By now the interwebs are just abuzz with the lastest reformster super-group, a PR push called #TeachStrong (it's a hashtag, because all the kids are using the twitters these days).
TeachStrong comes with all the reformy accoutrements, including a fancy website and a snappy mission statement, and a launch piece in the Washington Post. And it comes with a truly impressive group of reformster shysters signed on for the mission. (it does not come, as Daniel Katz noted, with an explanation for why they chose branding with the unfortunate echo of the doping-disgraced #Livestrong.) They are all about changing policy, and I have a theory about what this is really about, but I'll get back to that later.
Taking point on this initiative is the Center for American Progress, a group that has championed reformy ideas for years and which has been relentless in its stumping for the Common Core (here and here and here and here, for a few examples). But look at this rogue's gallery of old favorites. There are forty in all, but I'm just hitting the highlights:
Alliance for Excellent Education-- a DC reformster lobbying group
CCSSO-- of course, our old friends who helped bring us CCSS
Deans for Impact-- a group of RelayGSE and Broad-style "deans" who are education leaders because they say so
Education Post-- the reformster PR rapid-response war room site run by former Duncan staffer
Educators 4 Excellence-- the astroturf group created to provide the illusion that teachers love reformy ideas
National Council on Teacher Quality-- these are the guys who evaluate college teacher ed programs based on brochures and graduation programs (including programs that don't exist)
RelayGSE-- no surprise here, since their "dean" is a member of "deans for impact"
Teach for America-- dedicated to building resumes and providing temp solutions for charter operators
TNTP-- TFA's big brother
This list alone is enough to convince me that the whole initiative is some sort of bizarre practical joke that cannot possibly be taken seriously. And that's not the worst, the most discouraging part of the list, because the list also includes:
AFT and NEA.
Well, hey. Maybe even though this is a terrible collection of organizations, they have some great ideas. Let's check their vision.
Sigh. Well, let's start with the assumption that teaching is in trouble. Teachers, apparently, need to "modernized and elevated." And we are also fans of having an excellent teacher in each classroom. And we have nine-step program for getting it done.
(1) Recruit more diverse candidates for (2) more strenuous preparation. (3) Make it harder to get a license, but (4) pay more and (5) provide support in residency programs. (6) Keep tenure, but make it a meaningful signal of professional accomplishment (i.e. harder to get). (7) Give teachers more time and tools (so, what? a twenty-five hour day and an extra hand?) (8) Better PD (please, now you're just making shit up). (9) Career pathways.
So, mostly the same old stuff. Make life harder for teachers in concrete ways (licensure, tenure) but try to offset it in vague ways (more time, and tools, and PD). And as always-- absolutely nothing about giving teachers a strong voice in the direction of their profession.
No, the promise here is that we will ask more of you and do more to you.
And yet there are some odd features here. For instance, much of this is not exactly in tune with the TFA five-weeks, no-real-license plan. But in her WaPo piece, Lyndsey Layton reports that TFA basically has no intention of changing what they do, they just thought this seemed like a cool initiative to join. Really? Why would they sign on to this if they didn't support the stated goals? Hmmm...
So what's really going on here? I have a thought, and I'll go ahead and type it out now. If I'm wrong, we can all make fun of me later.
Let's look at the clues.
The initiative is led by CAP, a thinky tank that has also served as a holding pen for Clinton staffers since Bill stepped out of the White House. Carmel Martin, who has so far been the point person on this for CAP, has served in both Clinton and Obama administrations.
The list has many reformster groups-- but not all. Who's missing? Well, Campbell Brown, the Fordham Foundation, Jeb Bush's FEE folks. You know-- the conservative/GOP wing.
What does the group say it's up to? Per Layton:
Martin, of the Center for American Progress, said the campaign will include events in early presidential primary states and important swing states, as well as Twitter town halls, online events and social media outreach. The think tank expects to spend $1 million, she said.
#TeachStrong says it wants to influence policy discussions through the primary and election season. I hereby predict that one candidate is going to be heavily influenced by this initiative and is going to stand up for this important teacher-supporting thing. I hereby predict that #TeachStrong is an organization created to help guard and support Hillary Clinton's education flank in the run-up to 2016.
I think we're looking at the eventual education plank of HRC's platform.
The Straight Poop
If I'm right, it's just one more sign that America's teachers are political orphans. The premise of this campaign (that is what they call it) is that teacher training sucks, teachers are stuck in the dark ages, and that the whole profession needs to be overhauled (because, again, the sucking).
The campaign makes no noise about listening to teachers or students or communities, and it is jam packed with organizations that have a history of listening to nobody except their donors. Why is it so hard to imagine that if you want "to build a better teacher," you might want to talk to actual teachers.
As for NEA and AFT? I don't even know how to wrap my brain around their willingness to break bread with charlatans like NCTQ or the TFA folks who have conducted a frontal assault on the profession for years. If this is the seat at the table that we've been angling for-- well, the table is a lousy table, and we should probably not be sitting at it so much as throwing it over.
The #TeachStrong launch party is today, and I'm sure we'll be learning more in the weeks and months ahead. But mostly this looks like a big steaming pile of manure.