Sep 04 2012

TFA-fication: Pass The Chalk roundup #3

There’s a slang term called ‘Disneyfication’ which describes when something has been ‘cleaned up’ to make it happier than it’s true nature.  The Disney version of the sometimes gruesome Grimm fairy tales in addition to their revisionist history of Pocahontas are examples.

On Pass The Chalk, recently, they have started talking about some very complex issues:  Since my last roundup there was something about teen pregnancy, lack of diversity in New Orleans school reform leadership, whether or not college is for everyone, and whether raising standards is likely to raise achievement.  These are pretty controversial issues and any good treatment of these would have a balanced picture of both ‘sides’ with an eventual conclusion based on which side the author feels is stronger.  Instead we get the TFA version of ‘Disneyfication’ which I’ll call ‘TFA-fication.’

In ‘Should All Students Aspire To Go To College’, the author mentions nothing of the loss of very valuable vocational (unintentional alliteration!) programs that once existed and have been cut because of the idea that every student will get “to and through” college.  He says that 68 out of 73 boys in his class said they wanted to be professional basketball players on his questionnaire.  Maybe this is true, but it sounds exaggerated to me.  One of his brightest girls wanted to take over her grandmother’s beauty salon rather than go to college.  He concludes by saying that we should get everyone ready for college and then if they choose not to go at least it was a choice that they were able to make rather than it being made for them.

But what does this really mean?  Of course we want our students to graduate high school.  Is this saying anything more than that.  If you graduate high school you can find a college to go to.  Maybe it is a community college at first.  Maybe you have to take some remedial classes, but if you can get through high school, you have the choice of going to college.

I hate to bring up the obvious, but college is not for everyone.  There are some kids who are simply not going to enjoy playing hackey sack on the quad and pulling an all nighter for Dr. Lowskey’s macro Econ midterm.

It is true that students that graduate college will make more money that students who don’t, but what about kids who drop out of college and then have massive debt.  Do they make more money too?  It is a pretty complex issue which has been TFA-ified on Pass The Chalk.

In ’16 and struggling’ the author writes about how being a teen mom isn’t as glamorous as the made for TV movies and reality shows make it seem.  But she does a bit of her own TFA-ification in her conclusion:

It is not easy or glamorous to be a teen mom but with a lot of hard work and support from dedicated teachers, family, and friends, these girls can grace college campuses and not magazine covers.

Notice that ‘teachers’ comes before ‘family’ — probably not intentional but still revealing of the ‘teachers can overcome all obstacles’ narrative.

Contrast this with the post I wrote earlier in the summer where I tracked down two of my former students who had babies 18 years ago.

A post that I’m sure TFA thinks has shown that they can tackle the tough issues was about how the people in leadership roles in New Orleans education ‘reform’ are primarily white.  The author writes:

Yet I’m haunted by the fact that only a small fraction of the people who led (and still lead) the transformation of New Orleans public education are among the city’s African American majority; they are not my former students, nor do they share their racial backgrounds.

So she wants to know why there aren’t more Black people in leadership roles in New Orleans?  The better question, from my perspective, is:  Why aren’t there fewer?

Now I don’t feel qualified to speak for all Black people in this country, but I’ll allow two here to speak for themselves.  The first is the amazing Karran Harper Royal, a New Orleans resident and mother who was once on the ‘reform’ side before realizing that these ‘reforms’ in New Orleans were doing more harm than good.  She did an excellent presentation recently called ‘How Some African Americans and Civil Rights Leaders Got On The Wrong Side Of Education Reform.’

The next is from one of the great bloggers on the ‘right’ side of ed reform.  He blogs as the Jersey Jazzman and he recently wrote an excellent post called “No Excuses:  Race, Class, & Education”.  In it, there are many links to descriptions of what goes on in ‘No Excuses’ schools.  I know that in some of them the students show up on the first day and all have to go to the gym because they haven’t yet ‘earned’ their desks.

Jersey Jazzman’s big question is “Why are the corporate reformers creating schools for poor and/or minority children that engage in practices that affluent parents would never accept for their own kids?”  This is an excellent question.

His powerful conclusion is “It is fundamentally anti-American to espouse one type of education for poor urban children and another type for affluent suburban children. If we really, truly cared about these most-neglected and most-deserving kids, we’d be working to make their lives as much like those of their suburban peers as possible – both in and out of the classroom.”

I also heard hints of this from TFA alum Dr. Camika Royal who said in a recent panel discussion on The Huffington Post Live that she thought that charter schools needed to provide a more ‘appropriate’ education to their students.  She wasn’t able to elaborate further, but I got the sense that she was getting at the same themes as Jersey Jazzman was.

There was a recent post about the buzz-expression ‘raising standards.’  Duncan constantly says that Race To The Top made states raise their standards, implying that raising standards is certain to raise achievement.  To me, this has not been my experience as a teacher.  Simply ‘making it harder,’ which is not all that different from ‘raising standards’ can actually make things worse.  I think the trick is to do what Goldilocks did and try to find the level that is ‘just right.’  ‘Raise standards’ is one of those things that sounds good but doesn’t actually work.  I teach at one of the top high schools in the country.  We send about 20% of our 800 graduating seniors to Ivy League schools each year.  And, you know what?  When I make it too hard my students often don’t simply ‘rise’ to meet my expectations.  Good teaching is knowing how to set the bar just a bit above where the students think they can clear it — then raising it again.

It is a complex concept.  So I was not that surprised that on Pass The Chalk the oversimplified view that raising standards will certainly work in an article called “Want To Win?  Raising Standards = Raising Results”  The author, the executive director of the South Louisiana TFA region, uses a lot of NCAA analogies with sports and then connects it to his own experience as a teacher.

As a teacher, I saw firsthand that when I set out “impossible” goals, my students rose to meet them and continued to do so throughout their academic careers. The critics might have said that my students wouldn’t meet those higher standards, but any number of them will be watching college football games in the student section at Tiger Stadium this fall.

Come on.  Am I the only loser whose students don’t always rise to meet my goals when I make them “impossible”?  My students are, in general, petrified to get anything under a 90.  How could it be that much weaker students rise to challenges more than my students?  It just doesn’t mesh with reality, though it does sound nice in a TFA-ified blog post.

OK, that does it for Roundup #3.  I think that these posts of mine, if TFA even reads them, would probably frustrate them.  I’m sure that they thought they were being pretty ‘edgy’ with these topics.  Maybe they’ll get to something that satisfies me eventually.  I’m not saying that that is their goal, but if they keep their posters from such a shallow gene pool of TFA staffers, they are likely not to get to anything really thought provoking.  And, yes, I would write a guest post if I was invited to, but don’t hold your breath.

 

One Response

  1. Dufrense

    The “Want to Win?” piece is pablum. Given past academic scandals in college athletics (UNC and FSU come to mind immediately) and the money programs would stand to lose by not meeting the new NCAA standards, it’s naive to think some schools haven’t bent (or broken) rules in order to meet the new mark.

    But sticking with NCAA analogies, let’s think about Duke University’s football team. They’re awful. And they have been for years. So what should David Cutcliffe do this season to change the tide? Apparently setting a goal to win the National Championship should do the trick.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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