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Calling All Teachers: Please Complete This National Teacher Survey

Kate Phillippo is an associate professor in social work at Loyola University in Chicago. In 2019, I reviewed her excellent book about competitive school choice in Chicago, A Contest Without Winners.

During this time of coronavirus and massive protest, Dr. Phillippo and her colleagues have created a national teacher survey, which she describes as follows:

A group of colleagues and I are launching, today, an online survey of PK-12 teachers, to learn how they are navigating their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resistance to racial injustice that has intensified since George Floyd was killed.

We know that many PK-12 students have experienced trauma, disruption, distress, loss and challenging circumstances in these unprecedented times. We hope to learn how teachers have been able to respond to students’ wellness concerns (mental health, health, safety, family and academic), and how teachers themselves are doing during these unprecedented times.

Our goal is to use this information to help inform teacher preparation, education and support efforts, along with policy that pertains to teachers and mental health. We also hope to showcase all the critical work teachers have done during this unprecedented time.

Dr. Phillippo asked me to share the survey with fellow teachers nationally, which I am happy to do.

If you taught full time in 2019-20 in the United States, any grade levels ranging from pre-K to twelfth, please consider completing the survey. I just did so in about 15 minutes.

My thanks to Dr. Phillippo and her colleagues for seeking teacher input during this unprecedented time.

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My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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“Parents Need to Go to Work” Does Not Stop COVID at the School Door.

When I hear discussions about schools reopening in the fall, I already know what two chief reasons will be offered.

One is that students need to be educated. Of course they do, and as a career teacher, I desire to educate. I have dedicated my professional life to educating generations of children, and I miss being at school, in my classroom, with my students.

The second reason, which seems to follow quickly on the heels of the first, is that “parents need to get back to work”– the implication being that schools need to open so that parents once again have the built-in child care that the K12 school day (and its auxiliary programs) offers.

That “parents need to get back to work” reason never seems to include the reality that in this time of international health crisis, expecting schools to offer uninterrupted, on-site education defies reality.

Schools and school systems nationwide (indeed, worldwide) are trying to navigate providing education to students despite the COVID pandemic.

That navigation almost certainly includes a remote learning component.

Thus, not only might students be receiving instruction at home, but also, parents, guardians, and/or other caregivers will need to be available to both care for children during the school day and to assist them with their remote learning.

In other words, it is completely unrealistic to expect schools to open and to stay open without interruption in 2020-21. What is realistic is that schools may open and may have to close if they cannot function due teacher, admin, and staff shortages from their contracting COVID, or if the threat of such contracting is deemed imminent and schools are shuttered proactively, or even if too many adults are exposed to a person with COVID and therefore must quarantine for a couple of weeks per instance. Think about that. It is possible that a student in my room contracts COVID. One student. Let’s say that student has been in contact with at least one classroom of 10 students (small, I know, but stay with me) and rides a bus with 20 other students (and with a bus driver) and has class with six teachers per day. So, right there, we have at least 37 individuals needing to be quarantined– six of whom are responsible for instruction.

Furthermore, if a teacher contracts COVID, then all of that teacher’s students (and likely some colleagues) must be quarantined in order to curtail a super-spreader situation.

Add to all of that the possiblity for a teacher or student returning from quarantine to be exposed yet again and to have to head right back into quarantine.

We haven’t even touched on what happens if the entire admin and office staff of a school are exposed and the heart of school operations must be quarantined.

None of this is a recipe for a stable, on-site, schooling experience.

In order for me to continue to teach (and for my students to continue to learn) while in quarantine, my school must have a plan in place for me to teach (and for students to learn) remotely.

Remote instruction is not an ideal. I prefer interacting with my students in person. It is definitely easier to build a student-teacher relationship in person, and that relationship is a vital conduit to persuade students to invest in their own learning. But it is what we have to work with in the face of this pandemic.

America is planning to educate its K12 students in 2020-21, even if in our respective living rooms.

Therefore, to those tempted to view K12 school as solid, reliable child care *if only the schools will open*, think again.

COVID-19 will not stop at the school door because America is tired of being inconvenienced.

If only it would.

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My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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My Personal COVID-Protection Plan

I teach high school.

In my professional world, universal social distancing and mask-wearing on campus are aspirational, not practical.

So, I have been working on a plan to distance myself from contracting COVID to the best of my ability, if/when I am teaching on campus in 2020-21.

Here are my plans and the thinking that led up to them:

I can contract COVID via my eyes, nose, and mouth. For nose and mouth, I have purchased a pretty decent adjustable mask that I could wear all day, if need be.

As for my eyes: I shopped protective eyewear and found goggles that convert to glasses. They were not sealed completely around the face, so I created a seal using black duct tape.

Thus, what I now have is reasonable barrier to protect eyes, nose, and mouth in situations in which others are not doing the same on my behalf. Mind you, this is not the same as official hazmat gear, but it creates a really good barrier, and creating that barrier is what I am after.

Social distancing is important, but I believe barriers in general are also important for protecting myself (and others) from COVID. It is better to sneeze into a napkin, or to even put one’s head inside one’s own shirt for a sec when sneezing, or yawning, or even talking, in the absence of wearing a mask.

I feel more comfortable speaking indoors to someone within a couple of yards and without a mask if there is some eye-level barrier (e.g., a bookcase or even a tall decorative plant) between us.

The reality is that I will be around people (students, colleagues, the general public) who do not wear masks.  As for my students, I can teach them a mindfulness about barriers, even if they refuse to wear masks. For example, I can ask them to hold up a personal item (a folder, a sheet of paper) when they speak– a request easy for those unwilling to wear a mask to agree to.

In our COVID reality, creating such barriers is critical.

As for my eyewear-mask combo, I tested it out today at my gym. I usually wait until late afternoon to go to the gym because that time has few patrons. But today, I donned my eyewear-mask and went at lunchtime. The eyewear and mask fit well; the eyewear is anti-fog; even though some moisture accumulated on the lenses during my 30-minute workout, I was still able to see well. And I felt comfortable about having that barrier since all but one other individual had no masks on, and, frankly, most have no concern for social distancing.

When I returned home, I easily cleaned the exterior of my eyewear with a little hand sanitizer, and I machine-wash the mask daily.

Much of my COVID-affected world is out of my control, but not all of it. I can continue to keep my distance when possible, and when not possible, I have my eyewear and mask.

This is my plan. I hope my readers find it useful.

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My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

 

 

LDOE Shakeup: Brumley Arrives; TFA Leadership Hits the Exits

On June 08, 2020, Louisiana’s new state education superintendent, Cade Brumley, officially began his tenure.

Brumley was not the choice of ed-reformers favoring former state superintendent, John White.

Thus, it comes as a pleasant non-surprise that top hires from White’s administration are leaving the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). In his June 15, 2020, article, Advocate reporter Will Sentell discusses their exit:

The leadership of the state Department of Education is undergoing a major shakeup with the arrival of Cade Brumley as state superintendent of education.

Five key aides to former state Superintendent of Education John White are out or on their way out, including one who announced her plans Monday.

The list so far includes Jessica Baghian, one of White’s top lieutenants who served as assistant superintendent and chief academic policy officer. …

Other insiders leaving the department include Catherine Pozniak, assistant superintendent for fiscal operations and federal support. …

Hannah Dietsch, assistant superintendent and chief strategy officer, announced Monday that she is leaving effective July 10.

Diestch played a major role in the state’s move to having prospective teachers spend a year in the classroom with a mentor to better prepare them before they leave college.

Also leaving is department chief of staff Ariel Murphy Bedford and director of communications Sydni Dunn, whose last day is Friday after four years on the job. …

… [assistant superintendent for policy and governmental affairs] Erin Bendily [also] left the department [months ago] to launch another education venture.

A few comments on outgoing individuals:

Sentell does not mention that Bendily left LDOE in December 2019 to become executive director of Propel America, a nonprofit co-founded by John White in June 2018 and doing business with Louisiana while White was still state superintendent.

Too, concerning Hannah Diesch being credited with requiring traditionally-educated student teachers to have ane entire year of student teaching, the irony is rich since like John White, Hannah Dietsch’s only classroom experience was a three-year stint with teacher temp agency, Teach for America (TFA), which “trains” its recruits via a “summer institute” that does not even allow a recuit to be solely responsible for a single summer school classroom. Instead, several TFAers share classrooms with a handful of students and teach one hour per day. (In 2020, TFA recruits will have no experience leading even a shared classroom and will instead have only a summer’s worth of experience as online tutors.)

In fact, under former TFAer John White, LDOE leadership was notably top-heavy with former TFAers, including Baghian, Bedford, Dietsch, and Pozniak.

These five top Louisiana education officials have combined classroom experience of only 15 years– an average of only three years each.

And now, they’re going, going, gone.

Some of my colleagues remain uncertain about Brumley. However, I find it very encouraging that TFAers enjoying six-figure salaries are hitting the exits rather than work under Cade Brumley.

  • Baghian:  $166K
  • Bedford:  $110K
  • Dietsch:   $166K
  • Pozniak:  $150K

Of course, it is also possible that Brumley has communicated to these individuals that they would not be able to continue in these posts and with these salaries.

Brumley is not another John White.

In his June 15, 2020, article, Sentell also mentions a number of Brumley’s hires, including the superintendent of the district in which I teach (St. Tammany), Trey Folse.

Brumley’s leadership hires tend to have both classroom and administrative experience related to a traditional ed career path; they tend to have roots in Louisiana, and they include women and people of color.

Furthermore, even though some of his admin hires represent ed reform, Brumley favors individuals with grounding in traditional teacher/admin training. And, keep in mind that all who accept a position in Brumley’s LDOE must be willing to work under a state superintendent to whom John White’s TFA-heavy, ed-reform leadership is submitting their resignations.

I find all of this very encouraging, indeed.

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Cade Brumley

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My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Teach for America’s 2020 Trainees to Enter the Classroom with Only Tutoring Experience

In this time of school closures and social distancing, teacher temp agency, Teach for America (TFA), has decided to “train” its 2020 corps members online.

As former TFAer-gone-career teacher, Gary Rubinstein, writes, pre-COVID, TFA trainees actually teach on average one hour per day over the course of four weeks during the summer, in classrooms which they share with four other TFA trainees.

As such, TFA trainees have no experience teaching even one entire school day in a classroom in which the trainee is responsible for all instruction.

And now, with the social restrictions and classroom complexities introduced by the coronavirus, TFA’s 2020 trainees will have no experience being in charge of a classroom– not even an entire classroom online.

Their big exposure to students will come in the form of online tutoring via a summer reading program offered by Springboard Collective, a nonprofit started by TFA alum Alejandro Gibes de Gac (Springboard Collective derives from an entrepreneurial pitch at TFA’s 20th Anniversary Summit in 2010. TFA offered Gibes de Gac $5,000 in seed money to fund the pilot in 2011.)

From Springboard’s June 05, 2020, press release:

Springboard Collaborative is excited to announce a joint partnership with Teach for America (TFA) to launch a free virtual learning experience for students. The program is a part of Springboard’s Learning Accelerators (SLA) program. During the months of June and July students in grades Pre-K through 4th grade will work with a Teach For America corps member to work toward measurable reading goals. Springboard Collaborative is committed to bridging the literacy gap for students and is offering this free program to 8,400 students. …

During the SLA, parents and students will be matched with a virtual teacher from TFA. They will receive customized reading tips, progress updates, e-book access, and access to the Springboard Connect web-based app.

Note the slight shift in info on the Springboard application (link name of “tfaforms”):

Through our partnership with Teach For America, families will be matched with a TFA corps member (teacher-in-training) who will be by your side from the goal-setting session in week one all the way through to the end-of program celebration. You’ll also receive customized reading tips, progress updates, e-books, and access to the Springboard Connect app!

The latter identifies the TFAer as not a teacher but a “corps member” who is a “teacher-in-training,” and it is written in such a manner as to separate the “custom reading tips,” etc. from the TFAer– (i.e., advice originates with the app, not with the the TFA trainee.) In other words, the press release leads the public into believing tutoring is happening by a “teacher,” and the actual application includes language closer to the truth.

Reading is important, and high-calibre, after-school and summer reading opportunities for underserved children are indeed valuable– but what we have with this Springboard-TFA offering appears to be little more than a slick substitute for TFA’s already-anemic student teaching.

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My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

MN Police Union President, Bob Kroll, Needs to Go.

I am pro-union. I believe that as a public school teacher, I benefit from belonging to a union and from the collective bargaining that my local union engages in on behalf of teachers and staff in my school district.

That does not mean that I would bend to the pressure of union leadership to support colleagues whose actions disparage the profession and reputations of other collegagues and myself.

Thus, I support the following position of Minnesota AFL-CIO president, Bill McCarthy regarding Minneapolis Police Union president, Bob Kroll:

MINNESOTA AFL-CIO CALLS FOR MINNEAPOLIS POLICE UNION PRESIDENT BOB KROLL’S IMMEDIATE RESIGNATION

Jun 2 2020

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy issued the following statement calling on Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Bob Kroll to immediately resign:

Minneapolis Police Union President, Bob Kroll, has failed the Labor Movement and the residents of Minneapolis. Bob Kroll has a long history of bigoted remarks and complaints of violence made against him. As union President, he antagonizes and disparages members of the Black community. He advocates for military-style police tactics making communities less safe and the police force more deadly. Despite his conduct, Kroll was reelected with an overwhelming majority. If Bob Kroll does not value the lives that he is sworn to protect, then we can only expect more death under his leadership.

Now, instead of seeking meaningful dialogue or reform to make sure what happened to George Floyd never happens again, Bob Kroll is trying to justify this senseless killing and have the officers involved reinstated. Unions exist to protect workers who have been wronged, not to keep violent people in police ranks. All four police officers involved in George Floyd’s murder must be charged.

Today, Americans have witnessed the disastrous outcomes of unchecked power, authoritarianism, and white supremacy in our highest levels of leadership. We have seen Bob Kroll proudly stand behind this type of leadership. Kroll is no friend to working Minnesotans and should be the last person entrusted to enforce the law or protect our residents.

All working people deserve a voice on the job, the freedom to organize, and the right to due process. As unions, we also have a duty to be transparent to the public, accountable to our members and stakeholders, and always seek justice. Under Bob Kroll’s leadership, the Minneapolis Police union has failed in this duty.

The affiliated unions of the Minnesota AFL-CIO are committed to seeking economic, social, and racial justice for all working people – no matter what we look like or where we come from. There is no room for white supremacists in our movement. The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis is not, nor has it ever been a member of the Minnesota AFL-CIO. Bob Kroll and those who have enabled violence and brutality to grow within police ranks do not speak for us.

The Labor Movement is rooted in the fight for justice. Bob Kroll’s actions and the ongoing lack of accountability in the Minneapolis Police union are not just. Bob Kroll must resign, and the Minneapolis Police Union must be overhauled. Unions must never be a tool to shield perpetrators from justice.

We join in solidarity with our fellow Minnesotans who are marching in the streets demanding justice for George Floyd. We join in solidarity with Black residents who have seen too many deaths at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, but find no accountability, no justice, and no meaningful steps to make sure these events never happen again. Their cries for justice cannot go unheard.

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Bob Kroll

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My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

Louisiana Superintendent Cade Brumley Confirmed; Jessica Baghian Submits Resignation

On June 01, 2020, the Louisiana Senate confirmed Louisiana’s new state superintendent, Cade Brumley:

Brumley’s first day as state superintendent is June 08, 2020.

Many individuals congratulated Brumley in the comments section of his Twitter announcement.

I noticed assistant superintendent, Jessica Baghian, did not.

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Jessica Baghian

On June 03, 2020, Advocate journalist Will Sentell tweeted that Baghian has submitted her resignation effective June 12, 2020:

Baghian’s exit represents an end to the narrative-muddying, John White era in Louisiana education.

I expect that other John White hires will be leaving , as well.

We have turned a corner in Louisiana education.

Goodbye, Jessica Baghian.

Welcome, Cade Brumley.

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Cade Brumley

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My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

With Revenue Down, ACT’s CEO Exits

On May 28, 2020, ACT announced a “leadership change” involving the departure of CEO Marten Roorda, who will be replaced by ACT’s chief operating officer (COO), Janet Godwin:

IOWA CITY, Iowa—ACT, the nonprofit organization that develops and delivers the ACT test, announced today a change in leadership and a series of cost-cutting measures to enable it to continue to serve students into the future, despite the current negative business impact of COVID-19.

CEO Marten Roorda is leaving ACT, with Chief Operating Officer Janet Godwin selected to serve as interim chief executive officer. Godwin is a 30-year veteran of ACT, with a distinguished record of personal and professional dedication to helping students achieve education success.

Leadership Change

Janet Godwin will succeed Marten Roorda, who arrived at ACT in 2015 after serving as CEO of Cito, a major testing organization in the Netherlands. During Roorda’s ACT tenure he broadened the nonprofit’s scope to include learning, measurement and navigation, increasing the impact of ACT’s mission of “Helping people achieve education and workplace success.”

Godwin, who was appointed interim CEO, began her ACT career in 1990. Over the past three decades she has held progressively responsible positions in test development, information technology, and client engagement, as well as senior-level positions including vice president of operations, chief of staff, and chief operating officer, her current post that she has held for nearly six years. She has also served on a number of volunteer boards, including the Iowa City school board, which she currently leads as president.

“Janet has made tremendous contributions to ACT,” said Chad Wick, chair of the ACT Board of Directors. “The ACT Board of Directors knows Janet very well, appreciates her deep and abiding commitment to the many organizations and millions of people ACT serves each year, and has high confidence in her ability to step in and provide outstanding leadership in this role.”

In the same annoncement, ACT notes that it is cutting costs in the face of revenue losses related to COVID-19:

Cost-Cutting Measures

ACT postponed its April 2020 national test date out of concern for the safety of students and those administering the test, and also saw a significant decline in its state and district testing programs. While ACT will continue to offer testing in June and July, it will do so with fewer open test centers and social distancing practices reducing test centers’ capacities.

Furthering its commitment and mission to serve learners, ACT is working with open test centers to offer summer testing opportunities. For registered students who are unable or choose not to test, it is providing free test date changes to future test dates or refunds of registration fees.

ACT’s cost-cutting measures include voluntary options for its team members to reduce their work hours, take leaves of absence, or voluntarily resign and receive severance pay. In addition, the organization announced there would be no raises next year and some fringe benefits would be reduced. Beyond the steps announced Thursday, further cost reductions are expected.

According to ACT’s 2017-18 tax filing, CEO Roorda was paid $1.1M in total compensation, up from $847K the previous year.

Also under Roorda, based on ACT’s latest tax filings, ACT’s total revenue dropped for two consecutive years, pre-COVID:

ACT’s Total Revenue (2009-10 to 2017-18):

  • 2009-10:  $274M
  • 2010-11:  $293M
  • 2011-12:  $303M
  • 2012-13:  $317M
  • 2013-14:  $329M
  • 2014-15:  $349M
  • 2015-16:  $357M
  • 2016-17:  $353M
  • 2017-18:  $349M

Most of ACT’s revenue derives from educational assessment– and in 2017-18, that revenue landed below what they were in 2014-15:

ACT’s Total Revenue Generated from Educational Assessment (2010-11 to 2017-18):

  • 2010-11:  $228M
  • 2011-12:  $242M
  • 2012-13:  $258M
  • 2013-14:  $284M
  • 2014-15:  $311M
  • 2015-16:  $315M
  • 2016-17:  $306M
  • 2017-18:  $286M

Sooo, prior to revenue losses due to COVID, revenue for nonprofit ACT was already down under Roorda’s leadership. However, ACT pays numerous executives salaries ranging from $300K to $500K, including Roorda’s replacement, Janet Godwin, whose total compensation in 2017-18 was $421K.

And then there are the board members.

Chad Wick, who chairs nonprofit ACT’s board of directors, made $59K in 2017-18 for working six hours a week. However, Wick apparently did take a pay cut: In 2016-17, he was paid $61K for working three hours a week.

And Wick is far from alone. Many of ACT’s directors work 2 to 4 hours a week and easily clear a teacher’s salary ($45K, $48K, $52K, $57K….).

Not feeling at all sorry for testing nonprofit ACT.

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My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

 

What Senator Milligan Said to Cade Brumley About Teacher Voice, and More

On May 27, 2020, newly-appointed Louisiana state superintendent, Cade Brumley, made his appearance before Louisiana’s Senate and Governmental Affairs committee for his confirmation hearing. The video archive can be found here, beginning at time 2:27:00.)

I watched much of Brumley’s hearing and was particularly impressed by what Senator Barry Milligan had to say about teacher voice, which was underscored by Senator Glen Womack. The senators also raise the subjects of curriculum and standards.

Since this information is surely of interest to Louisiana teachers, I trascribed select sections for an easy, concise read.

Below are Senator Milligan’s words to Brumley (beginning at 2:54:40). Milligan chose to speak to Brumley rather than interview him:

Welcome. You come from DeSoto Parish, and from my church, and you have an excellent track record, and many, many fans. I guess, I don’t really have a question. I guess, what I want to share is, coming from a family of teachers, you, know, the frustration that they have, and the teachers that I know who have left, it wasn’t about the money. They didn’t do this to get rich. They have a true passion for the children and teaching, and they’re frustrated because when you look at curriculum choices, student assessments, teacher assessments, it’s constantly chaging, and they can’t gain any momentum. And right now, I know that the battles that I hear at home with my family isn’t about the money. It’s about the fact that they are constantly changing the curriculum to where, at this very moment, they’re teaching from a script.

Why do you have to go to college to become an educator if you’re going to teach from a script?

And they feel hemmed in by that, you know? They have to be at a certain place in the curriculum today, and tomorrow, it’s got to be somewhere else, and if you fall behind, you have to skip ahead, and it causes a lot of frustration.

Again, the teachers that I know that left, it wasn’t about the money. It was about that frustration. They feel like they couldn’t teach. But I’ll also tell you that, they feel like they don’t have a voice. You know, in this noble enterprise, school boards have a voice. Superintendents have a voice. Teacher unions have a voice, but the teachers themselves don’t feel like they have a voice.

You have a big role ahead in trying to move education forward in the state of Louisiana, which helps all people and helps the state. But, I would suggest that, that you give the teachers a direct voice to your ear, to be able to tell you what they need and what they think. Those are the folks that are on the front lines each and every day, that interact with our kids each and every day.

I think that through the COVID process, some of the good things that came is we”ve shown that education has the ability to step out in the 21st century and really turn on a dime and make things happen, so we know the capability is there. I would just challenge you as you move forward, and as you’ve proven in DeSoto and proven in Jefferson, considering those three areas (instructional recovery, technological readiness, financial recovery– time 2:38:24) and then allowing the teachers to have a voice in those three areas. There’s certainly got to be more buy-in. I think you’re certainly going to have happier teachers on the front lines, and I think that does translate directly to the education of our children. So, with that, I’ll leave it there. Thank you.

And now, much of the exchange between Senator Womack and Brumley (beginning at 2:58:00):

Womack: In terms of curriculum, what are you seeing in curriculum? Changing a whole lot, or some, in the curriculum that the state uses?

Brumley: I would suggest that over the last few years, the state department of education has spent considerable time and resource in evaluating curriculum and offering curriculum to districts at various times. I know English came at certain times; math, at certain times, and we just received science curriculums.

I don’t think the state department of education should mandate a specific curriculum to individual districts. However, I do think it’s important for the state department to evaluate and make decisions on which curriculums are high quality and provide a menu of options for districts to utilize.

Womack: So, with that being said, it wouldn’t be mandated, maybe, or strongly suggested that they stay with Tier 1?

Brumley: Senator, I have to be very candid and tell you that, as I’ve sad many times, I think the most important thing for a child is a high-quality teacher armed with a robust curriculum, and all curriculums are not equal out there. And, there are leaders, um, there are curriculums that lead, and there are others that are not as good. One of the things that I think is always important in that process, to go back to Senator Milligan’s comments, is having teacher voice in the selection of those curriculums.

In Jefferson, that’s one of the things that I always did, I had a teacher council, and anything that we wanted to do, we tried to push that out in front of this teacher group, which is about 20-plus teachers and get their opinions on it first. And we also, at the same time, things that had been rolled out, get their feedback on what is working and what is not working, and we were able, because we were feedback-rich, to make adjustments. But I do think it is important to make sure that you have a process in place to evaluate curriculum and make sure that students have access to that.

Womack: Okay. You mentioned something about 20 teachers. How many teachers do we have statewide? Do you know that?

Brumley: I could not give you that number right now, no sir. I have 3,200 in Jefferson Parish.

Womack: So, we’ve got a large number of teachers, and when you said 20, it seemed like a small amount to reach back to Senator Milligan’s question of the voice of the teachers statewide.

Brumley: Yes, sir. One other thing I would do, and I never brought a lot of publicity to this, but about once a week, I would organize this with the principal when I would step into one of our schools for a faculty meeting, I would go before the faculty and I would say, “Look, teachers, this is your meeting. The superintendent’s here. I’m not here to pitch you on an idea or sell you anything. I just want to know from you what’s working, what supports do you need from the district, and what can we do together to be successful for kids?”

And somebody would take notes for me, very simply. I would take those back to the district the next day, and we would start working on areas where we might need to make an improvement. So, if you’re concerned about teacher voice, that’s not a concern with me because it is the most important voice.

Womack: Thank you. As you know, over the last few years, across the state, we’ve had a lot of interest and non-interest in Common Core. Where do you stand on Common Core?

Brumley: Well, I’ve lived that, Senator. So, I was superintendent in DeSoto Parish, DeSoto Parish school system, when all that came through, and I think a lot of my abilities to bring people to the table and have communication, collaboration, were certainly strengthened during that time, in working through the Common Core era.

I think now, we’ve moved away from specifically Common Core and have moved to Louisiana state standards, and i do believe that over the next period of time, BESE and the Department will be looking to teachers and trying to get feedback on those standards again to see what makes sense and what doesn’t, after a period of time, and reevaluate the standards. But I do think it’s important to have high standards. I think that it’s important whenever teachers go into the classroom, they know that those educational standards are because it then gives them a guide for them to use.

Now, I’m not saying take away all of the teachers’ creativity and how they teach that standard, but I do think it’s important every day that a teacher knows what it is they’re trying to accomplish for a child.

After hearing Brumley’s comment about “moving away” from Common Core and “moving to” Louisiana standards, I tweeted Brumley about what is only a change of name:

As of this writing, Brumley has not responded. To his credit, he spoke of teachers revisiting the standards. However, that is tricky because the way that works is that the current standards serve as the baseline for change– unless there is a clear call to dump Common Core (let’s call those “Louisiana standards” what they really are) and replace them with the pre-CC Louisiana standards as the baseline from which to work.

So, Louisiana teachers, according to Brumley, teacher voice is important to him, and he plans to make himself available to listen.

Let’s hold him to it.

My thanks to senators Milligan and Womack for supporting teachers and our voices in Brumley’s confirmation hearing.

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Cade Brumley

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My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

Annie Tan: My First-Year Disaster with Teach for America

On May 26, 2020, a tweet by NYC teacher Annie Tan caught my attention:

I first heard of Teach for America (TFA) in 1991. I was finishing my undergraduate degree in education, and a friend who was not an education major told me that upon graduation, he would be teaching for a couple of years via provisional certification in a city with teacher shortages, in connection with an organization called Teach for America.

At the time, in 1991, I thought, that sounds okay.

Cut to 2013, the year in which I wrote my first book, A Chronicle of Echoes, which includes a deep-dive chapter on TFA founder Wendy Kopp and her traditional-teacher-supplanting vehicle, TFA, a well-funded ed-reform organization that is definitely not okay. (Kopp and TFA are detailed in chapter 3, and abusive TFA alum, Michelle Rhee, in chapter 4).

I am intrigued by the individual stories of TFA alumni. For this reason, upon reading Tan’s tweet, I asked her if she would mind my interviewing her about her experience with TFA for this post, and she kindly agreed.

And so, I offer my readers the following interview with Annie Tan, which I conducted on May 26, 2020, using Twitter’s messaging feature. But first, a brief word by way of Tan’s bio:

annietan

Annie Tan is a special education teacher, activist, and storyteller. Previously the co-chair of the Chicago Teachers Union special education committee, Annie teaches in her hometown New York City, where she’s finishing her 8th year teaching. Annie has been featured in the New York Times, The New Republic, PBS’ Asian Americans, and the Moth Radio Hour. Follow Annie at @AnnieTangent on Twitter and IG and at annietan.com.

And now, our exchange:

Me: First question: What was it about TFA that attracted you to the org?

Tan: That it would get me a job, period. I was an undergrad in 2010, two years after the recession started, and needed a job, and I knew NYC public schools was in a hiring freeze for elementary ed, which was what I was in school for at Columbia, to be an elementary ed teacher. When I found out my school didn’t have any other pathways towards a higher need specialty like special ed, I continued through my program while looking for a quick way to get into a special ed program.

I was scared and wanted a teaching job. I didn’t drive and grew up in NYC, so the only locations I put on my application were Chicago and NYC. I hoped I would be placed in a public school, but of course, two-thirds of the schools TFA placed its corps members in Chicago were charter.

I had never stepped foot in Chicago prior to applying for Chicago, only studied a little bit about it in my Urban Studies classes (I was an Urban Studies major at Columbia undergrad with a specialization in education while also in the Barnard Education Program.)

Me: Did you believe that TFA would prepare you to be a sped teacher?

Tan: I did not, as I had studied in undergrad neoliberal approaches to education reform, but I knew I would be better than some random undergrad student who might not end up being a teacher.

(A “neoliberal approach” to education reform meaning a shakeup of public education through a focus on innovation, so-called anyway, experimentation, and data driven decisions based on test scores.)

I was studying the Grassroots Education Movement in NYC and other ed activist organizations, eventually studying Teachers Unite and writing about them for my undergrad thesis while student teaching (which no one should do at the same time).

I was an undergrad in 2009, when there was a fierce debate in New York City around raising the cap for the amount of charter schools allowed in New York City. and a lot of education reformers were saying that innovation in these charter schools needed to be tried because what was not working was a public education system with unions that were not flexible. There was also a big push to tie student growth to data, including test scores with No Child Left Behind.

During that same time., I noticed a lot of Teach for America alumni were opening charter schools and leading large public school districts that were heading up these same policies that would disrupt the public education system, with experimentation, and a focus on data.

Me: Did you express to TFA your desire to be a sped teacher?

Tan: Yes.

Me: And TFA assigned you to be a sped teacher in Chicago?

Tan: Yes. So I joined a cohort of special education corps members, and accepted my teach for America membership in January of 2011. In March of 2011, April, then twice in June, Teach for America reimbursed flights so we could interview with principals. We were forced to take the first job offer that we got.

So I got a job offer as a special education teacher with a charter school in the South Side of Chicago. I was one of the earlier people to get a job offer, as I had had training as an elementary school teacher, but a number of my fellow members didn’t get a job until maybe a week before school started.

I noticed that people who got job offers later were usually in public school settings, whereas the teachers who were hired earlier were in charter school settings.

Me: What, if any, preparation in the legalities of sped did TFA offer you?

Tan: None that I know of. I eventually, I think three years after that, I became involved with and eventually became the co-chair of the Chicago Teachers Union special education committee and found out during that time that only students within four chronological years of each other could be in the same classroom. But my first-period classroom every day was made up of a kindergartener, a first grader, four second graders, two third graders, and two fourth graders, all trying to learn how to read. I had a paraprofessional in that classroom with me for half an hour, and then I had that class of students for 45 minutes by myself.

I think my university classes were much better than the Teach for America professional development because my university professors had been teaching teachers for a long time and knew how to write individualized education plans and create behavior plans for students. The Teacher for America professional development was around small group teaching and having us do summer school teaching one lesson at a time, but it didn’t prepare us for the range of issues that come with special education.

Again, this was the summer of 2011. Who knows if they have gotten better on this? I doubt it.

I didn’t have a gauge yet of how much would be untenable. I didn’t realize most of my fellow teachers only had one or two grades, when I was dealing with five grade levels, teaching reading and math for each, and a remedial reading class in the morning.

Me: Is it accurate to say that all TFA did was put you in a sped position employment group?

Tan: I would say that is accurate, yes. I would also say that Teach for America had to find schools that would hire its members (Teach for America has partnerships with schools), and that two-thirds of those schools were charter schools in Chicago.

Me: Did TFA tell you that you would be expected to accept the first job offer prior to your agreeing to officially join TFA?

Tan: I do not believe so, no.

Me: Did the requirement surprise you once TFA told you?

Tan: Yes, completely. It made me worried that I wouldn’t know where I would be teaching, and that that might change if I got hired later. That also affected where I found housing, because ideally I would have wanted to live closer to school. Luckily, I was hired at a school that was near a train station, but if I had had to drive to a location, that would have been a problem for me.

It also made me worried that I would be hired in, for instance, a high school, when I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. I am glad I made clear in those interviews that I had elementary education training, but I was put in interviews for high school positions, not very many from what I remember, but that did scare me.

Me: Is it your experience that TFA exploits naivete and desperation in its corps members?

Tan: I am not sure necessarily about desperation. In my case I was desperate, that is for sure. Naivete, definitely.

I have a feeling that during recession times Teach for America recruitment spiked. I also was involved in 2014 in a #resistTFA campaign, and recruitment for Teach for America dropped 25% that year. I have a feeling that was due to the improving economy, but I am not sure. But yes, Teach for America exploiting young energy and naivete is definitely an issue.

Me: At what point in your TFA involvement did you experience the first hint of misgiving?

Tan: I will never forget the first day when we had our celebration, and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools came and made a speech to us. It felt very strange for him to be there for some reason. Yes, we were going to be 250 new teachers in Chicago, so logically it may have made sense to introduce us and do a welcome, but I also couldn’t imagine him doing that at a regular university that had education majors graduating. I couldn’t imagine him going to one of those graduations and making a speech.

There were a few moments that I still remember that were odd, as well. I remember the first day of professional development through Teach for America, when we got no talk around how segregated Chicago was, just people alluding to it, like Teach for America was not even going to approach that schools were unequal because of race and income, especially in Chicago, which really stands out since I worked in Chicago Public Schools for five years and taught there for four.

And then, the speech from some Teach for America staff members, that we might be the first teachers in some of these kids’ lives that had high expectations for them. I first thought to myself, “How can I have high expectations for my students when I don’t even know them yet? All I’ve done was graduate from a fancy college, so how am I better than someone else?” That really rubbed me the wrong way.

Me: “Rubbed you wrong” to be told you might be the first to have “high expectations”?

Tan: Yes, as if other Chicago teachers weren’t doing right by Chicago Public Schools students, with no context on what made those teachers “unsuccessful” in the first place. It made it sound like we were going to save our students because we were recruited from some of the best schools in the country, which implied that we innately would be better teachers than the teachers they had before.

Me: Was that “savior” message an integrated component of TFA teacher “prep”?

Tan: In my mind yes. It also very much irked me that the people training us were former teachers who had done Teach for America, as well, and who had taught for three to five years. As a current teacher in my eighth year of teaching, I would say that it was only around year six that I felt comfortable with my craft.

It was like young, energized, new teachers were coming in, doing short stints, then feeling like they knew everything about teaching and repeating the cycle, kind of like a pyramid scheme on our students.

Me: Via its communication to its recruits, does TFA send the blanket message that traditional teachers are lazy, incompetent, or otherwise failures in their careers?

Tan: No, I don’t think so exactly. The dangerous language is more that students’ destinies are determined by their ZIP codes, and if we experiment with education, then we can change that. It is with almost the cavalier language that by just bringing people in to public schools and creating things like charter schools that education will be better for our students. And, in order for investors to buy in, they need a metric, which is data and measurement of our students.

So, it’s the combined focus on blowing up education and the focus on data and experimentation that is very scary and not proven to work, if you actually look at anything toward the mixed results around Teach for America. They’ve had so many years, I think it’ll be 30 years next year or even this year, and I don’t think they have proven that they have tipped the scales in any real way.

That messaging and that execution ( blowing up education and the focus on data and experimentation) is what has the implied message that public education doesn’t work and that teachers on the ground are not effective.

Me: Did you finish your two-year TFA commitment?

Tan: No.

Me: One year?

Tan: I finished one year. I was put on an improvement plan with my school, and I wasn’t making enough progress with Teach for America with my manager of teacher and leadership development (MTLD). I know at the time I was very depressed, I hated my job and I was late to work at points. I didn’t make enough growth toward my students according to the data that I was given, NWEA

Me: Was the MTLD your mentor?

Tan: The MTLD was my mentor, who had taught for five years as a special education teacher. My school did not have readily available mentors for me. The other two special education teachers were even more overworked than I was. One of them was a teaching fellow. She and I both left, if I remember correctly, that same year.

My school in general was made up of newer teachers. The joke was that a veteran teacher was in their third year teaching!

Me: Was your mentor certified as a sped teacher?

Tan: The third teacher was a certified special education teacher. My mentor teacher was certified. That MTLD was that mentor teacher, but she did not work at the school nor was she teaching at the time. She was almost like a coach.

There were three special education teachers across the grades kindergarten through eighth grade. There was my MTLD, who I think came to my school maybe twice a month, but when I needed more help and was approaching an improvement plan, she came more often. And then there was my university supervisor who came to observe me a few times.

I was working with a kindergarten teacher who had come through Teach for America and was in her third year teaching. And one day, when my university supervisor came to observe me teach with her, that kindergarten teacher was irate because there were some missing snacks in her inventory. She screamed at our five-year-old students and asked who stole the snack, and no kindergarten student fessed up. The kindergarten teacher then turned off all the lights and said that she would not continue teaching unless one of the five-year-old students confessed.

The university supervisor then pulled me out of that classroom setting, since we weren’t learning anyway, and told me, “Annie, do not trust anything this teacher says. This is borderline abuse, what she is doing right now.”

This kindergarten teacher was seen as a model for other Teach for America teachers. She was incredibly organized, knew teaching pedagogy, at least from what I could see, but was very much of the “grit” mindset.

I bring the story up because the so-called mentors around me were all teachers in their second or third year teaching themselves, and so I also didn’t have guidance in the school to succeed.

Me: The mentor who was a teaching fellow was with TFA?

Tan: No, that teaching fellow was with the Chicago teaching fellows program. I would say about 75 percent of staff at my school came from an alternative certification program, either Teach for America or teaching fellows. I believe all of those had had maybe three years or less of teaching experience. We had a few veteran teachers in our building who had taught for over twenty years, but those were few.

Me: Did you ask TFA to let you go?

Tan: No, they let me go. Teach for America said that it was my fault that I didn’t meet the goals at the school and decided to let me go from the program.

Me: How about other TFA teachers in your cohort? Did others quit or otherwise leave before fulfilling the two-year commitment?

I wrote in Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog in 2014 about this. I actually counted the number of teachers of color that I met that summer 2011, and of the twenty that I met, half didn’t even get through the summer school course, so they didn’t even start teaching. One, she got very sick and an unknown condition got very much exacerbated because of Teach for America, and think a number of other ones, they had family issues at home that they needed to take care of or they just were burnt out and couldn’t deal with Teach for America’s model of teaching. I think I heard from a few that they just thought teaching wasn’t for them.

There were a number of teachers who were fired or quit before the first year was up. One teacher in my school was my year in Teach for America and was fired in October. To my knowledge, I’m the only teacher I know of that only did one year in my corps, but I could be wrong about that.

A lot of teachers left after their second year teaching, Then a bunch more left in their third, and then in their fourth year. I think I only know of one or two teachers who are still teaching today from the 2011 Chicago corps.

Me: How long before you found your next teaching job?

Tan: I actually decided to take the year off and finish my special education degree while being a paraprofessional assistant for a student with Down syndrome in the Northwest side of Chicago. I didn’t want to put pressure on myself after that year, and I was so beaten down, depressed, and unsure of myself after both Teach for America and my school let me go.

That is the best decision I ever made for myself, to take a break and take my time learning how to be a special education teacher, because I learned to forgive myself. I learned to also be gentler and kinder to my students.

I got my master’s degree in April 2013, and got a job almost immediately, and started teaching again in May 2013.

Me: In Chicago?

Tan: Yes. I became a member of the Chicago Teachers Union then. I proceeded to continue teaching in Chicago until June 2016 when I decided to move back home to New York City to be closer to my family. I finished out four years of teaching in Chicago, one year as a paraprofessional, and am finishing out my fourth year teaching now in New York City, so nine years in education and public schools altogether.

Me: What advice would you offer to a college grad eyeing TFA for a first job?

Tan: I would say, try to know exactly why you are going for that position. Is it because you want to be a teacher? Is it because you want to be a teacher for a short period of time while figuring out something else? Do you want to look good for the future since Teach for America, like it or not, looks prestigious on applications? And then think to yourself, “Is this something I can live with?” Also, think about your future students. Do your future students deserve you, or do they deserve someone else?

I think Teach for America is a dangerous program and has done a lot of harm to public education, if you look at its wider policies. The alumni like Michelle Rhee, who have done dangerous experimentation in large public schools districts, or alumni who have opened up charter schools that won’t even allow students to use the bathroom, let alone do harmful practices like suspending students at higher rates or using models like Teach Like a Champion to focus so much on dehumanizing students rather than actually teaching students.That is something I knew before I decided to take the Teach for America offer.

I knew Teach for America’s neoliberal approach to education reform prior to joining teach for America. In college I studied different education reforms. I studied efforts that failed to provide vouchers for public school students to attend private schools. I learned about choice within the public school system, including students who had to apply to screened schools. In my undergrad research, I learned that race and income were the two biggest factors in whether or not a student would get a so-called good education, and that was based on segregation.

I do not regret doing Teach for America because now I fight back harder than ever against privatization of education policies now. I don’t think I would be the teacher I am today without Teach for America, and I am the teacher I am today despite Teach for America.

But as an individual teacher and actor in it, I thought to myself that, as long as I could teach and teach well, that I would be okay. But I got hit by the maelstrom extremely hard, and I am so sad to know that I almost left teaching because of it.

And I learned then that one individual alone cannot overcome the harsh reforms being pushed by people who are not educators.

Unfortunately that’s why so many teachers leave today, because they don’t have control over their situations and are bound by other people making reforms above them that harm students.

Me: Annie, thank you for allowing me to interview you.

no-tfa

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My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog