I believe that TFA does not think so, and I will use this post to explain what evidence I have for this claim and also speculate why that choose to underestimate you in this way.
When I was growing up in the 1970s, I loved watching reruns of ‘The Brady Bunch’ a show about a large family with 3 boys and 3 girls. On one episode that I remember (or just think I remember) the youngest boy, Bobby felt like he was unable to do some kind of task, maybe it was a physical feat, I can’ t remember. Well, one of his older siblings gave him a good luck charm that was supposed to have magic powers. With this charm, Bobby’s confidence was instantly improved. At the end, he somehow performed the task (again, my memory is fuzzy on the details, and I spent 30 minutes on Google trying to verify the details, but haven’t been able to), only to realize at the end that the locket, or whatever it was, had fallen off and that the power to succeed was inside himself after all. The locket was just a lie, a crutch, but one that served a purpose. Without it, he may not have been able to overcome the fear of what he was attempting to do.
I’ll get back to the significance of this plot-line later.
Over the past few posts I’ve been challenging some of the claims of success in TFA. The comments by former CMs in ‘Why Does TFA value Quantity Over Quality’ revealed the biggest scam yet. Data to calculate ‘significant gains’ is self-reported by CMs, and sometimes based on pre and post assessments that are self-created — invalidating the data to claim that 40% of first year 2009 CMs got 1.5 years of gains.
Why would TFA deliberately lie about their success? In my opinion there are two reasons. The first is for PR. By putting success in the best light possible they get more support from government and others so they can grow and improve (in that order) and eventually (maybe) get genuine gains.
One problem with this is that if you lie enough, you start to believe it yourself. If TFA really thinks that 40% of first year CMs can get these kinds of gains, they won’t feel an urgency to improve their training since it is, by those standards, good enough.
The bigger problem is that TFA also presents these claims to the new CMs which give those CMs a false sense of confidence which has the risk of negatively affecting their effectiveness.
They seem to think that, like Bobby Brady, a false sense of confidence will help CMs overcome the fear of failure. They are lying to you to trick you into harnessing the skills that you already have inside yourselves.
Near the end of Wendy Kopp’s book ‘A Chance to Make History’ (page 177), she writes about how her 8 year old son asked her “how if this is such a big problem — you know, kids not having the chance to have a good education — why would you ask people with no experience right out of college to solve it?”
Wendy admits “it seems that I’m still spending just as much time as I did on day one trying to get people to understand what it is what we’re doing. And my eight year old had gone straight to the heart of the matter.” Then she explained to him the philosophy:
“I started by sharing my view that although it’s true that experience can be invaluable, there’s also a power in inexperience — that it can make a huge difference to channel the energy of young people, before they know what’s ‘impossible’ and when they still have endless energy, against a problem that many have long since given up on. They can set and meet goals that seem impossible to others who know more about how the world works.” (page 178)
Years ago, I had exchanged a dozen emails with a former head of TFA, Jerry Hauser, who made it pretty clear that this was part of the overall plan of TFA. I see it as deliberately lying to CMs about how difficult teaching is so that they are not held back by their own fear and so they don’t give up before they even start. They think that the risk of you giving up if you know the full truth is greater than the risk that you will be unprepared if they lie to you. So they lie to you.
And this has been my main problem with TFA dating back to 1996, the one and only time I was a staff member as a CMA at the 1996 Houston institute (working under, of all people, a young Michelle Rhee!). I presented a workshop about how tough my first year was. They allowed me to present that workshop for about 10 summers in a row, but then they stopped letting me do it in 2006. (It’s on YouTube if you really want to see it. www.youtube.com/garyrubinstein) My first book, which was based on that workshop, is required reading at many teacher preparation programs, but it doesn’t even appear as recommended reading on any TFA list. Instead, copies of it are passed around the different institutes like a Playboy magazine in a middle school class.
I believe that 2011 CMs do not need a Bobby Brady magic locket — or ‘The Kool Aid’ as I understand CMs like to call it. It may have worked in the Brady Bunch but it is too big of a gamble in the real world where the education of tens of thousands of kids is at stake. Instead they need a training model that is truly succcessful.
The Teaching As Leadership framework is very flawed. You can read my extensive review of it here, or I’ll just give you a taste of it. I believe that the TAL framework reveals that TFA (or at least Steven Farr — Chief Knowledge Officer of TFA) does not know the first thing about teaching. That is not to say that they don’t know anything about teaching because they certainly know some things, but they do not know the ‘first thing’ because they make it clear that they think the ‘first thing’ about teaching is to ‘Set Big Goals.’ I’m not sure how deeply they go into this three word starting point in training. I’d say it’s oversimplified at best and dangerous at worst. Many CMs misinterpret this and think that just because they say that successful CMs have had big goals, then if they have big goals, they will be successful too. What TFA does not say is that many unsuccessful CMs also started by setting big goals. In my opinion, these big goals have, for many CMs, caused them to be failures in their first years. Great teachers do not ‘Set Big Goals.’ Great teachers set reasonable goals. They are able to do this because they are knowledgeable about what sort of goal is appropriate and what sort of goal is going to get kids frustrated and make them lose confidence in you and in themselves. Anyway, you can (and should) read my entire critique if you want to see more than one side of many of these TFA claims. Even if you disagree with every claim I make, the process of thinking about why you disagree with me will make you more prepared for next year.
TFA needs to invest more into training so that CMs don’t have to have only 20 hours of practice teaching, sometimes with classes of only 10 kids.
CMs deserve to hear the truth and I have confidence that they can handle it. The truth will help them be better prepared so they can be more effective which will benefit the children they teach. And, as an added bonus, TFA won’t have to lie about their bogus successes since they will become genuine ones.
Here is Part I of the workshop from YouTube