The New Teacher Project (TNTP) was a spin-off of TFA and originally led by Michelle Rhee. Having worked as a trainer for both organizations, I generally liked working for TNTP more than TFA. I found the TNTP trainees to be more mature and more committed to education as many of them were ‘career changers’ and planned to be long term teachers. I’ve trained about six cohorts of TNTP teachers and some of them have gone on to have pretty impressive careers in education. Two of the people I trained are actually now co-workers of mine at Stuyvesant High School now.
Both TNTP and TFA serve similar purposes. They both train teachers over the summer and both are influential in national education policy. One difference that I’ve noticed is that while TFA claims to be neutral in this current hostile education reform debate, TNTP makes no such claim.
TFA has been pitching the idea that they have a ‘big tent’ with diverse alumni viewpoints and have even included some of those diverse opinions (though none of mine) on their ‘Pass The Chalk’ blog. Though Wendy Kopp has been pretty clear that she is quite proud of the alumni who have pushed disruptive ‘reform,’ she also wrote an editorial about how teacher evaluation scores should not be published in the newspaper.
TNTP, however, is very clear that they are on a ‘side’ which they defend when they can in the newspapers, blogs, and in ‘research’ reports they have put out over the years. The first was ‘The Widget Effect’ which promotes the idea of merit pay based on standardized test scores. More recently was ‘The Irreplaceables’ about retaining the most ‘effective’ (based on test scores) teachers and not retaining the ‘ineffective’ ones. I’ve seen several op-eds in the New York Daily News from TNTP about teacher evaluation, tenure, and other magic cures from the corporate reform spell book. I currently know at least three people on the TNTP staff from my TFA days.
The first one is Karolyn Belcher. Karolyn was the institute director when I worked as a trainer for TFA in the summer of 1996. Michelle Rhee, at the time, was the institute director of operations. I had some conflicts that summer and was not invited to work there again. Running into Karolyn at the TFA 20th anniversary event, she seemed happy to see me and a little like she felt bad that we weren’t able to work things out fifteen years earlier for me to have continued working at the institutes. When I learned she was working for TNTP, I found it to be a bit ironic. This organization completely supports the ‘reform’ agenda of shutting down ‘failing’ schools, and Karolyn holds the unusual distinction of running the first charter school in New York City to get shut down for being a ‘failing’ school. I know that she felt that her school did not deserve to be discarded in that way, yet now she must have gotten over that as she works for an organization that demands accountability based on test scores, no matter how error prone such measurements have proved to be.
Another staffer I’ve known for a while is Monica Vasquez, who was the western director of recruitment for the years that I volunteered as a recruiter in Colorado. She and I did some info sessions together at The University of Colorado at Boulder and also some ‘coffee shop meetings’ for prospective corps members. I spoke with her briefly at the TFA 20 year event.
Finally, there’s the president of TNTP, Tim Daly. As I described in my (unanswered) open letter to him, Tim had gone to one of my workshops when he was training in TFA and we met again when he started working at a low level position in TNTP in 2001. At the time he seemed to have a lot of respect for me and was a generally nice guy in a folksy Richie Cunningham sort of way. I last saw him, in person, at a TFA fundraiser a few years ago, when I used to go to them, as he was getting an award for ‘The Widget Effect.’
After I started learning about how destructive the reforms he was supporting as TNTP president, I reached out to him and we had emailed back and forth for a while, but over the past year, since my open letter, he has ignored the three or four emails I have sent him, leading me to conclude that he is no longer as good as a guy as I once thought him to be. His blog post comparing the unions to the Tea Party for supposedly influencing parents to speak out against the New York education commissioner about a sloppy common core roll out, is an example of why I think this.
The TNTP editorials and the TNTP blogs clearly support strong test based ‘accountability.’ Which is why they must have been very upset to see two recent reports on teacher quality, one by Mathematica and one by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Both of these reports have concluded that TFA recruits were doing a better-than-average job at raising test scores, and TFA has celebrated these conclusions. But the Mathematica report judged that TNTP teachers were equivalent to traditionally certified teachers, which according to TNTP policy, isn’t very good at all. And the more recent report judged that TNTP teachers were having a negative effect on students compared to other teachers.
If TNTP, then, is serious about holding everyone accountable, they should be demanding that they no longer be permitted to send teachers to Tennessee, based on this value-added report. They should also be demanding that the KIPP High School in New Orleans that recently brought down the district average by getting a ‘D’ on their school report card be shut down too. But this is where the ‘reformers’ demonstrate how hypocritical they are. Accountability is for everyone except themselves and their buddies.