Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Teach for America’s truth problem: TFA advocates aren’t being honest about education reform, their own agenda - Salon.com

Teach for America’s truth problem: TFA advocates aren’t being honest about education reform, their own agenda - Salon.com:



Teach for America’s truth problem: TFA advocates aren’t being honest about education reform, their own agenda

Communities don't want underprepared teachers who aren't committed to the community. It's time to look at facts

JEFF BRYANT










Howard Dean had an epiphany.
As he described in his recent post for Salon, when he toured a high school in the Ninth Ward New Orleans, where his son was serving as a Teach for America corps member, he happened to scan some writing assignment the ninth-grade students in his son’s class had produced. He was, in his words, “enraged.”
“It dawned on me that nearly every young person in his classroom was functionally illiterate,” he recalls.
Since that day, Dean has been “an advocate for Teach for America and public not-for-profit charter schools,” he explains.
We’ve seen this before.
The Narrative of “Reform”
When “Waiting for Superman,” the film documentary about charter schools in New York City, debuted in 2010, director Davis Guggenheim was asked in a “celebrity interview”what motivated him to make the film. He replied, “I was packing my kids up in my minivan and taking them to school with juice boxes and backpacks. Out of the corner of my eye, I started to see the local public schools that I was driving by. And it started to haunt me that my kids whom I send to private school were having a great education, but the kids in my own neighborhood were not.”
These sorts of inspirations are what drive advocates for what’s become known as “education reform.” “Waiting for Superman” – a movie about education crusaders Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada vying against teachers’ union leader Randi Weingarten over the education future of poor, urban children of color – established a compelling and emotional narrative for a debate about public education policy.
The narrative casts specific policy measures, such as charter schools and TFA, as being “about the kids,” as Guggenheim phrased it in his interview, and advocates for these measures are invariably “doing incredible work for the kids.”


Dean’s conversion experience in a New Orleans high school repeats this narrative. Witnessing firsthand the horrible inequities in our public school system, he concludes, “There could be no more excuses – not poverty, not money, not union rights, not political deals on school boards. Everything with real, reasonable potential had to be tried, and everything had to change.”
However, what fans of school reform are advocating for is not really “everything.” They have a distinct hierarchy in their minds, beginning with very specific things such as, in Dean’s case, Teach for America. Much lower on the hierarchy are measures now relegated to “excuses,” such as doing something to alleviate the effects of poverty, advocating for more resources for struggling schools, raising teachers’ collective voices, and empowering parents and citizens to have more say-so in their local governing boards.
Further, the argument Guggenheim, Dean and other self-identified reformers insist we accept is based on intention instead of evidence. Dean’s premise for supporting TFA is, “If you are someone who cares about breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.” This suggests anyone who questions the need for TFA is not “someone who cares about breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.” And if you’re reluctant to “embrace” TFA, as Dean advocates, you’re not being supportive of “innovations and ideas producing positive outcomes for kids.”
Shouldn’t there be a place in this debate to consider reasons for choosing TFA over other policies? Shouldn’t there be some consideration of evidence in the debate?
Evidence Instead of “Everything”
The reality in most American communities is that we can’t throw “everything” at troubled schools. In fact, if you actually listen to public school educators, you’ll find they’re pretty sick and tired of having “everything” thrown at them.
As former elementary school principal Peter DeWitt writes in his blog at Education Week, “School leaders and teachers are under initiative fatigue. So many things worth changing, along with so many things that are just noise. No matter the initiative, we have to look at Teach for America’s truth problem: TFA advocates aren’t being honest about education reform, their own agenda - Salon.com:

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