Aug 01 2013

Villanueva-Beard Strikes Back

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called ‘TFA co-CEOs vs. The Boogeyman’ in which I challenged Elisa Villanueva-Beard’s frequent use of the term ‘status quo’ to define people who are opposed to unproven theories of the corporate reformers, many of them TFA alumni.  I wrote that this was an unfair, and untrue, phrase since there really isn’t anyone who doesn’t want anything in education to change.  If ‘status quo defender’ is someone who doesn’t want the students of this nation to be experimented on by a bunch of people who know nothing about education, then I guess that’s what I am, but I’d still rather not be called one.  My post got a lot of attention and it seems to have prompted a response from Villanueva-Beard on the TFA Pass The Chalk in a recent post called ‘How I Define the Status Quo.’

The first thing I noticed about this post is that she doesn’t seem to want to mention me by name.  She writes, “I made reference to defenders of the “status quo,” prompting a number of people to ask me to clarify exactly what I meant. I will gladly elaborate.”  Now it is true, surely, that I wasn’t the only one to challenge this, but surely my several thousand word post made me the most ambitious challenger.  Considering that the speech was made at an alumni event, it would have been nice for her to write that a distinguished alum was offended by the term, and even included a link to my post so people could put the arguments into context.

In the second paragraph she writes:

I define the status quo as the current educational system in which students’ socioeconomic backgrounds predict their educational outcomes and opportunities in life.

This is a variation on the famous reformer catch phrases like ‘Poverty is not destiny,’ ‘Zip code is not destiny,’ or ‘Poverty is not Zip code.’  I don’t think anyone is thrilled that socioeconomic backgrounds generally correlate with educational outcomes and opportunities in life.  But I think the question is whether this is a problem with ‘the current education system’ or if the issue is much bigger than that.  Of course ‘poverty is not destiny’ as there are some kids that grow up in poverty and escape it.  The question is whether we can improve the education system, particularly without increasing the cost of it substantially, to greatly increase the chance of kids escaping poverty.  As much as I think that schools do make some difference, I’m in agreement with The Coleman report that the out of school factors greatly outweigh the in school factors in determining educational outcomes.  I don’t think schools are currently ‘that bad’ or that even the best, well funded charters, are ‘that good,’ so I don’t think I am a defender of this definition of ‘status quo.’

Near the end of her piece, Villanueva-Beard gives a more detailed definition of ‘defenders of the status quo’ which I really take issue with and will tackle point-by-point after directly quoting.

Defenders of the status quo include those who aren’t outraged by the fact that low-income children lag far behind their more affluent peers, even though we know something else is possible.  It also includes those who dismiss the real and measurable progress we’re seeing in good traditional public and charter schools simply because of ideological opposition to a particular model of school reform. Defenders of the status quo include those who spend more time criticizing those who are working to tackle this deeply entrenched problem than they do working for positive change.

Here Villanueava-Beard identifies three ways that people, like me, are defenders of the status quo.  The first is we are not “outraged by the fact that low-income children lag far behind their more affluent peers, even though we know something else is possible.”  Well I wouldn’t say that I ‘know’ that something else is possible.  I mean, I do know that with enough resources — early childhood education, tiny class sizes, private tutors, mental health facilities for kids and their families — ‘something else’ is possible.  I’m not so sure that our country is willing to dedicate that much money to the problem.  The leaders seem like doing this on a budget based on teacher evaluations and charter schools.  Secondly, I guess she is right that I am not ‘outraged.’  I don’t know if this is a necessary prerequisite.  Am I unhappy if my very competent doctor isn’t ‘outraged’ when I get tuberculosis?  I don’t know if the outrage really helps.  I’d rather someone who isn’t outraged but knows what he is doing rather than someone else who is outraged but completely reckless and uninformed of how to improve my condition.

Currently, life expectancy in this country is under 80 years old.  I’m not really outraged by this although is pretty much stinks that I’m not going to be around to see the next Transit of Venus (and I missed the last one, by accident).  So ‘outrage’ is an unusual word to use here as a characteristic of status quo defenders.  But I suppose she is right that ‘outraged’ wouldn’t be the best adjective to describe me.

Reformers, like Michelle Rhee, are very outraged and I feel like her outrage is genuine.  But what I can’t understand is why if she is so outraged is she unwilling to acknowledge all the evidence that her reforms are not making things any better, and, in my opinion, are making things worse?  This is something I am outraged about.  How a small group of very rich people have been given the power to make huge changes to education in this country without knowing the negative side effects those changes could have.

As far as whether I “dismiss the real and measurable progress we’re seeing in good traditional public and charter schools simply because of ideological opposition to a particular model of school reform,” well, I don’t agree that much of the progress is ‘real’ or measured accurately.  And to say that I am dismissing this so-called ‘progress’ just because I’m opposed to corporate reform rather than on all the real evidence I’ve uncovered painstakingly poring over school report cards and teacher data reports for two and a half years, is something I take offense to.

Finally “Defenders of the status quo include those who spend more time criticizing those who are working to tackle this deeply entrenched problem than they do working for positive change,” is something that really hits me in the gut.  Yes, right now I spend more time criticizing corporate reformers than I do working for positive change.  But that’s because if I don’t fight off what I consider to be an evil, I won’t have any opportunity to work on improving things.

I guess right now I’m like a fireman.  There’s a building on fire and my skill is sliding down a pole, getting in a fire truck and then risking my (professional) life by going into that building and saving people.  And it is true that a fireman is not the same thing as an architect, but that doesn’t mean that a fireman is a bad or unnecessary thing.  One day, when the whole corporate reform thing collapses (I predict it will happen within 2 years, but I’ve always been an extreme optimist), I would like to get involved in making improvements.  There are so many things that can be improved in education.  There are a lot of things that are in the ‘status quo’ which, though they aren’t big causes of the achievement gap, are things that should be changed.

Here are two, somewhat trivial — but important to me, examples:  My daughter is starting kindergarten next year and I just learned that at her school the kindergarteners have lunch at 10:30 AM.  Now this is something I’m angry about.  This seems to be a policy that was probably started ten years ago, way before the current principal took over, and it is still there as a policy.  Now I know my daughter and when she gets hungry she tends to get cranky, which will make it tougher for her to learn.  So I have some ideas.  Maybe if they have different lunch shifts, the different grades can ‘rotate’ where for six weeks kindergarteners and first graders eat at 10:30 AM, and then the next six weeks, the second and third graders get the early shift.  That is a minor improvement, but something that I’d like to see changed.  There are surely thousands of small things like this going on at schools and districts around the country.

Here’s another:  My department head wanted to use some money to buy some new technology for our department and asked me what she thought we could buy which would not just sit in a closet but would actually be used.  I came up with a plan for a mounted projector and a tablet which we could write on and which would go on the screen.  But iPads aren’t good for the type of math that we write, where we need good precision.  Also, the iPads don’t have the windows software we need for some of our applications.  So I researched and found the perfect solution, the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist tablet.  It was light, it had Windows, and it was designed for high detail writing.  But then I learned that we couldn’t get the ThinkPad Twist tablet.  The closest thing we could get was the Lenovo ThinkPad x230t, which did not meet our needs.  It was just too heavy and bulky and I knew that nobody would use it unless it was small and light.  So why can’t we get the one that suits our purpose?  “Because the Twist is not on FAMIS,” whatever the Hell that means!  So there is another ‘status quo’ thing that I’d like to see changed.

"My kingdom for a Lenovo twist tablet!"

But Villanueva-Beard is correct that I’m a lot better about challenging other people’s costly ‘silver bullet’ ideas than coming up with my own.  It is not really my job right now to come up with all the ways of fixing TFA and all the ways of fixing education in general.  If it were my job, and maybe someday it will be — assuming I’m not blacklisted in the future, then, yes, I’ll come up with ideas that make things incrementally better.  But to say that there is not a place for ‘skeptics’ and people to play ‘Devil’s advocate’ in debates about something as tricky as education and to label such skeptics as ‘status quo defenders’ is, again, unfair.

As far as this recent Villanueva-Beard blog post goes, I think she would have been better off saying that ‘status quo defender’ probably wasn’t the most accurate description.  Maybe ‘skeptic,’  ‘naysayer,’ or even ‘doubting Thomas’ those I could accept since that’s what I am, and proud of it.

35 Responses

  1. If the status quo is “the current educational system in which students’ socioeconomic backgrounds predict their educational outcomes and opportunities in life” then wouldn’t status quo defenders be people who say “Yes, that’s good, poor kids should grow up to be poor adults”? Do such people exist?

    Or is she trying to say that being anti-TFA is equivalent to being anti-poor kids?

  2. Meghank

    Great post. And teachers make suggestions for improvements to the “status quo,” all the time, it is just that those suggestions are ignored.

    As far as kindergarten lunch schedules go, it sounds ridiculous. But, as an early grades teacher forced to eat lunch at 10:30 for three years, I can assure you that her body will naturally adjust. A side effect will be that on the weekends she will be hungry for lunch at 10:30. It’s a bad idea to switch shifts, because when the shift comes, she’ll be starving at 10:30 and no food will be available.

    They really ought to provide kindergartners with a snack time in the early afternoon, though. The kids usually get hungry again around 1 o’clock.

  3. mches

    Thanks for writing this. You’ve saved me the need/desire to respond.

    I think you’ve hit on something important. I really don’t consider the apathetic or Negative Nelly strawmen she’s set up as the opposition holding back meaningful school improvement. I don’t hold average Americans for rushing into Iraq under false pretenses; I blame the Bush administration’s recklessness and desire for rapid change when such upheaval was clearly not a good idea. In my last post, I detailed that most Americans at the very least pay lip service to caring about improving all kids’ schooling. It may not be outrage, but it’s certainly a willingness to go along with leaders who say, more or less, “We’re coming in to shake things up!” I think this is why Rhee was such a sympathetic figure initially because here’s this woman standing up to this mythically bad public school system and she’s kicking butt and taking names. When the people whose lives are actually at stake pushed back, they became “haters” and defenders of the status quo and wanted their schools to continue to fail.

    Also: “Now it is true, surely, that I wasn’t the only one to challenge this, but surely my several thousand word post made me the most ambitious challenger.” Next time I’ll know to pad my word count.

    • Educator

      Let’s not forget that a lot of advocacy groups and ed reform organizations have communications consultants, or even their own internal communications staff. Fighting “defenders of the status quo” has a real appeal for an average citizen. The ed reform community has framed education in this manner, and it sucked in a lot of people, including many thoughtful people who want to do good (I’d count many college students entering TFA in this category) We all want to be fighting against a Darth Vader.

      The problem is, as Gary states so well, that the tools being used (policies) just haven’t been helping. They’ve helped Darth Vader.

  4. yoteach

    Gary, I generally agree with your sentiment here. I think it may be helpful to think of an analogy to understand what’s problematic about their status quo arguments.

    World poverty exists. It sucks. It’s horrible that some people’s quality of life can be so low, while ours is so much higher. Many people are ‘outraged’ by this, and therefore advise us to ‘change the status quo’ by giving huge amounts of money to charity, or getting our government or large foundations to invest in foreign aid. The problem is, there is a lot of empirical evidence that this aid does very little, and in fact can crowd out local investment, empower autocrats, and prevent more long-term development. Are people who make these points in favor of global poverty? No, they just have a philosophy of gathering relevant research and waiting to ensure that the programs they invest in have beneficial impacts. Now, there is a fierce debate about this, but clearly both sides have an important role to play, and neither is in favor of the “status quo.” The only bad guys in this story, I would argue, are those who purposefully distort or ignore data to fit their narrative.

    You could reasonably argue that your role right now is to ensure that nobody is ignoring or manipulating data that doesn’t fit into their narrative. This is obviously necessary to make sure that programs touted as “effective” and replicated/learned from are actually effective.

    My only caution is to avoid taking a nihilistic view. To argue that no examples of reforms on a large or small scale work is about as silly as to argue that they all do, and probably requires a similar amount of picking and choosing from your data. Talk up the things you see evidence for (whether it exists in districts, charter schools, regions of TFA, other countries, etc.), and help all of us differentiate between reforms that help, those that don’t really do anything, and those that do harm. I often have to take your silence on a particular story as evidence that you didn’t find any glaring misinterpretations in the media. Maybe give praise where praise is due, and try to figure out why some things work and others don’t. But definitely keep calling out manipulations of data, and keep making the point that our system will not improve if we have such a low bar for what we throw up as “miracle” schools or “successful” districts/programs.

  5. Zebra

    ” One day, when the whole corporate reform thing collapses (I predict it will happen within 2 years, but I’ve always been an extreme optimist), I would like to get involved in making improvements.”
    Those words sound almost too good to be true? What makes you think this?

  6. tlmerrie

    Once again, great post Gary!

  7. Shannon

    I’m outraged at the conditions children endure in this country. But since it’s really a combination of factors that contribute to the conditions, I’m not sure where or how we can direct our potential outrage. Just because I don’t automatically think “it’s those damned veteran teachers in low- income schools” does not mean I don’t find the situation upsetting.

    And I agree, more money won’t solve it. We’ve been throwing money at the problem since LBJ, since FDR…

  8. Great post! Been there as a parent with the scheduling. You’re going to have to pick your battles and I don’t advise that the 10:30 am lunch be one of them. Just pack a snack and make sure there will be a time for her to have one in the afternoon. Also most young children like to do the same stuff at the same time each day.

  9. gkm001

    “I define the status quo as the current educational system in which students’ socioeconomic backgrounds predict their educational outcomes and opportunities in life…” Yet what is promulgated as “reform” does little or nothing to address this problem. That is why people criticize it. In my working-class suburb, a teenager who goes to our unbelievably overcrowded public high school, which serves many low-income and mostly Latino students, can take a maximum of 16 academic credits over 4 years. In a nearby wealthier, whiter suburb, students can get 22 or more — and they have smaller classes, more counselors, more teachers, many more extracurriculars, a bigger and better-designed campus, and more health and social services, to boot. So. More educational opportunities and less stress for the wealthy, who already have more opportunities for learning and less stress in their lives outside of school. How do charter schools, TFA, or test-based teacher evaluations change this? At all? School reform that is worthy of the name should create equity of opportunity. In my example (but you can look at rich and poor school systems across the country for more of them), the teachers at both schools are good; the difference is that the wealthier community pays for *more* teaching — many more classes are available to the students, there is a greater variety of courses and electives, and the class sizes are smaller. But when teachers point this out, they are accused of being self-serving. When working-class parents ask their towns or their states for more funding for their public schools, they are told that this is merely “throwing money at the problem.” What goes by the name of reform is no such thing: it is the reformers who, by accepting school segregation and funding inequities as inevitable, are defending the status quo.

  10. Educator
  11. NewarkTFA

    What outrages me is how successful the Powers That Be have been in convincing people that Corporate Education Reform–or even education reforms with which I would agree–are some sort of just and viable substitute for reducing this country’s growing income inequality (generally) or childhood poverty (specifically).

    The witless mantra that “We don’t need to wait to fix poverty before we fix education” seems to be the latest PR soundbite in this propaganda war.

    Let’s try this on for size: We don’t need to wait to fix education before we fix poverty.

    Since we all agree that “students’ socioeconomic backgrounds predict their educational outcomes and opportunities in life” to a sitriking degree, lifting (at least some) poor children out of poverty is the quickest, most direct means of helping them do better in school and in life.

    It’s by no means impossible to craft government policies that reduce childhood poverty. It’s much cheaper, however, to villify teachers and undermine the public schools. Indeed, using the suffering of the poorest children to justify reducing the status of public schools teachers–who have traditionally clung to the lower rungs of the professional middle class–to that of temp workers strikes me as a cynical ploy by the this nation’s elite to make sure that as few members as possible of “the 99%” are in no position to challenge them on anything.

    • Educator

      Good thoughts NewarkTFA. The rationale a lot of people who enter education reform have is “The easiest way to lift oneself out of poverty is to get to a good college.” To get to a good college, one needs a high GPA and test scores. So let’s get them a high GPA and test scores. This is a very simplistic view of the purpose of education, and ultimately destructive. There’s a lot of collateral damage when the sole goal is to increase GPAs and test scores.

      Yes, there are low income students who do lift themselves away from poverty through education, but this is more difficult to do and is not the norm unfortunately. So reformers look at these examples, and then try to replicate it to make it a norm. But it doesn’t seem to be working at large.

  12. James


    This NY Times column pretty much sums up how the real people demanding that the ‘status quo’ be maintained are, actually, the reformers who refuse to engage in a hard conversation about the dramatic policy changes necessary to cure America — and the world — of its poverty:

    I hope you’ll read this column and, potentially, relate it to TFA and its funders — I think there’s a lot to discuss there.

    All best!

    • Alison

      Thanks for that link.

      Instead of talking about the “Status Quo”, let’s talk “Local Control”.

      Interestingly, it means different things to different factions. To some, it means property taxes raised in leafy suburbs remain there, and are not shared with nearby districts. To others, it means district and school decisions are made by coalitions of elected officials, unions & educators, and parents & students, not by all-powerful mayors or chancellors and their outside consultants. While to others, it means experimental or independent schools like charters (or private & religious ones) who are exempt from many state and federal mandates.

      The first kind of “local control” helps maintain the stark socioeconomic differences in this country. Who among TFA has come out publicly against it?

  13. Educator

    Off topic, related to Twitter –

    I wonder how many critical voices there are in TFA.
    I’ve met a lot of TFA folk, and all of them say, “Yeah, there are a lot of things wrong with our organization.” I’ve met people who aren’t in education, and they ask me “Why are so many TFAers so unhappy?”

    So I don’t think 90% of corps members love TFA. I’m just not sure how many critics there are. Many are probably too afraid to speak up because they need to use the TFA alum resources to make connections and all. Maybe that’s why only career educators seem to be openly critical, since they don’t need to use the career development stuff TFA provides (and why it’s so easy for some in the reform crowd to dismiss folks like Gary, as he’s a career educator and part of the problem supposedly).

  14. veteran

    Gary-Great post! I don’t feel you need to define yourself anymore. It seems you’re pretty clear on what your stance is. For example:You don’t like value added for the statistical inaccuracies , You believe charter schools have used false claims,etc
    I think who needs to define themselves is TFA. They are saying that they are a wide umbrella and are not a monolith. I have also heard that if one doesn’t agree with the actions of the alum- that is not TFA. Yet, many famous alum are moving lock step. I’ve heard that TFA is not political but their political arm LEE pays quite a different picture.
    As a fellow alum, what I’d really like for TFA to do is define themselves…accurately and honestly:
    Right now I’m feeling a “Stop the criticism” mode from the organization. But I’m still trying to figure out what exactly they stand for and against.

  15. TFAer on the Fence

    “This is something I am outraged about. How a small group of very rich people have been given the power to make huge changes to education in this country without knowing the negative side effects those changes could have.”

    Replace the word “education” with any issue and welcome to American Democracy. We need to think bigger. And by “we” I mean both sides of the proverbial status quo. Politics and policies are behind every decision, yet too many focus on the individual/classroom/school level.

    Like you said, that’s not your job (right now). I think Villanueva-Beard’s point was that too many people have that same mentality — that someone else will get the job done. You spark many wonderful and necessary conversations, which I applaud. But if you don’t take action, who will?

  16. skepticnotcynic

    Villanueva-Beard has really shown her true colors in this post. The Kool-Aid sugar high has clearly not worn off, which is most likely due to all the money she is getting paid to keep the “status-quo” of standard’s based reform and flawed teacher accountability rolling.

    Sigh… As a skeptic but not cynic. One day, “One day” will mean more than the same ole same ole Ed-reform catch-phrases and meaningless education jargon.

    • gkm001

      I read her speech and it sounds like hurt feelings (“why are people criticizing me when I’m the good one here?”) and also resentment about her own education: why did some of her peers in college have such an easy time while she struggled? I don’t say that she’d be wrong to blame the low expectations of some of her teachers, but I’d also guess that is unlikely to be the full story. Villaneuva-Beard should visit some of the public schools that serve the children of wealthy and well-educated parents. She would see, first, a robust and varied curriculum. Students choose from a wide variety of classes: sociology, philosophy, French, Mandarin, Latin, creative writing, engineering. She would see that there is far more on offer than just the state-mandated basics, often taught in a way that resembles college-level work, with seminar discussions and frequent writing assignments. She would see that the students are treated like responsible young adults: no uniforms, fewer restrictions on activity, none of this SLANT business. And she would see that the teachers are — hold onto your hats — career educators. Parents at New Trier or Stuyvesant would be appalled to have fresh-out-of-college TFA recruits teaching their children. They want experienced teachers who have put a lot of thought and effort into education for many years. If Villeneuva-Beard wants to change a system in which “students’ socioeconomic backgrounds predict their educational outcomes and opportunities in life,” shouldn’t she want schools that serve the children of poor parents to look more like the schools that serve the children of the wealthy? That would mean, as Diane Ravitch frequently points out, that the children of the poor should get a varied curriculum rich in literature and the arts, safe and well-kept classrooms and hallways, classes small enough for their teachers to know them well and attend to their individual needs, and teachers who are interested enough in education — and good enough at teaching — to make a career of it. Challenging our current system to provide these things to all children is not “defending the status quo,” because the status quo distributes them unequally. Much of what goes by the name of reform distributes them even more unequally. To borrow Educator’s trope, too many reformers have gone over to the Dark Side.

      • Marc V

        I agree that we should look to public schools serving the wealthy as models, but we should do so with utmost caution. Even taking resources out of the question [you would have to find a way, for starters, to get high-quality, career educators to stop drifting from high-poverty schools into the Stuyvesants], you should remember that the loose, creative culture of these schools is–in part–possible because of the outside-of-school resources these students have: they are not as often behind grade-level, they have stable homes with parents invested in the education of their children and equipped to know what to ask for, they do not have to worry about going to bed hungry or where they are going to sleep each night, they had plenty of role models growing up of people successfully completing college, etc., etc., etc.

        Certainly, there are standards that unquestionably need to be met for all our children (“safe and well-kept classrooms and hallways, classes small enough for their teachers to know them well and attend to their individual needs”), but I think you take it a step too far in saying these wealthier public schools have “the answer.” But I agreed with some of your points, and thank you for making them.

        • gkm001

          Thanks for the comment, Marc. I don’t mean to imply wealthier schools have “the answer” (to what question?), only that they provide a good education. And you bring up an important issue. Students living in poverty are far more likely to come to school with unmet physical and emotional needs, including unaddressed chronic health problems, lack of sleep, lack of proper nutrition, lack of high-quality early childhood education, chronic stress and anxiety. It’s worth keeping in mind that the much-vaunted educational success of Finland happens in a country where child care and health care are freely available to everyone.

          At the same time, I think we should be careful not to assume that because some children have serious problems in their lives, they are not up to the demands of challenging intellectual and creative work. I attended a nonselective public high school in Chicago. Looking at its current demographics, 85 percent of students are African-American and 78 percent come from low-income households. The school has a Latin Club that has bested highly selective, top private and Catholic schools in state competitions. Some of my friends’ children attend a diverse suburban high school (55 percent white) just outside the city. This school has a Spoken Word club that attracts participants across the spectrum of race, socioeconomic background, and academic ability. The students in this club are phenomenal, not only winning national spoken word and poetry slam competitions, but supporting one another and forming meaningful friendships.

          Great teachers and coaches are important to these successes, but they don’t rest solely on the efforts of a single superstar. They also require a school culture that values and expects high-quality work, whether that work is structured and scholarly (like the study of Latin) or loose and creative (like spoken word). For me, that is what it means to have high expectations — not putting up some target number for a bubble test, but expecting and believing in and teaching for original work of excellence.

          Of course it takes resources, including human resources, to do this. You’re right that the best teachers often do gravitate to the better-off schools. But not always. Gage Park high school on Chicago’s west side serves a low-income community — and although it’s a school, not a miracle, it does a pretty good job, even offering an IB diploma to students who want to work for it. A couple of years ago I met two of its social studies teachers at a conference: smart, passionate, hardworking career educators who were willing to spend their own time and money to attend professional development that was not financed by CPS. You would want educators like them teaching your own children. These men have both just lost their jobs in the recent Chicago teacher layoffs. To get back to Villaneuva-Beard and TFA, am I “defending the status quo” if I protest? Or am I defending the students, who deserve experienced teachers who have mastered their craft?

          • Marc V

            Really appreciate this follow-up, and thank you for clarifying. Rather than trying to exhaustively reply [because I'm in almost complete agreement], I’m going to focus on one point you make that spoke to me:

            “For me, that is what it means to have high expectations — not putting up some target number for a bubble test, but expecting and believing in and teaching for original work of excellence.”

            I think the “high expectations” rhetoric has become so polarizing [you're either for it 100% as an answer or you ridicule it as an empty solution] that it has lost its essence. Or perhaps, better stated, its potential.

            “High expectations” without the resources, experience and support are empty solutions, but lack of high expectations can be equally damaging. For instance, if I walk into a classroom and say that we’re going to raise our test scores by 50% this year, and to do this we’re just going to work really, really hard and go non-stop every day, that doesn’t do much.

            However, if I say that we are going to make our goal to have a classroom community that strives to be excellent, pointing out the long term benefits of such work for the lives of students [college-readiness, analytical skills, work ethic, etc., etc.], and THEN talk about ways we can see our growth INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO test scores, then we have something. Especially if we follow it up with a path of how to get there, a driven, experienced teacher who utilizes all the resources available to him/her, and a school culture that supports such a classroom.

            Perhaps the most frustrating part of the TFA discussion for me is that it undermines our focus on school culture–which, in my mind, is the biggest factor in the success of individual students [please don't take this as me pushing for Principal For America or anything...].

            Once again, I appreciate your thoughts. Thanks for the reply!

  17. James

    This was too controversial to be accepted as a comment on her blog post:

    I think your points are quite fair, Elisa, and your energy for this important work is admirable. What is unfortunate, though, is that many of TFA’s funders (i.e. Walmart trying to deny DC employees a pittance of a living wage) are certainly defending the very kind of ‘status quo’ that allows our children to be treated as poorly as those in some — much poorer — developing countries (…. If we are to (reasonably) accept that there is some truth to the fact that poverty, while not destiny, does, on balance, significantly impact student achievement (see the Coleman report), then those neoliberal supporters of TFA — and other education organizations in America — seem to be not only embracing the ‘status quo’ in terms of income distribution and poverty, but energetically embracing policies that actually seek to rollback the ‘status quo’ (i.e. rights to organize, allowing the minimum wage to continue to fall further and further behind inflation). Now, if TFA wants to just acknowledge that it doesn’t believe America can ever be as socially-just as Western Europe, Japan, Australia or other rich countries (and some poorer ones, too), that’s fine, and then, perhaps, its framing of educational inequity as a problem entirely falling under the agency of schools and teachers is fair enough. If that’s not the case, though, and TFA is smart enough (which I know, from experience, it is) to understand that our gross socio-economic disparities are what really exacerbate this country’s achievement gap, then it would behoove the organization — leadership included — to be just as outraged about disgusting socio-economic inequality in this country as it is about student achievement disparities. Unfortunately, doing so (i.e. loudly calling for a higher minimum wage, child payments, more progressive taxation, single-payer health care, etc.) would ruffle the feathers of its most wealthy donors — those who have a strong interest in maintaining the current high-poverty ‘status quo’ in America — and thus damage the financial stability of TFA. In short, if we’re going to define the ‘status quo’, let’s also be sure to acknowledge that some of the folks most intimately associated with — indeed, its biggest boosters — TFA are some of the biggest defenders of, defined much more broadly than you do in this blog post, a horrific and brutal ‘status quo’ that benefits wealthy elites at the expense of suffering children. Or as, Peter Buffet recently wrote (…, ‘But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.’

    • James

      Woops — my bad. Now posted!

  18. CarolineSF

    I will as usual take what one might call the nihilist role — however, it’s entirely appropriate with education “reformers.” Don’t forget that Villanueva-Beard is mouthing what she’s paid to mouth. Assume no sincerity. Follow the money.

    (Under these circumstances, I think it’s a distracting waste of time to wonder why someone is thinking in such a manner, or to try to figure out how to change that person’s views. That’s why I regularly issue these reminders — not because I’m gratuitously trying to spread cynicism.)

  19. RunOn

    Hmm. Where to go with this. Well, first off, I totally respect your writing and find myself agreeing with many of your critiques (sayy…80% of the time). You are absolutely right that it is important to have the devil advocate types to keep a balance of perspective and to foster critical thought. However, perhaps the reason her comment (“spend more time criticizing those who are working to tackle this deeply entrenched problem than they do working for positive change”) hit you to the core is because it is true.

    I think to say that you are a fireman running into the building and saving people is a bit of a stretch. Honestly, Gary, I think your work and critique plays an important role in the shitstorm, but lets face it…you aren’t going into buildings saving people. Maybe you are the guy who drives the truck while other people run in. Maybe you are the guy who holds the hose from a relatively safe distance. But you aren’t running in. I do wish I would see more suggestions from you for structural changes to TFA, charters, testing, union issues, etc. Mostly because I think you’d produce some interesting thoughts. I read a lot of anti-TFA blogs and they are starting to sound kool-aidy just like they claim TFA is…no room for dissent and no room for a slight deviation from the talking points (which are getting repetitive these days) and they generally offer no concrete action or alternatives.

    • TFAer on the Fence


    • anonymous

      He is running in to teach math every day.

      • RunOn

        and…how is that form of “running in” relevant to this context?

  20. CarolineSF

    Commenter “Educator,” above, said this: “Let’s not forget that a lot of advocacy groups and ed reform organizations have communications consultants, or even their own internal communications staff. Fighting “defenders of the status quo” has a real appeal for an average citizen. The ed reform community has framed education in this manner…”

    Yes, it’s a strategic, professionally crafted set of strategies. One of them is to blast critics of “reform” by (falsely) claiming that all they do is criticize and that they have no ideas of their own. Perhaps not everyone saying that realizes that they’re repeating a professionally crafted strategic tack.

    For those who are making this claim because they’re paid to, there’s no point in responding. For those who are making this claim sincerely, if misguidedly, this material comes from the Network for Public Education but probably applies generally to most critics of the current education “reform” sector. The rest of this post is quoted from the Network for Public Education website.

    You know what we oppose: High-stakes testing; privatization of public education; mass school closures to save money or to facilitate privatization; demonization of teachers; lowering of standards for the education profession; for-profit management of schools.

    Here is what we support:

    We support schools that offer a full and rich curriculum for all children, including the arts, physical education, history, civics, foreign languages, literature, mathematics, and the sciences.
    We support schools that are subject to democratic control by members of their community.
    We support schools that have the resources that their students need, such as guidance counselors, social workers, librarians, and psychologists.
    We support the equitable funding of schools, with extra resources for those students with the greatest needs.
    We support schools that have reasonable class sizes, so that teachers have the time to help the children in their care.
    We support early childhood education, because we know that the achievement gap begins before the first day of school.
    We support high standards of professionalism for teachers, principals, and superintendents.
    We support the principle that every classroom should be led by a teacher who is well educated, well prepared for the challenges of teaching, and certified.
    We support wraparound services for children, such as health clinics and after-school programs.
    We support assessments that are used to support children and teachers, not to punish or stigmatize them or to hand out monetary rewards.
    We support assessments that measure what was taught, through projects and activities in which students can demonstrate what they have learned.
    We support the evaluation of teachers by professionals, not by unreliable test scores.
    We support helping schools that are struggling, not closing them.
    We support parent involvement in decisions about their children.
    We support the idea that students’ confidential information must remain confidential and not be handed over to entrepreneurs and marketing agents.
    We support teacher professionalism in decisions about curriculum, teaching methods, and selection of teaching materials.
    We support public education because it is a pillar of our democratic society.

    • Jack

      Amen, sister!

  21. Titleonetexasteacher

    I was a graduate of Michelle Rhee’s Texas Teaching Fellows 4 years ago and now I am going into my 5th year, still at the same school, having had a different administration every year…She is iindeed “outraged” but I think it is because so many people are on to her: her taping kids’ mouths shut and her unprovable supposedly high test scores in her mere three years of teaching have gotten around. It is shocking to see the hubris: I had no idea, when I went into that program with two years of graduate school teaching and three years of teaching abroad experience, that I already had more experience than the founder of the program into which I was accepted. I can’t but hope that her cheating gets exposed.

  22. navigio

    Um, if children have to have lunch at 10:30, I expect the reason is the school is too large or itsfacilities and/or staffing levels are insufficient to support all students having lunch at or near noon (give or take an hour or two). Focusing on facilities, school size and/or staffing seems like it might be a sensical way to address that issue.

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