05 December 2008

Why Michelle Rhee is dangerous to children

I don't know why I read David Brooks' New York Times column. He is that kind of faux intellectual who mistakes travel for observation, and reading for learning, and no matter what he discusses, his conclusions drive me wild.

Today I read his love letter to "educators" Joel Klein (of New York City's school system) and Michelle Rhee (of Washington, DC). You can tell by Brooks' tone that he really wants President-Elect Obama to pick Michelle Rhee (or "Ms. Merit Pay" as we might call her) as Secretary of Education, though he is nervous about coming out and saying it, lest his dreams not come true.

Read this paragraph: "On the one hand, there are the reformers like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, who support merit pay for good teachers, charter schools and tough accountability standards. On the other hand, there are the teachers’ unions and the members of the Ed School establishment, who emphasize greater funding, smaller class sizes and superficial reforms."

Wow. Here's what Brooks is in favor of, the very same system that has worked so well for Wall Street this year, that "market-based solution," that has caused us to spend about $550 billion dollars to save Brooks' Manhattan and Connecticut friends and leave us with no money to save ten million manufacturing jobs.

"Merit Pay" - which brings to education the same "bonus for short term gain" strategy that enabled AIG, Bear Sterns, Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, et al, to somehow misplace $7 trillion. we are already awash in the nonsense of "Scientific Research in Education" which provides studies that prove that if you do this this month the results on a perfectly matched test will improve next month (so what if the kid drops out five years later and hates reading for his lifetime?).

"Tough Accountability" - which means we offer educators incentives to teach to the test, to fake student results, to lie about what is going on in their schools, to limit what the forms of inquiry and education which are happening on in their schools. This is the same incentive system which encouraged Wall Street bond raters to claim everything was "AAA" and local real estate appraisers to claim that every house was worth double its value the previous year.

Michelle Rhee is also a graduate of the worst bit of in-nation colonialism currently being practiced, the Teach for America program. The basic assumption behind TFA is that teaching is so easy, any rich kid can do it with six weeks of preparation, but the basic philosophy is that if only poor kids had rich white kids to model themselves after, they'd be fine. No need to change education, no sir, changing education would (to use Brooks's words) be "superficial. Let's insist that the kids change instead - change into, well, yes, people just like David Brooks - white, male, wealthy, and comfortable at a cocktail party on Fifth Avenue.

And Rhee believes in compliance. It has not mattered whether schools "work" or not in DC, what matters is that her administrators follow her rules.

Yup, that's the "reform we need." That's all much less superficial than, say, funding education as if it was a national priority, or paying beginning and experienced teachers in a way which suggests the value of all the education they need to be good at their jobs (thus upping status and helping recruiting and retention - would we have gotten more out of our money if teachers had been paid like bankers and brokers this decade, and vise-versa?), or bringing global technology into our schools, or decreasing class size to allow for greater individualization, or providing better support for parents so they could spend more time with their children, or even rethinking when we teach what we teach (consider Scandinavia and literacy).

Yes, Mr. Brooks, superficial indeed.

Now I don't really know Michelle Rhee. But I do know that the depths of the challenges faced by the District of Columbia cannot be solved by schools alone, nor by the application of "market-based solutions" to a fundamental function of our society. And I know what Michelle Rhee has come to represent - another generation lost while conservatives try to prove that government doesn't - and shouldn't - work.

And I think our children, and our future, are too important for this kind of nonsense.

- Ira Socol

for reasons I can't quite explain, Roger Cohen's name was in this blog post rather than David Brooks's.
While this post isn't really fair to David Brooks either, blaming another - unrelated, New York Times columnist, was surely bizarre and very wrong. I apologize to all.


Jim Dornberg said...

Ira I always enjoy reading your blog. Have you read Dean Shareski's blog (and many comments) about Ms. Rhee?

Skinner said...

I'm guessing you have no first-hand experience with Teach For America. Your description of the organization's beliefs and its people are way off base. I wouldn't suggest that you just jump on some bandwagon, but you should base your comments on reality.

Unknown said...

First, Jim, great link. Thanks.

Second, Skinner. No, based in lots of experience. If you want to read my thoughts in detail, follow the link. TFA hates teachers, hates the students it claims to support. If any of the TFA Board really believed in what they are doing, Greenwich, CT and Scarsdale, NY and St. Bernard's in Manhattan would be staffed by TFA. But of course they are not. TFA is "education good enough for those kids." It is a repugnant concept and it is abusive to "special needs" students.

- Ira Socol

Sibley said...

You have some good points in here - mainly that overemphasis on short-term quantifiable test-score results typically drives education toward mediocrity. But with all due respect, I think this is lost in some pretty poor arguments.

I had a hard time taking you seriously after the first wall street comparison. Wall street could not function without a fairly free market. The current crisis was due to short-term risk taking (I suggest starting with this point) - I would label this as a lack of sufficient regulation on specific corners of the financial industry that by their very definition must be free market driven and regulation checked.

One could at least as easily draw the parallel between education and the auto companies by saying that the lack of a free market in their labor force due to excessive unionization is a major albatross that brought them down. That is of course only one out of a few large issues they have, but it is a more accurate analogy than the one you point out, at least in the way you've written it. (I might add that at least the UAW union succeeded in causing their members to be overpaid, which is obviously not true of teachers.)

The point of that analogy being that just as short-term test driven curriculae are a problem, so too is the complete lack of free market in teacher and administrator hiring and retention. The education system is so far from the operation of wall street as far as what Michelle is trying to change that you should be comparing it to the collapse of Soviet communism, not the bubble bursting on Wall street. There is no question that yes, we should have better funding and small class size, AND we should not have teacher tenure, which ALWAYS reduces the quality of a work force.

I have to further disagree with your degree of vitriol for TFA. It does not provide great education. If we had even decent education - or even enough teachers of any kind - in most of the places it places its students, then it would be a step down. In any case, I'd suggest a clearer argument than just ranting against it, labeling it, and concluding that anyone who has been associated with it is clearly wrong about everything they stand for.

Please, your blog indicates you're a generally smart and thoughtful person; keep your standards up with accuracy and reason. You have good points, dress them up in something that makes sense.

Unknown said...


I can not deny it is a rant - it's my blog after all, and it is a response to a series of outrageous leaps of logic. Still, I'll disagree, because you're locked into that "AmericaThink."

Job security does not degrade a work force. If that was true we would not see Henry Ford's $5 day as the turning point - the creation of the auto industry and the American middle class. Ford acted specifically to create job security. We also know that at times, government control is far superior to market control in both innovation and quality. A simple comparison of the safety and innovation record of the US Navy's nuclear operation vs. that of America's electric utilities is proof of that. Hell, comparing France's nuclear industry to the US private system is proof of that.

But my point about Wall Street was made because Rhee, like GWB, believes in market incentives (bonuses and costs) to force certain activities. That is exactly the Wall Street paradigm which has left us where we are: People incentivized this way tend to operate to the incentives - quarterly profits on Wall Street, AYP in the schools - forgoing long term benefits for short term - incentive winning - gains. (That is exactly the same thing which occurred in Detroit. It made far more "sense" to Ford to build vehicles which puffed up quarterly profits - big trucks - than to take a long term view and convert plants to produce Focuses, Fiestas, and Kas.) We do not need more of that in education, we have plenty of it already.

Finally, TFA. You could have read the long piece I linked to on TFA. I'm not going to repeat it. I believe that it is morally wrong, among many other things. I see it as a false solution that stops elites from dealing with the problems. I think the absurd way its true believers rush to defend it without evidence (see Principal Skinner above) deserves to be mocked.

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

Ira I always enjoy reading your blog. Have you read Dean Shareski's blog (and many comments) about Ms. Rhee?

Unknown said...

I finally read Shareski's blog. It is fine evaluation of Rhee's philosophy, and the shortfalls of those types of assumptions. I suggest that people go read it...

Anonymous said...

quotes* from the ideasandthoughts blog

*What is arguable is how we find those teachers and how we determine who are best teachers are.

vera says: i agree. any ideas? my idea: parents who are awake can see the difference a good teacher makes in their children and their children's friends. how do we give parents a bigger say in deciding which teachers to reward and which teachers to boot?

*Anyone who suggests reading is more important than art scares me.

vera says: anyone who doesn't think there are some core job/citizenship skills that need to taught scares me. one example: thinking critically

*Measure learning. Not with a ridiculously one time test but with a variety of assessments, over time, that actually measure what each student NEEDS to learn.

vera says: reference my above comment. each students NEEDS to learn core job/citizenship skills, such as learning how to judge what constitutes a good argument, how to construct a good argument, how to judge the differing degrees of credibility of sources of information, how to seek out accurate information, how to share ideas without demonizing people who disagree with you, how to know if a person is worth exchanging ideas with, how to withstand mob mentality, i could go on, but you get the jist

Anonymous said...

vera: PS to my above post. when i teach to the NJ Test, which, among other things, tests persuasive writing, I try to help my students with the above mentioned skills. i love that test.

Anonymous said...

Agreeing with Vera's last comment here, the problem is not teaching to the test, it's teaching to a bad test. Every good teacher teaches to good tests, that is, every good teacher assesses students on the actual skills and knowledge that are the substance and value of their classes.

Similarly, I am for the most part opposed to merit pay (and in principle, any distinctions in compensation, as a desolidarizing distraction from what matters). But if you offer it for the right teaching accomplishments, that is, if you use it to reward actually valuable teacher behavior - like creating open, flexible classrooms in which every student is enabled with the tools and opportunities to learn - then it's probably not the worst thing.

The problem with the Wall Street model was that they were rewarding themselves for short-term profit maximization rather than long-term profit optimization. It's about calibrating the rewards to the substantively desirable outcomes.

Finally, on letting parents choose teachers, in my experience many parents are short-sighted - preferring an empty grade to real education - and ideological, so that for example they tend not to like teachers who challenge kids to rethink the beliefs and assumptions their parents taught them. I agree that parents should be part of the general support system for education, but I'm not sold on them as wise final arbiters of teacher quality.

Anonymous said...

On TFA I'm finding the discussion interesting. I'm only marginally aware of the program, but it was my impression that at least part of its purpose was to get some young fecklessly-idealistic rich kids knocked out of their comfort zones through direct contact with lives more troubled than theirs. I won't deny this is a colonial project but it is on the well-meaning side of that spectrum.

I'd also point out that we on the left often end up in odd binds over what education can and should accomplish in a stratified society which will be remaining so until there's a comprehensive social revolution. We'd like all kids to have access to opportunities usually restricted only to the elite, yet we decry as colonizing attempts to bring non-elite people up to speed on the skills and knowledge that provide access to those opportunities.

The newsflash is that the elites are not just going to have a sudden moral awakening and start opening the ranks to cultural aliens; and the even more painful newsflash is that some of the skills and knowledge that characterize elites is actually substantively necessary and valuable: the problem is not always that elites are arbitrarily imposing their standards but that they are also restricting access to essential intellectual and cultural capital. So in this ugly but important respect TFA's agenda to get elite kids out among the folks to culture 'em up is not unreasonable.

Unknown said...

Vera, Carl.

I sure cannot disagree. There are a couple of key things in what you say. There are "good tests," we just don't see them very often. And I don't discount the value of evaluation, but teaching to bad tests is probably marginally worse than just giving up on the idea of schools, because it teaches students that education is worthless and irrelevant.

There are also "essentials" outside of print literacy and arithmetic. Citizenship, arts, creativity, problem-solving, an understanding of the literacies of the world. This is why Rhee is so dangerous. her reductiveness reduces school a series of disconnected skills with no purpose.

And for TFA, sure, it keeps rich brats off the streets for a few years, much as a spell with the Colonial Office in India, Ireland, or South Africa did with the equivalent Brit brats of the 19th Century. And like that, yes, they "see" other cultures, but still, they "see" those cultures as inherently inferior, so there isn't much vision, and yes, just like the Brits, its about resume building, not contributing. Rhee is the typical graduate - she clearly despises the community she works in, but is using it for her own gain.

Still, right, we can't really expect anything different. As I said before, it's "Rhodesia ain't so bad folks, look at the Belgian Congo." We have the choice of awful or disastrous.

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

I was surprised to read TFA workers defined as elitists.Isn't it possible that some "poor kids" who learned critical thinking skills and worked hard to go through college-maybe even a fine college--showed up on the line for TFA? My daughter did. She was raised in a poor Arkansas county and in a large low-income family. She worked around this country and traveled in Asia a bit befor going to college. While in college she was a volunteer in an after school reading tutoring program in New Orleans schools before Katrina hit. She worked in Calcutta, India as a teacher. Then back to New Orleans where schools are in a misery. All the situations were dire, but her efforts are to help children become literate and develop critical thinking skills and thus have better lives. What she does is not generated by a wealthy past--one that she has never had and she realizes that few of her students will achieve even a small bit of wealth either. But she hopes through her efforts her students find, as she put it, "a redistribution of worth if not a redistribution of wealth". Money and class can indeed divide peoples as she herself well knows. But slurs rarely clarify in a serious discussion. And good critical thinkers should avoid broadsides on those participating in TFA. We want good to come of these dialogues on education.

Unknown said...


The British Colonial effort was filled with many best-intentioned peoples. Some of whom attempted marvelous things, some of whom accomplished marvelous things. I give you Dr. David Livingstone, as you give me your daughter. Born poor, struggled to be educated himself, an educator, an anti-slavery reformer, a savior of the sick, an appreciator of indigenous languages and cultures - even, evidence suggests - religions. In all ways a phenomenal man, and a good man.

But an elitist? Of course. As a member of the project that was the British Empire, he is historically an elitist, an invader, and a member of a corps that did great damage to the world.

"Slurs rarely clarify a serious discussion," and you are right. "Brats" tars all with an inappropriate brush. David Livingstone was not "a brat," and neither is your daughter. But I do believe that it is essential to "call out" the colonialism of TFA, and to understand why I believe it exists, and why so many rich and powerful people choose to support TFA rather than, say, dramatically increased teacher pay throughout the US, or, free university educations for teachers, or, free, localized teacher training for people who live in impoverished communities - or - most significantly, the re-design of education funding in the US so that schools with the highest needs had the most funds, or, actual redistribution of income and power.

They support TFA because it preserves the status quo. They make a hero of Michelle Rhee because her efforts preserve the status quo.

Let me go back to what Carl Dyke says above: "The newsflash is that the elites are not just going to have a sudden moral awakening and start opening the ranks to cultural aliens; and the even more painful newsflash is that some of the skills and knowledge that characterize elites is actually substantively necessary and valuable: the problem is not always that elites are arbitrarily imposing their standards but that they are also restricting access to essential intellectual and cultural capital. So in this ugly but important respect TFA's agenda to get elite kids out among the folks to culture 'em up is not unreasonable." I do not completely agree, but I'm not far, and if I did completely agree, I'd say that - in this case - a TFA-like effort which turned these university graduates out to work as classroom para-pros, as playground, cafeteria, and corridor monitors, as tutors, as coaches, as after school activity coordinators, as day-care providers, as people who might transport students to schools which might serve their individual needs better than the most local school, I would be all for it. Yes, it would still be "colonial" - but it would offer experience for one group and support for another, without attempting to cover up the problems of school funding, of teacher training, of societal inequality with a cloak of fully colonial charity.

TFA damages the US as British Colonialism damaged the world. I don't see any way around that. There were, there are, I'm certain, good people in both. There were even Roger Casements in the British Colonial Services, those who stepped up and risked their lives to destroy the system they were part of.

But - it is still brutally elitist as a project.

- Ira Socol

Kathleen Kosobud said...


I'm one of many folks who have equivocal feelings about Teach for America, and what it does or does not do for children in "hard to staff" schools. TFA recruits are considered the "brightest and best", academically. Recruits go through an intensive pre-assignment training, and are mentored throughout their assignments...due to their lack of pedagogical training and experience with developmentally aligned content. Granted, they may have altruistic motives, and may be the "warm demanders" that Jackie Irvine and Gloria Ladson-Billings describe as the kind of teachers needed in urban schools.

Based on a limited number of studies, TFA makes some claims for the effectiveness of their recruits over beginning teachers in the same districts, although the comparison groups have been somewhat "easy to beat"--consisting of uncertified, out of field and "just plain" beginning teachers. So, okay, they're doing goodly work in needy districts, for the same pay as beginning teachers in those districts. And, because they are the "best and brightest", I'd infer that they might be pretty quick studies when it comes to figuring out some of the work of teaching.

My biggest objection to TFA is that they're short-timers; most TFA recruits serve for three years, and then go on to do other work: graduate studies, community organization, politics, etc. And, based on their very limited experiences, and not particularly enriched professional development during their TFA years, a number of TFA "graduates", have gained public prominence as reformers in education, like Michelle Rhee.

TFA is what it is: something akin to a stint in the Peace Corps (only a slightly better pay scale). To claim that it is a solution to the problem of attrition in "hard to staff" schools is laughable, unless one agrees that a (selective) temp agency is a high quality source of teacher-like material.

Replacing teachers lost due to attrition costs districts approximately 15 to 20 thousand dollars per teacher. That cost reduces what could be used for professional development, support of "wrap-around services", purchase of instructional materials, improvement of facilities, or incentives to attract and keep truly skilled teachers (identified through board certification, or other processes that focus on positive teacher commitment and practices in challenging settings).

Rhee makes her biggest mistake by assuming that Washington DC's schools' problems are caused by isolated individuals and not by complex and intertwined systemic difficulties. Firing teachers may look good in the press, but does little to create a positive environment for those who remain. If it was as simple as all that, we'd have "fixed" education in large urban districts a long time ago.

I read a lot of George Lakoff before this election, and I think that his analysis of how the Right "frames" solutions to problems is as spot-on for explaining Michele Rhee's management style, as it was for explaining why GWB thought that removing Saddam Hussein would solve "the problem" in Iraq.

Unknown said...

Thanks Kathleen: Lakoff is a great read. You know, I look at the TFA recruiting tools, and I notice, those posters aren't about "service" - or about learning to teach, or about learning from the groups they will work with. They appeal to resume builders. Colonial projects all begin with the self-interest, and self-centered assumptions, of those with power. TFA (and graduates of it like Rhee) begins there.

I've always thought that if the same effort was put into taking the paraprofessionals, and other non-teaching school staff in those districts, or just the best of those communities, and bringing teacher training to them, we could be developing lifetime community-based teachers, and true, from the community and in the community role models. Plus, those salaries would go to, and stay in, those "hard to staff school" communities.

But that project would offer no real benefit to the grandchildren of the TFA board members, or the children of the media stars who praise TFA. And it might not build quite such compliant communities either. So that project does not happen.

- Ira Socol

Political Merch. said...

As a former TFA corps member I've been following Rhee and she seems to be the embodiment of Teach for Americas worst qualities, among which are the ready acceptance of the neurotic practices that have become so common in middle class america: absolute managerial control, an obsession with quantifiable data, a life of overwork, stress, tedium and remote surveillance where massive data bases are used to make policy decisions regarding schools, teachers an students, and reportedly even used in planning future prison construction. (list paraphrased from Michael Fiorillo's comment at EdNotes)

In my experience people settled in the TFA/Rhee camp counter most criticism of their PROGRAMS with anecdotes about specific TFA teachers and end all discussion by saying something like at least they're trying.

If Michelle Rhee is going to neo-con maybe its time for her opposition to get all agitprop and propaganda - corny bumper sticker and all:
DC Public Schools - Education Without Representation

Anonymous said...

Great post.
I simply cannot understand why people can't see through this propaganda blitz.
I guess they see what they want.

Kathleen Kosobud said...

Responding to Ira's thoughts about "grow your own teacher" programs: yes that's precisely what some districts do--they partner with local universities (or sometimes very distant universities, depends on where you are in the country) and provide the needed instruction over a longer time. This is a good, long-term solution in areas where there is not a lot of migration from one place to another. The difficulty is that much patience is needed to see these programs come to fruition. I think that the latest stats I saw on the Detroit effort had an outcome rate of around 40%.

One of the complications is that very good teachers are not always very good test takers. This, as I recall was the source of great frustration to some of the public schools of education providers in Michigan, when I served on the Professional Standards Commission for Teaching. They could get the students through all of the training, they'd do great as interns in the classroom (especially the students who'd been parapros), but the d--n test would get 'em every time! In order to get the certification rate up, some students needed extensive coaching in test taking and the content of the tests. We talk about Highly Qualified Teachers, but if you look at the criteria, it's apples and oranges all over! TFA folks are considered HQ despite their lack of credentials. The grow-your-own teachers are not considered HQ until they pass the tests...and their courses. Then there are other programs, like Troops to Teachers, where I'm not sure when they get to be considered HQ. Finally, the one that I find most laughable is ABCTE (the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence). For this, a career changer takes a couple of tests (one in "classroom management" and one in the "subject content") and, voila! Instant HQ teacher! Of course many states accept these folks only if they are under the supervision of a "mentor" for a period of time after they enter the classroom, but gee whiz! If I thought that I was going to demonstrate my excellence by taking a couple of machine-scored, adaptive tests, I'd have to be committed (to a psychiatric facility--not to teaching children, for goodness' sake!).

But I meandered away from Ira's argument about colonialism and the preservation of the obnoxiously snearing elite. Yeah, there was a lot of that in the GWB administration. I cling to the hope that there will be less in the BHO administration, and I do hope that we turn to Nel Noddings and others who preach about the benefits of learning to get along and being kind to others.

I guess that Ms. Rhee doesn't feel this is necessary, but I sure like working for people who are interested in making sure that we're in some agreement about the purposes and means by which we educate our littlest citizens.

Back to grading papers.

Anonymous said...

I think what is most disheartening is that it seems as though you are unable to or at the very least uninterested in engaging in a thoughtful discussion about Rhee, KIPP, TFA, etc. I appreciate rigorous debate on these topics greatly, but not when there is so little a chance when the other side will actually listen to an opposing viewpoint and thoughtfully consider it.

Also, your repeated use of the word Colonial to describe these programs is questionable...to quote the Princess Bride (a little levity is needed), "I do not think that means what you think it means."

Unknown said...


Perhaps the best way to have your criticism taken seriously would be to provide your name. That way discussions among humans can occur.

Believe me, I have listened to the TFA pitch for years, and I've read the studies. And I'm happy to debate, but the debate cannot be limited in the way you wish. Because I'm quite certain that you don't understand my use of the term "colonial," and I'll guess that you do not understand the concept. And I'll also guess that this a part of your education which has been missed - it often is in the United States.

This is one way power maintains itself, by denying alternate philosophies.

But admit to who you are, and we'll discuss it.

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

I find it not at all suprising that you chose to reply to my comment by insulting my intelligence and my identity.

The fact that I'm not surprised, based on what I've read on your blog in response to previous posters (anonymous and self-identified), may lead you to consider the way in which you invite your guests to engage in open debate. Unfortunately, I doubt that will be the case.

Unknown said...


The way critical discourse begins is with taking responsibility for your words. I may be "wrong," but I sign my name. I'm not sure why someone from the Minneapolis Public Schools is ashamed to identify themselves, but I guess we'll leave it at that.


Thanks for that great comment. The double-standard is fairly obvious. I suspect this is "as expected" from colonizers. By using only their standards (the testing), while exempting their own from even that, they enable their control of the schools and block community development.

I guess we need to begin with respecting those youngest citizens. If we stop looking at them as "industrial raw materials" or "lost souls in search of conversion" and begin to comprehend them as humans with equal rights and aspirations, things will change.

- Ira Socol

Kathleen Kosobud said...

To those of you who have made some positive statements about TFA: I'll grant you that the experiences are probably real eye openers. I've read some of the accounts of TFA veterans, and am attending a doctoral program in which several are enrolled. These are smart, and committed individuals. I've also read a bit about the evolution of TFA, and recognize that they, like most organizations, have suffered from a little too much optimism and too little preparation for the hard work their recruits will need to do. They've honed the program so it does a better job of preparing recruits to handle some pretty grim placements. I figure that I'm probably equally vulnerable to being accused of snobbery if I condemn TFA wholesale. For me, though, I'm a little put off when someone claims to know teaching, when they've only been in a classroom two or three years. There's a lot of pretty good research that suggests that teachers just begin to hit their strides after five years of experience. On the other hand, I would value a lengthy conversation about what it's going to take to re-shape public schooling.

I do hope that Michele Rhee is an anomaly, and I hope that TFA inspires more people to stay and become lifelong educators. I'm still thinking that TFA is seen by many ambitious young people as a launching pad to a career in politics, or the like. I'd like to believe that their motives are pure, but I'd need some real convincing.

Unknown said...


Suggesting the problem with the concept behind TFA or suggesting its actual intent, or questioning its actual accomplishments, or even doubting the motivations of many or most of the corps members, does not suggest that there is "no value" to the program.

There is value. There are some classrooms which - in our disastrous school funding system - might me staffed "by worse" than the TFA teacher placed there.

And there is a definite value to the corps members themselves. It is good, as Carl Dyke suggested up near the top of these comments, to bring these elite students out and show them America. Just as it was good, in some significant ways, to take elite 19th Century Brits out and show them the world.

For some of those taking that ride it will simply be a youthful trip which excuses a lifetime's work creating the inequities they have just seen. For others it will reinforce long held elitist beliefs - Michelle Rhee appears to be the classic example - puffing youthful adventurers into brutal colonial administrators.

Yet for others, and I know some, it will create an understanding of what is truly wrong. Above I brought up the name of Roger Casement - there were others of course in the British Empire but he is the most famous in my world - people who went into colonial service only to discover all that is wrong with it, people who discover that whatever benefits Dr. Livingstone might bring, the project is wrong. People who join and serve the necessary rebellion without attempting to lead it.

Casement was executed for organizing the supply of weapons which powered Ireland's 1916 Easter Rising. It is significant that he never attempted to be a power in the independence movement, rather he became a servant of the strategies developed by the Irish themselves. For those TFA-ers who turn against their imperial experience in ways designed to empower and not to grab leadership, the penalties will be less, but the risks will still be real.

I always hold out hope, but when I read this from the TFA website, "Today there are more than 14,000 Teach For America alumni working in a variety of sectors, including business, education, law, medicine, and public policy. They tell us that Teach For America had a significant impact on their lives, both personally and professionally. They describe the responsibility associated with taking ownership of their students’ academic progress as far greater than that of any entry-level job they considered. Through this intense personal challenge, they developed an advanced set of leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills. At the same time, they gain an understanding of educational inequity and its solutions that is foundational for a lifetime of advocacy and civic leadership. Moreover, alumni build a network of colleagues, friends, students, and students’ families, who become an ongoing source of personal and professional support." - http://www.teachforamerica.org/alumni/index.htm - It becomes obvious that education for children is not the priority of this organization, or those who join it. After all, "learning to be a great teacher" and/or "changing the lives of their students" are not things TFA lists as what the fundamental accomplishments of their alumni are.

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate, really. You have some really intriguing ideas and obviously are a smart and passionate advocate for kids, but clearly have challenges in communicating respectfully with a wide range of individuals. That makes the chance of your ideas being taken seriously or gaining traction in a larger sphere slim to none.

I am not ashamed of who I am or what I do. You project that on me; I dismiss it.

Unknown said...


OK, you work for TFA and through the Minneapolis Public Schools. That's fine. Why not admit both that and who you actually are? Why hide behind anonymity. I'll debate anyone, but it's tough to take you seriously when - despite the obvious facts of your identity - you wear a paper bag over your head.

You can dismiss it all you want, but I find this to be a structural pattern for TFA. Whenever my blog (or numerous others) are "hit" by TFA staff, we get "anonymous" comments.

Yes, I'm projecting, just as a police officer wonders about the value of information from someone at no particular risk who refuses to be identified. I guess I'd ask why you need anonymity?

No. I don't have the wealthiest people paying to make my views known (for their own purposes) - so yes, it can be tough to be heard. But I'm OK with that. I'll take the professional risks associated with standing behind my statements because, yes, education and children really matter to me.

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

It's clear that you have no idea what you are talking about. First, the idea that anything we are experiencing right now has anything to do with some "free market" that we pretend exists is ludicrous. Every facet of everyone's life is micromanaged by government. We haven't had anything like a truly free market for decades.

That said, I am a public school teacher and I think Michele Rhee will ultimately fail, because the government can't do anything right. Even with "gifted" and "popular" leaders (like Obama and Rhee) everything the government does fails. The entirety of the system must be 100% privatized. Now.

Unknown said...


You work for the government with that attitude? Wow. If we hire people like you government will indeed fail. If we hire people who believe that society can transform itself, we might succeed.

Question: If your students hand in papers anonymously, do you grade them?

- Ira Socol