Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More on the TFA Summit

"You ask us what we are "doing." We're teaching, every day, just as we have been for years and hope to continue to, unlike the overwhelming majority of TFAers who parade their passion, their excellence, their commitment to children and then...stop...teaching. But after all, TFA is not really about teaching is it? No, as Wendy Kopp herself says, it's about "leadership." In other words, it's really about identifying, training and grooming cadre and leaders for developing policy, managing the schools, and instituting the business model of its funders, which is by its nature anti-democratic."
Michael Fiorillo responding to comments on TFA Summit blogger

Our TFA Summit Blogger's posts on Saturday has gotten quite a response and some interesting channels have opened up. I'm trying to entice Summit Blogger to do a regular gig here at Ed Notes. The two of us are co-editors of the GEM newsletter and we work very well together.

So, here is another view of the TFA summit from another blogger. As you'll see, this blogger is a former Tweedie and a proud supporter of TFA, though she does have misgivings, which she may blog about.

Somehow through some strange Twilight Zone events, we have gotten to know each other a bit. Though I'm often rabid here on the blog, I am capable of having a dialogue and we do and hope to continue the dialogue. We may even get together for a pow wow with Summit Blogger.

Her take on the summit:
I found there was an emphasis on staying in teaching in the messages I heard and saw at the Summit. I also took a bus from New York City with mostly younger corps and I heard about how they wanted to stay in teaching.

This will be great if true and not a PR blitz from TFA to counter the charges that people like Fiorillo make. It will take a lot of convincing to make me believe that there is greater interest in staying in the classroom than in doing ed policy or other work related to "adult" work rather than the focus on children. But we'll see. I hope TFAers do stay, as Summit Blogger did - in the long run they will move away from ed deform and towards working with the Real Reformers. We certainly can use their passion and commitment in the ed wars.

I often hear people say great and inspiring things. Even Randi Weingarten. But as I always say, watch what they do, not what they say.

Here is the full post. Teach for America #TFA20 Recap and Reflections: Part 1

Where we diverge is that she looks at what TFA can bring to the educational table. I look at TFA as a political movement that in the long run will have a deleterious impact. There's a lot for us to hash out.

In the meantime, below the fold are some of the interesting comments - Summit Blogger's responses and others:




I don't think that you have to agree with TFA in order to attend the Summit; it just seems like a better use of time to attend an event that you'd might get more out of instead of mere antagonistic feelings. In regards to your questions: 1. I attended "Getting things done in a politically charged environment", which I found to have a fairly spirited and insightful debate. I also attended the chat that was done with Randi Weingarten where her and the moderator also engaged in dueling (but respectful) repartee about the various factors inside the teaching profession 2. I attended the pathways to district leadership panel didn't have a charter operator/employee on it, and there wasn't any actual discussion about promoting (or removing, mimimizing, etc) charters. Ditto for the Weingarten one. I actually didn't attend any other sessions due to time constraints (I spent a lot of time talking with old friends and people I know) In regards to your closing comments, I'd say that it was less about "promoting" the charter agenda, and more about reflecting the times that we're in; you can have your head in the sand about the existence of charters due to vehment disagreement to their existence (that's what I'm gleaning from your commentary at least), but it's also foolish to act as though they haven't, for good or ill, become a viable part of the education conversation. I myself have a middle-of-the-road opinion of charter schools; I ultimately lump them with traditional schools, thinking that these conversations are better spent identifying what's working in good schools period--whether that you feel that to mean some charters, some traditional, etc. I can't say, so I will not try to defend or refute, the idea that the Summit had more charter presence than others--but I will say that anyone worth their salt would agree that those that promote charters are promoting the ones that they feel are working, just as they would also challenge the existence of ones that aren't performing well as it dilutes not only from the charter movement, but from delivering quality education to children. I must say, that I find diatribes like this blog post--which, while intelligently constructed, seems rather shallow and dogmatic--to often be accusatory and churlish without being meditative and forward-thinking. I get that you found the Summit's offerings wanting; I'll have to respectfully disagree but respect your differing opinion, but I'd be curious to hear about what sessions you attended then, and what you may have learned from any of those that you found insightful or at least worthwhile to share with peers to better ourselves. Otherwise, this just comes across as internet sniping....
February 13, 2011 10:35:00 PM EST
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Anonymous SummitBlogger said...
I also attended the Randi Weingarten session, but hardly felt there was a meaningful debate. I wrote about this on the blog. I do not have my "head in the sand" about the existence of charters. I am well aware that they are all the rave right now in many circles. You say that is OK to be promoting the charters that are "working", but it seems like you are not truly thinking about what is at stake here. Which charters do you believe are working? KIPP? Harlem Children Zone? The Standford Study from 2009 asserts only 1 out of 5 charters is successful. Did you look at the charts I posted at the beginning of the day? These charters and many others are not keeping their students. Attrition is high and it is common knowledge that many charter schools counsel out their most struggling students. Their numbers might look good now, but any one can get the results they want if they weed out the most needy. This is not reform. We cannot support a reform that isn't aimed at providing for all children. Charter schools, even those at the summit, do not educate equal numbers of ELLs, special education students or students with free lunch plans. We cannot support reform that seeks to privatize one of our last public institutions. With privatization comes the destruction of community, parent and teacher voice and power. I believe by posting what I have that I am helping people to "better themselves." My goal was to report on what I saw at the summit and hopefully start a conversation that encourages people to think twice about what they believe. I hope you will read my posts again and think more deeply about the arguments I am making.
February 14, 2011 6:25:00 AM EST
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Anonymous Anonymous said...
I think in some respects we're actually in agreement--I left a prior popsition with a charter school where I live for just that reason--it wasn't serving ALL the students. Like you, I'm critical of the success of some charters, too--I think some of them, SOME, have built their success based on skewed populations/results. I agree with you that the content of that session--I was too hasty to add that one to the list, but then I'm not sure why you might feel that that's TFA's fault for not having "meaningful dialogue"--it's been my experience that very few panel discussions hosted by ANYONE is able to make that into meaningful conversation. Do I realize what's at stake? Certainly. As an African-American male from an urban city, a teacher for 3 years (in two very differnt traditional public schools, a youth/adolescent coordinator in urban cities, a development and an admissions director at two different charter schools, and an engaged alum since doing TFA in 2001, I do indeed have a sense of what's at stake personally and professionally. Plus, I continue to have members of my own family, both immediate and removed, who either have children or are children participating in a system that doesn't service their educational needs fully, so yeah, I think I have a sense of what's at stake. And so, amongst the things that I've learned is that people's lives and futures are at stake--people from the very communities, both ethnically and geographically, that I have much kinship with--and that at the end of the day, much of our conversations about ideologies, conspiracies and the like ring hollow for families and children that want what many of us in this country take for granted: good schools and good teachers. I think it's also important to note, certainly with the experiences that I've had and others that I know of too, that even our traditional schools, while TAKING every child, have varying degrees of EQUITABLY SERVING every child--so in that sense, I don't think charters are a culprit anymore than a lot of brick and mortar schools. With tracking, crowded classrooms, wild variability in teacher quality, low- to little- resources, there are many things hampering our ability to educate children--and I say "our" because I feel it's an obligation that we all share as educators, and is yet another reason why I don't subscribe to the idea of villainizes charters anymore than traditional public schools, or superintendents, or boards--there's plenty of responsibility and blame to go around, and pointing fingers rarely gets anything constructive done. I think there's about a 1,000 different ways to make quality education happen for families that need them: pure, open-admission charters; quality traditional neighborhood schools; principal (as opposed to centralized) selection; student-centered curriculum; better teacher preparation--I mean, I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the idea--a lot. So let's change focus here instead then--what DID you like about the Summit? Was there any session that you DID learn something interesting/worthwhile from? Or did you at least have any conversations with folks that were enlightening, interesting or challenging?
February 14, 2011 10:47:00 AM EST
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Blogger ed notes online said...
To Anon 10:47 We appreciate the time you took to leave such a thoughtful comment. I don't want to zoom in on just one point but this struck me: I just want to zoom in on this piece: "I think there's about a 1,000 different ways to make quality education happen for families that need them: pure, open-admission charters; quality traditional neighborhood schools" What we are seeing here in NYC and probably across the nation is that the charter movement results in the wiping out of traditional neighborhood schools. Summit blogger and I are part of the Real Reform movement that is willing to engage the very parents you talk about in a battle to make every neighborhood school a place where your family would be comfortable place to send their children. We see charters as undermining this battle - they offer the parents who are most engaged - and I was in the system for 35 years and saw vast differences in engagement in my own school and my own classes - the option to opt out of the public schools and leave a deteriorating hulk in their place. Please watch the video I put up of the New Orleans school system - new orleans nightmare by clicking on that link on my sidebar. norm
February 14, 2011 12:20:00 PM EST
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Anonymous Anonymous said...
Norm, I appreciate the time and tone of your reply in response to my previous posting--though I'm equally embarrassed to see that I had so many typos too (such is the risk you run commenting on the sly when you're supposed to be working). While I applaud the work that you're doing in terms of engaging the parents of these communities, doing so with the bent of "charters are ruining our system" is just the sort of line-drawing that I think does more harm than good. I also take offense with well-trotted out notion that charters are places that "engaged parents" take their kids to; I can speak, as someone who has worked in two charter schools, and has friends in over a dozen here at home, that that sort of generalization is wildly untrue. Are there some parents that are more engaged than others? Sure. Does that capture the entire charter populace? Certainly not; I can show you droves of kids whose parents are virtually absent or ignorant of what's going on with their kids. I think teacher and community galvanization is vital to ed reform, and is largely a part that, I think, is going to really help steer where we're going as a nation. Unfortunately, from the sounds of things, your organization/group seems more interested in keeping kids/families in situations than universally advocating for better schools. If people are voting with their feet, shouldn't you perhaps aggressively go about understanding WHY? A Pew study came out not too long ago that cited safety as one of the primary reasons that parents were in favor of charters vs traditional schools. I think taking into account what matters to the community and not what matters to us (educators) is a helpful way of having a more productive conversation about what reform needs to be. Until then, it just seems like your group is into casting stones. You say, "the Real Reform movement that is willing to engage the very parents you talk about in a battle to make every neighborhood school a place where your family would be comfortable place to send their children". Please share with me--what are you doing?
February 14, 2011 1:59:00 PM EST
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Anonymous SummitBlogger said...
To Anonymous: I believe our public schools do need serious attention and reform and I am aware that there are serious issues of equity within our public schools. The problem with this charter school movement is that so many see it as a panacea. I am not seeking simply to point out blame, but rather, to help others to engage in a critical examination of what these charter schools represent. As Norm wrote, we are seeing public education become undermined and ignored as charter schools take public space and students. Our public schools do face serious challenges and they need serious attention. But, in New York, what we are seeing is all of that attention (from the mayor, his chancellor and his board of education)put into charter schools. Issues of safety in the public schools are not addressed. Our lack of resources is not being addressed. The public school parents, teachers and students are being ignored and pushed to the side as those in power work to privatize New York's education system. Why not take the energy that is being put into charter schools and redirect to our public schools? Allow them to innovate. Fund them properly. Lower class size. I'm sure we can agree this list could go on, too. Can you see the destructive nature of this charter school movement? As to your question about what I did like at the summit...I mentioned a few things in my posts about comments I appreciated. The session about early childhood education offered some good discussion about what that kind of education should look like. However, no public school representation on that panel either. I also enjoyed my conversation with one of the KIPP leaders--this is also in my post.
February 14, 2011 4:51:00 PM EST
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Anonymous Michael Fiorillo said...
Anomymous, You state,"I think there are 1,000 different ways to make quality education happen for families..." You may believe that, but does Wendy Kopp, her husband, (a KIPP Board member, and former executive at the for-profit Edison Schools), TFA board members and funders (who overlap in a dense web of interlocking administrative positions and/or Board memberships) feel the same way and act upon it? Hardly. Observe their actions versus their throwaway sound bites: in practice, TFA is disproportionately represented in charter expansion and privatization nationwide, and where it has members in the public schools they often operate as a divisive force (Educators4Excellence in NYC as a prime example) among teachers, pushing pro-management policies in the guise of "helping kids." You bring up "safety," as an issue, but that's a red herring, as charters, like Catholic schools, have far more say over the composition of their student bodies. Allow the public schools to turn away disproportionate numbers of needy kids, and security is bound to be a less of an issue there, too. You say that we are casting stones, again with that persistent "you're so negative" response. But the reality is that we are dissenting from what is in fact anti-social behavior, on a institutional and policy-making level: actual schools and communities are having their facilities, resources and voting rights taken away from them by private interests, interests that TFA is deeply interlocked with. We're not casting stones, we're defending our children, our students, our professional working conditions and public education as an institution (flawed and in need of reform as it is). You ask us what we are "doing." We're teaching, every day, just as we have been for years and hope to continue to, unlike the overwhelming majority of TFAers who parade their passion, their excellence, their commitment to children and then...stop...teaching. But after all, TFA is not really about teaching is it? No, as Wendy Kopp herself says, it's about "leadership." In other words, it's really about identifying, training and grooming cadre and leaders for developing policy, managing the schools, and instituting the business model of its funders, which is by its nature anti-democratic. At the moment, charter schools are the preferred vehicle for this transformation, but that can change, as it certainly will for the small, community-based, mom-and-pop charters after they've outlived their usefulness and been closed or merged with the chains, for whom the logic of the market compels them to scale up. We're not discussing the personal morality of individuals or the success of particular schools, but rather TFA's institutional involvement with private policy-making, private control of schools and private takeovers of public facilities. That's what the business model of education is in practice, with destructive results for the majority. To me, that's negative, and hostile.
February 14, 2011 6:58:00 PM EST
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Blogger ed notes online said...
hey Anon, I appreciate the issues you raise. I find it interesting that you buy the "people leaving with their feet" line when in NYC we often see that as manufactured with charters having enormous budgets for advertising to create phony demand while public schools have to struggle to tell their stories. Just a week ago we saw an elem charter voted into a high school building and constricting the space of a small high school that has a thousand person waiting list. Public schools applying to be allowed to grow are told "no" while every charter request at the expense of public schools is OKayed. The Real Reformers through our Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) has been working with parents and students to organize a political movement. Many of the teachers involved are NYC public school classroom teachers like Summit blogger - most of your generation - they are outraged at having to see their special ed kids get services on staircases while charter schools gobble up their space often for specious reasons (they lie about their enrollment.) I was in a public school in Harlem the other day - a school co-located with a charter. The teachers in the public school are overwhelmingly black and older while the charter school teachers are almost all white and young. The charter will push out the public school eventually and the public school teachers will be vilified. what message does that send to the children and parents of color in Harlem?
February 14, 2011 8:50:00 PM EST

8 comments:

  1. Hate to intrude on this ever so polite debate about Teach For America, one of the best funded enemies of public education on the political landscape today. Rest assured though, the debate won't remain polite much longer.

    The Business Roundtable's vision of a USA without public schools has reached the stage of massive teacher layoffs, the destruction of teacher's unions, stripping teachers of the right to bargain collectively, and as the governor of Wisconsin has promised, the use of the National Guard to quell teacher resistance.

    These days, which will soon be remembered as the good old days, should be used by the privileged boys and girls of TFA to say goodbye to their students and explain why they will disappear when their schools are set upon. The young people dabbling in teaching as a hobby should do a "Word of the Day" exercise in their classrooms. The word is "patronize" and when used as a verb it means to "treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority." The TFAers can use themselves as an object lesson.

    The deeply patronizing Teach For America is a profoundly racist organization, a cult actually, like the Moonies. They lurk around college dorms and student lounges, recruiting white youth with a predisposition for zealotry and missionary work. The TFA cult offers them heroic status in a mission to fight the "achievement gap". They are deployed with a prayer on their lips.

    The TFAers Prayer: "Oh Lord, why can't those inner-city dwelling children score as high on test as we did in private and prep schools on our way to the Ivy League? It can't be the effects of poverty and racism, your prophet Wendy Kopp told us those are just excuses. We must try to save the children of color. God willing, in time, they will be almost like us. But Lord, let's get this done in two years, I've got a career in investment banking that can't be put off forever."

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  2. Sorry, Norm, but your pleasant conversation with Tweedie bird notwithstanding, I'd suggest you take a peek at the assumptions underlying her work, and how they are inimical to the best interests of children and teachers.

    She speaks of her emphasis on developing "human capital," , which is at the heart of the neoliberal concept of labor as an interchangeable factor in production. This is something that is consistent throughout ed deform ideology, whatever they might say about "great teaching:" they see teachers as essentially fungible. Why else would they be so concerned with "leadership" (read management) as opposed to actually committing to working with children and fighting for the resources they need to succeed in life?

    Notice how their sound bites about social justice absolutely never include questioning the economics of education, unless of course it relates to undermining the due process or seniority rights of teachers. That might upset their clients and funders.

    To me, she comes off as showing the typical patronization of teaching that these folks express (when they're not alternately blaming us for the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization) just as Paul Moore correctly refers to their patronization of students.

    After all, how can someone who actually perceives and responds to the totality of students lives reduce their hopes and struggles to a sound bite like "the achievement gap?"

    Sorry, but you there's no connection whatsoever between social justice, the work and education that embodies it, and a worldview that sees people as "capital" to be deployed, managed and whipped into greater feats of productivity (which in our current environment translates to fewer people doing more work for less money).

    She may be a "nice" person, but history shows us that nice people are capable of participating in terrible acts.

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  3. @Michael- Thanks for your comment. Capital is actually a word that I am taking from sociology and is used by many scholars who study social justice issues. I have been particularly influenced by studies from sociologists on how human (skills) and social (network) capital impacts people's life outcomes.

    I agree with your criticism on the phrase achievement gap and how that is insufficient. However, when I use it, people know what I am talking about, so it is what is on that one.

    But since we're talking words, I am not really feeling the "Tweedy Bird" nickname. As a grown-up 35 year old woman, it comes off demeaning and frankly, I am pretty sure you wouldn't use it to talk about a man... but I know when we are passionate, we use words we don't mean the way they sound. I am going to assume you didn't mean harm.

    Also, I never worked at Tweed- though, I am not sure Norm knows that. I worked at 110 Livingston for 3 years and 65 Court Street for 7. At 110 Livingston, I was once asked to stand up in a meeting so a higher-up could let 40+ people know that since I did TFA, no one should take my teaching experience seriously. It's been interesting to be associated with the DOE for as long as I have been and seen the pendulum shit so far.

    As Norm mentioned, I am working on a Part II of my post which will focus on my concerns. Hope to get it done in the next day or so.

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  4. Oops. As Norm was courteous to email me, that should be shift, not sh*t. LOL.

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  5. Tracy,

    Since Norm referred to you as a "Tweedie," and I had no reason to doubt his accuracy, I referred to you as such.

    As for the sexism charge, you are incorrect: I would have been more than happy (probably happier)to attack a similarly-described male in the the same way.

    As for the term "human capital," it is primarily a term of HR administrators, economists and upper-level management, and without question represents the TFA/Tweed/Gates/Broad/KIPP view of teachers as a fungible resource. I don't feel that your response refuted that. They use that term and act on that premise, with destructive results.If that's not how you see teachers, then I suggest you distance yourself from the term, because it's a euphemism for some pretty nasty work.

    As for personal harm intended, no, I didn't mean any, but that also doesn't mean I don't resent the deception and self-deception that is endemic to TFA and ed deform in general. Their unexamined/unconscious class biases and sense of racial and class entitlement, combined with the cynical manipulation of (often real) youthful idealism, is doing great harm, and needs to be called out.

    When I see the media being a little more critical and conscious of reality, rather than acting as stenographers for the unsupported statements of ill-informed, self-satisfied oligarchs and their go-fers,I'll consider toning down my words. Until then, I think they should be exposed at every opportunity.

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  6. TFA has increased their outreach to alums who are still in education. I've seen it firsthand. Many of us asked for it. What the retention outcome of that is, I can't say, but I do think it goes at least somewhat deeper than Summit PR.

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  7. Mike F.

    Can you recommend some starter sources for someone interested in learning more about your perspectives? Specifically, I have trouble understanding the critique in the post copied below - I feel like I don't speak your language, but would like to learn more about it. I don't quite get the reasoning behind opposition to ed reform organizations based on "unexamined/unconscious class biases and sense of racial and class entitlement" - mostly because this is language and lines of thought I haven't been exposed to, but, given your passion, I would like to investigate.

    Look forward to your comment.

    "As for the term "human capital," it is primarily a term of HR administrators, economists and upper-level management, and without question represents the TFA/Tweed/Gates/Broad/KIPP view of teachers as a fungible resource. I don't feel that your response refuted that. They use that term and act on that premise, with destructive results.If that's not how you see teachers, then I suggest you distance yourself from the term, because it's a euphemism for some pretty nasty work.

    As for personal harm intended, no, I didn't mean any, but that also doesn't mean I don't resent the deception and self-deception that is endemic to TFA and ed deform in general. Their unexamined/unconscious class biases and sense of racial and class entitlement, combined with the cynical manipulation of (often real) youthful idealism, is doing great harm, and needs to be called out.)"

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  8. Mike Cicc,

    I guess to put it in brief terms, what I mean to say is that the issue and rhetoric of corporate ed reform is really a mask for private control of public resources and the educational labor markets. Behind the curtain of "Children First" and all the other test-marketed ed reform slogans is an obsession with money, power and control.

    By "unexamined class and racial biases," what I mean is that I think TFA as an organization has embedded in its worldview and language certain biases that result from its founders and members overwhelmingly white, privileged background. If you listen carefully to what they say and do, you'll see what Paul Moore correctly refers to as their patronizing of the communities they claim to serve. There's even a book by the ed deform-supporting Fordham Institute entitled "The New Patronization" (which I must admit I haven't read) that uses the term openly and in a non-ironic, non-pejorative way.

    When you listen to most of these people, they mouth their cliches and talking points about "the kids," but when you look at what they actually do and what they propose, it's mostly about governance (which is to say, power) and increased control over labor
    (wages, hours, working conditions and terms of employment). For example, Eli Broad states openly that all he cares about is governance and labor relations.

    As for my little diatribe about human capital (meaning, behind the bland, technocratic language, labor as a fungible, interchangeable commodity). I'm referring to the intrusion into the classroom of the mentality and vocabulary of corporate human resource management, labor relations, industrial and organizational psychology, management consulting and their offshoots and offspring. Take a look at who the NYC Department of education is hiring, and you'll see these are the experience requirements of people being hired to run urban school systems nationwide.

    To completely annotate my opinions, I'd have to tell you about my life and interests, which neither of us wants to deal with. But for starters you could check out "Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the 20th Century" by Harry Braverman.

    Braverman, who was a shipyard coppersmith before becoming a writer and editor, gives a brilliant description of Frederick Winslow Taylor, the originator of industrial time-motion studies in the workplace (which are now starting to make their way into the classroom), which gave management ever more control of how work is done, and removing autonomy from those who work.

    This is probably nowhere near enough to satisfy your curiosity, but it's the best I can do right now.Hope it helps.

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