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It was the best of teachers.  It was the worst of teachers. But how much better are the best teachers than the worst teachers?  Well THAT’S a tough one, but one that is very important to answer.  The corporate reformers believe that the gap is great so a feasible solution is to fire those bad…

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May 21 2011

What happened to my TFA?

Some readers of my blog, particularly the TFAers who  are about to begin their training, are probably a bit confused about who I am and why I’m so cranky. Originally, I was just a guy who had a very tough first year of teaching followed by three very good years in Houston.  I wrote a…

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May 14 2011

Obama at the ‘Miracle In Memphis’

On Monday May 16th, President Obama will be the commencement speaker at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, TN. They had won a competition called ‘The Race To The Top High School Commencement Challenge’ based mainly on the claim that the all-black school in a very poor neighborhood had managed to increase their graduation…

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Mar 06 2011

Same Kids, Same Building, Same Lies

One of the highlights of the TFA 20th anniversary summit was certainly when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a rousing speech at the closing ceremony. The most impressive part of his speech was when he described the transformation of Englewood High School in Chicago while he was heading that school district. He said that…

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Mar 02 2011

LIFO is good

The TFA alumni organization has been recently calling to get the opinion from different alums about the recent debate in New York City, and elsewhere, about ending LIFO (Last In First Out). At a first glance, it probably seems crazy to be against abolishing LIFO.  I mean, why should eager, brilliant, and relentless teachers be…

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Feb 09 2011

A Chance To Make History — my review Part III

I’m going to summarize and then finish this review in this post, I hope. Here’s what we’ve learned in the first two parts of the review: Chapter 1:  TFA has produced some transformational teachers who have managed to succeed despite being in schools run by poor leaders. Chapter 2:  Some of those teachers have become…

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Feb 08 2011

A Chance To Make History — my review Part II

Chapter 4 is the one where Wendy pulls no punches and says exactly what’s on her mind.  This is the ‘controversial’ chapter where Wendy surprises everyone, even her critics. I, myself, was very surprised about something that I’ll explain in a bit, but let me first lead up to it.  In the intro to the…

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Feb 07 2011

A Chance To Make History — my review Part I

About a year ago TFA came out with the ‘Teaching As Leadership’ book, which I thought was horrible and wrote a scathing nine part critique.  This new book, you’ll all be happy to know, is actually pretty good, though not great. I do admire Wendy Kopp.  She really cares about the cause and she is…

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Feb 02 2011

Mixed feelings about the upcoming summit

I have an unusual relationship with TFA.  To me, TFA is like an ex-boyfriend who dumped me after a five year relationship from 1991 to 1996, just as things were about to get serious.  Now after the dumping back in 1996 it took me a long time to put it all behind me.  I tried…

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Sep 28 2010

Can Superman make a more accurate documentary?

I watched ‘Waiting For Superman’ last night and I’ll admit the ending had me in tears — though not for the reason that the filmmaker intended. This movie, I think, will unfortunately stall our country’s progress in closing the achievement gap. It will sway the public opinion and also cause philanthropists to throw their money…

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Mar 27 2010

Teaching as leadership critique part IX

Now that I’ve finished the entire book, including all the appendices, I’d like to make some conclusions and final reflections for any new teachers reading the book and especially for new TFA CMs. I think that one of the central themes of the book is that effective teachers know how to be efficient with the…

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Mar 26 2010

Teaching as leadership critique part VIII

I’ve just finished chapter 6, the final principle ‘Work Relentlessly.’ While I like most of the content of this chapter, I’ve got a few minor ‘improvements.’ TFA is still in the middle of a slow evolution of its philosophy of teacher training and teacher effectiveness. Sometimes it seems that they’re not quite sure if they…

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Mar 25 2010

Teaching as leadership critique part VII

Just finished chapter 5, ‘Continuously Increase Effectiveness,’ which I liked. It’s a very short 20 page chapter, which is very realistic. All teachers make mistakes. New teachers make a lot of them, but even experienced teachers do. Mistakes come from taking risks, and just like students learn from mistakes, so can teachers. When things don’t…

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Mar 24 2010

Teaching as leadership critique part VI

Chapter 4, ‘Execute Effectively’, is another very good chapter. Here is where readers learn that being an excellent teacher requires a lot of hard detail work. There’s the constant assessing of students during a lesson and then a lot of grading afterwards. I think a CM reading this will finally get a sense of what…

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Mar 23 2010

Teaching as leadership critique part V

Chapter 3 of Teaching as leadership is, surprisingly, quite good. Reading it made me even more frustrated about what happened in the first two chapters. It seems like chapter 3 is based on a completely different premise than the first two chapters. Chapters one and two seem to say, “Here are some practices we’ve found…

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Mar 22 2010

Teaching as leadership critique part IV

Chapter 2 begins with some first hand accounts by highly effective teachers describing what they do to ‘invest’ their students. Some of the practices of the hero teachers are kind of risky. For example, Kwame Griffith writes on page 54: I build strong relationships with my students, and they called my home nightly to talk…

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Is this ‘investment’ safe? One thing I want to make clear is that my goal here is not simply to ‘tear apart’ this book, magnifying small errors and ignoring any of its merit. I know this book is going to influence the decisions of many new teachers, so I’m actually on the lookout for good…

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The very first principle described in ‘Teaching As Leadership’ is ‘Set Big Goals.’ All effective teachers do this, they say, which I agree with. Implied is the converse that everyone who sets big goals will be an effective teacher or that many teachers who were not effective would have been more effective had they set…

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Mar 17 2010

‘Teaching As Leadership’ book critique Part I

Why the new TFA book could widen the achievement gap. I was excited to get my hands on the new TFA book ‘Teaching as leadership.’ For the past 19 years, I’ve been involved with TFA on many levels as a CM in 1991-1993, then eventually as an institute staff member in 1996. I’ve been a…

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Oct 09 2008

Why two years?

Why two years? A lot has changed about TFA since it began in 1990. Of all the changes, the biggest one is TFA’s ‘mission.’ The original mission was not “One day all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” Instead there was a much more modest mission to fill…

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Oct 04 2008

Does TFA value teachers?

Does TFA value teachers? I know it’s a strange question. Of course they must. That’s why the program is called TEACH for America. But I’ve noticed some things throughout the years that make me wonder. I’m one of those TFA teachers who taught beyond the two years (I taught for 4 in Houston. Then I…

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Jul 29 2008

The secret TFA ‘quit rate’ revealed

The secret TFA ‘quit rate’ revealed. Let me first say that, despite my recent ‘suggestions’ for TFA, I think that it is a good organization. I criticize it the way a patriot of the U.S. might when it feels we’re going in a non-productive direction. They do a great job with recruitment and I think…

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Jul 17 2008

The ‘evolultion’ of the TFA institute

The ‘evolution’ of the TFA institute. You’d expect the 2008 institute, eighteen years after the first institute at USC, to be very different and superior to its 1990 ancestor. As someone who was around since the second institute, and who had the opportunity to participate in fifteen consecutive institutes from 1991 until 2005, I’m in…

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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