Archives For Teach for America

This Sunday’s end paper for the New York Times Magazine on 2/28/16 presented the latest in the millennial generation’s dream jobs list. The results were aggregated from a 2015 survey organized by the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS).

The article, The New Dream Jobs was organized by  by Jenna Wortham and subtitled “What a survey of millennials might tell us about the workplaces of the future.” The survey results were described as a “scattershot” that “offer a glimpse into the ambitions of the millennial generation.”

The 18,000 participants (high school students, college students, and young professionals) ages 15-29, parsed through a list of more than 200 companies before selecting Google as their top choice. The Walt Disney Company (with an appropriate song lyric, “a dream is a wish your heart makes”) came in second, and St Jude’s Hospital that pioneers research and treatments for kids with cancer and other life-threatening diseases came in third.

NYTimes graphic on Dream Jobs

NYTimes graphic on Dream Jobs; Illustration by JAMES GRAHAM

The factors that were important to students included employee welfare, flexible scheduling, and a sense of purpose. 89% of the respondents indicated that their dream jobs could be an opportunity to gain job skills. They also expressed their highest interest in medicine and health related and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) focused fields (40%), technology/engineering (21%), science (28%), and arts/entertainment/media (20%).

The exceptionally high level of interest in the sciences may be in part due to efforts over the past several years to engage female students in STEM related activities, noting that there was a disproportionate number (75%) of the respondents were female students. The was, however, a greater diversity in respondent ethnicity: Caucasian 38%, Latino 18%, African-American 21%, Asian 12%.

While there were 200 companies offered in the survey for selection, there were also some (traditional) hometown favorites. Respondents selected Local Hospital at #6, Local Police Department at #53, and Local Fire Department at #90.

What about Education as a Choice?

What is surprising is that the field of education did not have a Local Public School as an option for respondents. Respondents could choose to be a doctor, fireman, police officer….but not a teacher? Instead, what was offered for the education option was the organization Teach for America.  While many public school systems require educational degrees, the Teach for America promotion on its website states:

“A degree in education isn’t a prerequisite for you to apply to the corps. However, nearly all corps members must receive a state-issued teaching credential, certificate, license, or permit to be hired by a school and must be considered “highly qualified” under federal law.”

What do students who have attended or plan to attend a four year college for education, understand about Teach for America as a career choice? “Highly qualified” for Teach for America can be the “rigorous summer training program and extensive coaching”, a very different training than college coursework (undergraduate or graduate) in instruction.  When the NSHSS  offers Teach for America on a list of 200 companies, they communicate that an education is associated with a “company” rather than a profession. Based on the data, it should be noted that Teach for America  fallen in popularity from #26 on the Dream Job list in 2014 to #34 this year.

Irony in Dream Job List

The irony is, that without the choice of education as a Dream Job, many of the dream jobs on the list would be unattainable. If education as a profession is not a choice represented on this list (as police, firemen careers are represented) a problem is created for all future lists.

For example, without recruiting best and brightest of scientists to the Dream Job of science teachers, students will not be ready for the medicine and health related careers that they want as Dream Jobs. Similarly, learning to communicate effectively in media jobs comes from attracting excellent English Language Arts teachers, while artistic talents are honed by bringing the finest in fine arts teachers (music, art, drama, etc) to classrooms K-12. In short, this year’s interest in STEM comes from teachers who have communicated a passion for these subject so much, that their students want to continue in that particular field as a Dream Job.

Finally, if one of the qualities that millennials are looking for in a career is the ability to work on a team (40%), then a choice for education is a choice for a Dream Job. Educators know how to work collaboratively as a team: in a district, in a school, in a class. And, of course, educators are the ones who train students to work as a team as well.

On the NSHSS 2015 survey on Dream Jobs, a choice of the F.B.I. (#5)  beat out the choice of the National Security Administration (#19). According to the survey, students would rather build up the military by selecting the Army (#42) as a career over Building a Bear (#50)…but note, without educators, building the skills for a Dream Job would be only a dream.

The 86th Saturday Reunion (3/22/14) at Teacher’s College in NYC was decidedly political. Not political as in elections or party affiliation, but political as education is critical to “the public affairs of a country.”

The morning keynote address by Diane Ravitch set the agenda. Ravitch is an education historian and an author who served as Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander under President George H.W. Bush.  She was Adjunct Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University; this Saturday, she returned to speak at Riverside Cathedral.

She began by recalling another political era, calling the cathedral the “sacred space” where William Sloan Coffin had spoken out against the Vietnam War.  This time Ravitch was speaking out against the war on public education.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 9.48.58 AMShe began by alerting the enormous crowd of teachers about the Network for Public Education. This year-old network was established to, “Give the [us] the courage to fight; our motto is ‘We are are many, they are few, we will prevail’,” she claimed.

Screenshot 2014-03-23 19.04.39“I wrote Reign of Error for you to use as ammunition… but, for heaven’s sakes, don’t buy it,” she insisted, “borrow it from the library, but use it to fight back the efforts to undermine education.”

Ravitch has been organizing a defense that is aimed at exposing the corporate take over of education that is endemic to this country alone. She countered that other nations have “no charters and no vouchers,” adding that “charters and vouchers divide communities” in economic funding. She challenged the treatment of teachers in the USA, insisting that other nations respect teachers and do not let “amateurs become principals and superintendents.” 

She spoke of challenges in providing for the inequities in education, detailing that 25% of children today live in poverty, and she demanded to know how our public schools will survive when education reformers push to replace public schools that accept everyone with schools that are privately managed.

She recounted instances of publicly funded charter schools that teach creationism and other “17th century STEM subjects,” and she railed against a push to eliminate local school boards.
“You may want to get rid of members of your local school board,” she quipped, “but there is a democratic process for that; this is an attack on democracy itself.”

“What is the end game?” she asked after the litany of charges against education reform, and then answered her question, “Nothing less than the elimination of teaching as a profession, systematically aided and abetted by the Department of Education.”

Ravitch continued her argument claiming that, “The education reformer narrative is a hoax, and they [education reformers] cannot win if they continue to perpetrate hoaxes.” She noted several indicators that speak to current successes in public education: falling dropout rates, higher graduation rates, higher minority scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.

“We have an incredibly successful system overwhelmed by a high test prep curriculum,” she declared. “The reformers’ passion is for firing teachers. They suggest, ‘Let’s test every child every year and we’ll see what teachers get low scores, then those are the bad teachers,’ she intoned. “They fire 5-10% of teachers when they should be coming up ways to recruit and support teachers.”

Teach for America was a particular target of her scorn as she argued, “Teach for America is not an answer,” noting that reformers who rail against university and college preparation programs for teachers, and complain that first year teachers are “poorly trained are the same reformers that encourage the placement of 10,000 TFA graduates annually into schools, despite their minimal six weeks of teacher training. “They [TFA] leave in two years,” she continued, “and we have lost so many teachers. We are reducing the status of teachers. Who will want to teach? Many are shunning the profession; they [teachers] are getting rid of themselves.”

More scorn was heaped upon teacher evaluation systems where billions of dollar have been spent. “Many states have added value added measurements (VAM) to rate teacher effectiveness,” she noted. One such VAM is the inclusion of standardized test scores in rating teachers, however, Ravitch asserted, “most teachers do not teach the tested subjects (math and English). To assign [these] scores to all teachers is totally insane.”

Even more scorn was directed towards Bill Gates, as she maintained “The Gates Foundation has paid millions to have these [tests] written.” Gates himself has been touring the country this year in support of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a tour that included an opportunity “to dine with over 80 senators” that did not escape her attention. Neither did his comment suggesting “it might take10 years to see if this stuff works.”
“You have to admit he has chutzpah,” she quipped. Her more salient point was in her statement, “One man has bought and paid for an entire nation’s education program.”

Her objections to the CCSS are rooted in its creation, and in its rapid adoption and implementation in 45 states.
She objected to the lack of educators involved in developing the standards. She reminded the crowd that only four agencies were involved in the creation: the  National Association of Governors; the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO); and two educational organizations, Achieve, devoted to improving the rigor and clarity of the process of standard-setting and testing, and Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit organization working to support teachers across the country in their efforts to realize the promise of the Common Core State Standards for all students. She  specifically called out David Coleman, a non-educator and a former treasurer to the controversial Michelle Rhee’s Student’s First enterprise,who now serves as president of the College Board. (See my previous posts on Coleman here and here)

Ravitch commented also on the language that education reformers made in promoting the CCSS, standards that force schools to”Jump into the deep end of the pool” or standards that “rip off the bandaid” asking, “Why do they use such sadistic language? These are our children!”

“This small group [CCSS writers],” she continued, “was aided by the ACT and presented the CCSS as a fait accompli.” She added that the writing process of the CCSS was not transparent, and that, in violation of the National Standards Institute protocols,“there is no appeals process for standards that are seen as incorrect.” Moreover, although teachers were invited to “review” the CCSS,  the standards themselves were implemented without a field test. Now the two federally funded testing consortiums, PARCC and SBAC, will spend the next two years testing these standards online.

“The tech sector loves the CCSS,” she insisted, “there’s new software and bandwidth” included in already tight education budgets, “along with data analysts and entrepreneurial agencies designed to help with the CCSS.” Finally she returned to her message of academic inequities where targets of 70% failure rates on rounds of standardized tests are predicted. “How is it equitable to give a test they know students will fail?” suggesting that a passing rate is fluid, determined by the test creators who choose the “cut rate.”

During the speech, I was seated only eight rows back with a colleague who echoed to me particularly strong statements made by Ravitch on the effects of educational reform. She obviously wanted these statements included in my notes, so here are a few more “Ravitch-isms”:

We must roll back what we see is a poisonous time….

I never met a child who learned to read because the schools were closed.

No other nation doing this. We are alone in taking punitive action.

They [ed reformers] call it creative disruption, but children need continuity, not churn.

As she came to the conclusion of her speech, Ravitch returned to her message on the impact of poverty on academic performance saying, “What we do know about standardized tests is that they reflect socio-economic status. The pattern is inexorable. Look at charts that align standardized test scores with income and education; they [tests] measure the achievement gap.” Ravitch then turned to Michael Young’s book,  The Rise of the Meritocracy, and cited the following quotes:

If the rich and powerful were encouraged by the general culture to believe that they fully deserved all they had, how arrogant they could become, and if they were convinced it was all for the common good, how ruthless in pursuing their own advantage. Power corrupts, and therefore one of the secrets of a good society is that power should always be open to criticism. A good society should provide sinew for revolt as well as for power.

But authority cannot be humbled unless ordinary people, however much they have been rejected by the educational system, have the confidence to assert themselves against the mighty. If they think themselves inferior, if they think they deserve on merit to have less worldly goods and less worldly power than a select minority, they can be damaged in their own self-esteem, and generally demoralized.

Even if it could be demonstrated that ordinary people had less native ability than those selected for high position, that would not mean that they deserved to get less. Being a member of the “lucky sperm club” confers no moral right or advantage. What one is born with, or without, is not of one’s own doing.

She concluded her address with a list of suggestions, of next steps:

  1.  Salvage the standards to make standards better. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) should review and revise the standards. “Fix what is wrong”and “damn the copyright.”
  2. Decouple the Common Core from the tests;
  3. Teachers: Teach what you love and enrich instruction;
  4. Remember that a decent democracy equals values. 
  5. Do nothing to stigmatize those who have the least.

It should be noted that throughout the speech, Ravitch referred to “children” instead of using the word “students.” Her linguistic choice was noted by a later speaker, Kathy Collins. In refusing to use “students,” Ravitch put the focus back on the purpose for public education, to prepare the nation’s children, and she relayed a critical difference between her pedagogy and the philosophy of the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. “Arne Duncan thinks children as young as five should be on track to be college and career ready. He has said, ‘I want to walk in, look in their eyes, and know they are college and career ready’.”

She paused as if to respond to him, “I see a child. Leave him alone.”

The cathedral reverberated with applause.

My school district completed four days of first class professional development that began with a visit from Dave Burgess, the author of Teach Like a Pirate and ended with faculty-led collaborative committees organizing for an accreditation visit from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).  In four short days, the veteran teachers adjusted, organized classrooms, and prepared the first week of lessons. The administrators indicated that schools were off to a “great start”  while the facility management personnel finished polishing the floors and touching up wall paint. One group however, looked different.

teacher appleThe new teachers’ eyes glazed over. Although some have taught for years in other districts, each one has been lost in the labyrinth of our hallways at least once this past week. There are at least fifty names they still need in order to match staff to academic disciplines and a number of faces before they begin to match their attendance rolls with students. The location of materials for various units of study has yet to be established; boxes are unopened in their classrooms.

In short, they are whelmed. Merriam-Webster online defines whelmed as

1. to turn (as a dish or vessel) upside down usually to cover something : cover or engulf completely with usually disastrous effect
2. to overcome in thought or feeling : overwhelm

According to the dictionary, there is no “over” in being “overwhelmed”. Watching the newest members of the faculty trying to mentally sort through the information they had taken in the past four days reminded me of how I felt my first few years of teaching. Putting “over” with whelmed seemed redundant; I was “engulfed completely” my first years of school as well.

Twenty-three years later, I am less whelmed by the start of school, but I still have to adapt. There are always new materials, new changes to schedules, new students to get to know. In 2013-2014 there is also a new state mandated teacher evaluation system and a set of new tests will be rolled out this year to measure the new Common Core State Standards. For these new-to-district teachers, the flood of information in the early days of the school year must seem insurmountable. There is research, however, that indicates with three years of practice, teachers develop strategies for being effective in improving student achievement in the classroom.

In particular, there is research that demonstrates that “teachers in their first and, to a somewhat lesser extent, their second year tend to perform significantly worse in the classroom” (Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain -2005). In a follow-up interview to this study, Kati Haycock was quoted in Education Next as saying,

“And experience does matter for inexperienced teachers. As a group, first-year teachers tend to be less effective than those with even a little more experience, and effectiveness tends to climb steeply for any given cohort of teachers until it begins to plateau after a few years. According to research by Eric Hanushek and others, disproportionate exposure to inexperienced teachers contributes to the achievement gap.”

How a teacher develops on a learning curve is significant for both the teacher and the students, which is why the story from Mokoto Rich of the New York Times At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice (8/26/2013) flies in the face of both anecdotal data and research studies. The article addressed the high turnover rate of teachers in charter schools by first highlighting the story of 24 year-old teacher, Tyler Dowdy. With two completed years of teaching behind him, Dowdy is “exploring his next step, including applying for a supervisory position at the school.” The article described him as someone, “who is already thinking beyond the classroom, wants something more.” His interest in education appeared cursory, “I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing,” he said, “and always moving onto something bigger and better.”

Supporting Dowdy’s lack of commitment to the profession, was the statement by Wendy Kopp, founder of  Teach for America (TFA)  who said,

“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers…The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”

Kopp’s claims, however, have little credibility considering her own lack of classroom experience. While she has taken TFA from a $22 million dollar enterprise in 2003 to a $244 million dollar business in ten years before her departure this year as CEO, there is no record of her creating or delivering lessons to students herself. She has not had the experience of developing or implementing classroom management skills, a major cause of much teacher turnover.  Teachers, new and old, experience first-hand the fallacies in her argument. Yes, during the first years, teaching can be greatly improved, but that does not mean a new teacher has become “great”. Like so many educational reformers without classroom experience, Kopp dismisses critical teacher training as something that can be condensed, like TFA’s five week summer teacher preparation program.

A five week training for TFA is luxurious compared to the two and a half weeks of training over the summer for other teacher training programs, such as the YES Prep program like Dowdy’s, where new teachers “learn common disciplinary methods and work with curriculum coordinators to plan lessons.” Yet, these teachers from these accelerated programs will look the way new recruits in my district look, glazed and anxious. These teachers will soon learn the importance of experience. They will understand that the only way to learn how to teach is to practice teaching over and over and over….in spite of being whelmed.

Tributes for teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week are welcome coming just as the school year comes to a close when very tired teachers are looking back to see student progress over the past eight months. Many of the tributes are touching, and some are comical. Comedy was the intent of the The Late Show with David Letterman, when the producers invited ten (10)  Teach For America teachers to deliver Letterman’s Top Ten List. In introducing the selected ten teachers, Letterman prefaced the performance with his own tribute,

“My God! If there is a future, it is in the hands of our teachers doing thankless work day after day (APPLAUSE) …..and by the way thankless is the wrong word… we should be grateful, eternally grateful, for the work these people do…”

After his heart-felt introduction, each of the ten Teach for American teachers stepped forward to deliver one entry on the list:

The Top 10 Reasons I Decided to Become a Teacher

  • 10. I hope to live up to the teachers who inspired me. . .like Ms. What’s Her Name
  • 9. It’s no fun saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day by myself.
  • 8. Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention the first time through school.
  • 7. Kids need to know the moon landing was faked. 
  • 6. If I could make a difference in just one student’s life–well, that wouldn’t be a very good average. 
  • 5. The glamour. 
  • 4. You work long hours, but at least the pay is bad.
  • 3. Hoping to teach in an all song-and-dance high school, like on “Glee.” 
  • 2. In the summer, I can watch all you losers go to the office. 
  • 1. I want to help kids talk good. 

This very funny video was posted on the Teach for America website, listing participating teachers as members of the Class of ’13. Teach for America is a not for profit organization established in 1990 under a proposal by Wendy Kopp. The original objective is explained on their website:

We recruit a diverse group of leaders with a record of achievement who work to expand educational opportunity, starting by teaching for two years in a low-income community.                 

Teach for America sent 500 teachers to low-income schools in its first year. To date, over 33,000 have completed the program, however, Teach for America has come under some criticism for the “temporary” nature of the assignments. Two years of teaching is not enough, argued David Greene in an editorial featured in the New York Times (4/30/13),Invitation to a Dialogue: The Art of Teaching”:

Corps members should intern for a year under the supervision of a talented mentor teacher, then teach for at least four years, not two. That may discourage some. Good. We want career teachers. A “temp” work force does not improve education or erase the achievement gap. Rather it helps to create havoc in schools desperately trying to gain stability, a key factor in any school’s success.

Greene explained that he has served in the past as a mentor to Teach for America corps members, and that he has seen their “tears, anxieties, heartaches, successes and achievements.” He claims, however, that the preparation for these teachers now includes “simple, formulaic scripts” instead of letting these teachers be “creative, independent, spontaneous, practical and rule-bending.” He noted:

Scripts and rules and models strictly followed cannot replace what the best teachers have: practical wisdom. In our anti-teacher world and scripted teaching climate perpetuated by corporate reformers, what room is there for the teachers we want for our kids?

Greene cautioned that the today’s Teach for America has “morphed into more of a leadership institute”, with too little classroom experience to inform the members as they move quickly from the classroom into higher levels in education administration and in educational reform.

Letterman’s producers must be applauded for focusing attention on teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week, but in the future, they might consider a different group to represent teachers. Perhaps they could recruit seasoned veteran teachers who made this career choice, or if new teachers are what they want, they might look to spotlight new teachers who do not have the benefits of training and continuing support from Teach for America. Or, they might look to recruit the teacher described below in a letter published in the NYTimes written by Derl Clausen, a high school student, in a response to Greene’s editorial:

He walks in five minutes late to first period, half-shaven, cup of coffee in hand. He walks over to the white board, his stage, puts his coffee down, and looks into the eyes of every student. He’s not given the best students, and so his standardized test scores are average. Instead, they leave with something more; they leave inspired.

He tells them about life: the challenges, the problems, the reason he’s half-shaven. He turns “Romeo and Juliet” into a lesson on love, algebra into a philosophy discussion, and science into an art appreciation class. Vocabulary, equations and historical dates will enter and leave children’s memories, but the inspiration, motivation and wisdom that he gives them will remain throughout their lives.

It’s that teacher who is worth the five-minute wait, the smell of coffee — and if anyone questions his half-shaven beard, he’ll learn a whole lot more about life.

Clausen’s describes a teacher who goes “off script”, a teacher that fits Greene’s observation that, “Often it is the least orthodox teacher who most engages and excites students.” Clausen’s portrait could be a choice worth of a Top Ten List, or maybe even a guest appearance. Clausen and the half-shaved teacher as guests on The Late Show with David Letterman for Teacher Appreciation Week 2014? Not a satirical list, but one real teacher-student relationship as part of a Teacher Appreciation Week “Top Ten”.