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Posted at 5:30 AM ET, 12/10/2010

Jay vs. Valerie: Who needs Teach For America?

By Jay Mathews

My colleague Valerie Strauss, czarina of the irresistible The Answer Sheet blog on, and I rarely get to see each other. She works in the big newsroom on 15th Street NW in Washington. For many years, I was across the Potomac in The Post's Alexandria bureau. Now I work in a spare bedroom of my house in Bethesda, with the two family cats walking over my keyboard.

But we do have interesting arguments, and occasionally share them with readers. Here is one she started by saying something in her column, which runs regularly in The Post's Monday Metro section, that irked me:

Mathews: You nicely exposed Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s incomplete knowledge of Teach For America in your recent column on The Answer Sheet blog. You summed up the program very well: "It attracts some of the smartest college graduates, gives them five weeks of training and then places them in schools in low-income communities -- to teach children who really need the best-trained, most inspirational teachers -- with a commitment that they stay for two years."

You are right to question their initial classroom weaknesses, having only had five weeks training. But here is my question. KIPP (I just learned that has become the official name, so I no longer need to say Knowledge Is Power Program), which has provided just that kind of inspirational teaching through its network of 99 charter schools, with unprecedented success in raising achievement, would not exist if Teach For America had not persuaded its co-founders, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, to try teaching. One third of KIPP's teachers are TFA corps members or alumni. We both know many great teachers who came up through TFA. Don’t you think our education system would be worse off without them?

Strauss: My short answer to your question is not so much.
Teach for America and KIPP are the darlings of the philanthropic world, as well as the U.S. Department of Education, which just awarded each of them $50 million.

But they both represent small-scale thinking. It’s taken KIPP 16 years to open 99 schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia for a little more than 26,000 kids. Some studies show that some of these schools have had a very high attrition rate. There are more than 49 million students in K-12 public schools. I’m delighted for KIPP kids, but they are a tiny fraction of the whole.

TFA has, it is true, helped make teaching sexy again among a certain young set, and I’m sure it produces some teachers who turn out to be terrific. But I don’t know what important question it answers. Our nation has more than 3 million teachers; we need to replace 300,000 who leave every year. TFA sent 4,500 teachers with little training into some of the nation’s neediest schools this past fall. Regular teacher attrition is about 50 percent after five years; the percentage is higher for TFA teachers after just a few years. How does that solve the need to improve the profession?

No high performing nation in the world depends on a revolving pool of inexperienced teachers to fix its education system. Why should we?

Mathews: Because we haven’t come up with anything better yet, and we don’t have the funds now to try something like the systems in Finland, Singapore and Korea. Here in the world we inhabit, how would you come up with the teachers that TFA provides? I realize studies have shown them doing only as well on average as new teachers coming out of education schools, but a new study of Tennessee teachers shows the TFA cohort doing much better than the ed school bunch.

More importantly, you haven’t answered my question yet. With what would you substitute the power of TFA to lure some of our smartest and most energetic new college grads into teaching, and unleash their creative energy for the good of our students, as happened with the KIPP founders? Remember, the TFA numbers don’t give you the entire sweep of such programs. There are many local TFA-like teacher placement organizations in our bigger cities.

Strauss: I thought I did answer your question, but I’ll try again. Do we need more funds to improve our system? We need to redirect the billions of dollars now being wasted on phony accountability systems, data systems that don’t tell us much and new generations of high-stakes standardized tests. And we need money to help get kids out of poverty.

I don’t think that people with great SAT scores who go to Ivy League and Ivy League-plus schools are necessarily any better fit to be teachers than students who don’t. That reeks of elitism. Aren’t you the one who wrote the great book Harvard Schmarvard?

Teaching is not a science, even if Michelle Rhee says it is; it is an art, and it requires a lot of learning. Because many traditional educational programs are wanting doesn’t mean that teachers don’t need serious solid training. It means our programs need to be improved. The idea that TFA/similar programs are any better at producing them than the traditional route seems, at best, unproven.

Can you get a great teacher by plopping anybody -- from Teach for America, or similar programs -- into a classroom after five or so weeks of training? Sure, but outliers don’t make good policy. I won’t mention how insulting it is to professional teachers with traditional training.

Look, Jay, there’s no guarantee anybody will be a great teacher. The key is to get rid of the lousy teachers -- and yes, there are way too many -- and help the teachers we do have to improve while attracting people with real commitments to teaching. That means beyond just the two years required by TFA.

Mathews: I forgive you trying to spread that myth that KIPP schools have poor student retention rates. Nationally they are doing about as well as regular schools in their neighborhoods, and some KIPP schools are doing better. Your ideas about how to improve schools, and thus teachers, are excellent. But I don't know if you can count on the diversion of the billions of dollars you say we are spending on accountability systems. Test-driven accountability is here to stay. Politicians who try to campaign against it are swiftly undercut by opponents who say, "What? You don't want to make our schools accountable for all the money we spend on them?"

Start a program that lures more bright and energetic teacher prospects (the vast majority of such people do not attend the Ivy League) into a training program that suits you better than TFA, and I will applaud. But let's not dump on a program that is doing some good. Fixing schools is going to need many varied approaches from people with different ideas, like you and me and our blogs. Happy holidays.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | December 10, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Trends  | Tags:  Jay Mathews, Jays says it draws top talent into teaching and educational entreupreneurship, Valerie Strauss, Valerie says it does not produce many good teachers, debate over Teach For America  
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I hope a double post doesn't occur. for some reason my posts are being "checked" on Jay's blog prior to being submitted. This isn't occurring on Valerie's.

Posted by: researcher2 | December 10, 2010 6:55 AM | Report abuse

Again, not sure why my posts aren't clearing Jay's blog, but I have posted on Valerie's case anyone wants to read them:-) Would love to hear from you Jay:-)

Posted by: researcher2 | December 10, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

It is nearly impossible to predict who will be a good teacher before putting them in a classroom, so I have to side with Jay in this debate. Our country’s teacher training programs are fundamentally broken; they primarily serve as cash spigots for universities supported by legislatures that require meaningless certification to enter teaching. The research shows that teachers who have expertise in the subject they teach are better teachers, i.e., math majors make better math teachers, but there is no correlation between teacher quality and having a BA or MA in education. Yet we continue to pay teachers more just for getting a meaningless master's degree (which again fills the universities coffers but does nothing for students). So we should really be trying to get smart people into the schools, let them try teaching for a few years (under the supervision of good teacher and principals), and then decide whether they make the cut. Instead of a valid argument, Valerie pulls the elitism card in her criticism of TFA, a tactic of the anti-intellectual crowd. The fact is, many of TFA’s corps members do not come from Ivy League colleges. Rather, TFA has set a very high standard for selecting teachers based on demonstrated criteria associated with good teaching such as persistence and commitment. The fact that these standards are high is what attracts so many Ivy leaguers to apply, but doesn’t mean they all get in. We should be doing everything we can to get smart, organized, diligent people to try teaching, leaving us with the largest pool possible to choose from. Instead, we send the message just anyone can teach if they pay for an ed degree and get themselves certified.

Posted by: gideon4ed | December 10, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

"Mathews: Because we haven’t come up with anything better yet, and we don’t have the funds now to try something like the systems in Finland, Singapore and Korea."
There! We don't have the money to try something like the systems in Finland etc. Why then are are we constantly being compared to those systems?

Something about KIPP I remember reading. Newsweek, Time or one of the news magazines did an article on the New Orleans Recovery School district which is comprised of a lot of KIPP schools. One teacher was interviewed as saying they couldn't imagine working there once they got married or had a family because the workload pretty much prevented them from having any kind of personal life. Likewise the superintendent was quoted as saying that he didn't know where they would continue to find people who were willing to work 80 hours a week for what they paid them. Hence the need for a rotation of teachers. Hire them, burn them out then hire some more. The beauty of this system is that they are are always at the bottom of the pay scale. What better way to educate on the cheap! Michelle Rhee was even quoted as saying that no one goes into a job for life anymore. That is an incredibly insulting thing to say to those of us who have spent our lives in the classroom and still love teaching. Why is it that teachers are the only ones who apparently can't stay committed to their profession of choice? Why is it that experience in the classroom is considered a negative?

Posted by: musiclady | December 10, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Jay for posting this very good e-mail exchange on your blog. However I gotta agree with Valerie and musiclady, TFA is a sharade meant to convince Americans that you can educate children on the cheap because teachers a dime a dozen.

There's no substitute for the wisdom that comes with experience, so more emphasis should be placed upon recruiting and keeping teachers for their entire careers. My best teachers back in school were invaribably more mature. Some of my worst teachers were dabblers who did not have what it took to effectively teach.

Posted by: HokieAnnie | December 10, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Our educational “reformers” (that non-educator elite, from Gates to Broad, Rhee to Black) send bizarre mixed signals.

Teachers must be “highly qualified” unless – via TFA – they don’t even need actual training. Unqualified school leaders are good, but somehow, school qualifications (diplomas and degrees) are something our students should strive for. KIPP is an “unqualified success” because it dumps the majority of its students along the way, but our dropout rate is our nation’s biggest problem. Great standardized test scores are important (see Shanghai) unless those scores come from unionized, low-hours in school, highly paid and free to teach educator Finland.

Well, consistency is not Jay Mathews forte, nor the forte of the Billionaire Boys Club he shills for.

The facts are that Teach for America is promoted to its recruits as resume building, not education. And while, surely, there are good people in the program, some of whom who actually go back to school to become qualified educators, the program is an attempt to destroy educational opportunity for America’s impoverished while it enriches its founders.

The “solution” is to give our highest needs students our least qualified, least trained teachers? The “solution” is that simply exposing poor minority kids to rich, white, Ivy League and UMich graduates will solve the problems of poverty and discrimination? The “solution” is to support the least supportive school districts in America by letting them avoid teacher training?

This is a massive fraud.

Posted by: irasocol | December 10, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

When Jay says "We don't have the money to do what Finland is doing," I think he needs to follow that up with a statement about exactly how much Finland is spending compared to us. I don't know that answer, but to throw out an empirical claim without a fact behind it is not good journalism. Can someone tell me what the per pupil instructional expenditure in Finland is, compared to the United States? Before we dismiss the Finnish comparison out of hand, we should know whether it really is "too expensive."

Posted by: reedd1 | December 10, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

For reedd1:

Mathews doesn't back this up because he's not telling the truth - at least in terms of per pupil expenditure:
Finland: $8,440
US: $14,269

There are vital differences though, including: "In Finland, for example, teachers earn a little less than the average university graduate according to “Education at a Glance 2010.” This is quite high compared to the United States where teachers earn less than 60 percent of what the average university grad earns."

Another is the Finnish education begins later, starting at age 7, which typically correlates with higher literacy rates (as the British Teachers' Union wonders - what damage does early literacy pressure do?). Finnish teachers are among the world's best and most extensively and continually trained (no TFA there). Finnish teachers have high levels of autonomy - no scripted instruction like Mathews prefers - and classrooms are highly informal.

Of course Finland is a European Social Democracy, and as such has much healthier families and children than the United States does. Parents spend a great deal of time with their children because of work week, parental leave, and vacation policies. Day care is universally available, and childhood preventative health care is routinely available.

Posted by: irasocol | December 10, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

The Post education reporters provide a good service generally. These blogs are very active and usually have relevant topics. However, I agree with the poster that says Jay is not consistent. His exemplaries include Rafe Esquith in the classroom and Michelle Rhee as a head of schools. Rafe is discontented with top-down, data-heavy, "value-added" approaches. Rhee does not value "individual" teachers that are outliers to THE SYSTEM. It cannot work both ways, and Jay has yet to decide whose camp he truly is in. Perhaps that makes him an excellent reporter because the world is nuanced and paradoxical. Valerie has decided which camp she is in, and perhaps that makes her an excellent blogger.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | December 10, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

"I forgive you trying to spread that myth that KIPP schools have poor student retention rates. Nationally they are doing about as well as regular schools in their neighborhoods, and some KIPP schools are doing better."


The notion that their attrition rate is somehow equivalent to surrounding schools is profoundly misleading. Even if we grant that you are right on the numbers (which is a subject of debate, such as in Oakland) KIPP's rules make such comparisons unfair.

KIPP only has one intake year -- usually 5th grade -- and they do not replace kids as public schools do. That means that while a public school experiences the attrition of bad kids and the intake of more bad kids, KIPP experiences the attrition of bad kids and no new bad kids to replace them. The end result is a small, highly motivated crop of high school students. (Other much-balyhooed schools like Canada's Promise Academy and SEED operate the same way.) With this competitive advantage over public schools, they can craft strong school cultures while the public schools have to take care of those who can't handle KIPP. Who really has the tougher task here?

I understand why you (Jay) like KIPP -- their push for rigor and high expectations is laudable and they seem to take seriously the mission of providing a catch-up education for hard-working but disadvantaged kids.

That all said, you give KIPP more credit than it deserves: it operates under a different set of rules than public schools and does not even come close to reaching the neediest kids. That difficult burden falls back on the public schools who are not permitted to play by KIPP's rules.

Posted by: joshofstl1 | December 10, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I am glad you liked the debate, and I hope those having trouble posting have found that problem disappeared, because I see good posts here. Please believe me. I do NOT review posts. I wouldn't know how to do it if it were possible. If that happens again, please email this blog's unofficial Godmother, Erica Pytlovany at, and let her know.
As for the KIPP comments, if you haven't actually witnessed something happening at a KIPP school, or haven't seen it described in a detailed scholarly piece (or something by me, of course) please be skeptical. The myths about KIPP are rife, particularly if your source is something you read on the Internet, you can't quite remember where. People who speculate about burnout at KIPP schools don't actually know what they are talking about. Many KIPP schools now have a cadre of veteran educators who have found ways to have families and good lives and still teach there, and they are experimenting with all sorts of ways to find all kinds of lives into their school routines. It is also untrue that KIPP does not fill in empty spaces after fifth grade. That would be, among other things, financially defeating and against the desire of the teachers there to help as many kids as possible. The KIPP schools in DC, I know for a fact, take in lots of 6th graders and even a few 7th graders. It is only 8th grade that they are unlikely to take in kids who have not been in KIPP before.
As for me being inconsistent, it may look that way from the perspective of someone who sees the debate over best education practices as a party system requiring you to choose one side or another. I am not an ideologue. I am a journalist. I am interested in the various schools of thought of course, but I have been a reporter for 44 years and learned long ago that reality usually does not conform to party doctrine. So I look for what works. I write about the most effective schools and the most effective teachers, usually based on their success at raising achievement, particularly for average and below average students. Surprise, surprise. They do not always agree with each other on the best way to do that, but if they produce results, I write about them in hopes that will help others who are struggling with challenge of raising the level of our teaching and learning.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 10, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Where I agree most with Valerie: Teach for America and KIPP both represent small-scale thinking. And they are the darlings of the philanthropic community (and the DOE).

And my current concern with them - given our limited budgets - is, what are we giving up for them? What more systemic changes could we be making with the money dedicated to these organizations? With KIPP, how many kids are being denied so these few will have a chance? Could TFA's money have gone into grants for colleges of teacher education to develop their capacity to prepared better educators...and to allow them to serve as models for others, ultimately impacting the vast majority of the educator workforce?

And are we even really dedicated to looking for more systemic solutions? While no one would argue that TFA or KIPP are perfect, are we actually looking for better models? Or are we devoting all our resources trying to scale up models we know are less-than-perfect?

Posted by: AOB512 | December 10, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

AOB512 raises the key question, what are we giving up in the United States by embracing - as the US DoEd did with their I3 grants, KIPP and TFA and excluding other choices?

For one thing, the US is giving up the chance to use those funds to develop long-term community member/teachers. That is, TFA funds are wasted on "short timers" so resumes can be built and a bunch of Harvard grads can be permanently employed in missionary work. If those funding TFA were serious about localized teacher shortages they would fund alternative programs which turn community members already working in and around schools into college graduates and trained educators.

If those funding KIPP would invest supporting troubled urban schools as 24-hour community learning centers, they would be building communities, not a wealthy non-profit organization.

You'll notice that Mr. Mathews did not choose to respond to questions regarding Finland, rather than engage issues which he and his publishers disagree with, he constantly repeats his belief in KIPP - a belief based - by his own admission in this space earlier this year - on prepared visits to schools which were trying to look good for him (it is "shocking" that the one negative story Mathews tells about KIPP occurs at the only school not pre-notified about his visit).

This is unfortunately the way of things in Washington - and in big media - these days. There is a "preferred outcome" for Education among the power elite. That preferred outcome is maintenance of the power structure, and the reproduction of wealth. Any educational suggestion which might make a real difference to a large number of students is discarded without discussion.

Posted by: irasocol | December 10, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse


Thank you for your response.

A couple of thoughts:

It is hard to find good data on KIPP and its intake / attrition issues, but here is the best I could find:

The article applies to the Bay Area and notes that:

"Although the Bay Area KIPP schools have continued to enroll substantial numbers of new students in the sixth grade, they have been less likely to do so in the seventh and eighth grades. This practice, combined
with relatively high rates of student attrition and in-grade retention, explains the declining enrollment."

I would still argue that this is a competitive advantage for KIPP, who (again) does not have to play by the same rules as public schools do; they do not have to accept every 7th and 8th grade student that applies, and in fact it is not normative for them to do so.

Why is this a big deal? Because the media -- yourself included -- compares KIPP schools to public schools every day. Your annual school rankings, for example compare KIPP schools and public schools. I am arguing that it is not a fair comparison. KIPP schools and public schools are guided by fundamentally different legal restrictions on what they can and cannot do. Public schools are required to give a free and apppropriate education to *all* students in their jurisdiction, save for the few who are so bad they are expelled (and sometimes taken into another school in the district!). KIPP schools are not required to give a free and appropriate education to all students; they have a degree of selectivity in who they accept. KIPP schools are, in essence, private schools for kids who cannot afford private schools.

That does not mean KIPP schools aren't good schools. Their model is rigorous and their students do well by most reliable measures. But KIPP's success has limitations. I'm willing to laud them while cautioning against seeing them as a panacea. You are not. At the risk of taking a cheap shot, I hope that isn't confirmation bias from a long-ago published book.

Posted by: joshofstl1 | December 10, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

I have spent a morning visiting Tulsa KIPP.They provide an environment away from less desirable classmates. They have time to do remedial work in addition to grade level studies.They are committed to the long school week with good attendence. There is a limited teacher pool to staff this type of school.
Teach for America teachers have experienced 12 years (12,000 hours ) in a classroom,before college. I have no data, only anecdotes, but they fill teaching positions that are very difficult to fill.
Some good data describing the success or lack of success in hiring teachers in all of the urban schools that are failing according to nclb would clean up the discussion.

Posted by: jseddinsok | December 10, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Teach for America provides teachers to schools that have a difficult (perhaps imposible) time hiring enough qualified teachers . They have 12 years ( 12,000 hours ) experience before college. Good data on the success or lack of success in hiring teachers at the schools that have failed according to nclb would help the discussion.

Posted by: jseddinsok | December 10, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse


So I assume you'd be happy with a "doctor" who had 12 years experience as a patient? Or happy driving across a bridge engineered by someone who'd driven across bridges for 12 years? Or is education so easy, that no skills or knowledge is required?

I like to point out that pre-service teachers from Michigan State University have spent four or five years working in high-needs classrooms. 6 or 7 semesters of a couple of days a week, then two semesters as full-time interns. In addition we expose these future teachers to the wide range of student needs through classroom instruction, and have them combine their course learning with their actual classroom experiences.

Thus, we think we produce new teachers with high readiness skills and with the self-learning skills needed to adapt to the real challenges of real students. And still, it is very hard.

The myth that you can do this in 5 weeks because the TFA kids come from rich communities is absurd.

Posted by: irasocol | December 10, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher and former TFA corps member who has worked in both the traditional public school system and now currently at a well established KIPP school, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the debate currently raging in education.

Having taught for over 7 years, I would still not consider myself an expert at the teaching "craft" (Valerie is absolutely dead on when she says teaching is an art, not a science), but I do feel I have more expertise to comment on the "teaching profession" than most of the educational thought leaders in our country today.

From what I have observed, many Americans and politicians believe that there is a silver bullet or a few bullets that can fix the problems we see in our educational system. In one camp, you have Michelle Rhee et al...tfa, high-performing charters, etc.) who brings a corporate mentality to education, believing that decisions in education should solely be made from measuring data, and also thinks firing low-performing teachers from troubled school districts is going to some how fix the problem and the other, the teacher's union camp, who believes that spending more money is going to help fix the problem, when we all know that America has spent significantly more per-pupil than every country in the world with mediocre results.

In my opinion, Rhee's camp takes a "McDonaldization" approach to solving education, which is nothing more than mediocrity disguised as success. Unfortunately this test driven culture is all "smoke and mirrors." The problem is the point Valerie made earlier, teaching is an art and not a science. The data produced from educational researchers, and the test data I examine yearly, tell me very little at best. Let me repeat, statistical models in education are terribly flawed. Why? because we are dealing with humans, not a chemical reaction or a physics problem. It's no secret TFA and KIPP are extremely successful at marketing their models, far better than traditional education schools and traditional public school districts.

No secret why? the money and powerful elites are behind the programs. When your organizations are associated with Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, McKinsey, and other high powered corporate firms coupled with elite universities and the elite media like the Washington Post, you can sell anything. Perception is reality, and to the unscrupulous but cultured public who take the time to read publications like the NY Times and Washington Post, TFA and charter networks like KIPP are the saviors of education. To be fair, I do think the KIPP school I work in is doing a good job; however, I do think its intellectually dishonest to paint a far more rosy picture of these organizations than they deserve. They have great intentions and do work hard; however, they vastly over estimate the efficacy of their organizations.

Posted by: skepticnotcynic | December 10, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse


No more space.....

Which leads me to my conclusion, there is no silver bullet. We have a values crisis in America, and if we want to be honest with ourselves, we would start pointing at the biggest problem our country faces, apathy and society that values Justin Bieber more than science, math, English literature, and social studies. Until our priorities shift and we return to a society of discipline and self-responsibility, we will continue to lag the rest of the world. It's clear to me that kids haven't changed, but I think parents have. I'm not that old, but education begins in the home and until we acknowledge this reality, we will keep spinning our wheels and banging our heads against the wall, only to "wait for superman," who doesn't exist.

Posted by: skepticnotcynic | December 10, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

skeptic, I couldn't possibly have said it better, nor would I try.

Posted by: peonteacher | December 10, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

Exactly skepticnotcynic. That is why value-added and IMPACT is ridiculous the way it is currently used in DC, as we have just seen in the recent post about one of our high schools you cannot always blame the teacher. To measure a teacher's worth based on classroom observations alone, and then use IMPACT data to prove that the weakest teachers work in the worst schools is ludicrous. NO, those teachers are working in stressful situations and with some of the neediest students, to get the majority of those students to improve even a few points on the DC CAS takes herculean effort by not just the teacher but school leaders also - after all they set the tone. IMPACT is not a fair gauge of teacher's value, and the tone and process of assessing teachers is immature, unfair, and crass.

Posted by: mia_101mail | December 10, 2010 10:49 PM | Report abuse

My point exactly. Jason Kamras needs to be held accountable for designing and implementing IMPACT. I'm certain he is well-intentioned, but being Teacher of the Year doesn't qualify him to be the Director of Teacher Capital something or other. He is an impediment to my practice, not a enhancer. He is not developing my capital, I can do that myself thank you.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | December 11, 2010 3:53 AM | Report abuse

My thanks to jseddinsock and skeptic for their first hand observations. I think their views are well grounded, and valuable. My only quibble with skeptic is that I have never said, and do not believe, that KIPP is the savior of urban education. I have said it is the best example we have so far of what good teaching and good school structure can do to raise the achievement of low income kids. That is true. I am used to people who read such reportage exaggerating the intent. The assumption is, if we write about it, that means we think it is the solution to all of our problems. That is not the case. The only cure for dampening down some readers' interpretation of our choices about what to report is to NOT report them, but that strikes me as a bad choice. Regular schools do not do some things that KIPP schools do because they are not allowed to or lack the resources to do so. Should we thus say that it is unfair to judge them in the same light, or should we ask WHY can't we change their support and rules so that they can do the same things? I choose the latter.

Posted by: jaymathews | December 11, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Please don't take my comments as attack on your views. Having read your columns and book written about KIPP, I know you don't think KIPP and TFA are the savior of urban education.

But I do have to point out that KIPP's model is not as structured and well-thought out as an observer might see from the outside. Like any organization, it has its flaws, but I think one has to ask is the model that they initially created really the one that has been replicated and scaled across the United States? For instance, if I were an original founder of any business, non-profit, etc... I would put my blood sweat and tears into seeing it succeed. I would more than likely sacrifice my own personal life to see it succeed. When Howard Schultz left Starbucks, a smart and capable person took over; however, he was not the original founder, and therefore, Starbucks floundered and the original mission and vision were compromised. Thus, when we see KIPP schools pop up throughout the United States (not run by the founders), it does not mean they are all exemplary or that they are even performing as well as some traditional schools or magnet programs in the local public school district. In my opinion, its more about the people in the building than the model.

When the original founders, Levin and Feinberg created KIPP, they poured every ounce of their lives into seeing it succeed. But if you ask them how much they had to sacrifice while they were running the original KIPP school, I bet they would say a lot. This is a trade off. And I don't think most Americans would be willing to make this sacrifice. Now, do you really think Mike and Dave's teaching strategies were any more effective than a good veteran public school teacher down the block? No. But what they had were time (both young and single without families), passion, creativity, intelligence, and unorthodox methods that captivated and inspired their audience. Most of the battle is convincing your students to take responsibility for his or her education, so they invest the time and effort to achieve success. Without reinforcement and practice after school hours, all the teaching methods and strategies are futile. You can raise test scores year to year, but that doesn't mean your students when they walk out the door of their school will have the skills to be successful in life.

The questions is, will they have the moral compass, discipline, persistence, temperament, and other academic and workplace behaviors to hold a job and be successful, productive members of their communities. Test scores don't measure this, and using flawed data to ax teachers for the problems in low-performing districts is a flawed approach to addressing the underlying problem that plagues this nation. There are low-performers in every industry and most of them should find other work, but firing them, at best, is not going to improve the outcomes of our students, because of the unintended consequences of this approach.

Posted by: skepticnotcynic | December 11, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

The unintended consequences will lead to high-performing teachers seeking work elsewhere, because they understand that the student population and environments they work in are filled with variables they can't control, but if a poorly thought-out central office policy of quantitatively measuring teacher performance (i.e. value added data) is implemented from the top-down without taking into qualitative measures, why would any top-performer want to work in an organization like that. So what's left? young, inexperienced, idealistic and overzealous educators who lack the consistency, discipline, and stability to execute year in and year out. Most of them will leave after a few years, the district will recycle them in and out, and treat the profession like I-banking and consulting, to keep costs down, while jeopardizing our children's future. But the central office administrators won't mind; they will keep their inflated salaries because their test scores may improve a bit, so they will be hyped by the corporate and media elite as being an effective and accountable solution for raising standards in education. But the sad reality is, most of the students who graduate from this system will still be working dead-end service sector jobs at Walmart and McDonalds.

How is this good for our children? Students need consistency and stability in their schools and communities. You see this among schools in middle class and more affluent communities, you rarely see it in low-performing schools in the inner city.

How many TFA teachers who were educated in middle-class and affluent communities had teachers who were right out of college and had very little teacher training and a lack of content knowledge in their subject matter? The teachers in these communities were older and more experienced teachers who actually considered themselves professionals like doctors and lawyers. Do they use chants, games, and other new-age instructional methods to educate their students? No. They know their content, understand adolescent psychology because they have the experience and probably have kids of their own, so they approach education with the seriousness that it deserves.

When one points the finger at a target and make the assumption that the lack of achievement among our inner city youth is a by-product of poor classroom teaching because you look at flawed data to inform your policy positions, is a serious problem.

We need more soldiers in the trenches willing to make the "long-term" sacrifice than thought-leaders and knowledge workers who bask in the spotlight of celebrity on the cover of "Time" magazine with a broom and a mega-phone shouting orders like a general. Michelle Rhee is not an expert in education or teaching for that matter. Two years in the classroom in an inner city school does not make you an authority on what makes an excellent teacher or even what a community that she doesn't live in needs.

Posted by: skepticnotcynic | December 11, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse


As a former corps member, I do not think TFA should go away, even though they do need to be humbled now and then, because like I said earlier, they overestimate their efficacy.

I would've never gone into teaching if it wasn't for TFA, so I can thank them for that; however, our country really needs to examine and make education a priority for all types of students, not just one's who have aspirations of going to a four-year college. Some developed countries have gotten this right, we unfortunately haven't. We need to start training our students based on what they need and want.

In order to improve education, we need options for all our students, instead of one-size fits all approach. If a kid wants to be an electrician, plumber, mechanic; he or she needs to get the opportunity to cultivate those skills. Not everyone loves reading Shakespeare and to assume that the professions listed above are any less intellectually stimulating than sitting at some desk in a corporate office crunching numbers on excel are out of their mind. The jobs listed above won't be outsourced, but "knowledge worker" jobs in corporate America will.

America needs to re-evaluate what a good education looks like. We need options, and we shouldn't force models, or certain models in the hopes of getting everyone an over-priced four year degree that will most likely bury them in debt. Four year colleges are not for everyone, including kids in middle-class and affluent areas. We need to provide choices for poor kids, middle-class kids, and rich kids, otherwise, we will continue to lag many educational systems abroad.

But, as I stated earlier, all the new educational models being touted will not matter unless many parents in this country shift their thinking and begin to hold their children accountable for the poor decisions they make.

Posted by: skepticnotcynic | December 11, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

>Could TFA's money have gone into grants for colleges of teacher education to develop their capacity to prepared better educators...and to allow them to serve as models for others, ultimately impacting the vast majority of the educator workforce?

No, they couldn't have.

Colleges of teacher education do not want for money, and they don't do a particularly good job preparing teachers, which is why you see teacher performance rise steadily over the first 2-3 years on the job (they are essentially learning on the job what they were not taught at their ed school). It is why you see TFA teachers performing as well or better than teachers with an ed school degree.

Certification means that you have a piece of paper from a college of education.

Qualification means you know the subject enough to teach it.

Qualification matters. Certification does not.

Posted by: hainish | December 11, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

>In order to improve education, we need options for all our students, instead of one-size fits all approach. If a kid wants to be an electrician, plumber, mechanic; he or she needs to get the opportunity to cultivate those skills.

Skepticnotcynic: Exactly!

Someone else above asked why districted public schools can't do the things that KIPP or other charters do.

The answer is that, to a certain degree, they CAN do those things. They choose not to.

Districted schools could organize their students and teachers into themed academies and allow students to choose among them.

They could offer more than one option for how math is taught. No one is forcing them to teach every child using Everyday Math.

They could give students the option to learn writing through workshop model or by studying grammar and diagramming sentences. No one is holding a gun to their heads to make them use workshop model for everyone.

They could promote vocational programs that start in grade 11 and motivate students and get them on their way to good careers. They don't. The parents that are involved don't want those things for their own students, and the students who would choose vocational ed don't have parents that know how to game the system.

So what is keeping districted schools from offering true educational options? For the most part, it's not money.

Posted by: hainish | December 11, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

"I am used to people who read such reportage exaggerating the intent... the only cure for dampening down some readers' interpretation of our choices about what to report is to NOT report them, but that strikes me as a bad choice."

The intent is exaggerated because it's not clearly articulated. The cure is to be more even-handed (and less ideological, frankly) about KIPP, as people in this comments section are more apt to do. Take note that many of the comments here -- mine, skeptic, cgrannan on Valerie's blog -- do not disparage the work that KIPP does. They simply acknowledge KIPP's limitations in reaching low-income kids.

Make no mistake, either -- this sort of reporting has potentially disastrous consequences. It does nothing to dispel the current trendy myth that we have found the "silver bullet" embodied in certain recent documentaries. It does nothing to address those worst kids who lack yet are unable or unwilling to survive in KIPP's academic climate. Worse still, it perpetuates the current Rheesian myth that a school alone can overcome *all* obstacles for *all* students (no school had yet succeeded in doing that) and diverts attention away from looking at ways to remediate the broader problems that lead to student failure.

Perpetuating a myth is bad enough. Helping to fan the flames by ommission is worse.

Posted by: joshofstl1 | December 11, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

skepticnotcynic - I hope you and other current/former TFA's can form some kind of group to speak out more broadly about your views and experiences.

Although you should have any more credibility than other teachers, the fact is, that you do -- and you could use it to help the field of education to get on track.

Please see this recent washpost piece in which a TFAer speaks out on her horrific experience at a DCPS school.
skepticnotcynic - I hope you and other current/former TFA's can form some kind of group to speak out more broadly about your views and experiences.

Although you should have any more credibility than other teachers, the fact is, that you do -- and you could use it to help the field of education to get on track.

Please see this recent washpost piece in which a TFA speaks out on the record about her horrific experience at a DCPS school.

Posted by: efavorite | December 11, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Meant to say, "Although you should NOT have any more credibility than other teachers, the fact is, that you do -- and you could use it to help the field of education to get on track."

Posted by: efavorite | December 11, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

This was a really informative discussion. I'm a beginning social studies teacher in MN. Just getting my masters Ed. Looking for a job. I have to say I'm amazed when I hear people casually say 'throwing more money' into system isn't answer. And, technically they'd be right... literally Throwing it would be a little foolish. But how about a reform push, jobs bill where we improve schools/communities by putting thousands like me to work to lower class sizes, work with parents, after school comun. programs etc. Isn't that common sense big picture stuff that will create jobs and long term health? Why is there money for the wars and tax cuts of last 10 yrs, but not creating jobs in communities? Or is that Socialism/ crazy talk?

Posted by: carl1369 | December 11, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

I agree with those of you who mentioned in so many words that TFA doesn't seem to address the big picture. It sounds like it does some great things, works its people to the bone, and I'm sure, looks sweet on resumes. But in our diverse country, we need a public school system that is strong... we need to be serious about closing the terrible achievement gaps. We won't do this with pet projects and 1000 different charter school models which help some while draining the swamp for many. Create jobs in education, healthcare- that's stimulous that would be effective for longterm.

Posted by: carl1369 | December 11, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

carl369 - yes, yours is a very common sense approach, but unfortunately common sense doesn't seems to be "in" these days.

The establishment is more into miracle cures and finger pointing (at teachers like you who want to make a career of it).

Don't give up yet, though, we need grounded young teachers like you to see us through this mess.

Posted by: efavorite | December 12, 2010 12:04 AM | Report abuse

I followed the link, efavorite. That was harrowing - the comments as much as the story. I hadn't looked at it yet.

I think it's a mistake to charactrize the young TFA teacher's report as "her horrific experience at a DCPS school," though. Don't let it slip away that we are not talking about a public school (though it could happen there), but about Dunbar High. That institution was taken over for underperfoemance, and placed in the hands of the "public-private partnership".

Turque has published an updated story, in which he was able to get a response from Bedford Group's CEO:

"Leonard declined to discuss the specifics of Lilly's and Johnson's charges. "Everybody has what they want now," he said Friday. "Any comment would just fuel it. We're ready to move on.""

He is indeed "ready to move on", of course, along with Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein. They will all prosper with the expanding drive to tap into the $500 billion public education revenue stream, even when it incidentally pushes urban schools down to the seventh circle of hell. But we do need to fuel the discussion he is trying to avoid.

Comments shifted away from the role of the $1.2 million/year private management company, and into blaming the "animals" you can't teach, the parents "who should be sterilized", the community (and nation) whose values have deteriorated, and the teachers. Many weren't buying that, though.

You suggested it would be simplistic to cast Bedford as the corporate villian. No, it isn't simplistic; the public hasn't grasped that a private corporation could even have such a role. Aren't they philanthropists?

Jay (a reasonable man, though maybe not the brightest bulb) has defended Bedford because they have the best interest of the students at heart!

On the Post Education page, Duncan is exhulting that resistance is weakening after the takover of 150 schools. He lies; resistance is growing, in communities in every city, by teachers, parents, community members, and elected representatives.

These issues need to be discussed, because we are in the middle of an emergency. Boston is under attack at this minute. Privatizers have taken control of the state apparatus at the federal level, and are using it to destroy public education so they can feed on the wreckage. No, my rhetoric isn't too extreme. Kipp is a a bait-and-switch lure, TFA is a distracting gimmick. Follow the money, and hurry!

If we let our public education system be broken, there might not be a way back. The super-rich are seeking more ways to grow their fortunes, and they are blinded by their greed and arrogance. We're moving toward a corrupt, for-profit "free-market" system modeled on Pakistan, not Finland.

My heart goes out to Lilly but, colleagues, don't walk out as long as there are still children in your building! Stand your ground and fight for them. Continue to keep your eyes wide, skepticnotcynic. And, Jay, please take off the rose-colored glasses.

Posted by: mport84 | December 12, 2010 2:13 AM | Report abuse

Jay is not just wearing rose-colored glasses it is worse than that. Think of all the teachers and concerned citizens who have written to the Post and given interviews to him over the years to tell him the truth, the urban educator has many stories at blog Jay refused to believe the teachers whenever we criticized the policies of the new administration or tried to tell what was really going on in the schools he dismissed us. He just kept printing these embellished half-truths in the Washington Post, knowing full well that the reality was much different. Jay had/has access to facts, data, and people in power - but never asked or at the very least never reported on his page on the difficult questions. Of course TFA or Charter Schools are not the answer to all the problems in urban education. Story after story was on blaming the teachers, during Rhee's reign that was all we would read in WaPo. Propaganda stories sprouted on most pages on the Post's education pages daily, except for Ms. Straus. The days of serious journalism are sadly over in the Washington Post, and now the backpedaling begins, the pretense that we didn't know what was going on, that maybe we were a little naive or could have dug deeper on this or that story. In the meantime the profession of teaching has been tarnished and denigrated throughout the country, and most importantly children who should have been given a "quality education" have been left in the dust AGAIN. Grow up Jay, Superman does not exit - a DCPS child could have told you that if you actually stopped to ask them. If you want to call yourself a journalist, then start acting like one and get to work.

Posted by: mia_101mail | December 12, 2010 6:41 AM | Report abuse

Jay, I am not going to question why you feel some responses here are well grounded and valuable (because in part they agree with you?) but your refutation of what was said about Kipp, that you actually don't believe they are saviors is interesting, because when you make points about urban schools or DC you tend to bring up KIPP, and TFA. You don't ever discuss negatives of those and even fly in the face of some research by stating they all bring up test scores by large margins etc. (ignoring much research that says it is either equal to regular public schools or in some cases worse, and ignoring situations where things got out of control..Fresno for KIPP and Dunbar here with their private group)
But I guess that's because you fully believe test scores are the be all and end all in terms of what it means to educate children. Well, certain children, right?
You don't see scores and AYP touted about at Sidwell do you? Would you have agreed to send your child there if AYP was all that was discussed?
This is why the achievement gap persists. The public, and you the media, view education differently for the masses than you do for those who can afford private, or their own GT school as you have stated DC parents should do, since "urban systems" (read students), don't need GT services.

Again, this is the true soft bigotry. Not what those who created NCLB stated.

On a more constructive note, an area where we could actually see real change would be if administrators were all required to pick one day a week to sub within a school in their district. That would ground them to the reality of teaching (especially those with as limited experience as Rhee and Kamras had)and perhaps ease up on various fads being thrown at teachers. So much is handed down and expected, whether it is a new form of test prep (profit for those companies) a new discipline program (profit again), a new way to approach teaching reading or writing (profit from who ever provides the professional development)etc etc or IMPACT.

Administrators need the time in the classroom not just because so many leave the classroom so quickly for those posts, but because even those that did teach for at least a decade lose sight quickly of the reality of the classroom, and that reality can and does change.

This would save on sub costs, and improve the relationships between some administrators and their teachers. Actual collaboration would start to exist. And, respect for teaching would increase.
Hmmm perhaps Mayors, Gates foundation folk, education reporters, and even parents should do the same:-)

Posted by: researcher2 | December 12, 2010 7:32 AM | Report abuse

Mport - thanks for your hard-hitting comments. I don’t think of myself as too soft on the issues, but you’ve opened my eyes. A few quibbles, though:

Dunbar is a public school - all the teachers are regular DCPS employees and the students are enrolled in DCPS. Only the management team is private.

Bedford is indeed the villain, but so is DCPS management and for not providing adequate security (and probably much more that we don’t know about yet). I’m against simplifying the Dunbar situation to the point that all Acting Chancellor Henderson has to do is oust Bedford to become the hero.

I don’t blame Lilly for leaving. Good, dedicated teachers have different breaking points. I trust that she knew what hers was and hope that all DCPS teachers are adequately looking after their own mental health to protect themselves and their students.

The former chancellor is on record about the value of stress.* Let’s see how her successor handles this.

* Quotes from Rhee on stress:
“If they're [teachers and principals] feeling pressure--good! I feel pressure every day because I have the education of 49,000 kids in my hands" WSJ 12/22/07

“People feel a little stressed out. They feel a lot of pressure. But that's good. Pressure is good.” PBS, 1/13/09

“What drives me everyday – the pressure that I feel that I think is incredibly important is what I see when I go into schools every single day, across this city. Which is, our children are not getting the education they deserve, in many, many cases, and that is a crime. We are doing our children a disservice everyday unless we are able to provide them with the school environments that we know are going to result in high academic achievement levels.” Kojo Nnamdi Show, WAMU 2/20/09

I wonder how Dunbar fits into the concept of “school environments that we know are going to result in high academic achievement levels.”

Posted by: efavorite | December 12, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

efavorite, I too wondered how Dunbar fits into the concept of “school environments that we know are going to result in high academic achievement levels.”

There is something in the Bedford/Dunbar disclosures that doesn’t smell right. Did Friends of Bedford management DELIBERATELY bring down a security crisis in their building? Why would anyone do that?

I am working on a blood-freezing possible interpretation, for which I don’t yet have evidence. If it is true, we have almost no hope of fighting it off. I will put it out here and ask others to follow up and investigate it. I can only hope that people will come forward and share any information they may have with Bill Turque.

My mind was pre-primed because I’ve been immersed in both the push-out problem and school safety issues, following networks of links to interlocking directorates and funding streams in the public-private partnerships for prison management, immigration policy, and public school turnaround providers.

Could Bedford Friends have been deliberately establishing a case to bring in a contract for a private security management firm, with which they have business connections?

Here is the call I have been answering, night and day, instead of sleeping much most nights. If you open no other link, open this one:

Here is some web activity from the LAST 24 HOURS, which came up on my Google search, “school district safety services management”.

1. Homepage | Security Management
Dec 12, 2010 ... Dec 06, 2010 - Software as a service (SaaS) and standardization were all the rage at the ... Case Studies in School & Campus Security ... IP or megapixel cameras with the ViconNet open platform video management system. ... - Cached - Similar

This site contains a link to an advertising supplement:
Case Studies in School & Campus Security
An Advertising Supplement to Security Management

1. Facilities Assessment Program
17 hours ago - One way SBGA can help your school district navigate these trying economic times is through ... Range of facilities services; Budgeting; Organizational structure ... Energy management; Safety and security; Health and environmental issues ... - Cached - Similar

1. New Caney ISD - District
7 hours ago - The Texas Department of State Health Services has been alerted to one case of ... a new and improved program associated with our new student management system ! ..... The School Safety Task Force will be holding a meeting March 11 from 6 ... - Cached - Similar

Posted by: mport84 | December 12, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

"But how about a reform push, jobs bill where we improve schools/communities by putting thousands like me to work to lower class sizes, work with parents, after school comun. programs etc."

(slaps forehead)

Oh my gosh! Why didn't we think of that before???? What a great idea! And so obvious, too!

I mean, please. We've tried it a thousand times. It may help the community. It doesn't erase, or even reduce in any meaningful way, the achievement gap, much less make better reader or mathematicians.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | December 12, 2010 9:16 PM | Report abuse

No one can or should tout the KIPP program as an example of improved teaching. The KIPP program *requires* parental involvement; parents must commit and students can be dropped from the program if the parents don't continue to engage. We know from a mountain of research that the single biggest determinant of a students' academic achievement is his or her home life. So....if public schools were allowed to weed out the kids with no parental involvement, is there anyone who thinks they would not also experience improved performance? It may be that there are things to be learned from the KIPP model, but leaving out this basic fact about their program is disingenuous at best.

Posted by: aquinas2 | December 13, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

As a longtime teacher and principal, here's my suggestion for getting more good teachers into the profession and keeping them there:
Let new teachers to start as apprentices on a grade level team of experienced, effective teachers where they would assist in planning, teaching, grading, etc. Pay them a lower salary and keep them at that level until the team (and the principal) approves their promotion to the status of Qualified Teacher.

A second source of good teachers is the corps of educational assistants who have worked in classrooms for years. In my experience, all that many of them lack are a degree and certification.

For the past two years I have been teaching in a program called "Bi-lingual Pathways" that prepares people who have been classroom aides or held other non-teaching jobs to become teachers. As a whole, I found them better prepared and more dedicated to teaching as a career than the pre-service teachers I have met.

Posted by: joney | December 13, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Ok...I am going to offend several people with this comment. Teach For America is an unbelievably influential program in Public Education. Through their spin off programs such as KIPP and TNTP, they have taken total control of public education. TFA bleed poor urban school district dry by charging them for teachers who will only stay for two years. Which creates a revolving door that never creates stability. As long as their Corp members don't commit to the district for more than two years, then TFA can continue to charge the district.
These students come from top colleges, generally middle class, white, and very seldom represent the minority groups they come to serve such as Native American, African American, or Hispanic. the best of the best are only encouraged to teach for two years then go on to work in policy. If a TFA decides to stay with the district they were placed in and just teach they are almost ostracized by the organization.
They are the most powerful group in America and if you don't believe me, look at the people from their organization who currently work in high government, policy, and the amount of money they have been given by Federal and State Government. Look at a list of donor and elected officials who support them. It is unbelievable how they run this con.. for example Michelle Rhee, Former TFA, started TNTP, became Chancelor of D.C. public schools signed enormous contracts with TFA and TNTP while running D.C. schools. Someone should ask for the contracts and invoices to any school district that utilizes this organization. KIPP doesn't even try to recruit College of Education teachers, as former TFA alum they need to funnel money into their mother program.
Ask this question... how many former children served by the organization have been selected to be a member of the organization? Why are these students not good enough to be a part of TFA?
Wake up..

Posted by: TooTrueForWords | December 13, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Many more good suggestions here. Valerie and I are blessed with such great readers. We will have to do this again sometime.

mport84's characterization of me as a reasonable man, but not quite the brightest bulb, is very true and I will treasure the rest of my life.

aquinas2---I would be very grateful if you would share with us the source of yr information on KIPP's parent policies. I have visited about 40 KIPP schools, and that is not the way it works. The commitment required of parents is minimal, in my view no more than the commitment required of regular school parents. They have to sign the homework when it is done, but unlike regular school parents THEY DON'T HAVE TO HELP THE KID DO IT AT ALL!! Instead the student is required to call their teachers if they have homework questions. This is a huge load off of KIPP parents. And they have to get the child to school and back.
Ask any KIPP teacher about yr notion that they would expel a child whose parents were not engaged with the school, and they would be horrified. I have actually never heard of such a thing happen. They get plenty of parents who sign the commitment to excellence form, but often don't sign the homework. They call them in for a chat, and do the best to encourage them, but would never send away a kid because of that. So where did you hear this stuff?

for researcher2---I don't mention TFA very often, and have been critical of them, including spotlighting the Mathematica study years ago that showed they have minimal effect on achievement. I do like a lot yr suggestion of administrators taking some time to teach in the schools they administer.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 13, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

HELLO PEOPLE! If, what we’re talking about here, and I mean Strauss, Mathews, “Waiting for Superman,” and all the others, is getting and keeping good teachers.

These folks need to know about AVID. Why student should be exposed to AVID? Because IT WORKS! The AVID website ( says that the AVID program impacts over 400,000 students per year ~ if you count the siblings that are being impacted, I’d double that, at least.

AVID is a fever, that catches on in schools, and inspires good, no great, teaching. I’m not kidding! I’ve heard about entire faculties with plenty of Scrooges, that come to embrace AVID strategies. It’s nothing short of a miracle, as the Huffington Post recently described in “The AVID Miracle” (

The miracle is - that because of AVID teachers - students, the kind of faceless majority drifting through school, become successful in school and actually begin to see themselves with a promising future. And that future, is nothing short of a miracle for most AVID students.

Teach for America is great and the many other programs out there are great. But AVID has been around for 30 years, and has proven over and over again that it works for teachers and for students. Just ask me.

AVID is a program that takes current teachers and inspires them to be great teachers. It instills beliefs, with cold hard proof, that ALL students can achieve.

Posted by: davidduez | December 13, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Indeed, not the brightest bulb. Jay says the commitment required of KIPP parents is no more than the commitment required of regular school parents. What requirement does a regular school make on parents? Do we require them to attend meetings? Can we remove their child if they don't attend meetings? I've had 3 parents this semester promise to come in for a meeting about their child's attendance - surprise, surprise, they didn't show. Can I remove their kid? And if a KIPPster doesn't complete their hw, they are ostracized in some way, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly wouldn't go over at a regular public school (nor would taping kid's mouths shut, which Rhee did while she was a teacher - talk about hypocrisy). And if the hw isn't completed often enough, then the kid qutie often IS expelled.

I like KIPP and I think it has its place, but quit lying about it/misleading when you compare KIPP to regular public ed schools.

Posted by: peonteacher | December 13, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

There is a lot of misinformation circulating about KIPP schools. I must once again reiterate the point that not all KIPP schools are the same, just as all owners who invest and buy a franchise don't run them equally as well. KIPP has somewhat of a franchise model, although the recruitment of school leaders has become more internal as of late.

KIPP does have the power to revoke your charter; however, most of the schools aren't bad enough to do so. I would estimate and from trusted sources that the majority of the KIPP schools are adequate but certainly not excellent. Very few are excellent, but this is no surprise, because excellence is excellence for a reason, it's rare.

Again, the best KIPP schools are run by a few exceptional leaders that have "It." I am starting to believe the "It" factor is innate and cannot be taught, just as a professional athlete has "It," which has allowed them to excel. Of course everyone has the ability to grow and develop into better leaders; however, most will never be able to reach the point of excellence without a combination of natural ability and hard work.

Many KIPP schools are run by smart and dedicated but often times inexperienced educators with only a few years of teaching experience (4-7 years). Of course the best school leaders I've witnessed are the one's that are older, wiser, and more experienced in the field of education (but I must add, this is not a requirement because I have also worked for and witnessed mediocre older and experienced administrators in the network).
Lastly, and this is the biggest problem I see in the network, is that the majority of teachers are young, hard-working, and dedicated; however, they are inexperienced and not the most effective classroom managers and instructors. They often times put in 80-100 hour work weeks and their students may meet the objective on state exams; however, this is a terribly low standard in most states and is not a great measurement of college-readiness. Therefore, when one looks at KIPP's scores across the network and see that they are doing well, it does not give the most accurate picture of how its students stack up against their college-bound counterparts because KIPP's objective is to get disadvantaged students to and through college. If we were to examine the students who have attended both KIPP middle and high schools, you would see that the ACT and SAT scores are below the national average. No surprise, since the majority of the students are title-one and come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Once again, I will never demean the work KIPP does, because it is certainly trying and they do work hard, but they have a lot of learning to do as an organization and can learn just as much from the traditional public school districts as the traditional districts can learn from them. In my future posts, I will discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages that I have observed over the years working in both types of schools.

Posted by: skepticnotcynic | December 14, 2010 12:12 AM | Report abuse

skepticnotcynic---I think you have it pretty much right, but since KIPP releases the test data from all of its schools, have you checked that against what yr sources tell you? And could you tell us a little more about the nature of those sources? There is too much mystery on the Web about sources of info on KIPP and that is what leads to most of the bad info. My following of the annual data from all of the schools suggests that three quarters are well above average for their neighborhoods, which is better than you find in any other charter group with similar students. The overall achievement gains for students who complete 4 years of middle school are exceptional, from 40th to the 82nd percentile in math and from the 32nd to the 60th percentile in reading. Measured against regular public schools that serve the same kind of students, they have to be rated as excellent, unless you reserve that title only for schools loaded up with the children of affluent parents. If you have a name or two of a regular public school that meets that standard, share it with us as you offer more of yr good observations.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 14, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

for peonteacher---It would good to know the name of the KIPP school that removed a child because the parents did not attend meetings. I have never encountered that in any KIPP school. If the story is true, I would like to check it out and write about it.

for davidduez---I think you are entirely right about AVID.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 14, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

TFA has taught me that all higher education institutions charged with training teachers should have high standards. What would happen if a 3.7 GPA in a liberal arts subject was required of all teachers? What would happen if all teachers were required to co-teach with a master teacher for a year before being considered for a job? What would happen if perseverance was a screened trait that all teachers had to demonstrate?

More colleges are doing away with BA degrees in elementary education. Students must have a liberal education major. In Maryland, the state department of education is devising a way to assign students a number that will follow them through higher education in the state. For example, Sue Smith is student 54321. After she graduates from high school and completes a teacher education program at the state university, Sue Smith (teacher 54321) will get rated. If she is rated unsatisfactory, the state department will be able to connect her training to the state university she attended.

Consider the ramifications. Institutions of higher education will be reluctant to train marginal students.

Posted by: mjohnson21 | December 14, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

"TFA has, it is true, helped make teaching sexy again among a certain young set,"

Actually TFA, and KIPP, have made segregation sexy again, not to mention colonial elitism as a way to "improve" the inferior classes. That's why corporate America loves it. If corporate America thinkd KIPP and TFA are so great, why don't they sent their own kids there?

Posted by: mcstowy | December 14, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

"Consider the ramifications."

Pretty scary.

I'll consider your scenario, mjohnson, when more official info comes out about TFAs plans to "back map" teachers and hold their colleges to task.

Posted by: efavorite | December 14, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

I'm really surprised that no one has brought up National board certification as a way to measure effective teachers/teaching. It took me two years to meet the qualifications to become National Board Certified. I would like to suggest that NBPTS become a model for evaluating teachers as well as a model for teacher training.

Posted by: southsidemike1 | December 15, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Let's Debunk Some TFA Myths. As a TFA Corps Member, I think I can shed some light on some misnomers pointed out by "TooTrueForWords"

1. TFA bleed poor urban school district dry by charging them for teachers who will only stay for two years.

$3,000 is the fee to bring in a TFA teacher. This hardly bleeds districts dry, especially considering the amount of Professional Development that is outsourced to Teach For America for these incoming teachers throughout their 2 year commitment.

2. These students come from top colleges, generally middle class, white, and very seldom represent the minority groups they come to serve such as Native American, African American, or Hispanic.

2010 Corps: from more than 500 colleges and universities, 19 percent attended graduate school or were professionals before joining the corps, 32 percent are men, as compared to 26 percent of the overall teaching force, 18 percent are the first in their family to attend college, 32 percent are minorities (hardly "seldom" as you state).

3. The best of the best are only encouraged to teach for two years then go on to work in policy. If a TFA decides to stay with the district they were placed in and just teach they are almost ostracized by the organization.

This is complete bull. In fact, Teach For America sets retention goals in partner districts to ensure that as many corps members as possible stay teaching, preferably in their current position.

4. They are the most powerful group in America and if you don't believe me, look at the people from their organization who currently work in high government, policy, and the amount of money they have been given by Federal and State Government.

Agreed, Teach For America alumni are a powerful force in education, however to claim that the organization is "the most powerful group in America"...and cite how much money the goverment gives the organization, is illogical. Receiving government funding does not make any organization "powerful." Additionally, TFA is not nearly as powerful as the American Federation of Teachers, an organization that pumps millions of dollars into political campaigns every year.

5. Ask this question... how many former children served by the organization have been selected to be a member of the organization? Why are these students not good enough to be a part of TFA?

This is illogical. Why would it be assumed that this data is:
a) available. Who tracks former students of TFA corps members?
b) correlative. Even if there were data available, there is no correlation between the number of former students in the organization and their qualifications to join the organization. There is no, "were you taught by a TFA corps member" box on the application, and there are plenty of former students who are qualified to join TFA. Also, I know 3 personally. Just saying...

Posted by: nateltaylor | December 15, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

The real issue here, folks, is that the data shows that acronyms have killed education. From NCLB, to RTI and LEP, from KIPP to TFA to YES, the truth is that there is a mass conspiracy to wreak havoc upon urban education, and it's run by over wealthy and ambitious lexophiles!

In all seriousness, Jay, I worked at a KIPP school in DC. When you came to do "reporting," the principals would come by the classrooms and flash the inverted peace sign, meaning "some VIP is coming, make sure kids are at desks doing work."

Don't feel slighted, though. They did it for all the reporters and donors, not just you.

As a few folks have mentioned on here, all these acronyms have done great things for education. What chaps my patootie, though, is that the media is being critical enough of them. It smacks of Enron. Let me enlighten:

You can produce any number of statistics showing how great TFA and the elite charter schools are, just like Enron could flash any earnings up in the WSJ. I've worked in these places, though, and I'm telling you that in many cases they're spraying Febreeze on the stinky parts when the media rolls up. They jam numbers and percentages in their faces, and I watch these reporters talk to the "preselected" students, jot a few notes, snap some glowing pics, and head back to their newsrooms to write up a rosy report.

In early 2001, Enron was labeled the most innovative company in the US by Fortune magazine.

I'm not saying KIPP and TFA and the other acronyms are huge frauds, but I am saying that we need some muckrakers to dig below the press release and do some real reporting.

And I nominate myself, a teacher, to be that person.

Posted by: TheAcronymElitist | December 16, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

We are forgetting something in this overheated rhetoric. The children. These youngsters were born when their mothers were 13 years old and have no fathers. Their ambition is to be NBA or NFL stars -- sorry for the acronyms, National Basketball Association or National Football League. Failing that, which probably fails 99.44 percent of the time, they want to be prostitutes or drug dealers because they see that's where the money is.

And their teachers? They went to schools of education, the lowest-ranked school on every college campus. And these teachers are surprised when the mothers don't come to see them? If the child is 12, the mother is by now 25 and dresses badly because she wants to attract another man to add to her store of children. So Mom [there is no Dad, did I say that?] can't come to school, because she looks too much like the prostitute her daughter aspires to be.

Bitter? Oh, yeah. Out of education? That, too.

Posted by: MaryFloyd | December 17, 2010 2:36 AM | Report abuse

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