I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Reformy Incompetence of Duncan, Kopp, and Rhee


Valerie Strauss reports on a tiff with Matt Damon and his mom, education professor Nancy Carlson-Paige, on one side and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on another. Personally, I think the NEA is not well-served by sidling up with the likes of Teach For America's Wendy Kopp, but I do see the point that she is well-funded and not going away any time soon.

What really hit me in Strauss's post, however, was this:
On Sept. 30, the two [Van Roekel and Kopp] appeared together with [US Education Secretary Arne] Duncan and others at a gathering where improving teacher training was the focus. Duncan outlined new steps to bring accountability to teacher education programs by measuring the achievement of students taught by graduates of these schools.
In Duncan’s remarks, he thanked Van Roekel for showing “tremendous courage on this issue for a long time,” but spoke at greater length about Kopp, saying in part, “I don’t think anyone in the country has done more over the past 15 to 20 years than Wendy Kopp to identify the talents and characteristics that lead to great teaching.
(That, no doubt, would not be welcome to all of the many educators and teachers who have been focused on exactly that for decades and don’t recognize Kopp’s contributions in this area as being particularly worthwhile.) [emphasis mine]
So Wendy Kopp is some sort of a super-genius at identifying great teachers, huh? She really knows what it takes to be the next Jamie Escalante or Mr. Holland or Yoda?

Because I remember a conversation she had with Charlie Rose back in 2008 (via Bob Smoerby's Daily Howler):
KOPP: Take the Michelle Rhee, the chancellor in New York—sorry, in Washington D.C. She would be the first to say, and she’s said many times, that the reason she’s—she operates so relentlessly and with such urgency is because of her teaching experience in Baltimore, where she took a class of kids who were at the 13th percentile against the national norm—she taught the same kids for two year. They were at the 90th percentile at the end of those two years. 
She knows from her own personal experience —and no one could ever shake her conviction, because she knows from working with kids and families that we don’t have these problems because the kids can’t do the work or because the families don’t care, all the reasons that most people in America think we have the problem. But clearly because we as adults haven’t given them the opportunities they deserve. [emphasis Bob's]
Somerby, to his great credit, called BS on Kopp in real time. And now we know that he was absolutely right; Rhee was never even close to being the miracle worker Kopp claimed she was:
I highlighted the classes where Michelle Rhee was teaching. In her last year, the scores did rise some, but nowhere near what she claimed. In her first year, they dropped almost as low as they can go. If Tesseract/Edison had been using the IMPACT evaluation system she foisted on DCPS teachers, she would have probably been fired after the first year!
So: Kopp praises Rhee for being a great teacher, even though she was not.

And Duncan praises Kopp for identifying great teachers, even though she mistook a mediocre teacher like Rhee for a great one.

Keep in mind that these three people have enormous influence over the national dialog on education. They command respect, attention, and vast resources to allow them to push through their agenda.

But the more we find out about them, the more the evidence piles up: they do not know what in the hell they are talking about.

3 comments:

jcg said...

It's time to separate Kopp's TfA propaganda from reality in both the media discourse and from policy makers.

I highly recommend reading Barbara Torre Veltri's book "Learning on Other People's Kids: Becoming a Teach for America Teacher" for an inside analysis of the secretive, corrupt TFA program. Dr Veltri worked directly with young, enthusiastic TfA corps members as a partner instructor from Arizona St for many years. It is their words that helped her construct this qualitative study of TfA.

After reading Veltri's well researched text, I have a few thoughts on TfA:

TfA's training program is abusive to the corp members. Every family who has a college grad child considering TfA should read this book and consider the conditions in which they exploit enthusiastic, civic minded youth.

Their 5 week"training" gives the appearance of pedagogy but is more like corporate branding for pre-packaged fast food- little to no substance. Corp members are drilled, cult like, to become a good corps members, they must be compliant with TfA's organizational goals,and are shunned if they question the program.

Finally, TfA and Kopp are misleading taxpayers and policy makers. The often secret district TfA contracts extract less in teacher salary costs in the short term, but due to the 1 -2 year teacher churn and early drop outs, states and districts pay far more to replace teachers.

Until we recognize that Kopp and Tfa are not training educators but are a for-profit corporation buying influence and using young adult's for profit we'll be stuck arguing over distractions.

jcg said...

Correction: Dr Veltri works at Northern Arizona University with TfA members. Her EdD is from Arizona St.

Teacher Mom said...

THis was a great post/comment by jcg. TFA has been on my mind a lot lately, and I recently wrote about it http://teachermomnj.blogspot.com/2012/01/as-i-am-sure-you-are-aware-by-now-this.html. I definitely want to look into that book. I really think my cousin has been brainwashed, and she was worried about me.