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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

More TFA Alumni Resume Puffery

I'm beginning to suspect that, if I wanted to, I could spend most of my blogging time debunking claims made by Teach For America alumni about their "successes" during their two or three years of teaching.

The most famous TFA resume puffer is Michelle Rhee, whose outrageous claims were debunked - hard - last year. Then we had Allison Serafin, candidate for the Nevada BOE, who bragged on her test scores without mentioning she taught at a selective magnet school.

Let's look at another TFA alum running for a school board seat: Josh Reimnitz, a 26 year-old candidate for the Minneapolis school board. EduShyster gives us the lowdown:
The school board race pits TFA alum Reimnitz against an actual life-long educator who is at a distinct disadvantage as she is not known to have ever high-fived a minority student. Reimnitz is running on the grounds that the achievement gap is the civil rights issue of our time. (Note: If you are playing the EduShyster drinking game at home, sip now). But here’s where our otherwise feel-good story takes a strange twist. While Reimnitz proudly points to his success in boosting test scores at an urban Atlanta school, said school was implicated in a cheating scandal in which Reimnitz’s own scores were targeted for an unusually high number of erasure marks changing answers from wrong to right. As a result of the cheating scandal the school was closed down and all scores, including Reimnitz’s were invalidated. [emphasis mine]
EduShyster's link points us to a story from MinnPost.com that is more interesting for its comments than the actual report itself. The reporter, Beth Hawkins believes that Reimnitz wasn't implicated in the cheating scandal; but commenter Dan Hintz says it's not that simple. I've looked at the original report on the cheating scandal, prepared by the Georgia governor's office, and Hintz is correct:
Sorry Beth, but you got this completely wrong:
You describe the cheating at Reimnitz's school as:
"The auditor concluded that the principal at the school where Reimnitz taught fourth grade pressured some teachers to coach struggling test-takers and other irregularities. Reimnitz’s scores were within normal range, however, and his name did not come up during the investigation."
That is completely false. Reimnitz's scores were not in the normal range. Reimntiz's classrooms got flagged because of an unusual number of erasure marks changing wrong answers to right answers. The math scores were 3.88 standard deviations above normal, while the reading scores were 6.6 standard deviations above normal. The possibility that this occurred randomly was approximately 1 in 10,000 for the math scores, and 1 in several million for the reading scores.
There is no evidence that Reimnitz himself was responsible for the cheating - anyone could have changed the answers. But the evidence that the test scores were the product of treating is conclusive. Reimnitz's claim that he improved test scores is false, and he needs to stop making that claim. [emphasis mine]
You can confirm this on page 117 of the governor's report; Reimnitz's classes were flagged for very high numbers of erasures. The report further states that two teachers had changed answers on tests sheets for classes other than their own.

Now, keep in mind that Reimnitz's campaign website says this about his TFA days:
After graduation, Josh was accepted by Teach for America and chose to teach 4th grade in the Atlanta Public Schools. From 2008-2010, he taught science and reading to low-income students, most of whom were academically far behind their grade level. Watching his students beat the odds and make significant gains was deeply rewarding for him. [emphasis mine]
I guess it's a little much to expect Reimnitz to add: "Oh, by the way, my school was implicated in a huge cheating scandal, and the governor's investigation said other teachers most likely changed the test answers in my class." But I'd say a little humility given the circumstances is in order here.

How does Reimnitz respond to these charges? Well, he posted a comment on Hawkins's piece:
Ms. Hawkins does have it correct in that I was never accused of anything and I was only interviewed to share my perspective on the incident. I think the missing piece of information is when my improved test scores took place. The year this report talks about was my first year of teaching and I would completely agree that we cannot use CRCT (Georgia state test) scores to measure my performance in the classroom, just like we could not use that data for anyone at my school and dozens of others in Georgia.
I made significant gains with my students the following year, when we had extra security on the tests, additional proctors from the state, and did not test our own students. That year, unfortunately, my classroom was only one of two in the school to meet or exceed our targets.
Mr. Hintz, I'm not one to make false claims but I am someone who will take responsibility for my words and actions. I can confidently and demonstrably say that my students made significant gains while I was teaching. I hope in the future, like Ms. Hawkins did here, you'll make the extra effort to find all the facts before stating my claims are false. [emphasis mine]
Well, he's certainly got the Rhee-style "how dare you question my moral superiority!" pouting down. But can he actually prove what he says? What were his students' scores the next year? Hintz asked for proof, and Reimnitz's reply is one for the ages:
Much like these scores would not have been posted (nor asked for) were it not for a state investigation, I have not posted the scores from my students and will not be doing so. I'm happy to talk more (much more!) about my thoughts on issues within Minneapolis and my goals for the Minneapolis School Board, but as for this topic with Atlanta that's all that needs to be said. It's an unfortunate situation for those thousands of students and families, but through it I've learned a lot about district, school, and classroom administration, and hope for the opportunity to bring that knowledge to the Minneapolis School Board. [emphasis mine]
And there you go: yet another TFA alum who says he was aces in the classroom... just don't ask him to prove it.

It's worth pointing out that page 124 of the report says Cook Elementary did not make Adequate Yearly Progress in 2010. Reimnitz, with his one year of teaching experience, must have really stood out in "meeting his targets," whatever that means.

TFA is now a political organization. They are apparently less interested in training teachers for careers in education than they are in getting their alumni, like Josh Reimnitz, into positions of political power. And like most politicians, these alums aren't afraid to puff up their resumes to paint themselves as miracle workers. I predict this is a trend we'll see a whole lot more of in the next few election cycles.

ADDING: You know, maybe Josh's second year test scores are with Mitt Romney's tax returns...

ADDING AGAIN: Edited for clarity. "Implicated" has a meaning that I don't think is fair to use with Reimnitz. Yes, his class's test answers were very likely changed, but no one has accused him of doing the changing. The issue is whether he should be selling his teaching record without giving the context, not whether he assisted in cheating.

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