For the past six years, Elisa Villanueva Beard has been a CEO of Teach For America. Over the years I have followed her various speeches and interviews to get a sense if TFA is evolving at all about its historically distorted view of education in this country.
In a podcast called SwampED, hosted by former Obama staff members, and leaning heavily in the ‘reform’ camp and Arne Duncan idolizing, they interviewed Villanueva-Beard the other day.
Villanueva-Beard starts with a story I’ve heard before about how she was the number one student in her high school in Texas yet she struggled to adjust to DePauw University. She uses this story to support her claim that she makes in nearly every speech and interview that teachers in this country have low expectations for low-income students. Her own high school teachers had low expectations for her and that’s why she was not prepared. Those teachers, apparently, don’t deserve any credit for the great success that she has enjoyed throughout her life with the exception of maybe her first semester in college.
As always, Villanueva-Beard gets some ‘status quo’ references. In response to a question about how TFA corps members fit in with the staff at their schools, she says:
We are bringing a type of person who is unafraid to challenge the status quo, whose on a mission to deliver for children and brings an energy to that.
Later on she get’s her second ‘status quo’ in:
You emerge from this … with a deep personal commitment to want to do something about this and then just really resolved to be part of the solution, challenge the status quo.
About TFA, she repeats the misleading claim that 85% of alumni are still working in education or impacting low income communities in some way even though only 15% of them originally wanted to be in education. The first thing about the 85% number is that it comes from a checkbox question on a self-selected alumni survey where they have you check a box ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question: “Is your current occupation in education or impacting low income communities.” I’d be curious what percent of people, in general, would answer yes to that.
At the 21 minute mark, she says something very familiar, right out of the TFA ‘messaging’ guidebook:
Twenty years ago we were still asking can children in low income communities do as well as any other kid. And now we have data and proof, hundreds of schools that show us otherwise.
Compare this to this 2009 interview that Wendy Kopp did with The Dallas News
Twenty years ago, the prevailing notion was that socioeconomic background determined educational outcomes. Today, hundreds and hundreds of teachers and schools are proving it doesn’t have to be that way and are showing us the path to success.
Early in the podcast, and then again at the end, Villanueva-Beard references a charter school she just visited in D.C., Ingenuity Prep, a school that hires lots of TFA corps members, you can bet. She speaks about the high expectations the TFA teacher has for the kids there and how much energy she experienced in her visit hearing from the kids about their future ambitions.
But does Elisa Villanueva-Beard know that according the the school report cards, Ingenuity Prep is just considered ‘average’ even by D.C. standards.
And does she know that their test scores are only a little better than the average D.C. school which, as we know, isn’t very high. And for math, they even had a growth score that was below the average for D.C.
Not that I take these numbers too seriously, but it is at least ironic that the TFA leadership of Rhee, Henderson, and Kamras who created these rating systems has judged this school, Ingenuity Prep, that so impressed Elisa Villanueva-Beard as a school that is just a bit above average.
TFA is an organization that is very slow to change. They really only change when they think that not changing will impact their power and funding. Still, I’ll continue to try to hold Elisa Villanueva-Beard to the high expectations that her high school teachers were unwilling to and continue analyzing her various speeches and interviews until I feel she’s met them.