by Max Brantley
A couple of education items;
* CHURCH AND THE CONWAY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: I wrote last night about a new batch of internal documents from the Conway School District relative to Superintendent Greg Murry's effort to continue to allow numerous church groups to visit with school kids at lunch hour. As I mentioned the documents mentioned both an effort to prevent proselytizing and some evidence that it has occurred despite rules to the contrary (a good reason perhaps to think hard about opening campuses to visitors, for religion or other causes, at the lunch hour). But I forgot to put up a link to the documents. Here it is.
It's a long letter from Gary Rubinstein, a proud Teach for America alumnus who's become something of a critic of some aspects of the program to put bright kids with limited training into schools with desperate needs as teachers. Rubinstein also suggests Teach for America and its leader Wendy Kopp have become unquestioning shills for the billionaires' charter schoocl movement and one-note critics of teachers and their unions. He also challenges the cant about charter schools. Kopp responds.
Over the years I’ve been critical of the TFA training model. It’s not that I don’t think it is possible to train teachers, particularly secondary teachers, in five weeks. It’s just that it has to be a very good five weeks, which I still think it isn’t. The student teaching component is just too short with classes that are just too small. But I still support the idea of alternative certification, and have said so even in my ‘anti-TFA’ NPR interview. I also, unlike many TFA critics, am OK with the two year commitment. Though I’d like it to be upped to three years, I can see that maybe two years lures in some people who could teach for a long time after they get hooked on teaching. So two of the largest criticisms of TFA, the short training and the short commitment are not things that I have been complaining about.
... So it was disappointing to me that the theme of the summit, based on who the featured speakers were, was generally about how charter schools were THE answer and how ‘bad’ teachers and unions are THE problem. (And yes, I know that the people who I’m accusing of saying this would quickly deny that they have said this, but, again, actions speak louder than words.) I saw this mainly in the opening and closing ceremonies, particularly during the ‘Waiting For Superman’ reunion panel. In general, the 20 year event left me with a sour taste in my mouth. It felt like TFA was trying to convey the idea that “We figured it out. Now we just have to scale up,” despite the fact that nobody has really conclusively figured ‘it’ out. This reminded me of George W. Bush’s famous 2003 ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign on the aircraft carrier, eight years before the end of the Iraq war. I don’t see much evidence that anyone has really figured out much. ‘High performing’ charter networks have trouble getting consistency within their own schools. Districts where the ideas of ‘accountability’ and ‘choice’ have thrived have only shown success with some very creative math.
... But for me the thing that bothers me most about these reformers is the dishonesty. In the closing ceremony of the 20 year thing I heard [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan say something about how the decision to shut down a large Chicago High School was justified by the miraculous charter school that took its place. After I got home from the summit I did about ten minutes of fact-checking before I learned that this charter school was far from miraculous as they had about a forty percent dropout rate. This inspired my first post that would be called, I guess ‘anti-reform’ though I really think of it as anti-lying.
... As far as charter schools go, you must also be aware of how much attrition they have. As you are married to one of the top executives in KIPP, I have trouble believing that you don’t know this…. The fact is that most ‘high-performing’ charters are ones that manage to get more motivated kids and families and who lose the less motivated ones throughout the years. And the schools that do have the same kids as the neighborhood ‘failing’ school, those schools often have test scores that are extremely low too.
There's lots more. You might prefer Kopp's response, in which she disagrees point by point. It's a dialogue at least. It's not the sort of thing you'll hear when the billionaires hold their self-selected dog-and-pony shows in Arkansas. To insulting six-figure Walton lobbyist Luke Gordy, all real public school employees are self-interested hacks who care only about their paychecks, not kids. The billionaires (several of whom have never put a kid's foot in a public school) are the only people who really care about kids.
Rubinstein's blog has lots of stuff worth considering.