May 24 2013

Good Kopp, Bad Kopp

Two months ago I wrote about Wendy Kopp stepping down and two new co-CEOs of TFA taking her place.  As the weeks have passed, I’ve been able to get more of sense of who these CEOs are and what their views are.

Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva-Beard have been carefully chosen to be the faces of TFA.  I am beginning to see how they each might embody one of Wendy’s two public personas:  There’s Wendy the extreme corporate reformer who pals around with Joel Klein and who refers to TFA critics as ‘haters’ in commencement addresses.  Then there’s Wendy the moderate corporate reformer who writes editorials about how teacher evaluations should not be publicly released and who wrote a thoughtful response to my open letter to her.  Though I still don’t know a lot about either of them, it seems like Matt is the extreme reformer (Bad Kopp) and Elisa is the moderate reformer (Good Kopp).

Matt and Elisa have embarked on their TFA Listens tour.  Based on what they are tweeting about, they are listening, but only hearing what they want to.  And what they want to hear is that schools are plagued by non-TFA teachers who abuse students with their soft bigotry of low expectations:

Of the two, the one who I can relate to more is definitely Elisa.  She has taught, unlike Matt, as a 1998 TFA corps member so she understands the realities of what goes on in schools.  She recently spoke at her alma Mater DePauw University and made a very humble speech.  In general she seems to be trying to welcome different ideas, though she doesn’t always succeed at this.

I’m having trouble understanding how Matt is qualified to be a co-CEO of TFA.  I just don’t see what he ‘brings to the table.’  Though I did appreciate that he responded to one of my twitter messages to him, I’ve found some of the things he’s written to be a bit unusual.  I know I’m not his media adviser, but if I were I’d advise him to stay clear of tweets like this:

Someone must have brought up that ed reform is dominated by white males and Matt deflects the question by implying that the only other option is for them to ‘abdicate responsibility.’  I don’t know.  I suppose that someone can easily go through anyone’s Tweets and find the least thought out one and pounce on it.  Still, you’ve got to admit that this one is kind of strange.

Whether you’re a ‘Good Kopp’ or a ‘Bad Kopp,’ you’re going to be enthusiastic of the TFA celebrities.  In this change of leadership, all the reform superstars have retained their status, with the very conspicuous absence of public school enemy number one Michelle Rhee.  It seems like TFA is trying to distance themselves from her, at least publicly.  They didn’t even publicize her recent autobiography.  However they are still eager to promote Rhee’s disciples.  Rhee’s ex-husband Kevin Huffman is the current commissioner of education in Tennessee.  Tim Daly took over as head of The New Teacher Project after Rhee left to become chancelor of D.C..  Chris Barbic founded YES prep and now works for Huffman.  Jason Kamras was one of Rhee’s top deputies in D.C. and continues to do his damage there.  And no matter what brand of ‘Kopp’ you are, a KIPP shout out is always in order.

I’ll continue to monitor the #TFAlisten tour and also continue to wait for them to come to New York.  I’ve decided that as long as I’m permitted to go to a #TFAlisten event in NYC I’ll attend even if I don’t receive a hand-delivered invitation signed by both Elisa and Matt.

19 Responses

  1. Michael Fiorillo

    If your excerpts are representative, then the only people they listen to are each other. No surprise there.

    As for the good cop/bad cop pun and analogy, don’t forget that whichever one is speaking (and lying, in order to get what they want from you), you’re still being held by a system in which you have fewer and fewer rights, and which acts with impunity.

    • C Dorn

      Good point. Judging individuals, we can get a sense that when people we like get into office, everything will be okay. But it leaves a sick system in place.

  2. tlmerrie

    As the school year has come to a close I have had many wonderful and informative conversations with parents. I am sure that my school would be categorized as a low expectations school. None of the parents voiced this concern.

  3. Michael Paul Goldenberg

    Two more enemies of the people.

  4. Ken Bernstein

    on my just past 67th birthday got lots of messages, more than half from former students. Funny, but none of them mentioned low expectation on my part, many noted having been challenged, but was far more important was their experience of being seen as individuals, not as data points.

  5. Ken Bernstein

    one more point – one of my best all-time students, a very creative thinker respected by her classmates enough to make her a class officer, chose to go into the Navy out of high school, and is now studying automotive technology, because it is what she wants to do. We should be empowering our students to follow their own lodestars, not imposing societal imagery upon them. Society will benefit far more from happy people who are doing what matters to them.

  6. Educator
  7. James

    I’ve engaged with Elisa on Twitter. I still will repeat over and over again — there seems to be a “culture problem” at TFA — perhaps it’s a kind of unnecessary hyper-defensiveness against the ‘haters’ — whereby people seem paranoid that questions have a kind of malicious anti-TFA flavor to them.

    • Michael Fiorillo

      Gee, why on earth would people be hostile to TFA? I mean, it’s just a training academy for “transformational leaders” who are intent on privatizing the schools and turning them into profit centers, busting the unions, and turning teaching into temporary, at-will employment.

      After all, they’re so perky and nice, sort of like customer service reps at banks that are about to forclose on your home, or health insurance reps who inform you that your cancer treatments won’t be covered.

      Still, they’re really nice, and so much smarter and excellent than the rest of us, and it’s so unfair that some people are mean to them! Those mean, unexcellent teachers and their supporters must really hate kids!

      • Meg

        You’re making some awfully broad generalizations about a group of 40,000 people.

        • Linda

          If the shoe fits…unfortunately your reps are determined by the TFA superstars: Rhee, White, Kopp…two should be in jail.

        • Carrie

          No differently than the entitled, elite, clueless children of the “me” generation who are special/smart because they breathe that comprise those 40,000 people.

  8. Michael Fiorillo

    I’m speaking about the leadership and organizational persona, not new recruits.

  9. Linda

    TFA smack down! What was the 1.5 million for? States now have to pay for the privilege of having TFA ruin the teaching profession and destroy their state?

    Dear Madam President:
    I have received, approved, signed, and deposited in the Office o f the Secretary o f State Chapter 99, Senate File 1236, the Omnibus Higher Education Bill, with the exception ofthe line item vetoes listed below:

    The following items of appropriation are vetoed for the reasons below:

    • Page 5. line 5.29: A $750,000 item of appropriation in FY 14 and a $750,000 item of
    appropriation in FY15 for Teach for America.

    Teach for America (TFA) is a well-established, national program with revenues totaling $270 million for fiscal year 2011 (its most recent annual report). With total expenses of$219 million, TFA’s net assets increased by over $50 million and now total over $350 million. With those financial resources available, it is not clear why a $1.5 million grant from the State ofMinnesota is required to continue or expand the organization’s work here.

    See full text:

    http://www.leg.state.mn.us/archive/vetoes/2013veto_ch99.pdf

  10. veteran

    I agree with Meg that you can’t paint all TFA by one broad and mostly negative stroke. I also agree the same can’t be done for veteran teachers or unions etc.
    There may be things that are disturbing on both sides of the debate but stereotyping is wrong ALWAYS

  11. Victor3

    Low expectations, no excuses, status quo, these are all just parts of the deceptive, diversionary sales pitch of reform and have no connection to what is actually happening on the ground in schools. They are fables told for the sole reason of grabbing the biggest possible chunk of the “market” of public education by tricking parents and taxpayers into acting against their own best interests.

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