Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Teach Strong: Real Wrong

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.

The People

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.

The Program 

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...

The Purpose 

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. 


  1. I don't know why you call the Deans for Innovation" "deans" who are education leaders because they say so". Here are a list of the current deans in the group:

    Dean, College of Education, Temple University
    Dean, School of Education, Johns Hopkins University
    Dean, College of Education, University of Missouri St, Louis
    Dean, School of Education and Human Development, Southern Methodist University
    Dean, College of Education, University of Nevada, Reno
    Dean, School of Education, University of Southern California
    Dean, Graduate School of Education, Lesley University
    Dean, College of Education, Western Oregon University
    Dean, College of Education, The University of Texas at Permian Basin
    Dean, School of Education and Human Development, Hampton University
    Dean, Relay Graduate School of Education
    Dean, Mary Lou Fulton Teacher’s College, Arizona State University
    Dean, Renée and Richard Goldman Dean of Education School of Education, University of Pittsburgh
    Dean, College of Education, University of Idaho
    Dean, School of Education, Loyola Marymount | LA
    Dean, School of Education, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    Dean, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
    Dean, College of Education and Health Professions, University of Arkansas
    Director, Urban Education Institute, University of Chicago
    Dean of Innovation, Policy & Research, Bank Street College of Education

    Typically there is a very serious search process used to appoint school deans. They do not get to appoint themselves.

    1. I know quite a few faculty of education schools (the larger group from whom such deans are chosen) -- they are, as a group, generally blessed with about two years' experience teaching in K12. How this qualifies them to know anything about K12 is "it doesn't", period.
      So, if any of these folks has 8+ years' experience teaching in K12, most of it VERY recent (recent as in since NCLB and RttT began corrupting education in a massive way), then they could possibly be qualified to become education leaders; otherwise, no.

    2. Julie,

      Just two posts down Peter argues that unless you graduate from a traditional school of education, you are just "playing teacher". Given this endorsement, I would think that Peter, at least, would argue that these people do know a great deal about many things in K12 education.

    3. Peter doesn't think traditional schools of ed are perfect, though some are better than others, but Broad Academy are worse. I agree with Julie, education school faculty needs to have a lot of experience in K-12; it's one of my pet peeves. My methods teacher had zero experience; of course that was a long time ago. I think they need at least five years. I actually think principals should have 15 years.

    4. Rebecca,

      It seems to me that you can not believe 1) that the best way we currently have to educate a K12 teacher is in the traditional schools of education and 2) that the faculty and leaders of the schools of education know nothing about K12 education at the same time.

      If you have belief 1, it must be because you believe the faculty of the schools of education are knowledgeable about K12 education, not a bunch of self appointed education leaders. If you hold belief 2, it must be that you see a degree in education to be useless to K12 teachers.

      It will be interesting to see which horn will be chosen.

    5. You can't generalize about all schools. And also content is important. Courses in cognitive learning theory are very important, and that my school did well.

    6. Whereas you can generalize about the reformies because they're all the same: metrics and profit, neither of which help students learn.

    7. Reply to teachingeconomist:

      I believe that our "traditional" schools of education are the best way we currently have to educate future teachers for a couple of reasons: (1) they serve people who are INTENTIONALLY becoming teachers, who are at least trying to do this as a career, not as a stopgap job or resume builder; and (2) in most cases, students engage in substantial time in actual classrooms working for and with ACTUAL experienced teachers (usually with far more experience than the ed school faculty from whom the deans are chosen). The supervising teachers with whom these students work know FAR more than these "deans" -- and future teachers learn as well as they can not because of any expertise of the ed school faculty, but despite their lack in this regard. So, I would say your argument is logically flawed.

    8. I am a faculty member at an ed school and a former classroom teacher. I and all my colleagues are extremely dedicated to the teaching profession and work closely with our K12 peers in designing methods curriculum, conducting research, and general problem solving. Am pretty sure we are not the enemy!

    9. I am a faculty member at an ed school and a former classroom teacher. I and all my colleagues are extremely dedicated to the teaching profession and work closely with our K12 peers in designing methods curriculum, conducting research, and general problem solving. Am pretty sure we are not the enemy!

    10. Rebecca,

      I don't think you can generalize very much about anything in education, be it schools, TFA teachers, or "reformies". I would count the founders, faculty and staff of Montessori and Waldorf charter schools as "reformies", for example, as being the same as a founder of a for profit virtual charter.


      The reasons you state for your belief that "traditional" education schools are the best way we currently have to educate future teachers has little to with schools of education.

      Let me propose an alternative that leaves out education schools entirely. Students interested in making education a career go to college and major in whatever they think is most valuable to them and sign up to participate in an apprenticeship program run by the local public school district (or teacher union much like the AFL-CIO run apprenticeship programs). This would only serve students who were serious about becoming teachers and would give them the real classroom experience that you value.

      Given that schools of education are not required at all in this system, it seems to me that you have taken the position that education degrees are useless for the education of teachers, and so are logically free to say that leaders of education schools are "education leaders because they say they so". That is perfectly consistent with my argument.

    11. TE, I would NOT call founders and faculty of Montessori and Waldorf schools "reformies" like the founders of for-profit virtual schools. Montessori and Waldorf schools are based on a philosophy of cognitive psychology and child development and have been time-tested for a hundred years. The "reformies" were invented by ALEC 30 years ago, have been active for 15, and have no pedagogical foundation. The goal of Montessori and Waldorf schools is education of the whole child, not profit.

      I think the idea of an apprentice program is a good one. However, even with the trade apprenticeships, it isn't all just hands-on; to be a journeyman you have to do a couple years of classes.

      Teaching K-12, as I've said before, is not like teaching post-secondary, where all you need is knowledge of the subject. You need to know your subject well, but you also have to take educational psychology, adolescent psychology, child psychology, and child development, besides methods.

      Besides all that, which is part of a traditional education major, you should also have some knowledge of teaching kids with learning disabilities. I think you also need a whole semester on classroom management, and extra psychology and sociology classes would be a plus. Ideally, for teaching ELL kids, as a foreign language teacher I'm sure that taking two semesters of a language and spending 6 weeks in a country and culture where it's spoken would give teachers a much better idea of what the kids are going through. And in my own field, there are several books on methods that I think would be helpful to read.

      Education professors are the experts on educational methods theory and research, which is what we need them for, but they need to have taught in K-12 so it's not just theory and they know what works for sure from experience.

    12. Rebecca,

      Good to see that you do not see all charter school founders and staff as "reformies". It is important to make distinctions and not unwarranted generalizations.

      I do think a good argument can be made that teaching highs school seniors is more like teaching college freshman than teaching high school seniors is like teaching kindergartners. Perhaps that is best left to another discussion.

      It seems to me that you are making a different choice from Julie. You are arguing that the coursework at schools of education is important for the education of teachers. If so, I think that you must also acknowledge the the deans of the schools providing the coursework and designing the curriculum are, in fact, knowledgeable education professionals worth listening to.

    13. I have no idea what deans do. It never occurred to me they designed curriculum; I thought the course professors did that. Deans always seemed to me like political appointments who just dealt with administrative bureaucracy.

    14. Rebecca,

      Deans are the chief academic officer in a college. They are ultimately responsible for every academic decision made in that college.

      I am only familiar with the process used to appoint deans of arts and sciences colleges, but no doubt the process to appoint deans of education colleges are similar.

      The first thing to note is that the dean of an arts and sciences college must be a tenured faculty member of one of the departments in the college, typically someone who meets the institution's standard for appointment as a full professor. If the home department refuses to grant tenure to a candidate, the candidate will be offered the job.

      The search for a dean is very involved. These days, it typically starts with a search firm hired by the university. The search firm will initiate a national search and do the first couple of rounds of interviews with possible candidates, typically by phone and Skype. For a major public university like UVA or UNC Chapel Hill, any plausible candidate would have to be an outstanding scholar who also has extensive administrative experience to pass through this screen. The search firm than puts together a list of possible candidates for the university search committee to consider. The majority of the university search committee is typically members of the college, but for arts and sciences deans it might well include deans of other colleges at the university. The university search committee selects about ten candidates from around the country for preliminary interviews. These interviews are universally known as airport interviews because they take place at hotels near airports. The non-local candidates fly in for the interview and leave soon after. After the airport interviews, the university search committee will usually choose three candidates to be finalists for the positions. Finalists are brought to campus for a couple of days, meeting various people on campus. giving a public presentation with plenty of time to take questions, and meet with the university president and provost. After receiving feedback from the search committee and others about the campus visits, the president and or provost will make an offer.

      There is usually some negotiation about the offer, thought I have never known a search to fail during this stage. The whole process is expensive both in terms of money and faculty time, so once a candidate is identified it is in the universities interest to make sure that candidate is hired.

    15. That doesn't tell me what they do. And how can a person from one field design curriculum for all of the fields in all of arts and sciences?

    16. Rebecca,

      I went into some detail about the hiring process because you mentioned that you thought the appointment process was political and Peter's initial post claimed that deans were "education leaders because they say so".

      The duties of the dean depend a great deal on the size of the school. For curriculum design, they largely function to approve curricular changes proposed by departments, and the wise dean generally goes along with the proposals. Deans also generally have a large impact on general education requirements. The size and diversity of departments in a liberal arts and sciences college generally requires less centralization than smaller more specialized schools.

      The dean decides if and when any department hires new faculty, the salaries that will be offered, and approves the individuals chosen for these new positions. The dean reviews and approves all tenure and promotion decisions (tenure and promotion recommendations are initially made at the department level and are ultimately the responsibility of the governing board of the college or university). The dean determines how increased funds will be spent within the college and how cuts will be allocated. In recent times, deans will also spend a great deal of time on fundraising and alumni relations.

      I should add that I left out an important "not" in my post above. The sentence should read If the home department refuses to grant tenure to a candidate, the candidate will NOT be offered the job.

    17. I realized you must have left out the "not", but thanks.

      So, their duties are bureaucratic paper stamping and fund-raising and allocation of funds.

      I'm not impressed that they're tenured professors. I've had instructors, associate professors, and full professors as teachers. How good they were as teachers had nothing to do with what level of the hoop-jumping hierarchy they were at, and tenure usually has to do with how much you publish, not how good a teacher you are.

      Deans for Impact is headed by a venture funds person. They believe in being "data-driven" and like discredited VAMs, so that's enough to tell me they have no idea how to improve anything about teaching and learning.

      It's like the hierarchy in K-12: the higher up you are, the less experience you have in the actual endeavor and the less you're connected to the reality on the ground. Most principals I've known had very little teaching experience, and superintendents even less.

      In businesses, it used to be the CEO had direct knowledge of every facet of the organization. Now they don't think they have to have any at all; they think they can come from outside, never set foot in it, and just look at data. This is what they want to bring into education. It's just not effective. Data is helpful for some things, but it can't measure everything, and you can't see how to interpret it or what's been left out if you're not on the ground.

    18. Teachingeconomist. How long have you been teaching k-12? Where did you get your credential? Was the dean of your credential program an experienced classroom teacher?

      EVERYTHING Rebecca has told you I can verify with my own experience, where you seem to be arguing semantics. I don't mean this personally, but are you're trying to argue platitudes based on mistaken'd be better off polling teachers. Would you like your surgeon to be a theoretical doctor, or an experienced one?

      Finally, if you can't think of a few dozen examples of the blind leading the sighted in all aspects of professional life, from the corporate world to the military, I'd suggest you haven't experienced much life.

  2. There is another hidden piece in here that is familiar to me because I live in a reformy district where Broad-washing took hold, and the state is now heading down this path- the "career ladder" thing plus the "pay teachers more" thing equals an ALEC plan to throw out the old salary schedule so that they no longer have to pay teachers according to experience or advanced degrees. It is there, you just can't see it unless you have seen it.
    I agree wholeheartedly about the Hillary angle.

  3. I don't see how anybody is going to be successful at recruiting college students to enter K-12 teaching at this point no matter how slick their website are or how many deans they have on a list.

    I teach at a North Carolina community college. I don't know a single student right now who plans to go into education. Ten years ago I knew many students who planned to get a degree in education. But the reformer plan to destroy teaching as a profession by constantly blaming them for society's ills from crime to unemployment has worked. Now, college students do not want to be teachers. Enrollments in college education programs have plummeted and are still dropping. The dean of education at my local four-year school is pleading with students to consider education as a career, but those pleas are falling on deaf ears. Who wants a career that pays poorly, is high-stress, and where one will be constantly criticized as a failure no matter how well one does in the classroom?

    1. Unless and until a young woman or man can look at a career in K-12 and see the possibility of raising a family, buying a home and having a rewarding career, it's all a bunch of noise.

  4. OMG. When I got to the end of the list and saw AFT and NEA, my brain stopped.

    I think your assumptions about Clinton are clearly correct.

    Yes, throw over the damn table.

    1. Eli Broad is one of the Clintons' largest benefactors.

      As a matter of fact, the Clintonistas were planning their reform marketing strategy at The Vinyard last month. H/T to Mike Klonsky who found this:

      "The Philos "reform" crowd, mostly Clinton Democrats I'm told, includes the likes of -- Rahm Emanuel, Howard Fuller, Peter Cunningham, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senator Mary Landrieu, Eva Moskowitz, Charles Barone (DFER), Ben Austin (Parent Revolution), and so on."

      Here's a list of the topics:

      Education, Education Reformers, and the Movement for Racial Justice
      History of Democratic Party on Education
      Looking Ahead: Where Will the Democratic Party Be on Education in 25 Years?
      Meeting Voters Where They Are: How to Tell the Pro-Reform Story Successfully

      K-12 Higher Education Loop: Opportunities for Innovation and Accountability
      Doubling Down on Success or Losing It All: What’s At Stake in 2016
      How We Win: Strategies and Tactics to Combat an Organized and Vocal Opposition
      What’s Next in the Edu Political Funding World?

  5. If you're Randi Weingarten and your next career move is to be Clinton's secretary of education then the AFT involvement makes sense.

  6. Most career educators find the notion of calling teachers with single digit years of employment "experienced" and "competent" self serving and ridiculous.

    Those who have taught for a while have seen many of these "legends" come and go after 2 or 3 years. Considering that it takes at least 5 years in the classroom to become minimally competent, working as a teacher for a couple of years isn't exactly a magical feat. The reality is that many of these "experts" should be embarrassed at the knowledge and skill levels they displayed while playing teacher.

    These claims to authority based on minimal experience levels are just laughable, whether they come from a university dean, T.F.A. recruit, or anyone else.

    The A.F.T. should be ashamed at its involvement with this so called "reform" group. Shows what they really think of career teachers. The fact is that it is just Randi shilling for Hillary .

    No surprise here that these "reform" movements result in little "reform".

    1. Your comment is timed well with this job lead I just received from LinkedIn. The position is with TNTP as a Senior Effectiveness Coach. They prefer at least 4 years of teaching experience, and expect that applicants "know good teaching when they see it." Seriously. That's listed as the first expectation in the job description.

    2. Laurie this is astounding.
      Unfortunate is another word that comes to mind.
      It's come down to a 'walk through ' mentality.
      Off with their heads.

    3. Just curious but why is TNTP looking for effectiveness coaches? Are they in the business of evaluating teachers? I'm asking because the TN Dept of Education has a contract with them & I'm not certain what they actually do for TNDoEd. I thought they were the lobbying arm of TFA .

  7. Peter, thank you for bringing this horrible news to our attention. I am an NEA member and an avid Bernie Sanders supporter. I can't begin to tell you how outraged I was that Lily Eskelson Garcia endorsed Hillary"Charter School" Clinton.

  8. CAP. Founded by John Podesta. Yes, that guy...Hillary Clinton's campaign chair. You do excellent work.

  9. "Mrs. Clinton, are you chewing gum back there?"

    "Um, no Mr. Greene."

    "Come on, I can see you chewing your gum - now come up to the front and spit it out."

    (another student says) - "Can't get nothing past Mr. Greene!"

  10. This is happening in Boston, too. TNTP posted jobs on LinkedIn for Effectiveness Leaders, as if within the ranks of experienced union teachers there were none. Of course the person now in charge of PD is a TFA alum 😟

  11. As I continually remind people on Diane Ravitch's Blog, educators need to read Carl Bernstein's 2007 book about HRC, A Woman in Charge. On pages 168-175, you can read about HRC, teacher testing, "villains" (the teachers, of course), the Arkansas Teachers Assn. & the NEA. And--don't forget--all American schools were being judged, at that time too, by their "standardized" test scores.

  12. Whoops--have to correct that last statement--this was BEFORE NCLB, of course.
    (Have become far too used to the testing era.)