Jul 06 2012

Surprising ‘anti-reform’ speech at opening of 2012 Philly institute

[Updated]

I have spent a lot of time, over the past year, criticizing TFA alums who have gone on to become education ‘reformers.’  These are the people who after two or three years of teaching have entered the leadership pipeline and have now become heads of districts, states, or started their own ‘advocacy’ organizations.

TFA seems to want to make it seem that all alumni are on board with this new style of reckless reform that is based on shutting down ‘failing’ schools and firing ‘bad’ teachers.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see one of the opening speeches that happened last week at the 2012 Philadelphia institute.  One of the speakers was Dr. Camika Royal, a 1999 Baltimore TFA alum who has recently gotten her Ph.D in Urban Education.  In a short 7 minute speech, she is very clear that she is not a fan of the current ‘reform’ movement.  She tears into the recent reform plan that comes right out of the Michelle Rhee, John White, Cami Anderson, and Mark Sternberg playbook where they want to replace ‘failing’ schools with privately managed charters.

This is really amazing to me.  I wonder how the TFA staffers felt about this speech.  Some of the points she made got small bursts of applause while silence from others.

Does TFA not realize that this scholar is on ‘my’ side?

I have put the video below, with some key quotes below that.

[Update:  The video was mysteriously taken down after my post.  Good thing I collected the best quotes before that happened.]

“Recently, there has been a constant state of flux and reform producing lateral movement but little to lift us higher or take us forward.”

“The mayor appointed school board was disbanded and replaced with a governor appointed school reform commission whose latest reform plan is to educate by abdicating its responsibility for the schools   that have been most  difficult to manage.”

“It doesn’t matter what you see, or what you’ve read about schools and educators here, don’t believe the hype.  Our schools are more than the lie of successful charters and failing districts.  Our educators are more than the false dichotomy of good vs bad, of us vs. them.”

“By and large, educators here are not bad.  Educators here are tired.  Educators here are reform weary.”

“Our students are more than test scores, graduation rates, and disciplinary issues.”

“Our education is more than failure rhetoric and the achievement gap misnomer.”

I have written a follow up to this post here.

81 Responses

  1. Michael Fiorillo

    Congratulations to this courageous educator. It’s not easy speaking out publicly against any reigning orthodoxy, especially in an organization like TFA, which has so man cult-like (though a cult highly favored by he Royal Court) qualities.

    And congratulations to you, Gary, for helping to create the space wherein she felt she could speak out.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Well, I don’t know if I deserve any congratulations for this as she has probably never heard of me, but I’ll take it anyway!

    • Social Studies Blues

      http://vimeo.com/19909070

      Camika is just one example of so many alumni and staff who make TFA stronger by pushing, thinking, and striving to not just demand, but actively build, a better, more reflective, and stronger movement. She doesn’t and has never needed Gary or anyone else to give her a space…she, like hundreds of other members of TFA, speaks out on her own.

      • Linda

        So many…really…cite a few more please. She is the only one that I have heard of who isn’t bashing the lowly long-term public school teacher (the kind that doesn’t stay for 2-3 years and then move on). You know that kind…pompous, self promoting, loves to bloviate about a topic they never mastered….such as John White, Michelle Rhee, Marc Sternberg….the kind that get their rocks off while demeaning the life long CLASSROOM educator….not the faux reformer who is deceptive, mean spirited and arrogant. I Iike the Dr. Royal kind better..too bad there aren’t that many of you. What kind will you be SS Blues?

        Thanks for positng, Gary. This is the one place to get real news on TFA.

        • Social Studies Blues

          I know which kind I am, and know many many more alumni and current CMs like me (and, shock, there is much nuance). I think there is something to be said about how much TFA counters (or doesn’t counter) the over-representation of high profile alumni like Rhee or White, but I also think that part of what fuels the erroneous notion that TFA is monolith is that folks perpetuate this idea that we who hold different views don’t exist. Many might not be high profile (not surprising given how power works and where money goes), but, for those of us who believe in people power and social movements, we know that charismatic leadership has never been where the change takes place, but in the actions of normal people, together, at the ground level… I don’t think it’s helpful to bemoan the ‘high profile’ TFA alumni who hold opinions or sway we disagree with…it reinforces the idea that that’s the only legitimate sort of power.

          We need our own narrative and to carve our own space. There are many, many different alumni and, like Camika called for us to do at the Summit, we need to get away from the divisive rhetoric and ‘side’ staking and focus on moving towards systemic change for our students, families, communities, educators, and country.

          • Regardless of where change really happens, those high-profile alumni are doing a great deal of harm and having an enormous impact on what we discuss in education and how we talk about it.

            One quick example: the requirements on states who want NCLB waivers – or really, most policy positions coming out of the Dept. of Education. The ideas they’re promoting are heavily influenced by people like Michelle Rhee. They’re certainly not validated by research, educators, or school communities.

        • AS

          One more right here Linda. I did TFA and worked for the organization and don’t feel the need to bash long-term teachers. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of us. And I bet if you wouldn’t overgeneralize and say something like “she is the only one….” you’d find more of us. I’m pretty sure all my closest TFA friends also don’t bash long-term teachers. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t those who do, or support policies that devalue teachers. But it does mean we should be careful about generalizing about the 10,000 corps members and 20,000 alumni

          • efavorite

            Good, AS, I’m glad to hear from you that you and many TFA alums don’t bash teachers.

            Instead of waiting for people to find you, how about you stand up as a group to say you don’t bash teachers and don’t think TFA should bash teachers. How about you say you say you think teacher-bashing is unproductive and should be stopped.

            Why not?

          • Meg

            To be honest, responses such as many here do nothing but dissuade CMs and alums from trying to engage in any sort of conversation with the “critics”. It seems that many posters have no intention to listening to the words of anyone affiliated with TFA, regardless of content. Nearly every post by a TFAer on this, and many other of Gary’s blogs, is followed by accusations of brainwashing or Kool-Aid drinking, or antagonistic questions (“why are 300 teachers in philadelphia being laid off to make room for tfa temps?”) that none of these posters is in a position to answer. This is not an environment that is welcoming of view points from CMs or alums that aren’t willing/interested in making broad criticisms of TFA as an organization.

          • Terry

            Does anyone know how many teachers could lose their jobs and then there are jobs for TFA?

            Does anybody know? When there were strikes years ago these workers were called scabs.

            Why should someone lose their job so a TFA type can take it for a few years? I wonder if they get it back when the temp. teacher leaves?

          • That’s good to know. I would consider myself pretty up to date on education issues via social media and traditional media and rarely do I see the TFA’er who stands up to corporate reforms. But if they exist, they should speak out.

          • Terry

            Okay, so we have Camika, AS and Gary…three!

          • Jim Capatelli

            Thank you. I am genuinely happy to hear this.

            What would help parents like myself—I’ve never been a teacher and neither has any member of my extended family—would be if a number of TFA alums publicly issued a letter, defending today’s non-TFA teachers, and calling out the “leadership” of TFA for their awful ideas and mendacious rhetoric.

            It would mean a lot, again, to every family that likes and supports their public school—and there are a lot more of us than those who feel differently.

      • veteran

        Thank you for posting this. She is incrediby inspirational and an outstanding public speaker!

    • efavorite

      Here’s another example from history – Watergate – no torture or sex involved; just lying and cheating. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watergate_scandal

      How can so many good, decent TFA alums stand by silently when two of their brightest stars, Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson are embroiled in a massive cheating scandal and cover-up? http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2011-03-28-1Aschooltesting28_CV_N.htm

      Will there be a TFA version of President’s lawyer, John “Cancer on the Presidency” Dean who eventually testifies against his boss?

      Where’s the “Deep Throat” who is willing to talk, albeit surreptitiously, and where are the relentless investigative reporters that we had in Woodward and Bernstein? Well, we do have a Rubenstein and it looks like Jay Mathews is not letting the DC cheating scandal die. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/class-struggle/post/erasures-the-unsolved-mystery/2012/07/09/gJQAbVOKXW_blog.html#comments

      Where’s the TFA support and demand for a full investigation as found in the bipartisan Senate Watergate committee? Nixon’s party wasn’t bent on protecting its reputation. It wanted to protect the country.

      Maybe Gary’s right. Maybe he will be “the man who saved TFA.” Frankly, I think he’ll have trouble doing it alone, but could be amazingly successful with the support of sincere and respectable TFA members who are willing to stick their neck out for what’s truly in the best interests of children.

      • AS

        I hate cheating scandals. They are unfortunate and show what happens when you place way too much emphasis on standardized tests. They should be fully investigated. But are you really comparing school cheating scandals with Watergate? Or is that something you are just posting to grab attention?

        • efavorite

          School cheating is not identical to Watergate, but it’s a good comparison.

          It’s about lying and cheating and how people in power think they can get away with anything and often do — for a while — and how everything can eventually come tumbling down, because it was wrong from the beginning.

          I think the comparison should not be discounted.

      • AS

        A couple of thoughts/questions efavorite: First off, of course, teacher-bashing is unproductive. But what constitutes “speaking out” in your mind? Posting on a blog? Check. Pushing the discussion during my time working for TFA? Check. Talking to current corps members about the complexities of education policy? Check. Writing a paper for grad school that goes beyond “charter schools and focuses on developing, not firing teachers?” Check. I’m not famous enough yet to secure a morning show on education policy, but when I do, I’ll be sure to speak out against veteran teacher bashing. But if I’m speaking out more, you need to listen more and stop ASSUMING that just because you hear things from a few high profile alumni it is how everyone every associated with TFA thinks. And just because you don’t “see” people speaking out, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

        But now onto the ridiculous: “school cheating isn’t identical, but it is a good comparison to Watergate.” This is the point at which I wonder if you ever actually read “All the President’s Men” or actually know what happened in Watergate. Let me summarize. First off, there was a robbery in which former CIA members were involved. (Pretty sure you can’t compare a part of the cheating scandal to this). Second, over 1 million of Republican campaign money was paid to the burglars (again…I’m searching for the comparison point here with cheating scandal, but I don’t recall anyone being paid….and definitely not anywhere near 1 million dollars). Third…wait for it…wait for it…the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES and top aides engaged in a massive cover-up, subverted the FEDERAL department of justice, all while still ordering the FBI to take incriminating photos of top Democrats. (again, can you really compare a cover-up on the local level of a school district, to something with THE PRESIDENT involved? Or did Michelle Rhee order her aides to take photos of Vincent Gray in compromising position). Saying that people on top think they can get away with lying and is true…but comparing the cheating scandal to Watergate is nothing more than inflammatory hyperbole that smirks of someone who has no wish to engage in a productive discussion but is more concerned with provoking emotional outbursts. You comments belong on FOX news or MSNBC and aren’t the type of comments I’d expect from an educator. So in the words of Jon Stewart, and to add a little hyperbole of my own…”please stop…stop hurting America.”

        • Terry

          Most of the comments one wouldn’t expect from an educator come out everyday and are seen as expert advice. These comments and delusions of grandeur come from:

          Rhee, Kopp, Sternberg, White, Newark super…Cami ?..

          These faux educators make ignorant, arrogant comments on a regular basis. I assume you would also l like them to stop hurting America, too.

          • AS

            Couldn’t agree more. I’m not familiar with the rhetoric and policy of some of those folks, but I get angry when I hear Michelle Rhee confine many her comments to that of “firing bad teachers” or when I hear Wendy Kopp talk about “just needing to grow the number of excellent schools” or tell the stories of the one superstar teacher. Or the ridiculous Texas Board of Ed which is trying to outlaw teaching critical thinking.
            Okay, your turn. I’d be really impressed if you could list some people on the other end of the spectrum from Rhee that you’d like to stop hurting America. It’d show that you aren’t ideological rigid and realize that those on the extremes of the debate are equally culpable.

          • Terry

            I don’t know anyone (your words – other end of the spectrum) that says keep bad teachers, who cares about the kids, give tenure to everybody, don’t keep track of how you spend money, hold no one accountable….that’s how the Rheejects like to phrase it as though anyone who disagrees with them is for the opposite, which they coin as the “status quo”.

            They garner attention by making sweeping generalizations and usually of an inflammatory nature. But they have never defined the status quo, so I don’t know what they mean except to undermine career teachers for their own gain, such as their egos and bank accounts.

            I don’t even believe that they are concerned about an equal education for all children. They are good at two things: raising money and promoting themselves, while demeaning teachers as a hobby.

            And this is because they do not value the work it takes to be a great teacher and they didn’t achieve it themselves, so how could they? Instead they exploit it while feigning interest. Quite simply, they do not value the profession…it is merely beneath their superior intelligence.

        • efavorite

          In the case of TFAers like you who do not approve of Rhee/Kopp etc. tactics and rhetoric, I see “speaking out” as something you would do as a group, so it would get attention — eventually enough attention to get noticed in a big way. I understand that it might be too risky for people currently receiving a paycheck from TFA, but there many alums who have little or nothing to lose from a career/financial point of view who could do a lot to truly help education if they banded together as a group and, let’s say, spoke out publicly in favor of a full investigation of the DC cheating scandal, e.g.,”We are TFA and we are appalled….”

          As for the Watergate –comparison, I stand by it. Please bear with me. Please don’t dismiss it out of hand because it’s not perfect or is too ridiculous to consider because Watergate was much bigger.

          I didn’t need the history lesson. I realize the difference between the president of the US and the chancellor of DCPS. Whatever the venue, it’s lying and cheating and a cover-up and people in power threatening and using the little people, while innocent people suffer. It continues to happen wherever there are corrupt leaders and people too threatened or oblivious to do anything about it.

          TFA alums who disapprove of TFA are in a position to get a lot of attention, because you are somebody AND you have experience in teaching and know how TFA works from the inside.

          Unlike the general teaching profession, TFA is taken seriously as the best and the brightest. If people like you stood up and a group and spoke out against what TFA leaders have done and are doing to public education around the country, it could make a big difference.

  2. Social Studies Blues

    I don’t really understand why this is surprising. Camika was featured prominently at the Summit (http://vimeo.com/19909070) and is an active alumna. Teach For America, its staff members, CMs and alumni, as you well know, are not a monolith…

    • Gary Rubinstein

      At the Summit, she spoke in generalities about how we might disagree on some things, but our final mission is the same. In this speech she is crystal clear that she is opposed to what the most high profile alums call ‘reform’. And yes, I know we are not a monolith. I’d say that a good percentage of alumni, if they got a chance to examine the evidence, would be opposed to Rhee style ‘reform.’
      After this speech, I seriously doubt that Dr. Royal will be asked to speak at many TFA events, or if she is, she will be asked to speak more generally like she did at the summit.

  3. Linda

    You missed another great quote Gary…one I suppose TFA would not want repeated…this is not word for word, but here it is…..You are NOT here to replace educators, your are here to reinforce what is already taking place. TFA needs more Dr. Royals and less Rheejects!

  4. Mr. B

    “TFA seems to want to make it seem that all alumni are on board with this new style of reckless reform that is based on shutting down ‘failing’ schools and firing ‘bad’ teachers.”

    Then why did they ask Dr. Royal to speak?

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Because they had no idea she was going to say what she said.

      • Mr. B

        I seriously doubt that. When I worked at Institute they always rehearsed opening ceremonies. I am doubting she pulled a switch-a-roo.

        • Gary Rubinstein

          So why has the video suddenly disappeared?

          • Linda

            Who took down the video?

          • Mr. B

            Um, it disappeared b/c Dr. Royal took it down. Simplest explanation is she didn’t want to be associated w/ your comments.

            Not seeing the conspiracy here.

          • Linda

            Does she want to be associated with her own comments? Really, just wondering, does she?

        • Yeah, extremely unlikely. I was invited to give a speech at TFA’s Southern New England Summit, a small-ish affair (~200 attendees), and even then my speech was vetted three or four times by a marketing VP. (I was pretty satisfied with the final result though—it was much more about my individual experience with a student and less about the TFA gospel of reform.)

          I don’t really understand what all the hullabaloo is about. Dr. Royal probably saw the extent to which her video was spreading and decided to take it private until she could reflect on what the long-term ramifications would be. My guess is that it’ll eventually be back up, since from what you’ve written, it sounds fair and valuable for everyone to hear.

          • Linda

            Why did they need to review and revise your speech at all? They seem very controlling. I find it to be strange and cult-like.

  5. veteran

    Gary
    Thank you for this pot.
    I am unable to access the induction video. But I did enjoy the one from 20th Summit.

    Gary, I disagree with on one point. Your take that she is on your “side” If I am hearing her message correctly, then I think she wants us to all come together and not have sides.
    Now I would agree that some reformers and one in particular has done the us versus them line quite a bit.
    But I also think occasionaly it runs the other way. Where educators make blanket statements about TFA that are exaggerated,negative or false.
    I think her eloquent message is in order to fight for an excellent education for all we will need to work together andnot cut each other down.
    Thank you for introducing me to Dr. Royal. Now she would make a great secretary of education!

    • Mr. B

      I totally agree. I am thinking she is saying we should not have side, and my hunch is that is a message the Philly folks were glad to have her share.

      I am not buying the conspiracy theory, “they had no idea what she was going to say” assertion.

  6. Linda

    She is the only TFA alum who became a “leader”‘ who is NOT bashing teachers and public schools. Refreshing and rare. If there are more out there, they shoud speak up then “blanket statements” against TFA can’t be made anymore. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.

    Maybe Rhee, White and Sternberg should have attended or maybe they should watch the video.

    • Meg

      Oh, you know all 20,000+ TFA alums? How many do you know? Because very few TFA alums bash teachers and public schools as a whole. Do teachers (both TFA and non-TFA) criticize the public schools that are not meeting students’ needs? Yes, they do, and they should. It seems, Linda, that you enjoy running around different blogs posting hate comments without having much of any idea what you’re talking about. So, before you post further hate, I’d like to know – How many TFA alums do you know personally? What data do you have to back up the fact that the majority of TFA alums are anti-teacher or anti-public school? And no, the name “Michelle Rhee” is not data.

      • Linda

        I do know some who once taught via TFA. I didn’t create a chart after I met them, sorry. If this organization didn’t tout how their “teachers” move on to leadership positions…”alunmi leaders are fueling an education revolution in low-income communities across the nation”. The map shows New Orleans (a complete mess and joke of the nation…John White and Jindal). The map shows Washington D.C. (another mess left by Rhee). Are you up on Mark Sternberg and NYC? Do you read past the TFA dogma?

        These are the great accomplishments of your alumni. Dr. Royal was a refreshing change. I was happy to hear her speech, the one that disappeared for some odd reason.

        It is too bad that the alums that are getting all the publicity are the ones tearing our schools apart :(

        • Meg

          I guess I’m just unsure why you feel that you have the authority to speak in generalities about TFA alums when you only know one of them. For the record, there are many people in education that feel as though great things are being done in post-Katrina New Orleans schools. Again, name-dropping 3-4 of the widely accepted most controversial TFA alums is not enough information to draw conclusions from about the over 20,000 TFA alums nationwide. It’s funny that you challenged another poster to cite more of the TFA alums that speak for themselves when you can’t muster up even a handful of those who you claim are destroying the public school system because they hate teachers. Your arguments are laughable when you fill them with anecdotal nonsense that is not backed by fact or any data whatsoever.

          And for the record, Michelle Rhee did not get publicity because of TFA. She got publicity because she was the Chancellor of DC public schools.

          • Linda

            Wrong wrong wrong…Rhee’s TFA affiliations were always mentioned. They are destroying the public schools because they are not educators and they don’t get it and they never will.

            When you say “people in education” in reference to New Orleans I am not sure who you would be referring to. I would assume you would say teachers if you meant teachers. Great things…yeah well just skip over asking the parents, students and teahers on that one. Check in on the Diane Ravitch blog to get some insight on what the people in Louisiana really think or check the local newspapers.

            I didn’t say I knew ONE…please read carefully.

            In TFA’s defense, the NO disaster (the one after the hurricane) started with another faux reformer, Paul Vallas, not an alum. But that may have been a good opportunity to swoop in…..disaster as opportunity = profits.

            Once again, too many TFA deformers are in the news and blogosphere. Very happy to hear about Dr. Royal…and I wish her inspiring speech was still available to view.

            I find your allegiance laughable, so at least we are both laughing.

          • Jim Capatelli

            Actually, didn’t Rhee get that DC hack job because of her “teaching background”, which was exclusively with TFA?

    • Meg

      It seems that you’re also not reading carefully. Whether it was mentioned that Rhee was a TFA alum is not the issue (and I’m not denying that it was promoted by TFA – because it was), my point is that her “celebrity” is not because she was a CM, it’s because she was DC Chancellor. You can find many TFA alums across all aspects of education – both “reformers” and lifelong teachers. You would just need to take the initiative to look for them. It seems that you have chosen not to, but instead to latch on to the most controversial stories and extrapolate them to alums as a group. I’m not sure why you’re commenting on my supposed allegiance to TFA when I’ve said nothing about the organization whatsoever.

      The point is this – if there are 20,000 alums there are 20,000 stories, and just because stories such as Michelle Rhee’s are the most available does NOT mean that they are the most prevalent. It’s not about whether I agree with the reform movement, or charter schools, or Michelle Rhee. You simply just cannot generalize one person’s role or beliefs (though Michelle Rhee hating teachers is your own [I believe false] interpretation of her beliefs) to an entire group of people without evidence to back it up. There is no “belief system” among TFA alums, except perhaps for the belief that not all children are given equal access to a quality education.

      (In response to your NO comment, when I said “people in education” I was referring to teachers, administrators, parents, school boards, policymakers, education journalists and ed scholars – basically anyone who’s well-informed on the education system and the state of US public schools. I didn’t mention any one group because I wasn’t referring to one group in particular)

  7. Linda

    Well, Gary…looks like you should have transcribed the entire speech. There is a short three minute version on YouTube, but it is mostly team building stuff with some type of TFA group finger snap clap ritual.

  8. efavorite

    Reading through these comments reminds me of Catholics defending the church against claims of pedophilia.

    Of course not all priests are pedophiles and not all bishops protect them, but it’s the pedophiles and their protectors who are ruining the church — and doing unspeakable harm to the children in their charge.

    It’s not enough to defend yourself and your institution, saying “we’re not all like that” –– when children are suffering. I understand that Catholic clergy have a lot to lose by speaking out – their pensions, their way of life, their cherished traditions, rituals and beliefs.

    What do TFA alums have to lose? The panache of having “TFA” on their resumes? Some contacts that will prove useful in their careers? Can you really justify protecting that over speaking out for children?

    I understand how indoctrination can cloud a person’s perception and judgment. I also understand how people protect their own out of a sense of loyalty, even when they have doubts about the truth of their “faith.” Is that why so few TFA alums speak out the way Gary and Dr. Royal have? Is that how some alums here continue to rationalize and defend TFA?

    Just look to the Catholic Church for how that works out. While it’s still rich and wields power, it’s also slowly dying under the weight of its hubris and horrible misdeeds.

    • Social Studies Blues

      That is absurd and (likely intentionally) insulting. It’s tough to build coalitions and make change w/ divisiveness and rhetoric like that. Stomach-churning, really.

    • Meg

      This is literally the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.

    • AlohaGirl

      This analogy is very unfair, and doesn’t acknowledge at all that there may be many of us (CMs, current and alum) who do not agree with TFA’s alignment with the corporate reform movement and who have spoken out as much as we can. I completed 2 years as a TFA CM, and at every opportunity WHILE I was a TFA member – in every survey, every meeting with TFA staff, every PD day “discussion group”, I stated my adamant opposition to many of TFA’s explicit and implicit teachings. I have been frank about TFA with other teachers and administrators. I posted criticisms of TFA and links critical articles about education reform and TFA on my social networking pages. I shared my perspective with friends and family. (I was not the only CM in my corps, either.) There are a number of us who do speak out, but as new teachers in grad school we don’t all have a lot of time to write blogs. As another TFA here posted, until someone invites me on a morning talk show, I will have to make do with my own small circle and hope the word spreads. Gary has done a great job of providing a space where many of us can come and feel connected, learn and share information, and lend our voices to a chorus that hopefully will lead to an end to this madness. You can’t blame the people with a reasonable message for not speaking out simply because the media only wants to give a voice to those who screech the loudest about the most sensational subjects.

      • efavorite

        Alohagirl — thanks for responding. The analogy may be harsh, but in my opinion it is not unfair and should not be dismissed because it seems over the top. Lessons from history can be valuable even when they are not perfect. In fact, I suppose that they rarely are perfect.

        I’m glad to learn that there are so many TFAers who would like to end the madness, as you put it. I hope you find a way to unite and get that spot on a morning talk show — and more. I think you would have a huge impact.

  9. Terry

    Go efavorite… Post that on the ravitch blog:

    http://dianeravitch.net/2012/07/07/tfa-alum-criticizes-reform-in-phill/

  10. Terry

    My stomach churns everytime I have to see or hear Rhee. Listening to her lies makes me sick. Students last…www.rheefirst.com.

    • Jim Capatelli

      Rhee is vile. No doubt.

      What amazes me is how brazen she is about lining her own pockets, using “education” as the excuse.

      It’s disgusting. She’s disgraceful.

      Does anyone disagree? Then maybe you can explain why “Princess Michelle” demands $50K per speech; first class airfare; limo transportation; a full suite; and much more every time she “imparts her wisdom”?

      Rhee made well over a million last year. And now she’s climbed into bed with every right-wing, extremist governor in the nation.

      What will it take for some people to see the obvious?

  11. I would really have liked to see this video, but unfortunately, I missed it. I don’t see why, even if it was becoming controversial, they didn’t leave it up. If nothing else, it seemed to be sparking real conversation and critical thinking about complicated issues. There is something frightening about the idea that controversial speech is so dangerous that it needs to be censored and removed, regardless of who is doing the removal.

    I implore Teach for America and Dr. Royal to please put the video back up for public viewing and then to engage in the conversation that ensues.

  12. efavorite

    Dear Social Studies Blues — please think about my post a little more before dismissing it as absurd and insulting.

    Also tell us — who is trying to build coalitions with whom: TFA with current teachers? If so, I don’t see it.

    Maybe your stomach churning is a good sign – perhaps it’s a twinge of recognition that TFA alums not actively speaking out against problematic TFA practices and beliefs has an apt comparison in the Catholic Church.

  13. Terry

    Most ridiculous….ss blues? Yes, I agree. Time to stop drinking the TFA Koolaid.

    • Meg

      No, I meant efavorite. And while I know “stop drinking the Koolaid” is the go-to response for critics to give when someone disagrees with their TFA complaints, that really doesn’t apply here. I have no problem when TFA is criticized. In fact, I welcome it (and do it myself quite frequently), when it’s in an articulate, well thought-out and constructive manner. I typically enjoy reading Gary’s posts because he does just that – picks a specific issue he has with TFA, explains why he feels it’s problematic, and often offers an alternative. Though I don’t always agree with him, I respect his opinions and that they are usually grounded in logic and almost always reasonable.

      Comparing TFA CMs and alums to the priests and bishops that ignored years of repeated sexual abuse is not grounded in logic, constructive, or reasonable. It makes you sound bitter, crazy, and out of touch with reality. It’s also extremely offensive to those who were personally affected by the church scandal. Imagine hearing that a loved one’s torture and trauma at the hands of a trusted adult was being compared to a school chancellor firing principals she deemed ineffective? Whether you agree with Rhee’s policies or not the comparisons between her and a pedophile/rapist are nothing short of libel. If you think the two are similar then you are seriously deranged.

      • This is a side point, and one that’s come up before, but:

        “Drinking the Kool-Aid” refers to the deaths of 900 Americans at Jonestown (who didn’t actually drink Kool-Aid, but whatever). It’s an ugly image – particularly for the many, many native San Franciscans whose families (like mine) lost friends and acquaintances there.

        There are other ways to refer to the prospect of cult-like brainwashing.

  14. Terry

    Calm down Meg. It will be alright.

  15. efavorite

    To Meg — I’m sorry if you have been personally affected by the troubles in the Catholic Church.

    Please note that my original comment above compares the TFA comments here to the Catholic response the pedophilia claims. It does not equate the acts of TFA with those of pedophile priests.

    You did that — and why? Perhaps to steer the conversation into something outrageous and ridiculous in order to avoid the issue at hand?

    Please consider that TFA alums who don’t speak out against the negative things TFA is doing are protecting their own interests and not acting in the best interests of children.

    • Linda

      Yes, efavorite,

      I thought Meg’s leap was quite ridiculous.

      I am not sure she can view TFA criticism objectively.

      Teachers, the non TFA type, have been put on the defensive for a few years now due to the TFA-produced prominent leaders (not all, but the ones painted as visionairies who are far from it). They don’t even know they don’t know.

      So now she knows how the lowly public school teachers feel.

      • Meg

        I’ve never claimed to be objective in my opinions about TFA. you don’t need to be objective to accept criticism, which I’m perfectly capable of doing. And I’m not sure you can view positive information about TFA without immediately attributing it to some brainwashing conspiracy. And I’m not sure what you know about TFA teachers, but I’m a public school teacher, just like anyone else, and I can promise you being TFA gives me no special benefits at my school

        • teacher too

          Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but why should you get special benefits?

          If anything others might resent you. Their colleagues were laid off and then in came the TFA teacher. So, why would you get any more respect or courtesy than the other teachers?
          Especially when very few of you stay past 2-3 years.

    • Meg

      I apologize if I misinterpreted your analogy. When you called TFA alums who didn’t “stand up” similar to those who did nothing to stop abuse in the church, I guess I just figured that your analogy also included something (such as the abusive priests) that needed to be stopped. I wasn’t trying to make your point ridiculous – that’s genuinely what I thought you were saying (and a good portion of why I thought what you were saying was ridiculous). If you don’t mind me asking though, what is the second half of the analogy? If someone is being compared to those who didn’t stop the abuse, what is the “abuse” in your analogy?

      • efavorite

        “Abuse” is your word, not mine. Check above and you will see that I did not use it.

        Defending against attacks not made is a good demonstration of my point about how indoctrination can cloud a person’s perception and judgment.

  16. Brian Wallace

    Hey Gary, I read your blog from time to time and have never posted, but I felt compelled to share some information here: Camika is not just an alum who was asked to speak at the opening, she’s actually a full-time TFA staff member who is in a leadership position both at the Philly Institute and Philly’s regional team. I don’t know why the video disappeared or who took it down, but I do know that there’s no pressure for staff members to be “on message” or anything like that, despite what a lot of folks seem to believe. (Full Disclosure, I’m a staff member on the NY Team). If it’s easier for people to think that TFA is a monolith and there was some behind-closed-doors gasping at Camika’s speech, I don’t really know what to say, but I can assure you that it most certainly is not the case.

    • Teacher too

      To Brian,

      What is your role on the NY Team?

      Are you responsible for replacing veteran teachers with TFA temps?

      Are you a part of the Sternberg team to close schools? Are you working for better public school education for all or for those in charter schools only?

      The talking points seem to be changing very slightly maybe due to recent opinions on a variety of blogs and news reports. I am leery about how authentic it is or if it is possibly backspin…kind of a CYA approach.

      Please dispel these fears and/or inaccuracies and I hope they are just that.

      • Jim Capatelli

        It’s increasingly clear that TFA is watching the trend lines—they’re smart, obviously.

        I am just one of thousands of parents around the country who are just beginning to understand what TFA, education “reform” and privatization are all about. We don’t like it at all. And we’re getting active.

        The old tactic was to scream “SELFISH TEACHERS UNION!!!”—which is quite ironic and bizarre given how the “leadership” of both the NEA and AFT have largely sold out the rank and file. (Another post.)

        But now we PARENTS are getting involved. Big Time. And they can’t dismiss us as “lazy”, “unmotivated”, “pension obsessed”, as they’ve mendaciously slandered teachers for years.

        We’re on to you, “Privatizers”. And like a Pit Bull that sinks its teeth in, We’re Not Going Away.

        Understand?

        And they’ve gotten this message, to one degree or another, as their specious and manipulative campaigns have flamed out even in places like Florida and Alabama—not to mention Booker and Christie’s New Jersey!—earlier this year.

        So, a “kinder and gentler” tone is prevailing. (I suspect the new PR consultant is recommending this course.)

        It’s bullshit. Of course. But I can fully understand why they’re taking this new posture, at least before the cameras.

        When their billionaire money runs out—and it will, make no mistake; I have a young boy. I know about “boredom” after a period. They want new “toys”.—what will TFA and other “reform” groups do to stay relevant?

        They won’t go down easy. We all know that. But the really smart ones will start leaving the sinking, rotting “reform” ship…now.

        • Linda

          Great post, Jim:

          If you haven’t and you probably already have check out http://www.parentsacrossameria.com. Being a parent and teacher this is a great resource and it is a growing organization. You are correct! They are changing the narrative slightly,but I agree it is only so they look like they are dialing back a bit BUT it is not genuine. It is another one of their ploys.

          Teachers (the real teachers of the USA – not the temporary type) and parents combined are a formidable force.

          Some of these self-appointed faux reformers have created high paying jobs for themselves while carpet-baggin from state to state selling their snake oil. And it is all for the children.

          Also, subscribe to Diane Ravitch’s blog…great source of information about what is happening around the country. It will help you predict their next move.

          Teachers + Parents = Reform for Kids, not money for vultures.

  17. Bill Murphy

    I have known Camika for 10 years and had the pleasure of working with her from time to time. I have never known her to be over than a fierce protector and teacher of children, an ally to underserved communities, an honest woman of integrity and wisdom, and a staunch advocate for education reform. While I am certain her speech was intended to caution new corps members to enter their schools with respect and humility, I am also certain she did not intend to be allied with the anti-reform movement. Camika has the wisdom to make a Solomon-like decision and to decry reform for its own sake or in abdication of responsibility while also calling for us to make dramatic, radical change to the status quo. Shame on anyone who would try to use her words to prove points she has no interest in affiliating with.

    • Linda

      Reading your post carefully it appears you have a warped view of why her speech was noted by many.

      It was remarkable because it wasn’t the usual TFA spin. So you have twisted the people who were admiring her speech into being those who are also anti-reform, as though TFA signifies reform.

      They have been around for 20 years and evidently, there is still an achievment gap. Maybe TFA is the status quo.

      One has to question whether you are truly defending Ms. Royal or whether you are defending some overdue criticism of the TFA indoctrination, which appears to be in need of a tune-up.

      Also, I would think someone as accomplished as Ms. Royal would prefer to speak for herself. Please consider other viewpoints.

    • After I read this comment, I became curious about the very visceral reaction to being associated with the “anti-reform movement”. I ended up writing this no doubt highly controversial blog post: http://mskatiesramblings.blogspot.com/2012/07/controversies-and-cults-teach-for.html Unlike in the case of this video, I welcome responses and conversation around this pretty provocative post. All I ask is to keep your comments clean and not too nasty. Thanks.

  18. Bill Murphy

    I have known Camika for 10 years and had the pleasure of working with her from time to time. I have never known her to be over than a fierce protector and teacher of children, an ally to underserved communities, an honest woman of integrity and wisdom, and a staunch advocate for education reform. While I am certain her speech was intended to caution new corps members to enter their schools with respect and humility, I am also certain she did not intend to be allied with the anti-reform movement. Camika has the wisdom to make a Solomon-like decision and to decry reform for its own sake or in abdication of responsibility while also calling for us to make dramatic, radical change to the status quo. Shame on anyone who would try to use her words to prove points with which she has no interest in affiliating.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Bill, Your comment has given me a lot to think about. I’ll improvise here and write a full post, most likely, another time.
      When you say “she did not intend to be allied with the anti-reform movement,” it brings up a lot of issues for me.
      How do you define the ‘anti-reform movement’? I know I use the term anti-reform, somewhat tongue in cheek since the word ‘reform’ has been hijacked and has come to stand for something negative. Say ‘reform’ in any gathering of teachers and you will get everyone angry and agitated — not because they are opposed to improving the ‘status quo’ but because ‘reform’ has come to mean reckless changes that have no evidence of having any chance to make things better, and a track record of making things worse. Dr. Royal knows this which is why she said that teachers in Philly were “reform weary” — a great pithy expression that says a lot.

      So I should let you know that anti-reform does not mean that its followers are for the ‘status quo.’ I know that I have my own ideas of how to improve schools, for instance, I think the current K-12 math curriculum is about as useless as teaching kids to speak Klingon. But I can’t really push my reforms since I have to first defend against the sort of ‘reforms’ that Dr. Royal was obviously so upset about in her hometown.
      To make a more extreme example, one that some will take out of context to attack me, surely, Hitler felt that killing all the undesirables was a way to ‘reform’ Germany. Other people who thought that this ‘solution’ was making things much worse would be ‘anti-reformers’ in that context. Does that mean that they were simply defenders of the ‘status quo’? No, they probably felt that things could be improved in Germany, but certainly if the two choices are to go back to the status quo or continue the death camps then, yes, they would want to go back to the status quo. So, what I’m saying is that the status quo isn’t so bad when the alternative is so destructive.

      Now that the video is down, people might claim that I’ve used ‘her words to prove points with which she has no interest in affiliating.’ Maybe that is why the video was taken down. If people could still see the video in its entirety, they would see that these quotes were not taken out of context at all.

      I think the confusion with ‘anti-reform’ is that many ‘anti-reformers’ think that there is a limit to what schools can achieve with limited resources. I think others often see this as giving up and saying ‘well, that’s the best they can do’ but I don’t see it that way. I think there is a limit, but I certainly don’t think we have reached it yet. Unfortunately destructive reforms based on the idea that there is no limit to what schools can accomplish make it even tougher to get small improvements.

      So even though you (or Dr. Royal, herself) may not feel she is an anti-reformer, her statements clearly show that she is frustrated by much of the rhetoric spouted by those who call themselves reformers. What do you think “the lie of successful charters and failing districts”, “reform weary”, and “the failure rhetoric” mean when you unpack them.

      I think the issue is that ‘anti-reformers’ have gotten a bad name (literally — I wish I had a better one for them), because some people see them as impeding change. But I see them as just impeding change for the sake of change, despite much evidence that those changes are making things worse.

      And ‘reform’ that makes things worse is what Dr. Royal was speaking about. I’m sure that this is something that concerns all education scholars in this country right now, so it really isn’t very surprising that she said it.

      Now, does this mean that she agrees with everything I and other, ‘anti-reformers’ believe? No. And we don’t all agree on everything either. (And neither do the ‘reformers’ — they disagree a lot, for example, on whether teacher evaluations based on test scores should be made public.)

      I’d say that Dr. Royal is not fully in one camp or the other — which means that she is not fully in the reform camp. Her statements express concern about oversimplified reform, and that is, literally, ‘anti-reform’ in the modern context of the word ‘reform.’

      If you are her longtime friend, I encourage you to encourage her to write some kind of response to this incident.

      For you to be so defensive about her being even associated by the likes of me, who have spent 21 years learning what I can about schools and education, is really bothersome to me. It shows a little of why it is so hard to get meaningful productive discussion about how to ‘reform’ schools in a healthy way.

      • Social Studies Blues

        I totally agree about the misuse of the term ‘reform’ and, as a result, ‘anti-reform.’ I think those of us who disagree w/ the type of reform being sought by people like Rhee, Klein, or Duncan, are also guilty of allowing them to use reform as they will and can be reactive about its terminology; this slippage by the left, coupled with straw-man tactics by what I call capital-R “Reformers” is what perpetuates the idea that anyone who critiques that work is advocating the status quo. It’s ridiculous really, and anyone who’s been in or around schools, well, ever, knows that parents and educators (and students!) have been pushing for change forever. It is a pet peeve of mine for me or anyone else to be labeled anti-reform when critiquing capital-R Reformers.

        That being said, and I say this as someone who has long read your blog and agrees w/ a lot of what you’ve said, I think that, as is evidenced here, there is a very fine, but distinct line b/t being critical and pushing for organizations like TFA to be better, do better, and generally be more responsible (which I see you do often, which I am proud to do daily in my work) and to allow our critique to be uncritical or used uncritically to tear down.

        I would never presume to speak for Dr. Royal b/c she is clearly more than capable to speak for herself, but the idea posed that she might not want to align herself w/ anti-TFA forces (as opposed to critical friends, TFA’s term- I might use a different one) resonates with me. As a Black alumna of TFA who has politics that put me at odds with what non-TFA critics paint as TFA-kool aid-drinking (I’m insulted by that as a critical alum; I am also insulted by that as someone who identifies w/ the community TFA seeks to help- particularly when it comes from White and/or wealthy critics)…I feel very uneasy about my message being hijacked by those who are out for TFA- blood. I have to be careful about my words, my context, my framing etc.

        Again, I don’t mean that as a direct critique of you, but when I see (and experience) the vitriol of some of these commenters, I know that if I were in Dr. Royal’s shoes, I would be upset to think that my honest critiques, with the passion I have for working to actively improve a movement that I think is salvageable, were being used to advance other people’s agendas.

        I don’t worry about your commenters here who use absurd and offensive analogies, label anyone with a nuanced (and experiential) view of TFA’s ideological diversity as kool-aid drinkers or (sound familiar??) ‘defenders of the status quo.’ But for you, I hope you can also understand how alumni who may even share some of your questions/critiques would want to keep their name away from a place like that…

      • efavorite

        Gary — Oh dear, first The Catholic Church and now Hitler. Will this steam the reform crowd into making accusations unrelated to your points and into mentioning their personal experiences with injustice?

        Thank you, though, for going there, because it’s a much better analogy than the Catholic church, which is deteriorating but has not yet fallen. Germany, in contrast, shows the ultimate positive outcome when intelligent, competent people end their oppressive ways. Look what it took, though, to get there: Millions of human casualties, the destruction of a proud and powerful nation and worldwide collateral damage.

        Imagine if Bonhoeffer had been successful — if the plot to take down Hitler had worked? If the Allies had destroyed the railroad tracks to the camps? Imagine how much sooner the damage could have stopped if more of the populace had not looked the other way for so long out of ignorance or being self-protective instead of standing up for their rights and the rights of others.

        There are many good lessons in history, mythology and the classics, which TFAers will be familiar with thanks to the excellent educations they received.

        I am really hopeful that a critical mass of TFA alums will study those lessons with new eyes and take steps to come out on the right side of history.

    • Jim Capatelli

      I’m a parent, Mr. Murphy. I am just learning about the so-called education “reform” movement. And I’m very, very concerned.

      Do me a favor. And I promise to pass your response on to the growing number of parents who I’m working with on this issue:

      Define the “status quo” in education. I sincerely look forward to your response. Thanks.

  19. efavorite

    “Social context reform” is a term I’ve heard used to differentiate from the prevailing definition of “school reform” which assumes all reform happens in schools and is the sole responsibility of teachers, as measured by standardized test results.

    Social context reform acknowledges the importance of addressing families and socio-economic conditions in making improvements to public school education.

  20. Linda

    Great article that all should read. I found it on Katie’s blog by Rachel Levy. Excerpt and challenge to TFA:

    It’s time to stop allowing achievement and privilege to masquerade as competence, dedication, and skill. It’s time for the grown-ups who promote TFA to acknowledge that the quality teaching that we all agree is so valuable comes from experience. It’s time to stop letting TFA stand in the way of the committed, skilled, and experienced teachers our kids so desperately need. 

    And what do you say, Ivy grads, if we accept that you are talented with much to offer America’s school children, would you accept that teaching is a profession? In other words, talent matters, but is worthless without practice. Would you still teach for America if it wasn’t in Teach For America? 

    http://allthingsedu.blogspot.com/2011/05/teach-for-america-from-service-group-to.html

  21. Meg

    Teacher Too,
    I shouldn’t (and don’t) receive any special benefits as a member of TFA. I was responding to Linda’s statement that mentioned “lowly public school teachers” by saying that in my school, as in the schools of every CM I know, there is no distinction between a TFA and non-TFA teacher, so the “lowly” vs. higher-up dichotomy does not apply.

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