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