Teach for America Has Always Been a Bad Idea

English: Comparison of Charter school performa...
English: Comparison of Charter school performance to public schools. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe in public education and its importance. The data on charter schools would have long ago ended any other movement but it continues onward, heavily funded and pushed by opinion leaders across the nation. I can’t help but think we are once again being sold a bill of goods by the privatization crowd and the free market absolutists. No amount of information, no knowledge of history, no deviation from the idea that education is all about making money, will be allowed to stop the movement from turning all education from a public good to a private profit.

James Pilant

Teach for America recommendations: I stopped writing them, and my colleague should, too.


There is a movement rising in every city of this country that seeks true education reform—not the kind funded by billionaires, corporations, and hedge funds, and organized around their values. This movement consists of public school parents and students, veteran teachers, and ex-TFA corps members. It also consists of a national network of college students, such as those in Students United for Public Education, who talk about the damage TFA is inflicting on communities and public schools. These groups and others also acknowledge the relationship between the corporatization of higher education and the vast impact of corporate reform on our youngest and most needy children. It is these children who are harmed by the never-ending cycle of under-trained, uncertified, first- and second-year teachers that now populates disadvantaged schools, and by the data-obsessed approach to education that is enabled by these inexperienced teachers.

via Teach for America recommendations: I stopped writing them, and my colleague should, too..

From around the web.

From the web site, Erika Maren Steiger.


I accepted that, and I was a dedicated alumna for about ten years. Then one day I got an email saying that TFA had decided that people who hadn’t finished their full two year commitment could no longer be counted as alumni. It was a bit insulting, that my ten years of talking them up and supporting them suddenly didn’t count, but now I’m glad, because I don’t want to be affiliated with them anymore.

TFA is no longer about filling a desperate need, where no qualified teachers can be found. Now the organization does what I refused to do. They take jobs away from people who are better qualified, more committed to teaching, and much more knowledgeable about the communities in which they teach.

I believe that most of the people involved in TFA have good intentions. I also believe that some TFA teachers may be better than some of the teachers they replace. On the whole, though, the organization is now doing more harm than good, and the people who run it seem to be wearing goggles, made from confidence in their own intelligence and virtue, that blind them to the detrimental effects of their work.

Maybe they don’t have to quit. Maybe they just need to find a way to restructure, so they can go back to filling an actual need. What I know is, when my attempts to help became a hindrance, I stepped out of the way. TFA needs to take off the we-are-saving-the-world goggles and do the same thing.

The Cyber Schools are Failing

English: Comparison of Charter school performa...
English: Comparison of Charter school performance to public schools. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And why should anybody have expected anything else? Whose brilliant idea was it to have a cyber school without physical facilities? I teach online and maintain a blog. I don’t know about you but it is hard to stay focused on that keyboard when there are so many other things to do, and I’m an adult with years of education. I can’t imagine doing it as a child. The idea that parents who are often working would be able to supervise their children to stay on the computer for hours each day to take classes boggles the mind. The idea that the discipline and rules of a school necessary to keep children at those tasks could simply be abandoned in the hope of voluntary self education on the part of children was always a bit of a stretch.

It’s not working. Take their state money and send these for-profit failure on their way. We have real schools to fund.

James Pilant

From Junk Bonds to Junk Schools: Cyber Schools Fleece Taxpayers for Phantom Students and Failing Grades | Mary Bottari


The Data Is In: Kids Don\’t Learn Well in Front of Computer Screens

So while the public school system is bleeding money to cyber schools, how are those cyber students doing? Until recently, data on performance of these full-time virtual charters has been scarce. But educators at NEPC started to pull together performance data from multiple states for annual and special reports. They confirmed what many suspected: with rare exceptions, kids don\’t learn sitting in front of a computer all day. Using Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) state data, state performance rankings, and graduation rates, the researchers showed that full-time virtual schools lag significantly behind traditional brick-and-mortar schools. In particular, only 27.7 percent of K12 Inc. online schools met AYP in 2010-2011, compared to 52 percent of public schools. Of the 36 K12 Inc. schools that were assigned a school rating by state education authorities, only seven (19.4 percent) had ratings that clearly indicated satisfactory status. The same study shows that on-time graduation rates are also much lower at online schools than at all public schools on average in the United States: only 37.6 percent of students at virtual high schools graduate on time, whereas the national average for all public high schools is more than doubl

via From Junk Bonds to Junk Schools: Cyber Schools Fleece Taxpayers for Phantom Students and Failing Grades | Mary Bottari.

From around the web.

From the web site, Virtual School Meanderings.


I say interesting for a number of reasons, but one is due to the location.  Cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania (and Ohio for that matter) when they were first created did suffer from many of the problems described in these articles (e.g., lack of oversight, fraud in terms of funding provided for students that didn’t actually attend the cyber charter school, lack of participation in state testing regimes, etc.).  While I believe in both instances (i.e., Pennsylvania and Ohio) that things have gotten much better, I do still believe that within the traditional public education community this early “Wild West” mentality gained them a reputation that they still haven’t been able to shake (and that has followed cyber charter schools to other jurisdictions).

It is also interesting because the main focus of these articles is Pennsylvania.  You see a doctoral student of mine, Abigail Hawkins, and I did a study a couple of years ago looking at what policies K-12 online learning programs had with regards to trial periods (i.e., that period of time a student can try out an online course, drop it and not be counted as being officially enrolled) and how they calculated successful completions.  Note that this study will be published in the American Journal of Distance Education sometime this month. One of the results of that study was a finding that in Pennsylvania the state required that cyber charter schools not have a trial period – that their enrollment data was kept in the same manner as a brick-and-mortar public school (i.e., beginning on the first day of school).  This was the only jurisdiction where this was done.  What this means is that comparisons of completion rates, school performance and student performance can be accurately made between the cyber charter schools and the brick-and-mortar schools in Pennsylvania – and only Pennsylvania – because you are comparing apples to apples.

So let’s do some very basic comparisons.  The Standard of education article lists that there was 1 cyber charter school making AYP, 3 cyber charter schools that were making progress towards meeting AYP, and 7 cyber charter schools not meeting AYP.  When you compare this statewide (and you can get that data here), you get the following:

Type of school Made AYP Making Progress Towards AYP Did Not Meet AYP Total
Cyber Charter Schools 1 (9.1%) 3 (27.3%) 7 (63.7%) 11
Brick-And-Mortar Schools 2290 (73.8%) 149 (4.8%) 665 (21.4%) 3104
Total 2291 (73.5%) 152 (4.9%) 672 (21.6%) 3115

The numbers don’t look particularly good for the cyber charter school community.  I should note that it would be a much better comparison is you could compare the overall student data – which I’ve never done for Pennsylvania – although it would make a nice dissertation project because of the whole apples to apples thing.

Public School Teaching Crisis


Teaching ate me alive – Salon.com

Wrong profession? Lost perspective? Just another whiny, self-absorbed wool-gatherer? Guilty as charged. Hey, I’m a card-carrying, fellow-traveling union member! But I do have one suggestion for civilians. As a public school teacher, I considered myself a public servant, like cops, firemen, food service workers and other “heroes” who are willing to do difficult, thankless, vital jobs for very little pay and not much more than the scorn of their fellow citizens. Thus, the door of my classroom was always open to parents, administrators, politicians, journalists and passers-by. But I waited in vain for company, for visitors were scarce. All the jibber jabber about public education these days seems to be based solely on idle speculation, memories of a Golden Age and the bilge that the LA Times publishes in lieu of objective journalism. So please stop by a classroom sometime. You might be surprised. And you’re paying for it.

There’s a good reason that American slaves were forbidden to learn to read: Literacy is freedom. Free, high quality, accessible, equitable education is the bedrock of a free society. That’s not just Tea Party flag-waving; it’s the Incontestable Eternal Truth. Sadly, in the final analysis, historical and political forces are at work that leave us, the teachers and students, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. People, people, people! Can’t you see that The Man wants us ignorant? Unite, my friends! We have nothing to lose but our …  ohferchrissakenevermind!

But remember, if you’re there when the last dog reaches the last hill: Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for

Teaching ate me alive – Salon.com

The teaching profession is an endangered species. A learned and difficult profession is under attack with the apparent intent of reducing its pay to something akin to a hamburger flipper. The ideas of the “reformers” seem to consist not of putting money into public schools but removing teacher  protections. Teachers are now portrayed in popular movies and “reformer” financed documentaries as evil or incompetent obstacles to educational success. Teaching is an institution laboring under the ridiculous burden of No Child Left Behind, a barrage of often bizarre state mandated rules and governed by administrators who at times seem to be focused on driving out every vestige of independence and enthusiasm. We destroy the teaching profession at our peril. It is an institution that has served this country well.

Make no mistake. The public school teaching crisis will have real casualties not just among the faculty. Without teacher opposition, school boards will have much more power to create rules and policies without interference.* They are the main line of defense against the threat of privatization, a pet project of a good number of billionaires and largely a failure at improving test scores.** But the simplest and clearest danger is that many teachers will leave the profession. After all, in a nation that believes “you get what you pay for,” many have decided teaching is worth but little.

James Pilant

*Don’t take my word that school boards do strange things. Run  a simple search, school board controversy, and then have fun wading through the entries.


**     http://www.shankerinstitute.org/publications/charterreview/

Policy Brief: The Evidence on Charter Schools and Test Scores

December 2011

(This is a brief excerpt from the much larger report which I recommend you download and read yourself.)

This discussion on charter school evidence will focus almost entirely on test-based outcomes. Testing
data provide an incomplete picture of student and school performance, while other outcomes, such as
graduation rates, parental satisfaction and future earnings, are no less important. This review focuses on
testing results because they are the outcome used in most charter studies, whereas analyses positing
alternative measures are more scarce.
That said, there is a considerable body of evidence that corroborates CREDO’s findings. For instance, a
2009 RAND Corporation analysis of charter schools in five major cities and three states found that, in
every location, charter effects were either negative or not discernibly different from regular public
1 Effect sizes can be interpreted in different ways. For instance, some researchers argue that even very small testing gains are
associated with substantial increases in economic growth (e.g., Hanushek and Woessman, 2007). In addition, achievement is
cumulative, which means that single-year effects can understate the total impact of schools.
| 3
schools’ (Zimmer et al., 2009). As one might expect, charters tended to get better results the more years
they had been in operation.
Similarly, a 2010 report by researchers from Mathematica Policy Research presented the findings from a
randomized controlled trial of 36 charter middle schools in 15 states (Gleason et al., 2010). They found
that the vast majority of students in these charters did no better and no worse than their counterparts in
regular public schools in terms of both math and reading scores, as well as virtually all the 35 other
outcomes studied. There was, however, important underlying variation – e.g., results were more positive
for students who stayed in the charters for multiple years, and those who started out with lower scores (as
mentioned above, CREDO reached the same conclusions).
A number of state-specific studies buttress the conclusion of wide variation in charter effects.
A paper published in 2006 found slightly negative effects of charters in North Carolina (Bifulco and
Ladd, 2006); CREDO’s results for North Carolina were mixed, but essentially uncovered no difference
large enough to be educationally meaningful (CREDO, 2009).
Booker et al. (2004) found a positive charter impact in Texas after 2-3 years of attendance, but the effect
sizes were very small. Gronberg and Jansen (2005) reached the same conclusion for elementary and
middle but not high schools, while CREDO (2009) found small negative effects overall.
A published analysis of charters in Florida showed negative effects during these schools’ first five years
of attendance, followed by comparable (with regular public schools) performance thereafter. The reading
impact was discernibly higher, but the difference was modest (Sass, 2006). It’s also worth noting that
CREDO’s (2009) Florida analysis found a small positive effect on charter students after three years of
attendance, while a 2005 RAND report on California charters revealed no substantial difference in overall
performance (Zimmer and Buddin, 2005; also see Zimmer, et al., 2003).
Lastly, a 2006 study using Idaho data showed moderate positive charter effects (Ballou, et al., 2006),
while students attending Arizona charters for 2-3 years had small relative gains, according to a 2001
Goldwater Institute analysis (Solmon, et al., 2001; note that, once again, CREDO found the opposite).
Finally, most recently, Mathematica and CRPE released a report presenting a large, thorough analysis of
charter management organizations, or CMOs (Furgeson, et al., 2011). In order to be included in the study,
CMOs had to be well-established and run multiple schools, which meant that the schools that were
included are probably better than the average charter in terms of management and resources. The overall
results (middle schools only) were disappointing – even after three years of attendance, there was no
significant difference between CMO and comparable regular public school students’ performance in
math, reading, science, or social studies. Some CMOs’ schools did quite well, but most were no different
or worse in terms of their impact.
In an attempt to “summarize” the findings of these and a few other single-city studies not discussed
above, the latest meta-analysis from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) concluded that
charter and regular public school effects were no different in middle school reading and high school
reading and math (Betts and Tang, 2011). There were statistically discernible positive impacts in middle
school math and elementary school math and reading, but the effect sizes were very modest. The primary
conclusion, once again, was that “charters under-perform traditional public schools in some locations,
grades, and subjects, and out-perform traditional public schools in other locations, grades, and subjects.”
This lines up with prior reviews of the literature (e.g., Hill, et al., 2006).

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