Education Post Touts Failing Chicago Charter To Give Free Publicity To TFA

Teach For America has done a lot of rebranding over the past few years.  For most of their existence, TFA has had to deal with criticism that their corps members are not very diverse and that most TFAers don’t teach, on average, much beyond the two-year commitment.

For the diversity issue, TFA now says that they are actually the most diverse teacher training program with only 51% of their recent cohorts identifying as White.  And for the reputation they have that TFA teachers don’t generally remain in the classroom, they have all kinds of different schemes they do with the data to claim that about 85% of alumni are still involved in either education or something that impacts low-income communities.

Of course I’m one of the alumni who has remained in teaching and without TFA it is likely that I would have never become a teacher and there are some TFA alumni I know who have also remained in education in various roles and who I have a lot of respect for.  It really is hard to measure the impact of TFA taken as a whole.  Even if only 10% of TFAers remain in education but if that 10% does a lot of good, then TFA could be considered a good thing.  The problem is that TFA has also produced the likes of people like Michelle Rhee, Cami Anderson, Kevin Huffman, John White, Marc Sternberg, and others who have done so much damage to education, it really isn’t possible for the cumulative good to outweigh the bad caused by even just those handful of people.

Education Post and The 74 are the two most biased outlets of reform propaganda on the internet.  I’d say that The 74 is a bit worse, but Education Post is a very close second.  A few days ago I read an article at Education Post entitled ‘Without TFA I Would Have Never Become The Principal I Am Today’  In this post, TFA alum Elizabeth Jamison-Dunn writes about her journey from TFA corps member in 2007 to current principal of a charter school in Chicago.

This post has all the clichés from the reform playbook.  Here are some quotes:

“There was no reason that all children shouldn’t have access to a high-quality education, and where you live should never dictate the type of education that you receive.”

“Although it was very gratifying to see my scholars achieve at high levels, what was more inspiring was to see scholars who had hated math their entire life show over three years growth in one academic year”

“As a school leader, I will do everything in my power to make sure my scholars have access to a world-class education regardless of their ZIP code.”

The education reform movement is built on the lie that public schools are ‘failing’ and that charter schools prove this by outperforming the public schools.  It is critically important for reformers to keep promoting this lie since if charter schools are not much different than public schools and if public schools are ‘failing’ then charter schools are ‘failing’ too.

Elizabeth Jamison-Dunn is the principal of a school called Catalyst Charter Circle Rock in Chicago.  Jamison-Dunn says that when she was a teacher there her students would get 3 years of growth in a single year and now as principal the school has “seen significant increases in our math and reading scores.”  Also the school culture has improved so that “we have retained over 90 percent of our staff each year.”

Illinois has a very good public data site for checking claims like this and it didn’t take me more than a few minutes to learn that this school, which is a K-8 so they cannot claim that they inherited students that were not served well by other schools, had some of the lowest PARCC scores in Chicago.  Only 12% of the students met the standards compared to 34% for the state.

For some of the grades, things were particularly bad with many of their percents in the single digits.

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 7.44.34 PMScreen Shot 2017-10-10 at 7.44.15 PM

The data system also has a tool to see how a school’s test scores compare to schools with similar demographics.  In this we see that this school is not any sort of outlier at all, the light dots are all the elementary schools in Illinois while the black dots are the elementary schools in Chicago where the x-axis is the poverty level and the y-axis is the PARCC composite.

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 7.53.38 PM

The red triangle for this school is a bit hard to see, so here is the scatterplot again with that school identified.

catalyst parcc

About the claim that this school has a 90% retention rate, there is pdf with basic data for the school for the 2015-2016 school year.  According to this document, the teacher retention rate is 32% with the state having about an 80% retention rate so I don’t know where the 90% she cites comes from.

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 7.58.56 PM

Reformers always want to have it both ways.  They want to label public schools with test scores like this as ‘failing’ yet it is a school run by a TFAer they want to ignore the low test scores and present the school as a success.  Whether or not this is a good school or not, and it may very well be one, isn’t the point here.  The point is that if a school with ties to the ed reform movement can be considered worthy of celebrating despite test scores in the basement, why was it necessary to shut down 50 public schools in Chicago with low test scores and replace them with charters that get the same test results?

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44 Responses to Education Post Touts Failing Chicago Charter To Give Free Publicity To TFA

  1. John says:

    Did you evaluate whether her claim about significant increases is accurate? She said one thing (improved) and you argued another (absolute performance). When I see this, and knowing you are a thorough guy, it makes me wonder if she was accurate and you chose not to report that, but instead to point out something else.

    Re turnover, those numbers can be very misleading as states have a very particular way of defining it. For example, a teacher who becomes a curriculum coach is considered turnover. Also, my experience is that the state accounting for such things is generally not great. Granted, there’s a big difference between 32 and 90, and I hope she addresses why there is a difference between what she claimed and the state number

    • garyrubinstein says:

      The PARCC is pretty new, their scores didn’t change much from 2015 to 2016 and the 2017 scores don’t seem to be published yet. Even compared to their peer schools, these are low scores which is supposed to be the only thing that matters to reformers.

      • John says:

        Thanks for posting that. Most reformers I know are more interested in growth than absolute performance, which is largely just an alternative measure for family income. I appreciate your scatter plot though, which I agree shows that the school is not overachieving what is predicted.

    • garyrubinstein says:

      The school has low test scores and low growth. Growth for elementary schools is not much different than test scores since the kids all grow from the same baseline as opposed to a middle school where growth is more difficult to calculate. If you mean year to year percent proficient, their growth is not good for that either. They have 4% passing for some of their things, even if they started from 0%, that’s not a lot of growth. You don’t suppose that they started with negatives?

  2. David-S says:

    Unreadable. Please resend or provide link. I would prefer to keep them as I always have so a resend would be preferable

    Sent from David’s iPhone

  3. Michael Fiorillo says:

    Can’t these people open their mouths without emitting the same talking points and cliches?

    It’s always the same tape loop, “…scholars (who) have access to a world class education regardless of their zip code,” etc., ad nauseum. In addition to none of it being true, it makes you wonder if they all had a chip implanted in their brains during their five week “training.”

    If they’re “the best and brightest,” you’d think they’d be able to form an original phrase at least once in a while, and not continue to rely on banal focus group- generated talking points and buzz phrases that were stale a decade ago.

  4. Gordon says:

    How does it help kids and schools for you to attack Elizabeth, the principal in Chicago who is your fellow TFA alum? After reading her post, I only see someone who is deeply committed to kids and her staff and is working to better herself as a school leader.

    The only thing I admire about this post is how indefatigable you are at responding with attacks to every Google Alert you receive with “TFA” in it.

    • garyrubinstein says:

      It helps kids, indirectly, when I fact check things like this just as it helps the public, in general, when things are fact checked. I’m glad this TFA alum is a principal now. The fact is that a school can have low test scores and not be failing at all and can have a good leader. I wish that reformers would admit that more about the so-called ‘failing’ public schools that have about the same test scores as this school.

  5. esanzi says:

    Gary, since when do you believe in using test scores to judge schools? And for what it’s worth, I have kids being taught by TFA teachers and non TFA teachers and I’m grateful for both. As far as EdPost being biased, they certainly advocate for school choice and accountability. But the variety of voices there is actually such that writers often disagree with one another and pieces are run that show both sides of the disagreement. If believing that all kids deserve a quality school and that parents deserve to have options, regardless of their wealth, is biased then, yes. Sign me up.

    • Michael Fiorillo says:

      It’s quite simple, actually: so-called reformers have made testing the sole means of judging schools, so it’s fair to judge them by what they devote most of their energy to, even if real educators know that it’s an incomplete picture and proxy for family income, at best, and completely bogus, at worst.

      In other words, so-called reformers, and TFA in particular, are being hoist on their own petards.

      • John says:

        I call BS on this one. Test scores have the same validity regardless of where applied. So, let’s all be adults and use them with appropriate context and an understanding of what they mean.

    • Michael Fiorillo says:

      “Test scores have the same validity no matter where applied.”

      That’s a good one; it also ignores my point.

      • John says:

        No, it’s exactly your point. You think scores shouldn’t apply to those who say scores shouldn’t apply, and that they should to those who say they should. That’s nonsense. Pick your belief on scores and apply it consistently regardless of what type of school you are looking at or you are being hypocritical.

      • Michael Fiorillo says:

        Next time you’re in a debate, try to not put words in your opponent’s mouth; you’ll find it’s far more effective.

    • garyrubinstein says:

      I did not judge the school. I just pointed out the irony that a school with test scores that would earn it a ‘failing’ label by reformers is instead held up as a model because it is a charter school.

    • Jack Covey says:

      “Esanzi” is Erika Sanzi, and she works/writes part time for Education Post, where she pulls down a six-figure salary.

      “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

  6. Keri says:

    So to be clear, you hate testing and think it’s awful — but you’re using test data to make the case that Elizabeth Jamison-Dunn is a terrible principal? Looks like you want it both ways too — and frankly, can we start talking about the talking points the “holding-on-to-mediorcrity-with-both-hands” crowd uses as well? Including: “tests don’t tell the full story!” and “we want kids to be joyful learners!” as well as “it’s not the teacher’s fault these kids aren’t achieving, it’s their terrible parents!”

    • garyrubinstein says:

      Never said she was a bad principal or that this is a bad school. Never have I seen a reformer admit about a school that has low test scores “Whether or not this is a good school or not, and it may very well be one, isn’t the point here.” I’m sure the school is fine and so are the great majority of schools that have low test scores that reformers unfairly label as ‘failing.’

  7. Brian says:

    Is this the norm in America now. We use information we don’t normally agree with, then spin it to suit our message? Sounds like a president I know. We have got to do better together to improve education for all children.

    • John says:

      This does seem to be the norm in the anti-reform movement. Diane Ravitch’s blog could be used as a textbook for logical errors and spin. I don’t like reading things when it’s obvious that the author starts with the conclusion and works backwards to “support” it, using cherry picked facts or misdirection. I’m not saying it’s exclusive to anti-reform, but it is certainly well practiced in the forums I read.

    • Michael Fiorillo says:

      That’s a neat bit of mis-direction, trying to paint supporters of public education as somehow associated with Trump.

      The reality is that charter school touts face a dilemma: trying to maintain the transparently false veneer that so-called education reform is the “civil rights issue of our time,” and publicly emitting crocodile tears about Trump and De Vos, while eagerly cashing their checks.

      The willful ignorance, hypocrisy and just plain intellectual dishonesty of so-called reformers – to say nothing of the smash-and grab policies they promote – is never ending, and on display here.

      • John says:

        None of these behaviors that you ascribe to reformers are actually “on display here”. Please re-read. What is in fact on display here is this: Logical fallacies, rationalizations, and personal attacks by anti-reformers.
        It starts with Gary saying this principal’s claims of growth can’t be true because absolute scores are low. It goes on to the assertion that her statement was “probably a lie”. Moves on to the rationalization that [anyone can get better results than 81% of schools], and to personal attacks against the principal and teachers. These are the tools of anti-reformers. They effectively make it unnecessary to be humble about one’s own results and make it easy to dismiss others without enough information. It is a mechanism for avoiding the hard work of trying to improve.
        As for your perceptions of charters, I’m guessing you’ve never been to one. Most are filled with children of color from low income families, and very dedicated staff. The evil privatizing office doesn’t exist. There are exceptions to the rule, but painting these educators with that brush is as inappropriate and unfair as it would be for me to say that you are lazy or in the job for the vacation policy. It seems like you are fighting back against the teachers posting here for some perceived slight that they have nothing to do with.

      • garyrubinstein says:

        John, This school has low scores and also low growth. Like I tried to make clear here, that does not mean that it is a bad school, but merely a ‘failing’ school (notice the quotes). I put the quotes there since I am using the reformer definition. Google the expression ‘trapped in failing schools’ and you will find articles by reformers advocating for schools with low test scores to be shut down. Never in any of those articles have a seen a reformer say something like “Whether or not this is a good school or not, and it may very well be one, isn’t the point here.” but I was careful to and also careful to put ‘failing’ in quotes everywhere except in the title. I fully believe a school can have low test scores and low growth scores (as this charter school did) and still be a very good school and the principal can be a very good principal. Sorry if I did not make that clear. I reread this and did not edit it at all, I hope you will look at it again and see if I really am trashing this school or just saying that it isn’t so much better than the other schools that reformers like to say are ‘failing’

      • Michael Fiorillo says:

        Funny you should talk about fallacies, when you use a straw man argument against me: my comments are concerned with the propaganda and lies of the “education reform industrial complex,” – something you conveniently ignore/deny – while you try to turn it into an attack against charter school teachers.

        I may think that charter school teachers are naive and exploited as a result, but I don’t consider them enemies, unlike TFA, which is a dishonest and insidious institution that can’t have a stake put through its heart soon enough. After all, Wendy Karp has explicitly said that TFA’s purpose is not to train teachers, but to identify, groom and train “leaders,” who will walk point in the hostile takeover of public education. We’ve got ample evidence of the nastiness of these people’s behavior once they are let loose in the schools. I know you all want us to forget Michelle Rhee and her ilk, but you’re stuck with them; they’re the true face of so-called reform.

        As for the demographics of charter school enrollment, please spare me your empty rhetoric about helping “children of color from low income families” (as if the public schools don’t) while finessing lotteries and admissions, counseling out and not replacing those very same students, and making sure not to enroll special needs students and ELLs. It’s endemic to the industry, has been ably documented on this very site, and I challenge you to refute it. Just look at the student attrition rates (to say nothing of the teacher turnover at these sweatshops; but then again, teachers as temps is official so- called reform policy and practice, institutionalized by TFA) at charter schools. And guess who gets the students on the charter school “got to go” (to quote industry leader Success Academy) list? The very same public schools your billionaire “philanthropists” are so eager to undermine.

        Anyway, Gary, congratulations: you’ve obviously struck a nerve among charter apologists and touts. Good: they deserve it.

  8. How does it benefit kids and improve schools to attack people who are trying to make them better? Just like there isn’t a one-size-fits-all teaching approach, how can there possibly be a one-size-fits-all school improvement approach?

    • garyrubinstein says:

      I didn’t attack anybody, I don’t think. I said that the school was about the same as schools reformers like to call ‘failing.’ I don’t think those other schools deserve to be called failing and think those ‘failing’ schools are generally pretty good, so I don’t see this as a critique of the school or the principal. It’s just a fact that this school has low test scores and it is ironic that when you point that out to the reformers they freak out like this.

  9. Chyrise says:

    I don’t understand how attacking someone who, like you, stayed in the fight to improve the educational experiences of kids, positively contributing to their success? I agree, “Whether or not this is a good school or not, and it may very well be one, isn’t the point here.” And, that’s not the point Elizabeth is trying to make. It seems to me that she went out on a limb to share with others what has worked for her and what she’s learned. There are a variety of different avenues that lead educators to the classroom. TFA happens to be the road that Elizabeth felt was best for her. That said, in a nation desperate to recruit and retain dedicated educators, attacking those who bravely share what they’ve learned along their own journey does nothing but silence others currently in the fight and deter others from joining.

  10. Lane says:

    I think you’re missing the point. This principal is talking about her personal experience, and she’s proud of the growth. Then you attack her over low proficiency, you don’t even mention growth (because you can’t). Seems like you’re just looking for an opportunity to pick on anything TFA or Education Reform.

    • Michael Fiorillo says:

      No, Gary is pointing out the persistent distortions and lies put out by the marketing/propaganda arms of the education reform industrial complex, which is forever spinning false tales of “miracle schools” based on data that so-called reformers assume people are too lazy or stupid to understand.

      Meanwhile, since you can’t discredit Gary’s analysis of the statistics, you’re trying to mis-characterize his exposure of so-called reforms’ typical deceptions as a personal attack.

    • garyrubinstein says:

      This school has low test scores and low growth. In a middle school where students enter in 5th grade it is possible for a school to have high growth but still low test scores since they have to grow the students from the level at which they arrive. But for elementary school, in general, growth and test scores are very closely related since they got the kids as kindergarteners.

      I hope if you take a close look at this post you will see that I never said this is a bad school or a bad principal. I even was careful to put ‘failing’ in quotes, sarcastically using a word coined by reformers as in “143,000 kids are trapped in failing schools.” All I said is that the school was not much different than the sorts of schools that reformers unfairly describe as ‘failing’ so it is a double standard for reformers not to declare this school as ‘failing’ too.

  11. professorjba says:

    Sometimes what helps with getting a point across is to look beyond the surface level. In my opinion the Principal did a great job of celebrating and acknowledging the fact that progress is happening. Too often people want Principals to change decades of failure over night. Regardless if it’s a public charter, private charter, traditional public, etc, the goal should be to ensure that every child finds a pathway that leads them to a productive, happy and successful life. Testing is important but it’s not the key to a child’s success. If testing it the only means of measuring school and student success then clearly we all are missing the mark. As Educators and Educational Advocates, we should be mindful not to silence voices. Our advocacy should encourage people like Elizabeth and countless others to share their stories regardless if we feel like they are measuring up to our standards. I’m in hopes that the focus will shift from attacking the Principal towards ways to support and provide resources need to ensure she’s success for the scholars. #Voices4Ed

  12. Steve M says:

    With at least one-quarter of Catalyst Charter Circle Rock’s 16 teachers responding above, perhaps they may enlighten us as to how their principal came up with the “students gain three years of learning” statistic. You see, it’s all too likely that she was simply lying, or parroting one of TFA’s old taglines. Gary asked that in a polite fashion. Me? I’m more blunt.

    Please, do tell.

    For readers’ further consideration: Catalysts’ website indicates that their school’s growth in achievement scores from 2015 to 2016 beats 81% of schools nationally. This is not particularly noteworthy, when one considers that schools performing around the bottom decile normally only need to have average raw scores improve by less than a single point to achieve such a thing. With only 513 students, and extending the number of minutes in the school day as much as Catalyst does, doing a few days’ worth of focused test prep could account for that.

    I’d suggest that those who came by to lambaste Gary, and to also score some juicy brownie points with their principal, should go back and read all of Gary’s posts from the last several years…but only after explaining how their principal arrived at her claim.

    • John says:

      I love it when someone says how easy it is to get growth that’s better than 81% of schools. I suppose Steve that you think that these other schools don’t improve like that because they’re too busy doing things other than increasing academic achievement. Anti-reformers are good at rationalizion
      As for Gary’s posts, I think this was one of his weakest ones, and I think the feedback is appropriate.

      • Steve M says:

        John, I see that Catalyst Charter Circle Rock went from having 10.6% of its students (2015) be deemed proficient in a composite Math/ELA score up to 12% (2016). That is an increase of 13.2%, which looks like amazing change to the uninitiated public, but is not terribly interesting when given more scrutiny. In one year, the school apparently went from having 33 of its 313 eligible students demonstrate proficiency to having 38 of its eligible students demonstrate proficiency.

        With so few students actually utilized in the calculation, the school’s impressive 13.2% growth is seen to be rather meaningless. There was growth, yes, but that growth could be gauged by counting the fingers of one hand.

        It is rather easy to beat 81% of the nation’s schools in “academic growth,” particularly when dealing with very few students who also happen to be in the lower decile ranges. You either know this very very well, and are being disingenuous, or don’t comprehend this at all and would greatly benefit from reading the last several years of Gary’s posts.

        Either way, Catalyst’s principal could clear everything up by qualifying her growth statement. I’m not going to hold my breath.

      • garyrubinstein says:

        Where is this 81% coming from? There are two types of growth: There’s the magic value-added formula which tries to measure this, but I don’t think they provide that one for the schools. There’s also year to year percent meeting standards. Going from 10% to 12% is 2% growth. You can try to do a percent change on it, but that is misleading. Like if a school goes from 1% to 3% that’s 200% growth, but still not impressive.

      • Steve M says:

        Looking at the 2017 CREDO report, they have equated one standard deviation on the NAEP exam to 570 days. Therefore, if we use traditional charter/TFA logic, the principal is essentially claiming that her students [some of her students? one of her students? she never says how many, but implies that they all do] improve by nearly one standard deviation on said exam. This begs the question: and over what time frame?

        It’s all a load of garbage…simply a sales pitch to gullible parents and policy makers.

  13. Bernita says:

    Gary, Did you know that you sound a bit jealous that TFA didn’t go that well for you?

    • Michael Fiorillo says:

      Weak, very weak: you couldn’t refute Gary’s facts, so you go ad hominem…

    • garyrubinstein says:

      Hi Bernita, Thanks for the comment, just so you know my TFA experience was very good. First year was rough, but next three years were good and I was voted teacher of the year at my school, then was hired by TFA to train the new teachers which I did for a summer and then for about 10 years after that did workshops at the institute to help the new teachers. Never in this post did I say that this principal was a bad principal. Just trying to make the point that there is a double standard among reformers where a non-charter is labelled ‘failing’ while a charter school with the same numbers is not. Gary

  14. John says:

    Steve M, thanks for the thoughtful reply. 5 out of 38 is pretty substantial for those kids and that school, and they should be proud of it, as they apparently are. I agree that it isn’t meaningful in the grand scheme of things given the scale, but it’s Gary that critiqued it as such.

    • garyrubinstein says:

      It’s not 5 out of 38 but 5 out of the 280. They should be proud of passing I never said they shouldn’t be. All I said was that this school’s test scores are not so different than the test scores of the non charters that were labeled failing by reformers which is just a fact.

      • Michael Fiorillo says:

        Facts are very dangerous things in the world of so-called reform, and must either be ignored or distorted.

        It’s so much easier and more comforting to wallow in the lies, self-congratulation and delusions of the so-called reform echo chamber. And it’s lucrative, too, providing lightning-fast upward career mobility to those who are willing to put on the blinders, drink the kool-aid and endlessly repeat the so-called reform buzz phrases and talking points.

        Sadly, however, it’s a raw deal for teachers and the overwhelming majority of students. I’d express hope that some of these folks will someday wake up, but as Upton Sinclair said, it’s hard to make someone understand something when their paycheck depends on them not understanding it.

    • Steve M says:

      My last post on this topic:

      A pdf giving a demographic breakdown of the school indicates that the faculty retention rate was 32% **over the last 3 years**. Thus, we can infer that if the principal had an approximate teacher retention rate of 90% this year, most of her faculty (people that she had worked with for several years, and knew her) left the year before.

      Make of it what you will.

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