The Case of the Missing Scholar

Success Academy began 11 years ago with a group of 83 kindergarteners and 73 first graders.

This past December, Success Academy published a blog post about their first graduating seniors in this post, principal Andrew Malone wrote “I’m proud to report that 14 of the 17 seniors have already earned an admissions offer, with 23 acceptances overall! ”

I had been following the attrition of the 73 first grades as they had shrunk to 59 fourth graders then, a few years later, 26 9th graders.  By December they were down to 17 12th graders — a 77% attrition rate.

Just 10 weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal did a piece called “How Success Academy Got Its First Seniors to College” with the subtitle: All 17 seniors at the New York City network’s first charter school have been accepted to four-year colleges.

Well, the graduation ceremony happened today and I noticed something unusual:

16, not 17.  Somehow in the past 10 weeks, Success Academy lost another student.

I know that this is just one student, but I find it pretty strange that a student should go through 11 3/4 years of the pressures of Success Academy and not get to the opportunity to graduate.  There must be an interesting story behind this missing scholar.

Either way, with one fewer, the official tally is 16 which is 22% of the original 73.


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Success Academy Finally Takes — And Bombs — The Algebra II Regents

Success Academy is the most well known and controversial charter chain in the country.  They are also the most secretive.

In New York state, high school students are required to pass end of the year finals, called The Regents, in order to graduate.  In 2006 Success Academy started with their first two cohorts so two years ago I checked to see how their first 9th graders fared on The Regents.  I found that they did not post any scores, which was pretty surprising since Success is so well known for their standardized test scores.  I then learned that when that first cohort made it to 11th grade, they did have those students take some Regents exams after all.  Those results are now on the New York State public data system.

I see various results from the English, Algebra II, Global History, and Chemistry.  They did fine on English and Global History, but very poorly on Algebra II.

Unlike the state tests where students are graded on a scale of 1 to 4, the Regents are graded out of 100.  Since the common core Regents have been made, the number from 0 to 100 is not a percentage, but a scaled score where a passing score of 65 can be achieved on Algebra II, at least, by getting about 30% of the possible points on the test.

On this public data site, though they have the scores broken down as level 1 to 5.   According to New York State, level 4 qualifies as ‘meets standards’ while level 5 is ‘exceeds standards.’  On the June 2017 exam with the generous curve, students needed to get at least 52% of the possible points (45 out of 86 points which scaled, last year, to between a 78 and an 84 on the test) to meet the standards to qualify as a level 4.

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Of the 16 students at Success Academy who took the Algebra II Regents, none of them were able to achieve the level 5 which though it was called an 85 it is actually just 72% of the possible points (62 out of 86).  Only two students scored a level 4 (which you get by getting 52% of the points for  scaled score of at least a 78), officially meeting the standards.  Eleven partially met the standards with a level 3.  The other three of the 16 students (about 20% of them) failed outright.  This is a pretty poor showing for a school that prides themselves on their math standardized test scores for the state 3-8 tests.  As a math teacher who has spent a lot of time examining the different math Regents over the years, believe me on this.

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As I wrote about in a post called ‘Who Survives Success’ the original two cohorts of Success Academy when they were Kindergarteners and 1st graders were 72% free lunch.  These 16 students who took the Algebra II Regents, I think it is a fair assumption that these are from the 17 students who are about to become the first graduating seniors.  7 out of 16 qualify as economically disadvantaged, which is just 44%.

Also notice that the two students who got the level 4s were from the 9 students who did not qualify as economically disadvantaged.  Back in 2006 this was a group of 72 first graders of which around 56 were economically disadvantaged.  After 11 years, Success Academy was down to just 7 out of those 56 students and of those 7, they were not not able to claim any economically disadvantaged students to meet the standards (which were already pretty low, just needing 52%) on the Algebra II Regents.

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The Truth About YES Prep’s 100% College Acceptance Rate

YES Prep is a charter chain in Houston that was started by a TFA alum and is currently run by Jeremy Beard, the husband of TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva-Beard.  In the recent US News and World Report ratings YES prep had several high rated high schools.

Charter schools are supposed to be education innovators and YES prep is, as far as I can tell, the inventor of one of the biggest half-truths in recent education history — the 100% college acceptance rate, failing to mention, that this is really just 100% of the graduating seniors, which could be much less than the original cohort.  I first heard about this in 2010 when Oprah awarded them $1 million, in part, because of this amazing, beating-the-odds statistic.

Over the years, various reformers and charter schools have used the 100% college acceptance rate trick to their advantage.  Arne Duncan did it with Urban Prep Charter schools in 2011.  Michael Johnston continues to use it for the school he was principal of as he currently runs for Governor of Colorado.  Just the other day I saw something on Twitter about a Milwaukee charter school that claimed 100% college acceptance and it turned out that their senior class had 33 students vs. their freshman class of 140.

Considering that YES Prep is run by the husband of the CEO of TFA, I think they are definitely worthy of examination.  Over the years I’ve uncovered various scandals about them.  One is that 2 out of 12 of their middle schools are ‘F’ rated in Houston.  The biggest, though, is that while 14% of their middle school students are black, only 3.5% of their high school students are.  This is pretty strong evidence that YES prep has a discriminatory practice for their high school admissions.

Since TFA is one of the darlings of the ed reform movement (Arne Duncan spoke at a fund raiser in Chicago the other day) and since YES prep is the darling of TFA (now that KIPP has had a big scandal involving a TFA-alum founder and, allegedly, a student), and with the TFA CEO being married to the head of YES prep, all these shady dealing are very relevant and not very widely known.

I recently obtained a copy of YES Prep’s 83 page student guidebook.  In there, among other things, it is easily seen how they can maintain their 100% college acceptance rate for graduating seniors:  Getting into college is a graduation requirement.  Here is the section from page 13:

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Some other things I found interesting from their handbook:

Page 10:  In the parent section, this is a strange thing the parents have to sign on to.  There is a partnership with the parents, the students, and the school.  If the school is doing things that provoke the students into misbehaving, then the school should be a shared partner in this.Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 9.45.33 AM

Page 12:  State test scores are used as a factor in determining if a student is promoted to the next grade level.

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Page 13:  Students have to take an AP test.  This seems designed to get the school better ratings in US News, which uses that as a big factor.

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Page 16-17:  Their retention policy is very vague and gives them a lot of power to use this as a way to get students to transfer out.

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Page 17:  Students who have less than 90% attendance may not get promoted to middle school.  Also students who don’t do well on the state test.

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Page 17-18 to be promoted from 8th to 9th grade, need 90% attendance and passing the state tests.

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Page 20:  If they get into college, but then their college acceptance gets rescinded for any reason, they no longer are eligible to graduate.Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 9.52.51 AM

Page 34:  Being late 10% of the time and missing 1st period can cause you to lose credit for that class.Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 9.55.08 AM

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Queen Eva’s Gambit

In the New York Post today there was a headline that read “Charter school upsets juggernaut Stuyvesant HS on way to chess crown”

It began in dramatic fashion.

The US hockey team beating the mighty Soviets at the 1980 Olympics, Mike Tyson being knocked out by Buster Douglas 10 years later — and now this.

A Success Academy girls chess team upset perennial juggernaut Stuyvesant HS at a Chicago tournament over the weekend to claim its first national championship.

In winning the girls crown, the crew from the charter network’s Manhattan high school notched its first ever victory over what is roundly considered the city’s top academic institution.

As an avid chess player myself and also as a teacher at Stuyvesant High School and also knowing that one of our sophomore girls is the 38th highest rated female chess player in the country, I thought that this would be quite accomplishment if there wasn’t more to the story than the article suggests.

But as with everything about Success Academy, important details are always conveniently left out to support the mythology of Success Academy.

First, a little about chess ratings and tournaments since not everyone is familiar with this.  Chess players have ‘ratings’ anything from 0 to about 3000 which is how good you are based on who you’ve beaten and who has beaten you.  A beginner would have about a 500 rating.  An advanced beginner would be about a 1000.  An intermediate player would have somewhere between 1000 and 1200 while a more advanced intermediate player would be between about 1200 and 1400.  After that it gets pretty difficult to increase your rating but a 1600 player is very good and an 1800 is nearly an ‘expert.’  Officially 2000 is an expert and 2200 is a ‘master’ and you have to have about 2500 to be a grandmaster.

Stuyvesant High School sent two girls to the 18 and under division with ratings 1962 and 2146 (the 2146 player, again, is the 38th best female player of any age in the country).  Success Academy sent four girls to the 18 and under division with ratings of 1051, 1052, 1112, and 1168.  I’m not trying to put anyone down here, but it would be very incredible if a player who is between 1000 and 1200 ever beat a player who was between 1900 and 2200 in a tournament.  So hearing that the Success Academy team upset the Stuyvesant team was intriguing to me and knowing all I do about how Success Academy likes to take liberties with the truth, I thought I would do some fact-checking by visiting the official tournament website.

This tournament was not “the nationals” as is implied by The Post when they say “its first national championship.”  The K-12 high school nationals will happen April 27th to 29th in Columbus, Ohio.

The way a chess tournament works is that there are about 30 players and a computer pairs up people to play in the first round.  If you win the game you get a ‘point’ and if you draw you get a half of a point.  In the second round the computer pairs up, as best as it can, people who have the same number of points.  This continues for six rounds.

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There were only two times that a Success Academy player played against a Stuyvesant player and in both cases the Stuyvesant player won.

One Stuyvesant player had 4.5 points at the end and the other has 3 points.  For Success Academy, three players had 3 points and one had 2.5 points.  The highest rated player that any Success Academy player beat was rated 1222.  So how, then, did Success Academy win the team competition?  Simple.  Stuyvesant’s ‘team’ was just two players.  The way they calculate the team score is by adding up the points of the top three players on that team.  So Stuyvesant, with just two players, got a team score of 7.5 while Success Academy with three of their top four players, got a team score of 9.  Basically, if you don’t field a full three person team, the players are really just there for the individual parts and not for the team competition.  With two players, you can’t really win the team part by the way it is scored.  Looking at the roster it seems that Success Academy is the only school that had at least three players to contribute to the team score.  They won because they were the only school in the competition with a full team.  This, not surprisingly, isn’t mentioned in the article.

Though I know some people will accuse me of being negative, I do want it to be known that I have nothing against the girls who participated in the Success Academy team.  I think it is great that Success Academy has an active chess program.  It’s a great game and great for the mind and for concentration and it is fun to go to tournaments and to bring home trophies.  And being rated around 1100 is a very good start for a teenager so I’m not trying to demean these girl’s skill levels.

But when the Success Academy PR team thinks it is necessary to call The New York Post and to give an incomplete account of how they took down the two member ‘juggernaut’ Stuyvesant squad, something they will surely use in their fund raising campaigns in the future, I do think it is worthwhile to give a more complete account.

The Success Academy girls were playing for enjoyment and for the fun and challenge of competition — not to be pawns in Eva’s game of public relations.




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Who Survives Success?

Success Academy opened in 2006 with 156 students — 83 kindergarteners and 73 first graders.  Now, eleven years later, they have their first graduating seniors, though just 17 of them.  In my last post I wondered what can be learned about the Success model by examining who exactly those 17 students are.

A big question, and one that might never be answered, is how many of those 17 students were actually among the original 73 first graders.  Since Success allows transfers up until 4th grade it is possible that some of those 17 students transferred in which would make their attrition rate even worse than the 77% that it is at a minimum.

New York State has a pretty good data site which I used to look at the most recent data from the 2016-2017 school year.  I then compared the data about the 10th and 11th grade from 2016-2017 to the data of their kindergarten and 1st grade from 2006-2007.

According to the state data (which can be found here), out of the 156 students (83 Kindergarten and 73 1st grade) in 2006-2007, 113 — which is 72% — of them qualified for either free or reduced lunch.  Though there was not data of the breakdown by gender, I think it is a fair assumption that the boys and girls were likely equally split, more or less.

Using the most recent data (which can be found here) we see that last year there were 36 10th graders and 20 11th graders.  So those 156 students have now become just 56 which is a 64% attrition, not even counting how many new students transferred in by 4th grade.  But even more than the attrition, I was able to use some of the data filters to get more information about who left the school.

For one thing, of the remaining 56 students from those first two cohorts, there are now 37 girls and 19 boys.  I know that I don’t have data to prove that they were half girls and half boys back in 2006-2007, but I believe it is very likely so the fact that those two classes are now two-thirds girls and one-third boys supports my belief that girls are more likely to make it all the way through Success Academy than boys.

But something that I do have data to compare is in the economic disadvantage category.  While they had 72% economically disadvantaged in 2006-2007, for those two cohorts in 2016-2017 there were on 27 out of 56 that were in that category which is just 48%.  So there is firm data that students who are economically disadvantaged.  So even without counting for transfers in, they only retained 24% of their economically disadvantaged students (27 out of 113) while retaining 67% of their students who were not economically disadvantaged (29 out of 43).

For the class of 2018, the 17 who are about to graduate and who have been celebrated in the media, what we can say from the data from last year was that they had 20 students of which 9 qualified as economically disadvantaged.  So there are at most 9 out 17 (53%) now or, depending on which three students left, as few as 6 out of 17 (35%).  This does not support the claim that the Success survivors have the same demographics as their neighboring schools.

If the net result of eleven years of Success Academy is to get 9 low-income students into college, that’s a lot of hype and a lot of money to be spent for that, not to mention all the loss of resources to the 1,099,991 other students in New York City schools who had to suffer a loss of resources as Success used their influence and marches and wealthy donors money to stage publicity stunts in Albany and to get the Governor to go to battle with the Mayor about having the city pay charter school rents.

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Wall Street Journal Fails To Answer Or Ask Many Questions About Success Academy

Success Academy is the highest profile charter network in New York.  The currently serve over 10,000 students in 40 schools.  They are known for their high test scores and their brazen founder, Eva Moskowitz.

Success Academy opened in 2006 with 83 Kindergarteners and 73 first graders.  Now, eleven years later, they are about to graduate their first cohort of students.  This has prompted a two part series in The Wall Street Journal.  The first part was called How Success Academy Got Its First Seniors Into College and the second part was called At Success Academy Charter School, Stretching Comes With Growing Pains.  These were articles that were yet another media missed opportunity.

The most notable fact in the article is that the graduating class that achieved a 100% college admissions rate had a total of 17 students.

From the first article:

Back when the Class of 2018 started, they were among 73 students in first grade. Those remaining express deep loyalty to their classmates and teachers. For years, they watched as friends left for schools that had less homework, fewer rules, shorter days, more sports and bigger pools of classmates for socializing, or the allure of selective district high schools. They take pride in their persistence.

Success Academy officials say their charters have low attrition rates compared with other schools serving their demographic.

This excerpt shows an unwillingness by The Wall Street Journal to probe into the facts about this school.  Success Academy officials may ‘say’ their charters have low attrition rates, but the numbers don’t lie.  17 out of 73 is just 23 percent of that initial cohort.

The gravity of this large attrition is definitely underplayed in this quote from the article:

Success Academy seniors joke about the intimate size of their class. The network has a sought-after lottery for enrollment in elementary grades, but doesn’t add new students after fourth grade or fill seats when children leave. Many educators argue that taxpayer-funded charters should offer vacant spots to applicants, as regular public schools do. Ms. Moskowitz says newcomers wouldn’t be prepared for the curriculum.

And that list of why students leave for the perks of other schools and for their own laziness is very unfair.  Nowhere is it mentioned that the school sometimes counsels out students with various tricks.  They even famously had something called a ‘got to go’ list of students they wanted to shed a few years back.

A few years ago one of these 17 seniors actually wrote a comment on my blog.  I commented back about the attrition rate and did she know where the rest of her cohort was.  She commented back:

The reason why many of the students left was because some of them moved out of New York City, some were expelled from Success Academy for not following our honor code and others, well I do not know about the others.

I’ve analyzed their attrition and found it to be about 17% per year for the older grades which is not low at all.

An example of a trick they use, and this is one that I know for a fact because it happened to someone I know, they will tell a parent at the end of the school year that their child is going to be left back.  But if they choose to transfer their child to another school, Success Academy will promote the student to the next grade.

The second article is about some of the problems Success Academy had had in their high schools.  According to the article, there was a student protest where 100 out of the 345 students participated.  Then later in the article it says about the principal:

Mr. Malone also has had to grapple with high staff turnover. He said almost one third of about 50 teachers last year left, in some cases due to the exhausting nature of the job.

So a school with 345 students had 50 teachers?  If these two numbers are accurate, that is quite the 7 to 1 student teacher ratio.

Part of their ‘success’ depends on their decision to not ‘backfill’ when students leave the school.  This is quite an advantage for a school seeking to keep its test scores up.  What would happen if all schools had this luxury?

Reformers are known for saying that every child should have the opportunity to a great education regardless of zip code.  By not backfilling beyond 3rd grade, Success Academy denies the right to transfer into this school for kids over 10 years old, which is definitely discriminatory.  Also this means that any child who moves to New York after 3rd grade and didn’t have the opportunity to ever apply for the Success Academy lottery will never attend a Success Academy.

The first article has testimonials from some of the seventeen seniors about how they would have never gotten into the colleges they did without Success Academy.  To me, this raises an important question.  While we will never know what would have become of these seventeen students had they not attended Success Academy, it would be very useful, I think, for education researchers on all sides of the national education debate to get more data about this very small set of kids.

Since Success Academy so often uses these kids in their own promotional materials and a small subset of even these seventeen always seem to turn up interviewed in articles like these, I’d be really interested to know more about these students to see if there is anything about them that would have made them more likely to succeed at this school than the 56 students who did not.

Like how many of the 17 were part of the original 73 students?  It is quite possible that some of those 17 were ones that ‘backfilled’ in in second or third grade.  If this is the case, then their attrition rate would be even more than the 77% it seems to be.

Did any of the 17 students take the gifted and talented test when they were in Pre-K and if so, what did they get?  Not that I think testing 4 year olds is the most accurate science, I still think it would be relevant.

How many of the 17 students have at least one parent who went to college and how does that compare to the average for the neighborhood around the school?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I think these are the sorts of relevant questions that reporters who get a chance to interview the officials at the school should be asking.

A strange thing I noticed in the second article was in the caption under a picture of one of the seniors.  The caption said:

The school requires a uniform, but this was one of the occasional days when students had a more relaxed dress code.

How odd is this to say in the caption?  And how revealing of  the sort of control that Success Academy over what sorts of things they allow to be revealed in public.  There is no way that a reporter would have thought that anyone would care or notice that a student wasn’t wearing a Success Academy uniform.

I only have two first-hand experiences with Success Academy.  I was once passing by the school yard in upper west side Success Academy on one of those days where the New York City schools were closed but Success Academy was open.  I saw a very miserable looking recess with kids in straight lines and several kids crying.  I was with my daughter at the time and we didn’t watch for more than a minute so maybe things got better after we left, but it didn’t look so fun to me.

Another first-hand experience was when, a few years ago, I stumbled upon a collection of about 500 videos they use for teacher training.  I was pretty horrified by what I saw and I wrote a few posts critiquing some of the videos.  One of them showed the most unpleasant story time for kindergarteners I had ever seen where the teacher was more concerned with the kids sitting ‘tall like a rock star’ than whether they were involved with the story.  Another had two English teachers working together on test prep with sixth graders.  After I wrote a few posts I found that Success Academy took down the entire video site, which was something that flattered me a little.

Though I haven’t talked to her in a while, I do have a former student who went on to become a teacher and then some kind of administrator at Success Academy.  She said she loved it there and that it was way better than the dysfunctional Harlem Children’s Zone Charter she had worked at previously.  I haven’t heard from her in a few years though.

I think that there are some kids who would be a good fit for Success Academy.  Like my own 10 year old daughter would probably do well there and she goes to summer camp with some friends who attend Success Academy.  My 6 year old son would likely be on the ‘got to go’ list, however.  I can’t say what percent of kids have what it takes to make it through 12 years of Success Academy, but that is yet another important question to raise.

Unfortunately this two-part series in The Wall Street Journal did not make much of an effort to unravel the mystery of the most controversial charter network in the state and their tiny group of seventeen survivors, the ‘product’ of the great experiment.

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The Current Wisdom Of TFA

I never thought I’d say this, but I kind of miss Michelle Rhee.

Back in the day I could always count on her or some other reform rockstar like Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, Cami Anderson, Kevin Huffman, or so many others to say something really bold yet completely ignorant about what’s wrong with schools in the country and how to improve them.  It was so easy and also so satisfying and rewarding.

But more recently I’ve noticed that the outspoken education reformer has become somewhat of an endangered species.  And with the exception of Eva Moskowitz, there have not been any charismatic reformers to take the place of those who have gone into seclusion.

And I think this was, whether or not this was intentional, a good decision by reformers.  Now that the reform movement has been mostly revealed to be a fraud, the only way that they can continue what they are trying to do is to do it behind the scenes without making controversial statements that can so easily be challenged.  So instead you have these milder nondescript reform leaders like Derrell Bradford Vice President of 50CAN, Carolyn Belcher, president of TNTP and Elisa Villanueva-Beard, CEO of TFA.

When Wendy Kopp created TFA twenty-eight years ago, a long term plan was that eventually the organization would become experts in the issues of education in this country and would be able to mobilize an army of informed alumni to help improve education based on their combined wisdom.  So here we are twenty-eight years later and although there have been some TFA alumni who have amassed some wisdom about education, I find that TFA ‘the organization’ continues to have a view of education that is extremely naive.  This simplistic view on the complexity of education was on display in a speech and question and answer session by Villanueva-Beard at The City Club of Cleveland last summer.

And though Villanueva-Beard is not necessarily the definitive voice for what TFA ‘thinks,’ I found this speech to be an interesting case study of how the wrong organizations and the wrong people have been giving way too much power and influence in the education debate in this country.

At around the five minute mark of her remarks, Elisa Villanueva-Beard says something that she has been saying in nearly all of her speeches and written published pieces.

Once kids are in schools they face even more barriers because the truth is that our system does not expect kids in low income communities, children of color to perform at the absolute level of their more affluent peers.

We find that in low income communities we have low expectations of children.

President Bush called it the bigotry of low expectations.

Channeling the wisdom of George W. Bush on education is never a good sign.

She then supports her argument by saying that she struggled her first semester in college due to the low expectations her teachers had for her (but surely her success after she adjusted to college had nothing to do with what she learned from her teachers before college, presumably).

Who is it that has these low expectations?  Well, she doesn’t ever say that it is the teachers of the students just that it is ‘a system’ that has the low expectations.  But that really doesn’t make much sense.  If ‘low expectations’ is indeed the problem then it must the the teachers who are negligent in setting these.  I don’t think there is any teacher out there saying “I would like to have higher expectations, but ‘the system’ just isn’t letting me.”  No, the level of expectations is set by the teacher so though she never says it explicitly, it is at least implied that teachers are the culprits.  As a teacher, myself, I know that I use my professional judgment to decide what my expectations are.  I don’t think it would be good to have expectations that were too low — my students would get bored and restless.  I also don’t think it would be good to have expectations that were too high — my students would be confused and restless.  Teachers generally set expectations at the appropriate level to best serve their students.

Besides being a teacher for nearly 25 years, I have also been a parent for the past 10 years.  And I know that I would not want my own children’s teachers to set expectations that were too high.  I remember when my daughter was doing chess club once a week after school when she was in kindergarten and first grade.  She was learning the rules pretty well and liking it at first.  But then when the instructor began with the ‘theory’ part where there were supposed to learn how to perform different checkmates with different pieces, she stopped liking chess and eventually gave up on it.  It was an example of the expectations being too high for her when she wasn’t ready yet for that level of ‘rigor.’

During the Q and A session after the speech, there were two very revealing things Villanueva-Beard said.

The first was in response to a question about TFA corps member effectiveness in district vs. charter schools.  She stared with:

Nationally what we have found where we’ve been placing about a third of our corps members across the country teach in public charter schools and then the rest are in traditional public schools

We actually find in terms of data and performance, you know in the charter schools you usually have just a certain culture that expects a certain rigor and you know, level of teaching that is you know necessary for us to ensure that we’re doing what we need to for kids and so you do see that  teachers are held to just a very high bar and have to deliver on results and if they don’t then, you know, they’re in trouble.

What is especially ironic about this is that her husband Jeremy Beard is the school leader for YES Prep Charter Schools in Houston.  Though they are often cited as some kind of gold standard of charter schools, once receiving $1,000,000 from Oprah, I’ve found that two out of the twelve middle schools her husband is in charge were ‘F’ rated by Texas.

So if charter schools, she thinks, are generally higher performing because of their high expectations, how does she come to terms with the fact that one out of six of her husband’s own middle schools are ‘failing’ by the Texas state definition?

She goes on to say that the corps members in traditional public schools are also doing incredible work things because “at every school there’s always people working to be their best and do their best.”  Then she says that on average they don’t see huge differences between charter school corps members and traditional school corps members.  Finally she says that the difference is really that the teachers at the charter schools feel a lot more pressure from their administrators while the teachers at traditional schools have to put the pressure on themselves.

Another question she answered was about TFA’s relationship with teachers’ unions:

In terms of the relationships with the teacher unions there are national unions and there are local unions and so they vary across the board.  I would say that on average you know as I said earlier we believe that we need diverse coalitions and people that are working together to find the common ground to you know make the progress necessary um there are sometimes there is dissonance in the relationship on certain aspects but we work really hard to make sure that we are focused on the positive and the things that make sense to do work together and so nationally I would say we have a strong relationship with one union and another union I would say it is not as healthy but we continue to work to figure out how to find the common ground because at the end of the day we are all in this together and trying to just make sure we are providing the education that our children deserve.

She could have answered this question by pointing out that throughout the country there are many TFA members who are not just union members, but who are very active members.  One of the most high profile union leaders in the country, the leader of the Los Angeles Teachers’ Union, Alex Caputo-Pearl, is a TFA alum, for example.  And also in Los Angeles, Steve Zimmer is also a TFA alum, who recently lost his board member seat to a reform backed TFA alum.  She could have mentioned them and others and it would have supported the idea that TFA has a diversity of opinions among their alumni.  Instead she promotes the idea that TFA alumni have diversity of thought about some things, but on other things, like opposition to teachers’ unions, we are all unified.

In December, Villanueva-Beard was interviewed on two podcasts, one with RiShawn Biddle at Dropout Nation and another with Michael Petrilli at the Fordham Institute

On both of these she was challenged by the hosts about whether or not TFA, by taking sides on political issues like DACA and Black Lives Matter, is abandoning its mission to focus exclusively on student achievement.  Her response is that TFA alumni have a wide diversity of views on these issues.

But like in The Blues Brothers where the waitress at the counter says they have “both kinds of music, Country and Western.”  Villanueva-Beard would have us believe that TFA has two kinds of alumni, pro-charter school anti-union reformers who think issues like DACA and Black Lives Matter are part of our mission, and pro-charter school anti-union reformers who think that issues like DACA and Black Lives Matter are not part of our mission.

So while she is right that TFA alumni have a diverse set of views on different issues, she works to conceal that this diversity of opinions is a lot more than TFA would like it to be.

Though it was more exciting to do takedowns of the higher profile ed reform rock stars a few years ago, I do think it is good for the cause of public education that those people are no longer in the spotlight.  Though I do think that some of those people are still working in the shadows — it was just over a year ago that Michelle Rhee was interviewed by Trump and, from what I understand, offered the job of education secretary — I do think they they will have less impact in those shadows.  Who could still think that Michelle Rhee is embodying the premise of StudentsFirst?  What about her life and actions that the public can see, at least, demonstrates that she is so passionate about helping students in this country that she puts the needs of the students above all else?

The disappearance of the reform rock stars and replacement by this new breed of bland understudies was a first step in the collapse of the reform movement.  Trump and DeVos surely have not helped Democrats continue to embrace ‘school choice’ as a viable solution.  Then, you knew it had to happen eventually, Bill Gates recently came out and admitted that teacher evaluation reform didn’t work as well as he had predicted so he is going to instead work on curriculum development.  Whether or not the reform movement is merely ‘playing possum’ right now and playing dead while really planning their next wave of attack (some are giddy about the upcoming Janus Supreme Court case), I suppose we will find out in the years to come.

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