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.