five week training isn’t that bad by Alexander Sidorkin, the Dean of an Ed School in Rhode Island.  The crux of the article is that TFA uses the 5 week time constraint very efficiently.  But he knows that there is little student teaching, and focuses, as TFA does, on the writing lesson plans component.  Yes, I think a lesson plan is important.  But they only focus on this because they don’t provide enough time for actual student teaching.  He admits:

Yes, TFA members teach only about 20 lessons over the course of the five weeks to small classes of 6-15 children.

To me, that is my main critique of the institute, right there.  No amount of lesson planning and getting critique on that lesson plan will overcome this.  Ironically this same professor, four years ago wrote a much more neutral article in which he said about TFA:

TFA can only exist as a supplement to the regular teacher training. Altruistic young people on two year long gigs cannot form the cadre of teaching profession. The spirit of volunteerism goes well with the spirit of private and corporate donations, not so much with taxation. The tax payers’ money will be much better spent on opening access to teaching profession to people from the tough neighborhoods that are in desperate need for qualified teachers.

Well, that’s roundup #2.  Again, I am still finding these posts pretty boring and empty.  I am looking forward to getting an invite from ‘Pass The Chalk’ to do a point / counterpoint thing with someone like Michelle Rhee.

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12 Responses to Pass The Chalk Roundup #2

  1. skepticnotcynic says:


    With regards to your potential invite to debate Rhee publicly, it’s unfortunately not going to happen. They probably wouldn’t even let you do it on Pass the Chalk, which very few people read.

    You make too much sense and are clearly a threat to TFA’s survival. It’s best that they listen to you now before it’s too late.

    As a former TFA corps member, I would love to support TFA as something to be proud of, but I can’t. I’ve lost all confidence in their ability to advance the discussion forward as a credible organization that puts the interests of children first.

    I cannot support their efforts any longer until they stop pimping their zealots (Rhee, the worst, Huffman, Sternberg et al.) and stand with the experienced TFA alums who are working in schools, improving educational outcomes for our neediest students. These teachers and administrators may not bring in the fundraising dollars, but they are the unheard voices who are keeping this organization afloat and somewhat credible.

    Wendy Kopp wake up!

    • Second Career Bronx Teacher says:

      Amen!!! They don’t reach out to us, they don’t support us in any tangible way despite the fact that they definitely want more people staying longer to minimize the criticism they get. How about a yearly grants geared to us for PD fees or iPads or smart boards or something for us “in the classroom alumnus

      • Terry says:

        Can all teachers get in on those proposed benefits? Or would it just be for the TFA who stayed more than two but less than five years?

        Why does there have to be a division between
        TFA teachers and non-TFA teachers?

        If TFA was concerned about children, teaching and learning, they would respect and praise ALL teachers, not just the TFA type that goes on to “lead”, or rather, destroy public schools.

  2. Terry says:

    Rhee will never debate because then her self -appointed reign will be over. She is too busy making paid appearances with her husband preaching about ethics and education and what a farce that is. She was proud of all the teachers she fired in DC including one who she claimed was molesting children when she was very willing to defend one later.

    Read carefully….especially page 42 on. Here are all of the horrific details: 

  3. Michael Fiorillo says:

    How does one “debate” a pathological liar?

  4. skepticnotcynic says:,0,878305.story

    Sad that TFA continues to champion a bunch of overzealous ego-driven alums, instead of all their alums in schools who do the real work. However, I would expect nothing less from a bunch of ladder climbers who put their own interests ahead of children. Really, what makes some of these alums any different than the Wall Street crowd who ran their companies into the ground – Citigroup, Lehman, Bear Stearns, et al. – not a whole lot. I will say a few on this list are ok, but some should not even be given the time of day.

  5. David says:

    Hi Gary – I’m the guy you refer to early on in this post, and the guy with whom you’ve been “engaging” on Twitter recently about Pass The Chalk. I told you on Twitter that I think your post above pretty blatantly mischaracterizes several things. You weren’t clear about what I was describing, so at your suggestion, I’m writing to clarify.

    First – my name is David Rosenberg and I manage TFA’s Digital team. These are the folks who create and manage, developed TFANet, produce videos about the amazing work that corps members and alumni are doing across the country (and yes, their struggles), and manage TFA’s national Facebook and Twitter presence, among other things. Personally, I love Teach For Us and have worked hard to ensure that it could be a vibrant community, fundamentally independent of TFA as an organization. In that sense, I guess I had a small role in your ability to use Teach For Us as a platform for your reflections. Contrary to what I expect you might be thinking, I have no regrets about that.

    Here are some of the things you wrote that I think range between unfounded speculation and flat-out falsehoods:

    1. You wrote: “I want to give a ‘shout out’ to the poor TFA staff member who is in charge of keeping track of my blog posts and reporting them to the higher ups.”

    Gary, no one is in charge of keeping track of your blog posts. I know it would feel good if that were true, but sadly, it’s not. Also, there is no “reporting [your posts] to the higher ups.” I don’t mean to offend, but my colleagues have bigger fish to fry than tracking any single person’s every word, though your critiques are clearly relevant and important.

    I scan blogs on Teach For Us regularly for a bunch of reasons. Mostly, I read because I learn a lot about the corps experience and perspectives of alumni like you, and that helps me ground my work. I also read because I care about Teach For Us being a vibrant community of people who are living (and have lived) the corps experience. In the case of your recent posts, I read because you were opining on my team’s work creating and managing Pass The Chalk.

    2. About the Friday Five, you wrote: “I then got slammed by a TFA staffer on Twitter. He ‘engaged’ with me for a few days before realizing what a great debater I am and then quietly disappearing. Did he get in trouble for his ‘tone’? Who knows. Maybe he’ll be back. Maybe someone else will pop up. Maybe he was just the other guy, but with a new handle.”

    Gary, a quick review of Twitter will remind you that our “debate” ended with you saying, “I think your was a bit snarky so I responded with a little of my own.” My tweet was serious – I was asking you to clarify what kind of tests would help all of us know if students were succeeding, if not standardized tests. You never responded.

    You also ask “Did he get in trouble for his ‘tone’?” Answer: no. As noted above, TFA’s leadership group has more important things to do than worry about my tweet behavior. More important, an early PTC post that you critiqued highlighted how important we at TFA think it is for each individual in this broad movement to stand up and say what s/he feels, no matter what it is. And I did. And that is cool. I understand that that contradicts your preferred narrative about TFA, but it’s the truth.

    You also speculate “maybe he was just the other guy, but with a new handle.” I’m not even sure what this means, but if you’re insinuating that I’d start tweeting to you under a pseudonym – well, that’s just silly, Gary, and it’s insulting to both me and your readers. You know full well to whom you’ve been talking, and I’m easily findable on Twitter (@davidr1019).

    3. You wrote: “[Talking about the HS grad intern] was just something to criticize me for when the staffer didn’t have any substantive facts to challenge me with.” This is self-serving at best, a fallacy at worst. Your (petty) critique was that TFA tasked a high school intern with compiling the Friday Five. I called you out for making that an issue. That’s substantive. More important – our dialogue then went on to how we could measure student success without standardized tests. You left me hanging.

    4. You wrote: “I don’t know if this was meant this way, but this surely goes against the StudentsFirst Olympics parody where our education system is an out of shape loser because it doesn’t get a gold medal.” This one is odd. Personally, I was embarrassed by the StudentsFirst ad. I thought it was shoddy and insulting and a pretty blatant PR ploy to draw attention to a legitimately important issue (I guess on that front, it worked). But the logic behind the Friday Five post was pretty simple – it was an education-related story about an Olympic athlete overcoming big odds. Period. Now, your statement is pretty innocuous – it’s just idle, inaccurate speculation. I just don’t understand why you engage in such idle, random speculation in the first place.

    5. You wrote: “I am still finding these posts pretty boring and empty. I am looking forward to getting an invite from ‘Pass The Chalk’ to do a point / counterpoint thing with someone like Michelle Rhee.” This isn’t a clarification, but a series of observations, because I’m confused. You keep saying bad stuff about Pass The Chalk – it’s boring, it’s empty, it’s not getting any traffic, etc. If that’s the case, I think it’s odd that you are so obsessed with it, and so desperate to be included in it. You could be talking about actual issues, like why you think the fact that Alexander Sidorkin was right about the value of TFA’s training Institute four years ago, but why you think he’s wrong now that he’s been there to observe it (the dude learned something and changed his perspective – isn’t that cool?). You could be talking about what works for the low-income students at Stuyvesant High School, and how we all might apply those lessons in other contexts.

    Gary, I have a ton of respect for the work you did in Houston as a corps member and all you are doing in the classroom today. I also recognize that you make a lot of important points about TFA and the broader “education reform” movement. I’m merely suggesting that you stop writing random, inaccurate speculation (especially about me and my colleagues), even if you think these are “jokes.” You’re publishing inaccuracies and detracting from debate on the real issues.

    Finally – I don’t generally comment on blog posts (anywhere) and don’t intend to get into a big debate with you here. You can find me on Twitter and pretty easily on email if you want, and I extend the invitation to other commenters as well.


    • Terry says:

      Pass the chalk is still a pr ploy by TFA to give the illusion that TFA actually cares about opinions. Can anyone enter? Can anyone post? Or is it an elite club? TFA has become a scab temp agency taking the jobs of certified teachers who are committed to a lifetime of teaching and learning.

    • Gary Rubinstein says:

      Hi David,

      I appreciate the comment. Really, the thing about the ‘guy who has to report on my posts’ was a joke too. Not referring to you at all. Just a funny image of a guy who sits around monitoring my site. My belief is that they don’t need a guy like that since most of the higher ups read my blog on their own. I actually know (I can’t reveal my source) that many TFA staffers look forward to reading my blog since it echos some of the issues they have with the organization.

      Now, if TFA higher ups are not reading this blog or are not having someone summarize what it says, then they are foolish since I am giving them, for free, advice that they would have to pay consultants tens of thousands of dollars for. If they are so smug that they don’t take what I say seriously, that would explain why the organization has been so slow to evolve.

      I can see that my ‘style’ especially with some of my jokes and my ‘false-bravado’ used to cover up my extreme insecurity can easily be misread.

      The olympics thing was more of something I found ironic (praising ‘losing’ vs. Rhee’s saying losing is bad), not something that was calculated by anyone in particular.

      As far as our Twitter conversation, and anyone can see it if they want, I said that my ‘solutions’ wouldn’t raise test scores. You, then ‘retweeted’ that, somewhat out of context, like some kind of ‘gotcha’, which I did not appreciate.

      I then said it would be measured by other assessments, which should have resolved the issue.
      You then wrote back, “such as …” which I did not think was necessary since we all know what other types of assessments were so I wrote “you are aware there are other assessments besides standardized tests, right?” and then you accused me of ‘snark’ and I explained why I might have been a little annoyed.

      Twitter is a tough place to have a meaningful conversation. Perhaps one day we can have a lengthy chat in person at the TFA office. I’ll bring a witness, though. ; ) <– this emoticon is how you will know that I am making a joke from now on.


      • Parus says:

        Maybe English needs to revitalize the sarcasm mark. People seem to often miss it.

      • Andik says:

        You use “this will take forever” as an exucse to not address the totality of the problem and instead purge teachers.I want it to be done effectively, in a way that will – yes — help children.I call projection when you say, “you, sadly, are not going to open your mind to any constructive change.” I want bad teachers “gone” too, but know that getting rid of that minority won’t address the most vexing problems in education, which you brush off as too time-consuming and difficult to bother with, when you can get the immediate relief of firing teachers. It’s easy to look down imperiously at teachers, especially the embarrassing “bad” ones who may be great with the kids, but who don’t travel in the same circle as in group. Solving the real problems in education is much more complex than sending supposed good teachers to one side and bad teachers to the other, but it sure is gratifying to feel superior isn’t it? Too bad it doesn’t take the place of facing the real problems in education.It’s been quite informative getting a sense of the entrenched mindset of a reformer. Thanks

    • skepticnotcynic says:


      I suppose when you look back on your educational experience in K-12 education, standardized test scores pop out as being influential or highly influential in what made you the person you are today. With the exception of ACT/SAT/GRE/LSAT/MCAT/GMAT scores, I don’t think anyone who is successful in life would highlight standardized test scores as being important to their success in life. Even this is a stretch, once you actually start working in the real world.

      If you did teach, I hope you didn’t drill test-prep all day to raise your student’s test scores, because I know that’s not what your teachers did where you went to school. Our poor and minority students get this type of instruction daily, and TFA is not helping the cause by highlighting their success around raising the already low-bar state exam test scores. We should not be celebrating this type of faux achievement.

      I grew up in a state where passing a state exam was not a requirement for promotion, yet we have some of the highest ACT/SAT state averages in the country. Admittedly, this is due to our demographics; however, we are not helping students elevate out of poverty by overemphasizing the importance of state exams and holding teachers accountable for their student’s test scores. Last time I checked, the students were taking the exams, not the teachers.

      The more we focus on these exams, the more we lose the best teachers in our neediest schools (trust me, I’ve witnessed this first hand). The unintended consequences of the reformer’s approach to closing the achievement gap is reverberating throughout the country and it needs to stop.

      Let’s focus on what really makes our schools and teachers great. The discussion must shift to high-quality teacher development and rigorous standards for entering the profession. This would include much higher pay and better working conditions for the teachers in the trenches who are contributing to actually improving the country’s educational system, not those on the sidelines cheerleading and promoting bad policy from the comfort of their offices.

      Shaming and pitting teachers against one another with dangling carrots is not a recipe for success. The profession will become attractive again when teachers are given the autonomy and support to achieve mastery. This will then given them a purpose to be great again when they joined the profession.

      Unfortunately, it usually comes back to the external factors that make teaching unattractive, not the students, but the bad policy, central office bureaucracy and the poorly planned initiatives that are driven from the top-down. Please site a historical example where top-down education initiatives ever worked to raise student achievement?

      Short-term fixes and band aids will never address the fundamental problems this country faces when it comes to improving education. Let’s strive to make teaching a respected and competitive profession again by learning from countries like Finland, South Korea, and Singapore, where standardized test scores are not tied to the evaluation of schools and teachers, yet they allegedly have the best educational systems in the world.

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