Mar 16 2011

Ravitch lets loose on TFA (at a TFA sponsored event)

With all that’s going on with education ‘reform’ nowadays, I’ve been following Diane Ravitch a lot. Her commentary and analysis of the craziness that’s happening with teacher bashing and union busting makes me feel that there’s a chance that reason and logic will eventually prevail.

I finally got around to watching the lengthy talk she gave at a KIPP / TFA sponsored event in Houston last year. She’s a Houston native, so I guess they invited her to speak after having her tour a KIPP Houston school.

In the book that had just come out, Ravitch was very critical of charter schools, citing many examples of exclusionary tactics including having a lottery that excludes groups of kids and then having high attrition at many charters. She says that in California there’s a KIPP that kicked out something like 40% of its class.

I was curious how she could be a gracious guest while also making points that could influence KIPP and TFA with all their recent power.

My favorite ten minute portion can be seen here:

She did a great job warning her audience without alienating. She says that KIPP is one of the few ‘good’ charters and that they should be careful that other charters will thrive by riding the coat-tails of KIPP. She implores KIPP to tell Obama that their results are not typical. Then she says:

Do you want to go down in history as the exemplar that opened the door to a new era of deregulation, greed, and malpractice? Get out in front. Defend your integrity by explaining to the media that the wonderful results you get are unusual. They’re not typical of the charter school sector. You must disassociate yourself from the education robber barons, dilettantes, and incompetents who are following in your wake making false promises and delivering a low quality education to poor minority children.

She then talks about how charters should not be exclusive or counsel kids out, something that she knows, and that she knows KIPP knows, that they do, though she’s too polite of a southern gal to challenge them with it directly in that forum.

Then she moves onto TFA. She says that TFA needs to stop claiming that they will close the achievement gap. It will take a lot more than some teachers teaching for 2 or 3 years. Then in parallel fashion asks the rhetorical question

Does TFA want to be remembered in history as the leading edge in a movement that destroyed the education profession. Is that what your epitath will say one day?

Ravitch got many applause breaks throughout this powerful speech. To me it demonstrated that the TFA corps members who populated the audience are so much more with it than the TFA staff members. We have a realistic idea of what we’ve accomplished and what we can accomplish in our short stints. Only the organization likes to exaggerate our successes for its own benefit.

If you enjoy this ten minute clip, feel free to watch the entire hour here.

14 Responses

  1. I don’t understand this post. Why are you happy when someone bashes TFA and KIPP schools? Shouldn’t we celebrate success everywhere it’s found? I get that politicians look for one size fits all solutions and point to TFA and charter schools and say “Let’s do that everywhere” which is a disservice to children. But why not criticize the politicians who do that? Why go after those that are actually helping kids? It’s frustrating. Let’s say it’s true that KIPP schools kick out 40% of their kids. That means 60% are getting a good education. I’d venture to say those 40% who got kicked out are no worse off than they would have been without KIPP and the other 60% got a life changing education. I understand it’s dishonest for KIPP to say they’re teaching 100% of their kids, something they often do with their claims of “100% of a certain graduating class got accepted to college.” But, this is still progress isn’t it? Would our nation’s kids be better off without KIPP or TFA? I struggle to see how that would be the case. We have a fundamentally broken system so we should celebrate success when we see it and tell the politicians to stop looking for simple top-down solutions.

    • Charles

      This is truly a horribly ignorant–and elitist–comment. There is no harm to a child being displaced from a school, and being blamed due to poor performance insofar as KIPP can boost numbers? Again, cherry picking statistics and creating a particular narrative by people who fundamentally (or willfully) misunderstand how the process of creating and implementing achievement benchmarks.

    • Charlotte

      “I’d venture to say those 40% who got kicked out are no worse off than they would have been without KIPP and the other 60% got a life changing education.”

      Asa, please reconsider your comment. Education is not only about school grades but about the students’ attitude towards learning, their self-esteem and their ambitions for the future. These are the things that will stay with them throughout their lives. Being kicked out of a school for poor academic performance, behavioural reasons or attendance reasons adversely affects students’ attitudes towards education and learning. How can they respect an institution that, instead of helping them overcome their problems, turns them away? Students who were previously labelled as ‘underachieving’ label themselves ‘failures’ and ‘dropouts’. I wouldn’t be surprised if many turn their back on education altogether. That 40% deserve our attention now. Instead of blaming them for failing and getting kicked out of school, we need to look at why this is happening, and what we can do to help ALL of our students succeed.

      • I’m sorry people feel my comment was elitist. The state of those 40% that are “kicked-out” is certainly tragic, and we should work to help them. But my point is, why bash those that are helping the other 60%? I’ll stand by my comment that we should celebrate success where we find it. Why make perfect the enemy of good? Different tactics will be necessary for different kids. Maybe another organization can try and help those kids that don’t make it in a KIPP-type schools? KIPP is successful in what it does. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, and I don’t believe it ever says that it is. Reforming the education system is hard work, and will require lots of effort from lots of different people. We should help each other instead of fighting each other.

    • MavorW

      Asa, so, instead, you want the schools who took in the 40% of students who KIPP gave up on to be bashed? KIPP and TFA portray themselves as better than regular public schools, but never acknowledge the the truth about their results.

  2. Gary Rubinstein

    Asa,
    Good points. I do not want TFA to fail. However, I believe that TFA IS failing right now. They have gained a lot of power and they have chosen to misrepresent their successes and to conceal any of their deficiencies which enables them to grow. Now, it can be argued that they should attempt to grow, and politicians should check the facts, but I see it as dishonest.
    I’m ‘happy’ when someone bashes TFA and/or charter schools, if by ‘bashing’ you mean calling them out on their distorted version of the truth.
    TFA and charter schools are so powerful now in swaying politicians on public policy that they have a responsibility to accurately convey their successes and their failures. Otherwise they benefit themselves at the expense of the country’s educational system.
    I don’t mind if charters want to educate the most motivated of their kids — as long as they are honest about that. Otherwise politicians say “See, all teachers need to do to be successful is work harder like those TFA and charter teachers do. Otherwise we should fire them.”
    TFA misrepresents a lot of key stats including the famous 2/3 of alumni are still in education. I’ll get to that one another time, but I’ve got to run.
    Gary

  3. emily

    I think misrepresentation is a perfect way to put it; it’s great that TFA is encouraging young people who would not otherwise consider doing so to see what a low-income classroom really looks like, and it’s wonderful that many of these people will go on to positions of power in which they can influence outcomes with a real knowledge of what they are dealing with. However, that doesn’t mean that TFA is producing high quality teachers that are going to stay and make real change in classrooms, and it certainly doesn’t mean that TFA should be at the forefront of education reform. True reform will never happen in 2 year bursts of enthusiasm, and it certainly won’t help if we destroy the credibility of teachers’ unions and veteran teachers who have dedicated their lives to the craft. I’m not sure what the answer is, but there is a place for TFA in there somewhere, it’s just that the organization should not be regarded as the fix-all answer.

    I think as always, it’s about seeing the layers of grey. My friend wrote a post recently that I think sums this up very well, though on a slightly different topic in the classroom (he’s a TFA corps member now)

    http://twoyearsattheblackboard.blogspot.com/2011/03/some-english-guy-who-thinks-hes-better.html

  4. Stuart Buck

    You must disassociate yourself from the education robber barons, dilettantes, and incompetents who are following in your wake making false promises and delivering a low quality education to poor minority children.

    Ravitch is once again misrepresenting the research; she ignores (as always) the studies showing that charter schools tend to benefit poor minority children. See http://stuartbuck.blogspot.com/2011/03/charter-schools-and-averages.html.

    The worst Ravitch can say about charter schools (based on a couple of other studies) is that they’re about the same in quality to other public schools, in which case it’s disingenuous to single out charters for offering “low quality education.”

    • beth

      If those studies are true, the benefits are exclusionary and at the whim of the “choosers.” In other words, the mechanism is anti-liberty and anti-american.

      If you cannot provide great teachers and great schools for ALL american children, you have to right to brag about your charter program.

  5. Stuart Buck

    Ravitch is once again misrepresenting the research; she ignores (as always) the studies showing that charter schools tend to benefit poor minority children.

    The worst Ravitch can say about charter schools (based on a couple of other studies) is that they’re about the same in quality to other public schools, in which case it’s disingenuous to single out charters for offering “low quality education

  6. Karran

    Diane makes very good points. Now if only TFA and KIPP admit that their results are not typical. Sure, they are doing some good for some kids, but we to make sure that education policy created because of their results don’t destroy what’s left for the rest of the kids they don’t reach.

  7. Gary,
    I’ll be excited to see you write a post about that bogus statistic TFA throws out there constantly about how “2/3 of their alumni are still in education.” From what I’ve researched, that statistic is based on an alumni-only survey (so ex-Corps members who had horrible experiences and resigned will never see that survey) that only had a 40% response rate (and likely most of the Corps members who did choose to respond had relatively OK TFA experiences), plus their definition of “remaining in education” is absurdly broad and deceptive. It’s just another example of a corporation warping statistics to combat a valid complaint/criticism of their product.

  8. Andy

    The comment about TFA shows the ignorance of Ms. Ravitch about the goals of TFA.

    First, a statistic for thought… the top performing countries in the world get their teachers from the top 5-10 percent of the graduating classes. The US gets their teachers, on average, from the bottom 1/3 of the class.

    In the current state of education, and until teachers are paid a higher base salary, TFA is the best way to get the students from the top of the class to teach. This is not a bash against the majority of teachers, and I’m not claiming that teachers who come from the bottom 1/3 of their graduating class can’t be great… but the fact is there’s a better chance that more intelligent teachers would be better teachers.

    Teach For America doesn’t have the simply goal of putting teachers in the classroom for 2-3 years to close the achievement gap. They want teachers to stay in the classroom for a minimum of 2 years, and beyond that, it is the teachers choice. However, with exposure to the national injustice that is occuring to America’s youth, the hope is that many of the teachers who leave the classroom are doing so to help change education in different way. There are TFA alumns who are principals, school district leaders, and policy-makers, among other professions.

    An interesting article that everyone may want to read is here: http://www.mckinsey.com/App_Media/Images/Page_Images/Offices/SocialSector/PDF/achievement_gap_report.pdf

    It speaks of 4 achievement gaps America burdens, and their impact on the economy. The student population of America will be minority-majority by 2023, meaning the students who are performing the worst will be the majority of Americas students. If thats not a frightening statsitic to ALL of America, then it is clear that we live in a society who doesn’t see the benefits of everyone caring for everyone.

  9. mike

    It seems like the larger point she is making is this–TFA, KIPP, and all of the other vanguards of education reform are potentially doing a major disservice to the future of American education. No one is saying that these organizations aren’t doing great work, just that the political ramifications of their over-inflated rhetoric and claims could be disasterous. I for one applaud that notion. The achievement gap is only going to be closed by career teachers in traditional public schools. If TFA can inspire some CMs to become career teachers, great. Then we’re contributing to the long-term solution. Anything else we do is a stop-gap, and TFA should at least be a little more clear about that.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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