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, December 15, 2015

Dear Reformies: You Got Nothing

We haven't played Spot The Pattern™ in quite a while. Who's up for a round [all emphases mine]?

A nonprofit group has begun a public relations campaign to defend Teach for America against critics of the program that places newly minted college graduates in teaching jobs in some of the country’s most challenging classrooms.
The new campaign, called Corps Knowledge, is an offshoot of the New York Campaign for Achievement Now (NYCAN), a network that supports public charter schools and school choice and wants to weaken teacher tenure laws.
Derrell Bradford, NYCAN’s executive director, said the campaign aims to counter attacks on Teach for America’s image, which some people loyal to the program think has been damaged by “a few disgruntled alumni” and other critics. 
Several TFA alumni have written negatively about their experiences, saying that TFA’s five-week training session did not adequately prepare them for teaching in struggling schools and that the two-year commitment that TFA requires adds to the teacher churn in high-needs schools.
“Some of the best people I’ve ever known have worked for TFA — great, caring, smart — and it’s tough to see your friends get dragged through the mud,” said Bradford, who has $500,000 for the campaign and is aiming to raise an additional $1 million to expand it.
But the new campaign also is answering Teach for America’s harshest critics.
One of them, Gary Rubinstein, writes a blog about education that frequently contains posts about Teach for America. “I just want TFA to be more truthful about what their alumni are and are not accomplishing,” said Rubinstein, who was a TFA volunteer in Houston and is in his 14th year of teaching math at Stuyvesant High School in New York. He said TFA offers “exaggerated claims of success” that lead politicians to create “reckless reform policy.”
Corps Knowledge challenged Rubinstein in a post on its Facebook page called “The Misanthropy of Gary Rubinstein” in which it suggested Rubinstein had given up on low-income students to work at Stuyvesant, one of the highest-performing public schools in the country. “He now simply scorns those who are still fighting the good fight,” the post said.
Rubinstein bristled at the comment.
“They attacked me because I’m teaching at Stuyvesant, where something like 20 percent of the students qualify for free lunch, and they’re not even teaching at all,” he said. “Anyone who’s teaching at all shouldn’t get blasted for teaching.”
Speaking of Derrell Bradford, he is again in rare form at The 74, 11/15/15:
Randi Weingarten disapproves of charter schools. We all know that. But even those familiar with her disdain for reform were shocked last week by her willingness to exploit police violence against black and brown kids to advance a political agenda. 

I’m talking, of course, of her recent Daily News op-ed in which she compares distortions in the media over discipline policies at Success Academy in New York — where I am a proud board member — to the complete and utter abuse meted out in a public school in South Carolina by Officer Ben Fields on an unsuspecting female black student.
Second, Ms. Weingarten is not a force for change, or a passionate actor speaking out on behalf of the voiceless. To the contrary, she is a chief architect of the current system of education, and de facto segregation, in America. 
She is a champion and co-conspirator in a system that routinely segregates our children by resources, skin color and opportunity. She’s an apologist for low-performing schools that end our children’s lives before they’ve even had a chance to live them. She’s a catalyst for the white-power driven opt-out push, allowing and supporting small groups of affluent white parents as they hold hostage the transparency our schools need to get better — schools overwhelmingly filled with the black and brown children she purports to defend. 
And of course there's Laura Waters, 12/14/15:
Bob the Doxer is at it again. This former journalist from the Star-Ledger who bides his time hurling invective at education reform efforts has a new piece up slamming a Newark mother of five children who dared to speak out about New Jersey's need for more charter schools. Natasha Levant writes in today’s Star-Ledger that she is attending today’s “Parent Lobby Day” in Trenton because she wants to explain to lawmakers contemplating a three-year charter school moratorium that the charter school her special needs son attends “is not only preparing him for college and beyond, but working with me as a parent to instill the character and responsibility he needs to be successful.”

Ms. Levant writes,
I want to stress, especially to those lawmakers who have never stepped foot inside a charter school but who may be making decisions about them, that my son is not an easy child. I've heard people who are just not knowledgeable swear up and down that charter schools take only the best kids or encourage the troublemakers or kids with special needs to leave. 
My son is the poster kid of the child that people say doesn't exist in charter schools.
A child with special needs has found success at a public charter school. Good news, right?

Not to Bob Braun, a luminary among those who oppose all things non-traditional in Newark or any of N.J.’s chronically-failing school districts. How much of an adversary to reform is Bob? So much that he’ll eschew journalistic integrity and dox* Ms. Levant. It's so Braun; such certainty that poor minority moms are conspiring to corrupt the perfect purity of N.J.'s public education system.


I asked Matthew Frankel of PC2E for his thoughts. (PCE2 helped organize the Parent Lobby Day that so offends Bob.) "The voices of parents,” said Frankel, “no matter what their view, should always be respected.  Mr. Braun's desire to scare parents away from speaking their minds is pathetic."
Did you spot the pattern? If not, you probably work for Education Post, but don't worry: I'll explain.

See, when you spend your time attacking Gary Rubinstein for being a teacher at a high-performing urban school, you don't have to address the fact that TFA corps members are sent out to teach in schools serving socio-economically disadvantaged communities with inadequate training -- something even TFA has acknowledged. Nor do you have to address the fact that TFA is a highly inefficient program because so many of its graduates do not stay in their initial teaching assignments

When you spend your time implying that Randi Weingarten is a racist for making a wholly germane comparison between the suspension rates at Success Academy and that horrific assault in South Carolina -- a juxtaposition so obvious that plenty of writers, including those in favor of school "choice," have made it -- then you don't have to address whether SA might have a problem that needs to be acknowledged and fixed.* You can also blow off Weingarten's admission in the very column being criticized that she was wrong about zero-tolerance, and that the problem of racially disparate school discipline is not confined to charter schools.

When you spend your time wagging your finger at Bob Braun for demanding better standards of transparency from New Jersey's largest newspaper, you don't have to address the fact that same paper's editorial staff refuses to understand the most basic realities about charter schools -- even when they are explained to them by experts repeatedly. Not do you have to acknowledge they just don't give a crap about getting the facts right.

But this is what you do when you've got nothing.

I've been following Derrell and Laura for a good long while now. Since it's the Christmas season, I'll be charitable: they are both less than impressive. Laura apparently thinks she has the ability to read the minds of the dead; worse, when their widows point out that Laura has utterly misrepresented their positions, she refuses to back down and apologize. When Laura tries to understand quantitative education research (skip down to the comments), it's like a fish trying to understand general relativity.

Derrell is perhaps the most incoherent arguer in the reform industry. His Uber-charter school analogy was so exquisitely bad it deserves to be in a museum. He was extraordinarily ineffective as a lobbyist in Trenton, even as he managed to take on education policy jobs for which he was totally unqualified. He grouses about Weingarten's alleged complicity in the inequitable distribution of education resources, even as he made a career being an apologist for the underfunding of New Jersey's public schools.

And Teach For America is withering on the vine, a victim of its inability to take criticism from its own alumni. Of course, when you spend millions on PR and even more running a political machine, you can pretend that you aren't on life support -- but probably not indefinitely.

Look, I'll be the first to admit I can be rough on the reformy types. But I'm not complaining about anyone's tone here: I'm complaining about the ignorance and incoherence of their arguments

If TFA had a reasonable justification for its continued existence, it wouldn't need to beat up a teacher for being a teacher. If Derrell Bradford had any rational justification for Success Academy's discipline policies, he wouldn't need to use Campbell Brown's website to engage in a lengthy smear of a union president. If Laura Waters had any idea of the impact of charter school expansion on Newark's public schools, she wouldn't need to get another case of the vapors over Bob Braun pointing out the Star-Ledger has lax standards of transparency.

These reformies have nothing. Which is why their arguments are so very, very lame.

Step it up, folks. Don't you get tired of constantly embarrassing yourselves?

* I disagree with Rishawn Biddle about almost everything, and I think his gratuitous union-bashing is insipid. That said, this piece is worth reading. And let me reiterate: the idea that this is exclusively a charter school problem is utterly misguided. Racially disparate school discipline is an American problem. 


mathteacher said...

Stuyvesant a "high performing urban school?" lol. admissions based completely on performance on a single test and barely a black or latino student to be found.

Michael Fiorillo said...

They got nothing?

Unfortunately, they got far too much: too much arrogance and hubris, too much deceptiveness, too much money (but not enough sense), too much greed, and too much will to power.