TFA co-CEO’s vs. The Boogeyman

So here I am trying to mind my own business when I see this tweet on my feed:

This is by one of the co-CEOs of TFA, Matt Kramer, quoting something that the other CEO Elisa Villanueva-Beard said in a speech at an alumni award event in Detroit.  This line surely got Villanueva-Beard a large ‘applause break’ (as indicated by the 100 retweets — that is a lot).  But if I were there I certainly would not be applauding.

One thing I can definitely say about the Kramer and Villanueva-Beard is that they are certainly ‘accessible.’  They routinely respond to twitter messages from supporters and critics, alike.  And as I wrote about recently, I was even invited to meet them on their TFA listens tour.  They seem nice enough.  Kramer reminds me of some of the guys I used to play chess with back in my days of serious chess study.  But as much as I might like them as people so far, I can’t say that I really respect them yet.  My sense is that they are not really ‘authorized’ to make any big sweeping decisions without approval from the old CEO, Wendy Kopp.

So when I saw this tweet I had this small exchange with Kramer:

If I seem more frustrated than usual in this post it is because I am getting somewhat tired of explaining something so fundamental to someone who should be informed enough not to have this explained to him.

At issue is the expression ‘status quo’ and it’s role in the modern education reform wars.  The way the ‘reformers’ like to frame the discussion is that education in this country is horribly broken and they want to ‘fix’ it by making some changes.  Unfortunately there is another group of people, they claim, who think that education in this country is perfect the way it is and do not want anything to change.  This later group of people are the ‘defenders of the status quo.’  These are the people who Villanueva-Beard and Kramer are condemning in Kramer’s tweet.

So I challenged Kramer to identify someone who is in this evil group, these status quo apologists.  Rather than attempt to answer my question, he challenges me back to see if I am now, or have ever been, a status quo defender.  If I’m not, then that must mean that we are on the same ‘side’ and thus I should join ‘us’ which I guess means him and Villanueva-Beard, since it can’t mean TFA as the new ‘big tent’ concept should allow for all points of view, even status quo defenders.

So I will explain this very carefully with lots of analogies, but do so begrudgingly as I think that Kramer is just pretending that he doesn’t understand the implications of playing the ‘status quo card.’  Maybe he really doesn’t and this will be enlightening to him, but I forgive anybody else for not making it through this post.

Nothing in this world is perfect.  The health care system, air travel, the post office, the process for buying tickets to a concert, and, yes, the U.S. education system.  Over the years, in an attempt to improve the different industries, various changes are tried from time to time.  Knowledgeable people, we hope, are in charge of identifying the problems inherent in the different systems and proposing changes that will fix these problems without, at the same time, creating newer even bigger problems.

Every person who has experience in education knows that we have not achieved perfection yet, so each of those people could easily make a list of what the biggest problems are and what kinds of changes might remedy these problems in the least risky way.  Each person who knows about education could also easily make a list of things that they don’t think require changing, or things that they would like to change but the only changes they can think of, at the time, would make the system worse, so until a better alternative comes along, they would not choose to change that aspect.

If ‘status quo defender’ means, as Villanueva-Beard implies, someone who things we should do ‘nothing’ different in education, then I say that she is directing her frustration against an imaginary boogeyman.  There is not one person in this country who is knowledgeable about education who thinks that everything is as good as it can possibly get.  This is the main thing that frustrated me about the applause evoking, considerably retweeted, quote from her speech.

If I tell you that there are two people and one person thinks that ten things should be changed about education and the other person has eight things that he thinks should be changed about education, wouldn’t it be true that both people are ‘reformers’ in that they want change?  But in our crazy oversimplified, easy sound bite, education debate landscape, the person who has just eight things to change can be called the ‘reformer’ while the person who has ten things to change can be called the ‘status quo defender.’

You see, the only difference between the two camps is which subset of things that could be changed does each think should be changed.

Again, NOBODY thinks nothing should be changed and NOBODY thinks everything should be changed.  Imagine some new billionaire comes along and starts saying that the next big school reform is that schools will no longer meet in buildings, but instead out on the street.  This will save money as the real estate can be sold and used to pay for iPads.  Now the old ‘reformers’ say that this is a bad idea, that having schools indoors is a good thing and the new ‘reformers’ can now accuse the old ‘reformers’ of ‘defending the status quo’ just because the changes that the old ‘reformers’ believe will be helpful do not coincide with the changes that the new ‘reformers’ believe will be helpful.

So it is not fair to label a group of people who include me, Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, Katie Osgood, Jersey Jazzman, EduShyster, and so many others as ‘status quo defenders’ just because the changes that we think would improve the education system are not the exact same changes that people who know nothing about schools including Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Arne Duncan, Whitney Tilson, and many others think would improve the education system.

Every ‘status quo defender’ that I know thinks that education in this country would be improved if class sizes were capped at lower numbers.  But ‘reformers’ think that reducing class size is not a good use of limited resources.  Aren’t then the reformers ‘defending the status quo’ on this issue while the status quo defenders are looking to ‘reform’ things?  Doesn’t everyone defend some things in the status quo and want to reform other things?

I could easily make a list of things that I’d like to change.  I could bore you for hours about how I feel the math curriculum in this country and this world has evolved into something that leaves out the thing that makes math great — beauty.  I could also very easily pick places where money is wasted on consultants and bad education software, and also places where not enough money is spent to do things right.  But I’m called a status quo defender, still, just because I think that certain things should not be changed and that other things should not be changed, just for the sake of changing them, but until something that won’t make things worse is devised.

So I am opposed to school closings.  I can understand the allure of school closings — lighting a fire under the butts of the staff of a school (the ‘adults’ as reformers like to call them) to get their best work out of them.  But I’m opposed to them because I feel they cause more harm than good.  Is that why I’m a status quo defender?  Because of all the things that I think should not be changed (just as ‘reformers have a host of things that should not be changed) this controversial practice is a new change that I do not embrace?

I am opposed to using ‘value-added’ to judge teacher quality which, in turn, will get used to decide on pay increases and firings.  I’m not convinced that a computer algorithm has been devised yet that can calculate what a group of thirty students ‘should’ get with an ‘average’ teacher on a poorly made state test.  I’ve seen so many examples of a teacher getting wildly different results in consecutive years and even getting wildly different results in the same year when they teach two different grade levels to have any confidence in this golden calf of school reform.

I am not convinced that charter schools hold any secrets to educating poor minority students, except the secret of how to ban some from entering the school and how to ‘counsel out’ those who enter but aren’t a good fit.

So because I am opposed to these controversial, and unproved, reforms, despite all the changes that I think would improve the system, and despite the fact the me and ‘reformers’ agree on so much that doesn’t need to be changed (like holding class indoors, most of the time) I am lumped in with the mythical status quo defenders who Villanueva-Beard says now bear the burden of proving that it is better than to do nothing than to do something.

I don’t know of anyone in my camp who would say that we should do ‘nothing.’  And, yes, it is better to do nothing sometimes than to do something when that ‘something’ is likely to make matters worse.

An ironic twist to all this ‘status quo defender’ treatise is that for nearly twenty years I have been the one challenging TFA to stop defending their own status quo.  When the institute moved from L.A. to Houston in 1994 and the new model had corps members training with classes of less than 5 students, I was the one complaining that TFA needed to ‘reform’ this.  But here we are twenty years later and they still have not changed this.  Why is it that they ‘preserve the status quo’ in this way?  Well, maybe they’ve determined that this change, for them, will do more harm than good.  Maybe they think that the CMs will only become marginally better teachers if they make this change while it could triple the cost of the institutes.  I think that the good would outweigh the harm in this case, though, so at least in this issue I suppose that I’d be right to say they are defending their status quo.  TFA should be able to relate to the ‘status quo defenders’ who are skeptical of changes that have a great cost and that they are not sure will even work.

And Kramer and Villanueva-Beard, unfortunately for them, I don’t think have the power to make any changes to this TFA status quo so they, ironically, will have to be the ones to bear the burden to prove that doing nothing to fix TFA is better than doing something.

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67 Responses to TFA co-CEO’s vs. The Boogeyman

  1. Josh Kilroy says:

    Hiding behind semantics doesn’t diminish the strength of the charge that there are defenders of the status quo. Just because most reform critics have their own pet suggestions means nothing if their ideas don’t challenge the power dynamics.

    Great, so many DSQs want more teachers hired?
    As long as they embrace and reinforce the same bureaucratic systems – the districts and the unions with their suffocating contracts, what actually changes?

    History will inevitably show that the reformers were wrong on some things – high-stakes testing, possibly – but that they asked a lot of the right questions and provoked a discourse that improved the lives of many of the disadvantaged Americans.

    History is not likely to be as kind to those who sought to stifle debate and protect the vested interests.

    • Alec says:

      History will absolutely show that modern reformers further entrenched the dominant culture at the expense of the underprivileged. When the unionization has no correlation to educational outcomes, but that is your number one fight, it is obvious it is not about kids. It is about solidifying and protecting privilege and the dominant culture.

      And your argument that if someone doesn’t like your ideas it means they don’t like ideas. please.

    • Ken Bernstein says:

      Since 1983 the status quo has been high stakes testing, adding more “rigor” and blaming professional educators. We have had this through A Nation At Risk, Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Blue Print, and various endeavors like Teach for America, KIPP, New Leaders for New Schools, uncontrolled expansion of charters, pushing for vouchers, bashing teachers unions, bashing colleges of education, etc. etc. etc. We had Bill Gates spending billions distorting what the small school movement was really about, then saying “Oh I’m sorry, I was wrong, but this time I am right.”

      Defenders of the status quo thing a business model should be followed for public schools, this from the people who came close to destroying the world’s economy.

      Oh, and one more thing – doing “something” on a large scale when it has not yet been tested potentially does far more damage to far more people than whatever it is replacing merely to change things. We are seeing that with fracking contributing to earthquakes and polluting ground water. But it is different from the status quo in providing energy.

      What the self-described “reformers” have done is hurt the real education of millions of Americans and thereby seriously damaged this nation.

      Listening to them is continuing and defending the status quo.

      • Jack says:

        Oh yeah, I forgot the Japanese Internment during World War II.

        Like McCarthyism, the Japanese Internment, and the Vietnam War, today’s “corporate reform” will one day likewise be a focus of scorn and shame… and a “What the-hell were they thinking?” retrospective attitude.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        Are you teaching now, Ken? If so, where?

      • Ken Bernstein says:

        I will be at North County High School in Glen Burnie, in Anne Arundel County Public Schools. I will have 3 classes of AP US Govt, and 3 STEM Courses – STEM Policy, Environmental Media, and Research and data analysis. I actually oddly enough have background relevant to the STEM courses even though I am not a scientist. We are on a double mod A/B day schedule, so I will have only 3 classes a day, which makes up for the four preps. Very much looking forward to it.

    • Jack says:

      If only we had a “Back to the Future” Delorean car to ride. We would find that, decades later, the this “corporate reform” movement will be viewed the same way we view the McCarthy-ist Blacklist Era, and the Vietnam War waged by Johnson and McNamara.

      Time will tell… and it already has…

    • skepticnotcynic says:

      “History will inevitably show that the reformers were wrong on some things”

      Josh, you are clearly naive. What type of reform are you referring to? We have been reforming education in this country for over 100 years.

      As the posts above have noted, the types of reforms that you seem to be behind have been around for quite a while. Clearly, they have not worked. If anything, this type of reform has become the status quo, and it’s time to implement “smart reform” that will get us back on track as a country. I agree that we have an unbelievable thick bureaucratic administrative layer in not only school districts and government agencies across the country but most Fortune 500 companies as well. There is an incredible amount of waste that goes into K-12 education that has absolutely nothing to do with raising student achievement, yet it has nothing to do with teachers.

      Why is that other successful countries whose students outperform ours on PISA, even though they have incredibly strong teacher unions, spend less than we do per-pupil. It’s because they trust their professionals and don’t buy into the snake oil that is sold to politicians, philanthropists, and others who dictate education policy in this country. If anyone needs a union, it’s teachers. When you work in the public-sector in a service oriented job like teaching, the only safety net you have to protect yourself from unscrupulous administrators and parents is unions. What is wrong with due-process. I’ve seen shady things happen way too often to trust the charter operators who are no more inclined to take the moral high road than the jaded public school administrator 3 years from retirement.

      Incremental progress is about the best we can do, and anyone who promises anything more is a snake-oil salesperson.

    • Manuel says:

      Josh, I find it interesting that you focus on the idea that districts and union are not to be “embraced.” This is awfully close to “burning the village in order to save it.”

      Thus, “reformers” want to replace the districts with charter management organizations that are responsible to no one and to hire temporary teachers to keep costs low and provide “transformational” teaching.

      But because funding for charter schools will continue to come from the tax payers, what this really means is that the “reform” movement is really about deregulating schools under the belief that teaching and learning will be transformational because there are no suffocating publicly elected boards supervising school policy and there are no suffocating contracts defining teachers’ working conditions.

      How well has deregulation worked for airlines, Wall Street, utilities, etc.?

      History will show that deregulation under the guise of reform wrecked public education in the USofA regardless of the number of well-intentioned questions posed in the process.

      (Yes, folks, I am aware that corporations are in the middle of this because of profits to be made, but it seems to me that all this is being accomplished through deregulation of the existing system. And we know how well that has worked for us all elsewhere.)

    • Heather says:

      Disadvantaged American here who also teaches and “got out” and went to a Ivy League caliber school. I am also a history major, and I can tell you from history and lived experience that as a working class American, I trust the unions a whole lot more than I trust the corporations. I can also tell you that I don’t think the Ivy Leaguers, being my peers, know what they are doing and until they sit down, shut up, and actually listen and become willing to acknowledge their own privilege, I don’t really want them hanging around making things worse than they already are. I grew up and went to high school in an area that has become reform happy. I went to one of the worst high schools in my state. I’ve been out for only 6 or 7 years now, and I tried to take my education back to my community and even went to a really fantastic ed school before becoming a teacher because I firmly believe that my kids deserve high quality teachers just like the rich kids and I went to an ed school where private schools recruit from, and also spent a year as a para. Things are worse than they were when I left, and I am tired of sacrificing my brothers and sisters and my friends and neighbors because rich people refuse to fully fund schools. And the charters? I would have gotten kicked out of the charters for refusing to go along with their program, because do you know what is required to get to a top tier school from my neighborhood? Creativity. A drive to challenge and question everything. People who love and support you. Freedom. Teachers who look at you on your worse day and push support you and see what is beautiful in you. Under the No Excuses model, I would have lasted about a week because I would have started to question why we had to walk on lines so much and why school more closely resembles prison for my people than it does for rich white people. They frown upon that. Don’t pretend to speak for my people, we can speak for ourselves. If you read any news in the ed world, you will know that, because it has been working class people who had campaigned the most against these reforms. Fund and integrate the schools. That is real reform.

    • specialneedsrealitytv. says:

      What is up with this bs about the “suffocating contracts”? Let’s put a different spin on it. If teachers were mostly males would anyone begrudge them having a decent salary and benefits. Another point, nurses have similar contracts and no one blames the broken health care system on their unions. And finally, a point that I will continue to make in these union bashing statements: higher income school districts have unionized teachers and they have higher standardized test scores. It’s not the unions that are the issue.

  2. Lisa says:

    Josh–“History will inevitably show that the reformers were wrong on some things – high-stakes testing, possibly” — POSSIBLY? Definitely. It’s a waste of resources. It’s a waste of my children’s time in school that could be better spent on actual learning rather than continuous testing. It’s a waste of my district’s money. And it’s a waste of taxpayer money when one considers that administrators and other state officials have to be hired simply to compile and post all the data (and for which the district will be criticized for having too many administrators!)

    Also Joel, define your terms. What is “status quo,” precisely? Any college undergraduate should be able to do that before graduation and it’s a skill I require of my college students. How is it that reformers seem to lack these critical thinking skills? You seem to suggest that supporting the existence of a school district is “status quo” but eliminating districts doesn’t necessarily fix anything. Unions aren’t necessarily bad; the contracts aren’t invariably “suffocating.” Your entire argument is flawed from the start because it assumes that everything is exactly the same everywhere. That belies a completely lack of critical thinking and a shocking amount of ignorance about the vast differences in educational situations across the nation.

    There is a district in my state that decided to sever its ties with the union. Have the scores gone up? No–though it’s worth noting that that district’s scores were already one of the highest in the state. Did doing so help disadvantaged children? Not likely, considering that the district happens to be the location of one of the wealthiest counties in the United States and has very few students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Is that really a success story, or should we expect that TFA teachers will soon descend on the community to teach those poor, disadvantaged children living in homes valued at a half-million dollars and up? Does that fit your definition of fighting the “status quo?”

    By the way, my undergraduates sometimes also get confused when I poke holes in their argument and accuse me of trying to stifle debates. Remember that a good argument is based on opinions supported by evidence. If one side sticks to emotions and blanket statements while the other side uses detailed facts, that means the first side needs to come up with a better argument. It can be done, but regrettably, even those championing so-called education reform all too often fail to model what a good argument looks like. Facts matter, and that’s true on both sides.

    Gary–I agree that I don’t think there are many, if any, who would agree that nothing in education should change in any way across the entire nation. I also appreciate your careful attention to detail, because those details matter a great deal. Thanks for putting in the time to do this.

    “Public schools” differ wildly in quality, challenges and what they bring to students, and our discussions should reflect that reality.

  3. Emily Becker says:

    This. Exactly this! Thank you!

  4. Linda says:

    A former Teach For America manager speaks out
    By Valerie Strauss, Published: July 17


    Just like businesses and governments often show what they value by where they spend their money, so does Teach For America. When I saw where the money was really going, which was to a lot of national teams, national staff members, and national infrastructure, that was not providing much support to our region and was definitely not translating into improved educational outcomes for students, my opinion of the organization fell drastically.

    Specifically, only a small fraction of the dollars are devoted to the real work happening in regions to improve educational outcomes for low-income students and too many of the dollars are spent on unnecessary management layers and national teams that do a lot of thinking and changing but not a lot of concrete work to close the achievement gap in classrooms across the United States.

  5. Carol Burris says:

    To me it is simple….there are three outcomes for change:
    things get better
    they stay the same
    they get worse.
    The wrong change makes things get worse. Yes, even the status quo can be better than many of the reformers’ changes. Want change that works?
    –desegregate schools (charters cause increased segregation)
    –adopt PAR teacher eval systems which do not use test scores
    –reduce/eliminate tracking
    –reduce grade level retention
    –make sure that the schools who need it have increased funding that is wisely used
    Each of the above have a research record of success. All of them will make an impact. None are a silver bullet. There are no silver bullets. But there can be a slow climb that increases student achievement over time if the right policies are in place.

  6. Lauren says:

    One other thought on charter schools. Mine fought like hell to keep everyone whether a good fit of not. The secret to our success was two-fold: small school size and long, long hours for staff. (1) In a school with fewer than 200 students, it’s fairly easy to give personal attention to every one and to have consistent behavior expectations across the school. (2) If every teacher is working 60-80 hours per week, they are bound to teach some pretty good lessons.

    I don’t think the problem with charter schools is always that they try to exclude the general student population; it’s that the method is not scalable. (Is that a word?) It’s someone outrageous to say that all schools should have fewer than 200 students and all teachers should work 60-80 hour weeks.

    • Megan Hanley says:

      Lauren, would you be willing to name your charter school?

    • Educator says:

      Fair points Lauren. I know charter folks work incredibly hard, but it’s so difficult to scale. There comes a time where it doesn’t make sense to be a teacher financially and personally. I think that’s why so many leave to other professions, or they move on to bigger and better things within education. Some argue this isn’t a bad thing. Get passionate teachers, burn them out in a few years, and replace.

      But I have met many charter folks who do admit that their schools counsel out students. (I wrote a long response just now on Gary’s blog on his viral video to CMs) I don’t know if this is just my circle of charter people, or if this is more common. I do read about this being common. That’s why I encouraged charter folks to speak out in my other blog response…just don’t do it while you’re employed by a charter cause you’ll have a greater chance of getting fired mid-year, which isn’t good for students.

      It’s very rare to have someone like an idea of mine, so you made my day. Yes, when I say “disappeared” I mean “counseled out” Sorry about the confusion. Disappeared sounds more interesting, because it elicits the question “Where did they go?” The answer is back to the local school.

      I haven’t read much about students’ test data not included in a school’s results. If this is true, then that’s sad. But this tactic would seem to be available to both charter schools and traditional schools. I think some states have provisions where your school’s score is decreased if you don’t have a certain % of enrolled students take the exam on exam day. Still, I can see how schools, traditional or charter, may want to rid of certain students on test day (like the students they know who will hand in a blank scantron sheet, or fill in random dots). Note this wouldn’t be happening if there wasn’t this fear that Parent Revolution would come in and fire everyone, or NCLB would come in and fire everyone….all based on standardized tests (what they call “student achievement” or “student outcomes” or “student growth”)

      For the counseling out, that tactic seems to be more useful to charter networks. A traditional schools system does sometimes counsel out students, but it’s usually to another school within the school district from what I observed. For example, many districts have alternative high schools, so if the student is struggling at the traditional school s/he can transfer over to the alternative school. I’m OK with this because it’s within the same school system. I believe Districts believe that some traditional schools don’t work for certain students, so an alternative setting is better. There is no incentive to push them out of their school district that I am aware of. Their test scores are counted into the district. (In fact, a district loses money if it loses students, so I’d think that traditional districts want to keep students at whatever school they can and place them at what is the best for that student.)

      Traditional districts I believe only have the expulsion process to get rid of students, which is lengthy. Additionally, the locally elected school board must approve an expulsion. If the board starts expelling all these students, the parents can organize and revolt against the school board. That’s the check and balance. With charters, the answer is “If you don’t like our school then leave.” That’s the business model idea. Shop were you like products.

      Charters on the other hand don’t seem to have as great an incentive to keep students. Yes, they lose money if a student decides to leave to go back to the local traditional school. But a premise behind charters is that the free market will keep a school accountable. So charters seem to be wanting to advertise that they’re better than the traditional by looking at test scores. Hence, counseling out. They also heavily rely on very rich people for donations, so they must convince these rich people that their donation is useful, and the rich people need to believe that it is good PR to support these schools. This is not to say that they don’t have good intent. I do believe many rich folks are trying to do good (many readers here would disagree). Some just are getting tricked, while others know the trickery, but don’t care because they have a privatization agenda, and this model of education supports privatization.

      I used to think these counseling out accusations were just theories made up by “defenders of the status quo”…until I met charter folks who say yes it’s true. SPED/ELL/Bad Behavior students are more difficult to get good test scores with. I was very disappointed.

      I’d be OK with charters if they stopped claiming they were better than traditional schools and were more honest about what they can and can’t do. Be open about who you really are serving: low income minority kids who self select out via a lottery, who are less likely to be SPED/ELL/Difficult. If the kid is difficult to education, they go back to the traditional schools, or they never joined the charter. Front end creaming, back end counseling out. Traditional schools don’t have this filtering system.

      The danger is that politicians and other powerful people are closing down local neighborhood schools based on false ideas.

      Here’s an honest article about this by a conservative pro-charter advocate (I think he’s pro-voucher too):

    • Educator says:

      Oops, I accidentally copy and pasted my long blog response to the other blog on this one here. It’s the one that starts with “Jonathan,” I didn’t mean to do that. I only wanted to copy the article by Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute.

  7. Jordan says:

    Thank you for the post, Gary. And thank you for your critical and insightful critiques of the TFA status quo. As a disgruntled TFA alum it is refreshing to hear voices like yours that are speaking truth to the power that has become the TFA/Reform movement.

    TFA has moved away from its original purpose to supply teachers to districts and areas that were experiencing a teacher shortage. TFA is expanding at an alarming rate and pushing itself into cities like Pittsburgh (where I live) that has no need for more teachers, but is actually experiencing a surplus of experienced and an out-of-work teaching corps.

    I am currently working in my second charter school. I have witnessed first hand the practices of charter schools to “counsel” students out. I am a witness to the destruction of neighborhood schools, unions, and communities due to the privatization scheme of charter school proliferation. I hope that the liberal/progressive minded folks at TFA will wake up to the truth behind the “reform” movement. You have become pawns in the movement destroy public goods that are central to true democracy in this country. You gotten in bed with corporate millionaires and billionaires who are responsible for keepoing the status quo (their wealth) by advocating public policies that keep our children of color locked in poverty riding on the school-to-prison pipeline. By focusing solely on schools and teachers you have become a part of the problem. You will not and cannot change the legacies and lingering white supremacy in this country from inside a school. Wake up TFA!

  8. Michael Fiorillo says:

    Hmm, let’s see now.

    In Chicago, the so-called reformers have been the status quo for almost twenty years.

    In New York City, the so-called reformers have been the status quo for a dozen years.

    An so on, and so on…

    TFA, your Big Lies are getting stale, and people are beginning to wake up to what you’re really about. It’s time to take some of those hundreds of millions of (non-profit, of course!) assets and find some new lies to keep repeating.

    Or, better still, it’s time to reflect, apologize for being scabs, donate your hundreds of millions of dollars in “non-profit” assets to some of the public school systems you’ve leeched off of, and disband.

  9. Pingback: TFA co-CEO’s vs. The Boogeyman | Gary Rubinstein's Blog ← NPE News Briefs

  10. Marc V says:

    While I agree with many of the points in your post–like usual, I do think that Kramer’s point raises a valid criticism against much of the rhetoric coming you, along with Osgood, Ravitch, etc.

    The majority of your time is spent attacking the initiatives of what you would label the “Corporate-driven Education Reform Movement.” If you reflect upon your writings, very few of them advance positive changes that you would stand behind. While you do an excellent job at refuting various aspects of the education reform movement, you don’t offer an alternative narrative. I say that as someone who reads and respect your writing.

    I don’t at all believe that you’re a “status-quo supporter,” but I think that there has been an escalating negativity and, in regards to TFA, condescension coming from your writings as well as others with similar purposes. If you focused on advancing a positive agenda about what should be done, alongside what shouldn’t be done, I think it would be a very powerful shift. And I would love to hear your thoughts about positive changes that could be made (even in this post you quickly shifted from positive changes to criticisms of current changes).

    I say all this as someone who respects your opinions, agrees with many of them, and just wanted to point out one observation I have had this summer. Now I’ll go back to my “read and don’t comment” approach that I usually live by.

    • Linda says:

      “that there has been an escalating negativity and, in regards to TFA, condescension coming from your writings as well as others with similar purposes”

      Well couldn’t one say the same about TFA and their attitude towards and lies about life long professional teachers, not the temporary intern kind?

    • Educator says:

      I’d agree that there has been an escalating negativity. I think I’m guilty of that at times. I don’t think it moves us forward.

      But at the same time, I don’t think that anything that Gary has written has been wrong or off. The tone might be snarky, but the content isn’t.

      I agree that “If you focused on advancing a positive agenda about what should be done, alongside what shouldn’t be done, I think it would be a very powerful shift.” I think this goes for “both sides” of the debate.

      In other words, saying things like “You have adult interests not kid interests” or “You’re only in it to privatize” or “You’re the status quo” doesn’t really produce good debate and gets people defensive, and their ears close. (Although I think there are some status quo defenders and some privatizers out there. It’s hard to differentiate who is who.)

      So stick to the actual policies, such as: charters, value added scores, evaluation based on multiple choice tests, unions, TFA, etc….

    • skepticnotcynic says:

      Because it’s entertaining and snark sells. If he didn’t write the way he does, he would have very few people reading his blog – maybe his wife 🙂

      The last thing I want to read from an education blogger is a boring education policy puff piece, which usually equates to someone who doesn’t know beans about the subject, but purports to be an expert. Policy ed wonks are boring and bring nothing original to the discussion.

      “While you do an excellent job at refuting various aspects of the education reform movement, you don’t offer an alternative narrative.”

      Gary has offered many alternatives and has clearly articulated policies that he supports.

      Matt Kramer has never taught nor worked in a school, so how does he have any credibility when it comes to K-12 education?

    • Michael Fiorillo says:

      It’s more than a little ironic that Gary should be accused of condescension when writing critically about an organization where the condescension, smugness, self-satisfaction, vapidity and insipid rhetoric is all they’ve got or ever had.

      Oh, and the endless lies, and millions of dollars from Overclass patrons as well.

  11. Moody Towers says:

    It is a shame that the “new” leaders of the “progressive” TFA organization continue to use platitudes for their fans condescension for their critics. The co-CEO clearly is rallying the troops with the “People who want nothing to change” cry is so empty it is surprising that it made final cut in her speech. It is so inherently disrespectful to dismiss an entire group of career educators and educational advocates who spend meaningful time on how to protect our society–yes, protect–from the so-called “reforms.”

    It is also a shame that numerous “reformers” who were issued the opportunity to publicly respond to Gary chose to respond in silence.

    The reason why “reformers” respond with derision and/or silence is pretty clear:

    They don’t have facts, research or ethics behind their actions.

    What they do have are soundbites, enthusiasm of naive followers, and endless funding from individuals and organizations who are either misinformed about the issues or are intentionally trying to advance other agendas by using public education as a wedge that further fractures our society.

    Gary, you have a lot of class to dignify these jokers with responses. History will shine a grateful light on your work, and your courage.

    • Educator says:

      Well said.

      “who are either misinformed about the issues or are intentionally trying to advance other agendas by using public education as a wedge that further fractures our society.”

      I believe this is the greatest danger. I think there are some very well intentioned reformers who are misinformed about what policies are helpful. Many of these reformers tend to also have either no teaching experience or very little teaching experience before they felt like they “needed to make a larger, greater impact with what I’ve experienced.” It’s a little naive. And, I wonder why they actually left teaching. Sometimes I think it’s because it was too difficult for too little pay for too little prestige among elite policy circles. It’s way cooler to say that you’re a principal at a charter school than to say that you’re a teacher at a traditional school. But, I try not to think this way and give them the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, I guess I’m falling into the angry rhetoric. Still, I wonder.

      Of course, not every reformer is like this, but the major players all tend to fit this description from what I read and see.

      I was very disappointed that hardly any reformers responded to Gary’s “Open Letters to Reformers I Know” because I thought they were well written and respectful. He didn’t say that these reformers should go to a special place in hell or anything like that. Gary wrote about policies and questioned specific items. But there weren’t many responses. I’m disappointed in that. But maybe these reformers were too busy. I mean, it shouldn’t be expected that a person responds to an open letter just because it’s an open letter. But it makes me wonder, are they lacking a counter argument? Do they really not have facts, research or ethics behind their actions? Is the best counter-argument they have “If you disagree with me then you’re the status quo!”

    • KrazyTA says:

      Moody Towers: good comments. If I may, let me refine your points a little.

      You point out one of their “platitudes” for the purpose of “rallying the troops.” There are others. Think of the stirring war cries directed against folks like Gary R decrying their beliefs such as “poor kids can’t learn” and “poverty is destiny.” There is only one problem with this “the best defense is a good offense” way of dealing with critics: who in the world ever said or says these things? To be more specific: to my knowledge, those advocating for beneficial, reasonable and sustainable reforms in public education—in his posting above, Gary R rightly associates himself with Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, Katie Osgood, Jersey Jazzman, and EduShyster—have never, ever, said such things. It is worse than a straw man argument; it is invented out of whole cloth. But the argument itself is quite comparable to much of the so-called reform agenda of the education status quo: it is not sustainable or defensible outside of their own “small circle of friends.”

      So what, IMHO, is the other part of the picture? Pumping oneself up, “whistling past the graveyard” = “trying to remain cheerful in difficult circumstances.” When you find it impossible to convince others, take a different tack: ignore some facts, make others up, and then get into your ‘happy space’ by congratulating yourself on being the good and moral one.

      Your last paragraph is spot on. I concur.


  12. Dan McGuire says:

    When somebody uses a term like ‘status quo’ they’re obviously trying to obfuscate. The term is a Latin term used in place of an English term that is already vague; it does not add clarity to an intended meaning. When the TFA CEO uses ‘status quo’ to what exactly is he referring – integrated schools, public education, democratically elected school boards, colleges of higher education, unions maybe?

    • Educator says:

      The phrase “status quo” is useful in argument for anything really, no only education. I mean, who is OK with “status quo” For example, in a policy debate, if I’m a politician or policy maker, I’ll say something like “What we’ve been doing is status quo. We need to challenge the status quo and outside interests. Join me! Change is difficult, but if we band together we can challenge the status quo! Our enemies will defend the status quo because they’ll feel threatened by change. No one likes change, but what we’re doing is mediocre because of the status quo! Reform now!” So notice there’s no actual policy in these statements.

      Now, a lot of reformers do have policy proposals. Just look at the Students First website. But when people argue against their policies, politicians generally like to use the non-specific anti-status quo arguments I listed above… least from what I’ve seen on video and read. It makes good press.

      It’s a good communications tactic. People are open to reform usually, but only after they’re convinced that something isn’t working. Hence, many reformers keep pushing the idea that Shanghai will rule the United States if we don’t raise test scores.

  13. PhillipMarlowe says:

    Andrew Rotherham attacks you:
    She’s responding to the little battle that has broken out on the blogs and around education where every Teach For America alumnus who wants to talk about their bad or frustrating experience is suddenly held up as representative of why TFA is a lousy idea. What some of these people have to say has merit, TFA is hardly without its flaws. Yet others seem more enamored with just seeing their name in pixels or scoring points.
    Or maybe not.
    He likes to print provocatively, but then goes silent when challenged.

  14. good days says:

    Thought this was interesting:

    It almost seems to contradict the twitter comments. Or otherwise it is OK to label the other side as people who don’t want change. But to label TFA in one way is wrong? How about stereotypes or narrowly defining both sides are not OK

  15. NY Alum says:

    I was present for this speech. A friend of mine said it best, “you cannot say we all need to work together when you make a villain of TFA’s critics in the same speech.” Though there was applause in the room and praises on twitter, the vibe in the room was noticeably uncomfortable, as I sense that there were many who understood the hypocrisy in her message. Don’t say “we are not the enemy” when you essentially call the other side the enemy.

    • veteran says:

      Thank you NY Alum -How was the conference?
      I do think her speech has some very good points and she seems to be a very good speaker.
      I also really like your summary-Don’t say “we are not the enemy” when you essentially call the other side- that is well said.

      • NY Alum says:

        Thank you. The conference was okay. First and foremost, it felt like a day long TFA public relations campaign. It was clear that TFA was thinking about recent bad press, especially considering EVB’s speech. Though it was very well planned and had great energy, it’s difficult to provide experienced teachers with good professional development when most of the people running the sessions had 2-3 years of teaching experience. So, I like that I felt connected to ‘movement’ (though I really don’t know what that means anymore), but I would be very surprised if anyone got anything professionally out of it (other than networking).

      • CarolineSF says:

        It’s all about reassuring and wooing the funders. Assume no other motive and assume no sincerity.

      • TFA staffer and champion of educators! says:

        NY Alum, curious to learn more–as one of the conference planners, we strove to bring really strong,experienced educators to share, so a little surprised by the observation – doesn’t ring true to me, but maybe I’m missing something.

        This was take one of this conference and we have lots of lessons learned – I’m glad to hear this feedback and impression, and we’ll certainly try better next year.

  16. NewarkTFA says:

    A stylistic note from an English teacher: I liked the way Gary uses the allusion to the golden calf in this post. It makes me think of another allusion from the Old Testament/Hebrew scriptures that seems apropos: the shibboleth.

    Here is an the etymology of the word from Hebrew shibbōleth literally, freshet, a word used by the Gileadites as a test to detect the fleeing Ephraimites, who could not pronounce the sound sh (Judges 12:4–6).

    Basically, the Giliadites were using the pronunciation of the this word to tell their friends from their enemies. Anyone who could not pronounce it “properly” was slain.

    Anthough things have not gotten quite that bad in what might be termed the “ed reform wars,” it’s certainly my perception that particular policies have become shibboleths that one MUST believe in and promote to avoid the dreaded “status quo” designation. Examples include the heavy, heavy promotion of charter schools at the expense of public schools that are closed or strangled to make way for them, heavy, heavy emphasis on standardized testing, gutting teacher tenure, using naive TFA recruits as scabs, and union-busting in general.

    I would never have joined TFA in the first place had I associated it with any of these policies. Now I associate TFA with all of them. Obviously not every current CM or staffer believes in these things any more than I did or do. It’s unclear to me to what extent I was just naive in the first place and to what extent the organization has shifted in the last seven years.

    Every single teacher has a wishlist of changes, large and small, he or she would like to see made to the edacational system.

    I’m going to assume, however, that one of the posters above, skepticnotacynic, has substantial teaching experience because of his or her remark that “incremental progress is about the best we can do.”

    Every real teacher–no matter how “amibitious”–recognizes the wisdom in these words, yet they have become the ultimate TFA heresy, just as terms such as “radical” and “transformational” have become the ultimate TFA/ed refrom shibboleths.

    To be blunt: if radical change is your litmus test, you are much more likely to do harm than do good. Which is easier: wrapping your car around a tree, or reengineering the engine so that it runs on salt water? Both would certainly be “tranformational” changes to the car!

    People who want to make huge changes to the “status quo” all at once bear an immense burden: they must be certain that their nifty reform/plan/proposal is the not the policy equivalent of wrapping the car around the tree. The fact that there are many obvious problems with the current intermal combustion engine does NOT mean that randomly goofing around with its design and putting a fleet of untested “refomed” vehicles on the streets is in the public interest.

    If you propose radical changes, the burden is on YOU to PROVE that they will make out society better, not worse.

  17. Alex Morgan says:


    On this we agree nearly 100 percent. I was in Detroit this week and I have to say that last tweet irked me. Actually, what I saw plays into your good cop, bad cop post. I really enjoyed EVB’s speech, but they way MK responded to you came across as cocky and as though he does not really care to build a relationship.

    I think we’ll continue to disagree on teacher recruitment, but when it comes to charters and closings I am with you pretty much all the way.


  18. Edward says:


    Let me get this straight – you speak about your frustrations about the implication that you’re a defender of the status quo, and then state two suggestions you have to improve education in this country – lower class sizes and better math curriculum. And then you state a bunch of things you’re opposed to.

    And that’s the issue at play, and that’s why you’re seen as a defender of the status quo, along with the others that you’ve listed.

    I’ve read your blog, Diane’s blog and Katie’s tweets for some time, and while I’ve seen thousands of criticisms of TFA, of charters, and of other reform efforts, it is with extreme rarity that I see any offered solutions.

    2% of African American boys in Chicago schools are on track to go to and graduate from a four-year college.

    Smaller class sizes and a better math curriculum are great ideas for implementation, but is it going to solve a problem that huge? Are air conditioners in classrooms going to be the thing that solves this fundamental injustice?

    Rather than post about your frustrations about being called a status quo defender, why don’t you and your allies – Diane, Katie, etc – put together a comprehensive platform for solving the educational crisis in this country and hold it up, so that the debate comes from between ideas.

    It’s far easier to tear down the ideas of others than to create a comprehensive theory and set of proposals and actions to create change.

    But you all know that already.

    • Linda says:

      You are either misinformed or not willing to read what has already been proposed. For starters:

      Also, the schools Chicago’s students’ deserve:

      Click to access SCSD_Report-02-16-2012-1.pdf

      And read here:

      And pick up a copy or check it out in your library in the fall:

      Honestly Ed where have you been?

    • Linda says:

      For Edward:

      NPE: Our Positive Agenda

      The Network for Public Education has received a very positive response, and we are building alliances with grassroots groups across the nation. If you know of any who have not signed up, please tell them how to find us.

      You know what we oppose: High-stakes testing; privatization of public education; mass school closures to save money or to facilitate privatization; demonization of teachers; lowering of standards for the education profession; for-profit management of schools.

      Here is what we support:

      We support schools that offer a full and rich curriculum for all children, including the arts, physical education, history, civics, foreign languages, literature, mathematics, and the sciences.

      We support schools that are subject to democratic control by members of their community.

      We support schools that have the resources that their students need, such as guidance counselors, social workers, librarians, and psychologists.

      We support the equitable funding of schools, with extra resources for those students with the greatest needs.

      We support schools that have reasonable class sizes, so that teachers have the time to help the children in their care.

      We support early childhood education, because we know that the achievement gap begins before the first day of school.

      We support high standards of professionalism for teachers, principals, and superintendents.

      We support the principle that every classroom should be led by a teacher who is well educated, well prepared for the challenges of teaching, and certified.

      We support wraparound services for children, such as health clinics and after-school programs.

      We support assessments that are used to support children and teachers, not to punish or stigmatize them or to hand out monetary rewards.

      We support assessments that measure what was taught, through projects and activities in which students can demonstrate what they have learned.

      We support the evaluation of teachers by professionals, not by unreliable test scores.

      We support helping schools that are struggling, not closing them.

      We support parent involvement in decisions about their children.

      We support the idea that students’ confidential information must remain confidential and not be handed over to entrepreneurs and marketing agents.

      We support teacher professionalism in decisions about curriculum, teaching methods, and selection of teaching materials.

      We support public education because it is a pillar of our democratic society.

      • Joe Nathan says:

        The above list is a list of suggestions that have been made for 40 years. While the school system that you describe and long for has helped many students, it has failed others (esp but not only those from low income families).
        Meanwhile, while some chose to deny it, there are district & charter schools all over the nation that are succeeding with students from low income families.
        As was true decades before the charter movement started, some establishment educators continue to deny and defame educators who are making a difference with these kids.

      • Linda says:

        And many establishment non-educators continue to deny and defame educators who are making a difference with ALL kids and you, Joe, know many of them:

        Funding for center for school change:

        Funding for the Center has come from Cargill, Gates, Annenberg, Blandin, General Mills, St. Paul, St. Paul Companies, Peters, Minneapolis, TCF, Joyce, Bradley and Rockefeller Foundations, the U.S. Department of Education, the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Initiative Funds, Best Buy, Pohlad, and Wallin Foundation.

    • Educator says:

      Here’s an interesting take on public education to better inform everyone. It has a lot of references for those who like to know where people get their information from.

      Click to access when_talking_education_april_26_2013.pdf

      Edward, I agree with you that it’s better to talk ideas. The problem is that people disagree with ideas. Market based reformers are pushing a certain set of reforms that others believe will cause more harm than good. What Linda posts is what a lot of educators and others believe would best benefit children, especially in low-income communities. The problem I see is that it costs money. I believe market based reformers are trying to figure out a way to do things more cheaply (in general), hence the ideological divide.

  19. CarolineSF says:

    Well, I apologize if I misinterpreted, Mr. Morgan. I’ve been following the education “reform” scams since you were probably in grade school, and two clear conclusions over the years are:

    Almost nobody believes this crap who isn’t paid to believe it;


    It’s always about the money, so assume no sincerity; follow the money.

    The longer I follow the trail of deceit and hustles, the clearer those things have become. If you are a sincere advocate who isn’t paid to pose as one, you ate indeed a rare outlier.

    • CarolineSF says:

      “Are,” not “ate” — excuse cellphone typing.

      When I initially read Mr. Morgan’s posts he was getting supported by a bloodthirsty pro-“reform” flamer making far-out-of-bounds personal attacks, so my reaction was stronger than it might have been.

    • Alex Morgan says:

      Thank you for taking a step back on the personal attack.

      I agree with you that it is almost always about the money. It’s why I oppose the corporatization of our schools. Of all the charter schools in Milwaukee, I would recommend ONE for my students, because I can tell that it was opened for the right reasons and has taken the time (about 15 years) to get their model right before expanding to two other campuses. I briefly worked for another charter in the city and was disgusted by some of their recruitment practices.

      I have been and will continue to be critical of Teach For America. Despite some clarifying points they’ve released about the state of hiring in Chicago, I’m still not satisfied that they’re not taking away positions from hard-working educators. Their Executive Director has answered questions about layoffs but not the rehiring process and who gets prioritized where in the hiring process.

      I do, however, believe we need more passionate young people focused on issues affecting our youngest citizens. For that, I’d like to see traditional ed schools, unions, and others working to attract more talent to the profession.


  20. Jack says:


    Katie Osgood is a guest a HuffPost video / interview program criticizing TFA.

    Later, that blogger Justin then joins the show and challenged her. In response, Katie was having none of Justin’s calls for Katie and everyone to “work together.”

    Check it out:

    Here’s the written promo:

    Some public school teachers are speaking out against Teach For America, alleging that the organization’s training is insufficient and that it threatens existing jobs. In Chicago earlier this month, critics gathered at the Free Minds, Free People conference to discuss the organization’s role in the local school system.

    Katie Osgood, a special education teacher in Chicago, told HuffPost Live Monday that she feels Teach For America educators and leaders have done “extremely damaging reform” to the education system, placing inexperienced teachers with the neediest students and putting other teachers’ jobs at risk.

  21. Cosmic Tinkerer says:

    In many locations, this era of education “reform” began in the 80s, following the shock doctrine, manufactured crisis of the Reagan administration’s publication, “A Nation at Risk,” such as with passage of the Chicago School Reform Act of 1988, so “reform” has been the status quo for 25 years.

  22. The status quo in education is currently the work of a handful of billionaires and their faithful servants (Kopp, Rhee, Klein, Henderson, Duncan, et al). Teachers get no say. Their unions are powerless or are run by sellouts.

    Yes, the status quo needs changing: we need to stop using mass-produced, inaccurate multiple-choice tests written by temps. We need to prepare teachers well to teach, and we need to give them support and autonomy so that they can make professional decisions that will be backed up at higher levels. We need to stop foisting the most inexperienced (and temporary) teachers on the poorest kids. We need to stop using military-style discipline on those kids. We need to have school systems that actually have plans for educating everybody. (Note: I don’t oppose having different types of public schools with different approaches to education — but I am opposed to turning their funding and direction over to private corporations!)

    We need MORE parental involvement, not less. We need to give teachers MORE authority, not less. We need to get the corporate billionaires out of running our schools.

  23. Joe Nathan says:

    Gary, I would be interested in what recommendations you have to improve math achievement in public schools.

    Our 3 children graduated from urban public schools (non-elite admissions magnets), I spent 14 years working in urban public schools – again, not admissions magnets). My wife recently retired after 33 years as a urban public school teacher working with students having special needs. Our organization works with both district and charter public schools. I also write a weekly newspaper column carried by a variety of Minnesota newspapers.

    Hoping to learn more about your suggestions.
    Thank you.


  24. RunOn says:

    So you’ve really just dropped blogging so that you can get into 140 character cat fights with Fong and company over twitter? Wildly disappointing.

    • Gary Rubinstein says:

      RunOn, I have not dropped blogging. About once a year I do slow down a bit, as I did last April, and then I am sure to start up again. I’m fortunate that I’m not the only one writing about what I do. A lot of the other bloggers are doing a such a great job. As far as my twitter cat fights, think of those as ‘research.’ Interacting with these people has been informative to me. These people are a mess. They don’t know what they believe or what they should claim to believe. It is pretty strange and it will surely make for a good blog post summarizing what I made of my twitter wars.
      I’ve also been pretty busy teaching a course at City College which ended Monday and also putting finishing touches on my ‘ebook’ of essays about my life and family, which will soon be available on Amazon for about $1.99
      So I am keeping busy, but have not given up — just taking a breather.

    • Educator says:

      How did this comment help further students’ education in any way?

      I always look forward to Gary’s posts, and was wondering where he’s been, but realize that these bloggers do this on their own spare time, on top of their regular jobs / lives.

  25. Joe Nathan says:

    RunOn, I’m not sure who you are directing this comment to.
    I am hoping to read Gary’s suggestions for improving math achievement.

  26. Pingback: Remainder: Does anyone really stand up for the status quo? | GothamSchools

  27. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein: Who Supports the Status Quo? | Diane Ravitch's blog

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