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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dr. Martin Luther King's Dream is Still Not A Reality

One sad measure of Dr. King’s dream 

New York State schools named after the civil rights leader have a dismal record of raising achievementComments (2)
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 28, 2013, 4:15 AM

How do you measure a dream? Today marks the golden anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s visionary speech.

There are many metrics of the current status of African-American young people: school segregation, test scores, graduation rates, college attendance, income levels. The results are mixed.

I looked at a different indicator, one that’s admittedly unscientific but potentially revealing.

Nine New York State public schools that educate third- through eighth-graders honor King by carrying his name . They are located in counties and districts that range from Buffalo to Brooklyn, Rochester to Yonkers and Wyandanch (in Suffolk County) and across the tier of cities that includes Syracuse, Utica and Schenectady.

Taken together, 91% of the children enrolled in these schools are black (67%) or Hispanic (24%); 13% are considered to be limited in English proficiency. About 90% receive free (85%) or reduced-price (5%) lunches.

At these schools, 2,883 students took the statewide English Language Arts exams and 2,921 took the math tests — providing 5,804 test scores. Most students were in grades 3 to 5.

This was to be a pivotal year. The state Education Department called for tests that contained more difficult items, popularly referred to as the Common Core, purportedly to raise learning standards.

State and city officials forecast that the results would nosedive. They assured us that this was necessary to get children on track for college and careers. They’ve insisted the numbers will rise as teachers and students adjust to the material.

But what of the 8- to 10-year-old children whose educations, hopes, formative development and chances for future success are bound up in these wonderfully named schools where circumstance has placed them?

In 2009, when the state exams were discredited for being ridiculously easy, 55% of the heirs to King’s legacy were found to be proficient in reading, as were 71% in math. By last year, with the advent of tougher “more rigorous” exams, the results had fallen to 24% and 31%.

The April results released this month fulfilled the prophecy: 7% and 6% proficiency in reading and math at the nine schools.

The overall 2009, 2012 and 2013 statewide figures show English exam decreases from 77% to 55% to 31% proficiency over the testing periods. In math, the drop is from 86% to 65% to 31%. It’s a precipitous decline any way you slice it — with a sharper falloff in the nine schools.

As for the school in Brooklyn , obviously a limited sample, the percentages of students judged proficient fell 53 points — from 72% to 19% — in English Language Arts and 72 points (86% to 14%) in math between 2009 and this year. Citywide, the corresponding results were 43 points (69% to 26%) and 52 points (82% to 30%)

Another part of this unsettling story is revealed by the increased percentage of students who were at Level 1 in 2009 and now. Level 1 is described as being “well below proficient” on the tests.

This group grew from 2% to 32% and from 3% to 33% of the state test population on the English and math exams. At the nine King schools, the students deemed to be low achievers shot up from 6% to 63% in English Language Arts and from 7% to 68% in math.

King would not have accepted test scores that only confirm the profound inequities that plague poor kids. Nor would he have blamed teachers for the problem. Rather, he would have let his voice ring out about the need for sound education designed to prepare students to lead fulfilling lives and provide a means for overcoming economic injustices.

We honor King in words and monuments. It would be a far better remembrance to take actions to realize his magnificent aspiration.

Smith, a testing specialist and consultant, was an administrative analyst for the New York City public schools. He is a member of Change the Stakes, a parent advocacy group.

Chalkface on CorpEd's Amanda Ripley and Students Evaluating Their Teachers

Amanda Ripley, Believe Her or Not!

Since Amanda Ripley was assigned to do the Time story with Michelle Rhee on her broom, she has been the darling of CorpEd.  And with no study of education (BA in Government, Cornell) and no schooling in Journalism (BA in Government, Cornell), she is perfectly suited for the task of taking the latest bullshit from corporate septic think tanks and giving it that positivized polemical rhetoric of the white, privileged ignorati on anti-depressants.  Chalkface did a beautiful razing of her Atlantic Monthly house of cards from 2012, available here.
Oh, Amanda!
Ripley, who now serves as CorpEd’s naughty, fresh-faced anti-Ravitch, has a new book that every Wall Street hedge fund should make required beach reading during this late summer.  With what we can see from the peak inside at Amazon, it picks up at the bottom of the cliff where the Atlantic propaganda piece had been left for dead.
Still wheezing, however, is the punctured notion that poverty or lack thereof is insignificant when it comes to grinding out test scores, and that more “rigor” and “grit” are the  preferred education solutions for children living in motels or cars.  Take this Woessman and Hanushek maze below that purports to capture international testing trends over the past 50 years.  The two lines headed south are Norway and Italy.  And Ripley’s observation:
. . . Norway seemed to be slip sliding into the abyss, despite having virtually no child poverty? 
In reality, Norway has 8 percent of its children defined as poor using the EU metric, and 2 out of 10 children in Oslo are that category.  Even so, Norway’s test performance has not fallen off the cliff, except in the minds of Eric Hanushek and his chums who feed Ripley her data.
Another clip from Ripley’s Prologue:
The poverty narrative made intuitive sense. Te child poverty rate in the United States was about 20 percent, a national disgrace.Poor kids lived with the kind of grinding stress that children should not have had to manage. They learned less at home, on average, and needed more help at school. The mystery was not so simply solved, however. If poverty was the main problem, then what to make of Norway? A Nordic welfare state with high taxes, universal health care, and abundant natural resources, Norway enjoyed, like Finland, less than 6 percent child poverty, one of  the lowest rates in the world. Norway spent about as much as we did on education, which is to say, a fortune, relative to the rest of the world. And, yet, Norwegian kids performed just as unimpressively as our own kids on an international test of scientific literacy in 2009.
First of all, the U. S. child poverty rate is closer to 25 percent than 20% as Ripley reports, and the U. S. ranks 34th out of 35 western nations based on the latest poverty info from UNICEF.  Secondly, Norway has not slid into the educational abyss that Ripley has manufactured for it.  In fact, the 2009 PISA rankings show Norway ranked significantly higher at 9th (520) than the 14th place U. S. (508) on the science test.
Also, it is worth noting that another UNICEF study from 2013 rates child well-being among the world’s richest nations.   Norway’s overall rating is 2nd, and its educational well-being rating is 6th. Compare that to the U. S, with overall child well-being rated at 26th, and educational well-being at 27th.
Wonder where Gates will send Amanda on her next assignment?  Will she be sent to Tennessee to find evidence that Arne Duncan is right and that value-added testing and test based teacher evaluation and credentialing have increased learning by Tennessee children?  Or perhaps she will be flown to the Amazon rain forest in search of the Abominable Snowman?

To Dissect a Polemic: First, Examine the Polemicist

Dissecting The Atlantic’s Reform Manifesto: Part IV
Go to Part I; Part II; Part III
I had an instructive moment in my education well after I left the educational institutions at which I’d been vacationing (“all work and no play,” right?): I was working at a bookstore, naturally, as I was “between” my eight or nine Clinton-approved careers (there are no right-left divides when it comes to power, people), where one of the managers was a great reader of review journals (as befits a bookstore manager as one who might find it expedient and an aid to “talking” books rather than reading them).  One day he pointed out a review of a book on Whitman.  He was excited by the review as it was by David Reynolds and he had liked Reynolds’ book Beneath the American Renaissance.  His wisdom was that we really should be aware of WHO was writing the review as much (or more than) as what the review actually stated.
I had a flashback to a history course I took in college (pass/fail primarily because I was there under duress to be with my then-girlfriend who was a history major).  I was passing until the final paper for which I actually received an “F.”  This had never occurred to me in all my school days.  I approached the professor during office hours…”how, why, change it?!”  He explained that my sources were shit.  This baffled me.  (The paper was written well, I knew, as I had the aforementioned girlfriend serving for the time as editor.)  What?  He clarified without clarifying–these were untrustworthy books I’d read and used.  How in the world should I know that, I asked, and added, these are in our library!  He spoke slowly to me as he explained further as it was clear I would need remedial help.  These are not reputable authors, and that you might not know, but these are also not reputable publishers.  Still I was a bit baffled.  But these are in our library, I muttered, why did they buy them?  He agreed to let me rewrite it using other sources.
Readers of any kind of polemic should always be on guard: there is, as some folks say of Jesus, “a reason for the season.”  A polemic works by offering a proposition that we might term a solution to an issue or problem and in order to bolster the perception of viability for the answer proposed the polemicist offers a kind of exemplary narrative.  The “Why” of the “What” or “How,” so to speak.  The “truth function” of this narrative is often, if not always, specious.
Morse Peckham, whose work I am obsessed with lately and likely misusing–you should not trust me as I am often a polemicist–, might simply call this an Explanation and an Example.  Thus, as with the reason for the season, any god is an Explanation…examples, however, are hard to come by, and when examined (tested, assessed, measured…) the cookie crumbles.
Amanda Ripley, the author of several “reform” polemics including her most recent featured in The Atlantic’s “Special Report” on school reform, has proposed a problem, Teachers are not evaluated properly or, to use a polemical commonplace term, “truly.”  This is really a “sub-problem.”  The fact of this article’s appearance in this magazine within its pamphlet presentation makes its primary problem more easily restated as, What are the possible mechanisms to terminate existing educational labor?
Teachers of literature and “language arts” (I’m not exactly sure what that term means–perhaps “linguistic strategies” might be more instructive) will be very familiar with one rather necessary tactic to model in order for the children (and adults) to read well: noticing context clues.  This is a tactic used most often in schoolrooms to help students make “educated” guesses regarding unfamiliar words.  That is to seek out definitional parameters of unknown terms using the words around the term.  This is not an easy task, actually.  One tends to understand the kind of meaning a term “should” relate, but it’s very easy to be wrong, and often very wrong.  One might also not know the meaning of several words in a text thus making it impossible for the text to stimulate a response other than bafflement.
But, that is not our first tactic “deployed” in “defending” ourselves against polemical attack.  (A polemic can, I think, normally be conceived of as an aggressive mode of persuasion and the military metaphor seems apt to me.)
Our first task rather is to try to “situate” the item we’re reading contextually.  For example, I have, via “pre-reading” (described in Part I of this dissection) determined that the primary meaning of the pages contained in this “Special Report” will be “schools need reform.”  Reform often first must “deform” (polemically speaking) one’s current conceptions of a subject.  The primary subject here is “School.”  In order for “School” to mean something “new” or different, or rather, in order to change a common understanding of “School” as a term that subsumes many other terms, the polemicist will have to devalue current cultural assumptions regarding the “parts” that make up the “whole” of the subject.
Ripley is herself a context clue and we must pre-read her before we read her polemic.  First, her bio at the New America Foundation (I wrote a little concerning the polemical bent of the NAF in a post on Minecraft at the Errant) lets us know she writes a lot for magazines controlled by powerful corporate interests–Time and The Atlantic seem the biggest ones to me: the “everyman” rag and the “collegiate” class rag.  But I love the first line most: “Ripley is an investigative journalist who writes about human behavior and public policy.”  First, I think we should stress that one cannot be a “journalist” when “think-tank” funded.  This is rather, our word of the day, a polemicist.  Next, as Amanda Ripley has zero in her bio about how she comes to be “knowledgable” regarding human “behavior” we might assume she thinks she “studies” people and creates narratives to describe her understanding of behavior.  But there is no indication that she does this in any kind of scholarly or scientific way.  She does this in an “interested” way–as the bio and her list of publications AND soon-to-be released book on “education” called The Smart Kids Club (autobiographical?).  Her “interest” is then put to work in “policy” creation based on her “study” of behavior.  She then popularizes these “social science” fictions via national outlets of extensive reach.
Here are some titles to articles she promote at the NAF bio site to fill out our understanding of her work: Training Teachers to Embrace Reform (WSJ); Boot Camp for Teachers (Atlantic); Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone (Time); Your Child Left Behind (Atlantic).  I think you get the idea.
Not included at NAF but listed on her personal promotional site:
“What Makes a Great Teacher?” (The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2010)
Can Michelle Rhee Save Our Schools?” (Time, Nov 26, 2008)
Perhaps these two are not proper examples of the NAF explanation for reform.
Seems plausible that we really don’t need to read a word of Amanda Ripley’s writing to understand her polemic.  But, one supposes one should, just this once, so as to dismiss her name and her work forever after.  And having read any of these I’m sure you would be ready to pronounce on her impending tome.
Ripley sets the polemical tone in the abstract that precedes the article proper.  This is actually the whole argument in just five sweet sentences.
A decade ago, an economist at Harvard, Ronald Ferguson, wondered what would happen if teachers were evaluated by the people who see them every day—their students. The idea—as simple as it sounds, and as familiar as it is on college campuses—was revolutionary. And the results seemed to be, too: remarkable consistency from grade to grade, and across racial divides. Even among kindergarten students. A growing number of school systems are administering the surveys—and might be able to overcome teacher resistance in order to link results to salaries and promotions.
Economist, Harvard, Evaluation, Students, Revolutionary (though familiar and simple), Results (seeming), No Racial Bias (poverty), Systemic Adoption, UNION-resistance, “MERIT” Rewards (not stated–punishments, i.e., termination).  Hitting the agitprop highlights.
Note too: even kids who are nearly babies can pick the wheat from the chaff!
Now that I’m prepared for revolutionary findings (primed for belief) I can read this revealing description of human behavior as it leads to policy.
But, let’s play another writer/reader game: Let’s look at the set-up and the closing.
Nubia Baptiste had spent some 665 days at her Washington, D.C., public school by the time she walked into second period on March 27, 2012. She was an authority on McKinley Technology High School. She knew which security guards to befriend and where to hide out to skip class (try the bleachers). She knew which teachers stayed late to write college recommendation letters for students; she knew which ones patrolled the halls like guards in a prison yard, barking at kids to disperse.
If someone had asked, she could have revealed things about her school that no adult could have known. Once Nubia got talking, she had plenty to say. But until that morning of her senior spring, no one had ever asked.
Would you believe me if I told you someone was about to ask Nubia some very important and revealing questions?
Do you believe Nubia Baptiste revealed all of this to our intrepid investigator?  What sorts of questions must Star Journalist ask to elicit appropriate (useable in magazine polemic) responses?
When I called Nubia Baptiste over the summer with the survey results, she was not surprised. “Everybody knows the good teachers from the ones who don’t really want to be in the job,” she said. When I started describing the huge variation between teachers, she interrupted me. “I lived the dynamic,” she said. 
Nubia was on her way to Temple University, where she was considering studying science or engineering. Having personally witnessed many of the recent reforms in D.C., she was wise to what mattered most. 
“I don’t care about the results,” she said. “I care about the change the results bring. If I come back in five years and some crappy teacher is still sitting at that crappy desk, then what was the point of the survey?”
Indeed, Nubia, indeed.  Everybody knows, and Nubia is our fictional “exemplar” who will represent this proffered explanation for a way to introduce an absolutely useless and biased “measure” into a labor environment that is increasingly harried by the bullies of state and power.  But Nubia tells Amanda’s/David G. Bradley’s/NAF’s story and gives her instruction, “what matters most:” getting rid of crappy teachers who sit at crappy desks.  (Do the good ones sit at nice desks, or even sit at all?)
I don’t really have the energy to take you through the 4,000 words.  But I do have some favorite admissions.
In towns around the country this past school year, a quarter-­million students took a special survey designed to capture what they thought of their teachers and their classroom culture. Unlike the vast majority of surveys in human history, this one had been carefully field-tested. That research had shown something remarkable: if you asked kids the right questions, they could identify, with uncanny accuracy, their most—and least—effective teachers.
So, we started with already “graded” instructors–what’s the “effective/ineffective” benchmark that the kids are “accurate” to reflect?  Doesn’t this already beg to many questions to list?
“There are some students, knuckleheads who will just mess the survey up and not take it seriously,” Ferguson [the Harvard Economist] says, “but they are very rare.” Students who don’t read the questions might give the same response to every item. But when Ferguson recently examined 199,000 surveys, he found that less than one-half of 1 percent of students did so in the first 10 questions. Kids, he believes, find the questions interesting, so they tend to pay attention. And the “right” answer is not always apparent, so even kids who want to skew the results would not necessarily know how to do it.
There it is again…polling questions.  Haven’t the innumerable horserace election programs taught us all this…polling questions are already ANSWERS in the guise of questions?
Just an fyi:
The Atlantic web page for this article tells me there are no Google+ recommendations but 3,000 Facebook recommendations.
Oh, I suppose it’s not a surprise that this is Gates-Funded research.
But, in truth, there does seem to be common sense here (not science, I know) from which we might learn something.
Of the 36 items included in the Gates Foundation study, the five that most correlated with student learning were very straightforward:
1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.
When Ferguson and Kane shared these five statements at conferences, teachers were surprised. They had typically thought it most important to care about kids, but what mattered more, according to the study, was whether teachers had control over the classroom and made it a challenging place to be. As most of us remember from our own school days, those two conditions did not always coexist: some teachers had high levels of control, but low levels of rigor.
How do we not agree with this?  However, the reasons that a class “fails” the test of these five “super-correlations” must be innumerable.  Here are three: bad teachers, bad students, bad schools.
Now all we have to do is figure out how to correlate out the right ones and we’re headed toward managerial utopia.
A brief closing aside: as Ripley notes in her abstract, student-grading of professors is common-place.  Here is an article by Mark Edmundson (who I must admit is the author of a favorite study on Emerson included in his book Towards Reading Freud) on that very thing back in 1997: “On the uses of a liberal education: as lite entertainment for bored college students.
A college student getting a liberal arts education ponders filling out a questionnaire that includes an opportunity for him to evaluate his instructor. At times it appears that the purpose of his education is just to entertain him.
Finally, what does letting the “consumer review”decide the quality of education and the quality of instructor tell us about our culture?
Photo: New America Foundation

Plea To Teach For America First-Year Teachers in Chicago: Refuse Placement in Neediest Schools

An Open Letter to New Teach for America Recruits

Dear New TFA Recruits,
It is summertime, which for those of you newly accepted into Teach for America, means you are enduring the long hard days of Institute.  I congratulate you on being accepted into this prestigious program.  You clearly have demonstrated intelligence, passion, and leadership in order to make it this far.
And now I am asking you to quit.
Exacerbating Inequalities
Teach for America likely enticed you into the program with the call for ending education inequality.  That is a beautiful and noble mission.  I applaud you on being moved by the chance to help children, of being a part of creating equality in our schools, of ending poverty once and for all.
However, the actual practice of Teach for America does the exact opposite of its noble mission.  TFA claims to fight to end educational inequality and yet ends up exacerbating one of the greatest inequalities in education today:  that low-income children of color are much more likely to be given inexperienced, uncertified teachers.  TFA’s five weeks of Institute are simply not enough time to prepare anyone, no matter how dedicated or intelligent, to have the skills necessary to help our neediest children.  This fall, on that first day of school, you will be alone with kids who need so much more.  You will represent one more inequality in our education system denying kids from low-income backgrounds equitable educational opportunities.
Many of you no doubt believe you are joining a progressive education justice movement, that is the message TFA sells so well.   But I want you to understand clearly, TFA is not progressive. The kind of limited data-driven pedagogy, the fast-track preparation, the union-busting, the forced exploitation of your labor, the deep-pocketed affiliation with corporate education Walmartreform are all very conservative, very anti-progressive ideas.  Look no further than TFA’s list of supporters/donors.  The largest donations are from groups likethe Walton Foundation, of Walmart fortune, which has a vested interest in the status quo of inequality, breaking unions, and keeping wages low and workers oppressed.  Or notice the many partnerships with JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, the very institutions which caused the financial collapse and threw millions of Americans-including your future students’ families-into foreclosure, bankruptcy, and deeper poverty.  These organizations choose to donate to TFA because TFA supports their agendas. If TFA was truly pushing back on the status quo of educational inequality, these types of donors would not only refuse financial support, they would be attacking a group which threatens their earning potential.
Ask yourself honestly, since when did billionaires, financial giants, or hedge fund managers on Wall St begin to care about the education of poor black and brown children in America?  If you follow the money, you will see the potential for mass profit through privatization, new construction, union-busting, and various educational service industries.  Why would a group dedicated to educational justice partner with these forces?
A Broken Model
In places like my city of Chicago, TFA has come to represent a gross injustice from the very first day of training.  TFA places up to five trainees at a time in our summer school classrooms.  Please understand that in Chicago, summer school is for children who failed courses during the school year.  These are the children most in need of expert teaching and support, many may have or eventually may need special education services.  Instead, TFA partners with certain schools where students are used as practice tools the entire day as novices have their very first experiences working with a group of children.  Last year, a phenomenal teacher friend of mine described his experience of having TFA forced upon his classroom, “They are using my kids as guinea pigs,” he lamented.  This powerful, experienced teacher was told to sit silently in the back of his classroom, and watch-not allowed to even give feedback-as five novice TFAers fumbled their way through lessons for four whole weeks of a five week summer term.   Those kids will never get that time back.
The sad thing is that TFA will tell you over and over again that you will be offering something “better” than our traditionally-trained teachers can provide.  I want you all to understand what even first-year teachers from traditional teacher prep programs are offering.  Pre-service teachers are slowly introduced into teaching, beginning with hundreds of hours of observation in multiple settings, with much discussion, reflection, and study of pedagogy and child development along the way.  We slowly step up our practice to individual tutoring, small group instruction, and short whole group lesson plans before moving on to student teaching placements for many months.  This model of teacher prep minimizes the effect on children, and creates safe spaces for new teachers to practice under the watchful eye of a mentor.  Compare that to TFA’s model of novices taking turns teaching one single group of students for only four weeks then being placed in classrooms by themselves.  Where is the time for observation and practice in many different settings/age groups/subject matters/ability levels? How can anyone even argue that the two types of training are comparable? And, if TFA truly offered higher-quality prep, why aren’t schools serving upper-income students demanding first year TFA teachers?  The idea of course is preposterous.  Upper-income parents would never, ever, allow uncertified, unprepared novices teach their own children.  So why should Chicago’s low-income students endure this type of injustice?
Students Resist
Luckily, more Chicago students are speaking out against Teach for America.  Here is a spoken word piece from a former Chicago student Rachel Smith who powerfully says,
“Only see them for 2 years because we’re just a
stepping stone so they can get to their
prep schools…
It’s time we refute these self-proclaimed saviors and
put our faith into the true educators,
who demand Masters Degrees and double majors,
and not the ones trying to do the black community
a couple favors.”
Here is what another Chicago high school student wrote recently on his facebook page: “I’m walking out of school and I run into a group of college students. They greet me and ask me if I go to this school. I say yes, I just graduated and I’m here because we’re facing massive budget cuts. I ask them if they are with an organization. They say, yes we’re from Teach For America. I told them ‘that program is no good, get away from my school.’”
Understand The Pushback
And fundamentally, this is what you must understand.  Most corps members are being thrown into highly contested, politically unstable education environments.  Here in Chicago, there is a massive grassroots battle underway led by parents, teachers, students, and community members to save public education.  This past year alone has seen mass protests, acts of civil disobedience, and a successful teachers’ strike all to protest devastating corporate education reforms being forced on our schools. Despite this mass movement, 50 schools were closed by our appointed Board of Education, hundreds of teachers laid off, and school budgets were slashed.  Tens of thousands of parents have come out to plead for the their neighborhood schools, to beg for more funding, to demand an end to excessive high-stakes testing, to speak out for their beloved teachers, and each time our Mayor’s Board of Education turned a deaf ear to the needs’ of the people.
As a result, we have thousands of displaced teachers looking for jobs, we have dozens of quality schools of education producing certified teacher candidates-many from the neighborhoods they hope to teach in-all looking for work in Chicago and other urban centers around the country.  Just yesterday, I spoke with a fully-qualified new teacher who reported that she will likely have to take substitute positions or do after-school tutoring as there are no full-time jobs being offered in the Chicago Public Schools.   Like so many other cities (New York City, Detroit, and Philadelphia to name a few) we have no teacher shortages.  We have teacher surpluses.  And yet, TFA is still placing first year novice corps members in places like Chicago. To put it bluntly, the last thing our students undergoing mass school closings, budget cuts, and chaotic school policy need is short-term, poorly-trained novices.  Teach for America is not needed in Chicago.  Teach for America is not needed in most places.
TFA Practices Disaster Capitalism
But, instead of responding to community need, TFA has instead decided to partner with the very people causing the destructive, divisive, cruel chaos of current education reform policy.  While school budgets are being slashed around the country, TFA has fundraisers raising millions of dollars in a single night, partners with corporate brands like J Crew or JC Penny to raise yet more money.  And sTeach for America T-shirttill TFA requires districts to hand over thousands of dollars per recruit and pay a full, first-year teacher salary.  TFA also lobbies state governments to give up millions in precious funding and convinced the Federal Department of Education to give up tens of millions to this organization.  With over 250 million dollars in reserves, TFA still never offers to pay CM salaries to help struggling districts or waive “finder’s fees” for a vast majority of placements.   Luckily, some states are finally pushing back.
In addition, TFA has developed a very cozy, very troubling relationship with the very people implementing these horrible policies.  Here in Chicago, TFA recently invited Chicago Board of Education member Andrea Zopp to speak at the Chicago Induction ceremonies. As far as I know, Zopp never bothered to come out to the hundreds of public hearings to listen to the thousands of parents who begged to save their schools before casting her vote to permanently shutter 50 schools, the largest single school-closing action in US history. The newest Mayor Emanuel-appointed Chicago board member is a woman named Deborah Quazzo, a millionaire business woman, who once sat on the Chicago Board of Teach for America.  These ties represent massive conflicts of interests as the policies being pasted by The Board are benefiting TFA directly or indirectly.  TFA has even pushed alums to get elected to Local School Councils (LSCs), democratic bodies designed to give voice to parents, teachers, and community members, and instead is using LSCs to promote their TFA-friendly corporate reform agenda. 
What’s even sicker is that TFA is poised to benefit greatly from the horrible policies happening to children and teachers here in Chicago.   As I describe in the post “Teach for America Has Gone Too Far”, TFA plans to expand into the very neighborhoods experiencing schools closings, the neighborhoods which by definition have more teachers than they do positions.  Teach for America has truly crossed a line when closing schools and slashing budgets-policies detrimental to children-become the avenue for expansion.  Also, the new “per-pupil budgeting” pushed by the BOE and Mayor Emanuel, means principals now must pay more for experienced teachers.  In the past, teacher positions were opened based on the number of students and principals were free to hire any qualified teacher, regardless of salary as that salary did not come out of the individual school budgets. Under this new formula, principals are given a lump sum for every student enrolled and therefore are incentivized to hire less-experienced, cheaper teachers in order to save money (all the more necessary as budgets are experiencing the largest cuts in living memory.)  I suspect that TFA quietly helped push this new budgeting policy into place.
Here in Chicago, as in many placement areas, TFA is closely tied to the charter school movement, as most CMs are placed in charters in this city.  Charter schools are highly controversial and have beenproven to exclude students with disabilities, students who are still learning English, and students with behavior problems.  I have written extensively about how charters, along with the broader corporate education reform movement, are making educational opportunity worse for my high-needs students.  Charter schools also tend to be non-unionized which leads to teacher exploitation and arbitrary firings with no recourse for staff.  Charter schools have also come under fire for scandals involving misuse of public funds, nepotism, and corruption, such as the large, TFA-heavy, UNO Charter chain which experienced a massive scandal and has growing debt. However, due to political connections, UNO will suffer no long-term repercussions from their mismanagement.
Neighborhood and Charter Schools
Why You Must Say ‘No’
What I describe above is just the tip of the iceberg of the assault on teachers and public education and TFA’s role in it.   As people new to the world of education, you must understand the context that you are stepping into.  Read what other TFA alums have already written eloquently on describing why they no longer support the organization such as here or here.   Do research about the realities of Teach for America, its effect on education, and the shoddy research they use to support their practices.  Understand why a number of TFA alums and education activists are organizing against TFA this summer in Chicago.  Know why groups of educators and parents boo and hiss when the name “Teach for America” is spoken.  You must understand the pushback, and that it has nothing to do with you personally.  There have been multiple abuses already endured in the cities you are entering and which TFA exploits.   How else are stakeholders supposed to respond as TFA takes precious resources from districts and states in budgetary crisis?  Or watch as TFA steals jobs from beloved experienced teachers and qualified, fully-credentialed teacher candidates?  As TFA undermines a noble, and importantly female-dominated, profession with false claims that teachers need little preparation?  Or as TFA increases inequality by giving our neediest students–students living in poverty, students with disabilities, students still learning English–the least qualified teachers.  And what about when TFA partners with the very wealthy and politically-connected forces wreaking havoc on our schools against the will of communities?
You new recruits did not create this current situation.  But by participating in TFA you will become a part of the problem.
A Chance to Do What’s Right
If you truly want to help children through teaching, give those future students the greatest chance possible by doing a full preparation program in advance of being left alone in that classroom.  Those of us in the teaching profession will welcome bright young beginning teachers with open arms. And if you are not sure teaching is for you, volunteer in a school, tutor, participate in after-school programs.  Whatever you do, do not allow TFA to let you learn how to teach on the backs of our neediest children, children living in poverty, children with disabilities, children who are still learning English, children living under oppression, racism, and savage inequalities.  All children deserve a fully-prepared teacher for every day of their educational careers.  Please do not participate in denying them that right.
And please do not become a foot solider for the Education Reform movement.  Do not partner with the very people trying to destroy public education for their own personal gain.
You have a choice to make.  TFA may ultimately benefit you personally, it may open doors to lucrative careers, help you get into prestigious law and graduate degrees, even give you direct paths into high-paid jobs in the worlds of education, business, or politics.  It may even make you feel really good.  But are you willing to participate in the destruction of the common good of public education, destroy the teaching profession, and deny needy children experienced long-term educators who would gladly take jobs filled by these TFA novices? Are you willing to do great harm to children and communities for your own personal gain?
Please make the right choice. And then join those of us on the ground fighting for REAL reform.  We need your passion and drive.  But we absolutely do not need you, without proper preparation, in our neediest classrooms.
Katie Osgood
Special Education teacher in Chicago
**UPDATE**  Just read this article detailing how our appointed Board of Education in Chicago just renewed and EXPANDED Teach for America’s contract with CPS at last week’s Board meeting:  In the middle of a supposed “budget crisis” where 50 schools were viciously closed down and hundreds of teachers and staff laid off, CPS has increased the funding to TFA from $600,000 to $1,587,500.  In addition, the number of TFA first year novices went from 245 to 325 ( ).
Chicago TFA first year teachers, you MUST refuse these placements.

Teach For America under heavy fire from educators and former members


 Critics allege that the program destabilizes schools and communities and questioned its role in privatization of education



Teach for America, a program which places high-achieving college graduates as teachers in low-income schools around the country, is coming under heavy criticism by educators who allege its training for teachers is insufficient and that it destabilizes schools and communities.
About 100 of those critics assembled in Chicago last weekend at theFree Minds Free People education conference to discuss "organizing resistance against Teach for America", which is one of the most well-known efforts to improve the nation's flagging educational system. Its educators represent less than 1% of teachers in the US.
TFA alumni, parents, community activists and veteran teachers gathered to discuss concerns over the role the program plays in the privatization of education. Their criticisms fall in line with those mounted against the program in the past: that the seven-week training program is insufficient, that it destabilizes schools with short-term teachers, and that it disenfranchises communities. In 2009, USA Today reported on concernsthat the program's teachers were displacing older educators.
"In the end, I felt the way I was teaching brought me and my students and their communities pain, and that's why I'm part of this movement now," said Hannah Price, a TFA alumna and current teacher who attended the meeting in Chicago. "It doesn't have to be like that."
"We certainly have areas of improvements are looking to be better, but based on what we hear from the principals that employ our teachers and the results we see in organizations where our alumni play leadership roles, we have had a positive impact, and that has to be part of the discussion," said TFA spokesman Steve Mancini.

Problems in New Orleans

TFA participants, usually recent college graduates who have majored in subjects other than teaching, must pass a test before they are are placed in schools in low-income communities for a two-year commitment. They undergo seven weeks of training before the school year begins, and continue to receive coaching from veteran teachers, a TFA coach and an alumni network throughout their commitment.
Price began her two-year commitment in New Orleans in 2010 and said she felt unprepared to teach. She said she was distressed by things including an expectation that she should keep her students silent in the hallways, at lunch and in reading periods.
"It felt so unnatural, but I didn't have the experience or language to process how detrimental that was to students," Price said.
Price was on the verge of quitting until she started using resources outside TFA to augment her teaching and help her connect with the local community. Price still works as a teacher in New Orleans, and she credits veteran teacher Stephanie Anders for providing her with the support to continue with the program.
The two met at the New Teachers' Roundtable, a group that encourages new teachers to think critically about the New Orleans public school system. Anders, now a doctoral student at the University of New Orleans, said that before joining the group: "I had kind of thought of the TFA people as bad guys."
Anders is a traditionally trained teacher, with multiple professional certifications and extensive experience as an instructional coach for teachers. Yet she has been unable to find a full-time teaching position in New Orleans and she feels TFA's permeation of the New Orleans school system has played a role in that. This year, approximately 375 New Orleans teachers are members of TFA, up from 85 a few years ago.
Louisiana state officials laid off more than 7,000 employees and took over 102 of 117 city schools after Hurricane Katrina left the city's population scattered in 2005. When it was time to rehire teachers, the government overlooked the fired employees, who have since won a $1.5bn class action lawsuit which the school system is appealing. At the same time, Teach for America's New Orleans program thrived, creating tension in the city's educational community.
Mancini, the TFA spokesman, said those hiring decisions were made by school principals, not the program.
"Teach for America, for over 20 years, has brought smart, caring and dedicated people into education and work in low-income communities," Mancini said. "Over 80% of our alumni are either working in schools or in education or in low-income communities."
The organization has long used data to defend criticisms, though many feel the reports are skewed and a fair study comparing a TFA teacher to a traditionally trained teacher doesn't yet exist.
TFA's co-chief executives recently completed a "listening tour" during which they received feedback from members, community members and alumni who provided "a wide range of opinions", said Mancini.
"Teach for America is not the only program who has teachers who struggle in their first year – teachers in traditional programs struggle," said Mancini. "The question should be how do we help first year teachers improve and grow, how do they become constant learners in the classroom. We're constantly thinking about the feedback to give those teachers to get better."
• Disclaimer: one of the organizers of the Chicago conference is married to Guardian columnist Gary Younge.