Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Commentary on Mike Winerip Column - Updated

Update Aug.12, 8am: Susan Ohanian gets into the people running Teach Plus.

Mike Winerip's must read regular Monday ed column - this one was another full of food for thought - (Lesson Plan in Boston Schools: Don’t Go It Alone) touched on what looks like a good thing - on the surface. Even my wife who barely notices ed stuff commented that it seems like a good idea to bring in teams of experienced teachers in schools being redesigned. So let's do a little parsing:
Earlier this year Massachusetts enacted a law that allowed districts to remove at least half the teachers and the principal at their lowest-performing schools. The school turnaround legislation aligned the state with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program incentives and a chance to collect a piece of the $3.4 billion in federal grant money.
From Washington this makes abundant good sense, a way to galvanize rapid and substantial change in schools for children who need it most. In practice, on the ground, it is messy for the people most necessary for turning a school around — the teachers — and not always fair. Often the decisions about which teachers will stay and which will go are made by new principals who may be very good, but don’t know the old staff.
Yes, the evils of Race to the Bowels of Hell. One of the themes of the article is that many experienced teachers don't want to go to these turnarounds.
Asked about applying to one of the city’s 12 turnaround schools, Lisa Goncalves, a first-grade teacher with seven years’ experience, said, “I’d be hesitant to go alone.” 
Said Celine Coggins, the chief executive of Teach Plus, which developed the idea and is financed by the Gates Foundation: “I think teachers want to know they’re not going into a school alone as a hero.”
 Bong! Bong!! Warning bells going off - THE GATES FOUNDATION. We know things like reducing class size can't be part of this solution.

So here is their supposed solution to the problem turn arounds that dump out the old and end up with scads of newbies.
And that is the simple idea behind a new program that is being used to staff three of the turnaround schools in Boston: you don’t go alone. Rather than have the principal fill the slots one by one, the Boston schools have enlisted the help of a nonprofit organization, Teach Plus, to assemble teams of experienced teachers who will make up a quarter of the staff of each turnaround school come fall. The teams will spend two weeks working together this summer. While teaching a full load, they will serve as team leaders for their grades and specialty areas like English immersion. They will work 210 days versus the normal 185 and get paid $6,000 extra a year. On average they have eight years’ experience.
I love this line:
“It’s like jump-starting a culture at these schools,” said Carol R. Johnson, Boston superintendent of schools.
Right Ms. Johnston. Follow the Gates and ed deform mantra: "it's about changing the culture of the school, not inadequate resources" and you will end up where all the other Gates initiatives are ending up.

Well, here is what I told my wife. It won't work."What would you do," she asked?

"I'd bring in the team but leave the old staff in place. See what happens if you increase the resources of the school by say 20%. Why not? Billions are being tossed down the toilet. Let Gates fund that. But he won't. Because success would prove the ed deform plan to be as false as George Washington's teeth.


Michael Fiorillo said...

I've been a fan of Michael Winerip for a long time, since before he wrote his original education column, but I was disappointed with this article: it struck me as being a little too accepting of the premises behind what amounts to an extremely disruptive/destructive (which is the point) effort.

As for the Gates Foundation presence, say no more.

Anonymous said...

Don't be such a moral purist. LOL
Read Leo Casey's article at edwize.org

Michael Fiorillo said...


I read it: it's spurious, bullshit academese, and a red herring argument.

The point isn't moral purity, it's making choices and compromises (when necessary) that don't destroy the interests of the people you're hired to represent, or the purpose of your organization.

What, exactly, have teachers gained by Weingarten's nuptials with Bill Gates? I know what she's received: flights on Bloomberg's private jet, pats on the head from editorial writers, and hypocritical references to how "reasonable" she is from the oligarchs who are financing the destruction of the public schools. For the rest of us, who actually have to work in the classroom (by the way, do you, or are you one of those double-pensioned Unity wonders?) the benefits are harder to see.

Anonymous said...

Micheal, I agree with you.

That's what the LOL was for...sarcasm lost in blog translation.

Hey I wonder if Leo ever had to perform the dog and pony show when Gates' people arrive for "drive-by" class observations at schools whose principals are eager for foundation money??? They are quite funny. It's usually a woman dressed in a business suit who looks like she hasn't had a full meal and smiled since her teen years (which actually wasn't that long ago).

Fucking Incredible.

Michael Fiorillo said...


Sorry: I didn't pick up on the sarcasm.

According to reports I've read, the gatesites don't need drivebys: they have video cameras set up in the classrooms.

Anonymous said...

No problem Michael.

You must be referring to the study that the UFT agreed to which was supposed to put off all talk of tying evaluations to test scores until the study was completed two years from now. Gee that worked out well.

I was pointing to small schools and securing money.