Written by: Mitchell Robinson
Primary Source : Keep Talking, December 9, 2015
Well, well, well. So now Kevin Huffman (aka the ex-Mr. Michelle Rhee), former Commissioner of Education in Tennessee, has finally decided that for-profit charter schools are a bad idea. Welcome to reality, Mr. Huffman. You may have reached this conclusion years ago if you had a degree in education (BA in English from Swarthmore; law degree from NYU) , or had ever taught anyone anything (and no–I don’t count your stint with TFA as teaching experience, Kevin).
Mr. Huffman’s realization that for-profit charters are bad reminds me of Dick Cheney coming out against Donald Trump’s racist comments the other day.
Or, Arne Duncan’s (supposed) mea culpa on the negative impact of standardized testing on America’s schools, teachers and children.
Or, the ESSA’s apparent recapitulation on federal control of education, and the decision to turn back more authority on education to the states.
With each of these examples, it’s a case of “too little, too late.” In each case, (i.e., Huffman, Cheney, Duncan, ESSA), the persons involved helped to create the conditions that make the very things they are now against—for-profit charters, racist Presidential candidates, our obsession with tests, and attacks on local control of education , respectively)—possible in the first place.
Mr. Huffman’s relentless attacks on public education, and his 10+ years of work for his previous employer (Teach for America) cleared the way for an explosion of charter schools across the country, many of the “for-profit” variety–including the Tennessee Virtual Academy. Here’s what Mr. Huffman has to say…now…about the TVA:
This past summer, the state released the school results from the 2014-15 school year. The Tennessee Virtual Academy earned a Level 1 in growth for the fourth year in a row. It clocked in at #1312 out of 1368 elementary and middle schools in the state. It is no longer the most improved lousy school in Tennessee. It is just plain lousy. It is, over a four-year time, arguably the worst school in Tennessee.
K12 Inc. lives on in Tennessee. The Tennessee Virtual Academy opened its online doors again in August. State officials tell me that they aren’t thinking about other legal steps. After all, if and when the school fails again this year, they will close it down.
Like most education reformers, Mr. Huffman’s solution to the problem of TVA is simple: close it. The reformers rarely consider the implications or fall out from the decision to close a school–a place in which families come together, and relationships form between and among students and teachers. Closing a school is like ripping a family apart–but Mr. Huffman is proudly data-driven, and doesn’t waste his time worrying about the “collateral damage” caused to the person that actually work in these schools. It’s all bottom line to him–test scores over all.
And what to make of Sec. Duncan’s supposed U-turn on the merits of standardized testing? To quote Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend…”
Peter Greene, the voice behind the brilliant blog at Curmudgication, caution us not to be too quick in celebrating this supposed recapitulation from the Obama administration on testing:
The fact that the administration noticed, again, that there’s an issue here is nice. But all they’re doing is laying down a barrage of protective PR cover. This is, once again, worse than nothing because it not only doesn’t really address the problem, but it encourages everyone to throw a victory party, put down their angry signs, and go home. Don’t go to the party, and don’t put down your signs.
In the same vein, some analysts warn that the early enthusiasm for the ESSA’s return of local control may not be quite what it seems, and that there are other, potentially more damaging Eater eggs buried in the legislation, specifically with respect to teacher education programs. Kenneth Zeichner, professor emeritus from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, wrote a scathing analysis of ESSA’s potential for gutting teacher preparation as we know it, here. It is well worth reading the entire article, but the excerpt below provides a bit of a synopsis–which is chilling:
In October 2013, I criticized a bill called the GREAT Teachers and Principals Act, known as the GREAT Act. It was initiated in March 2011 in conversations between leaders of the New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF); Norm Atkins, founder of the Relay Graduate School of Education; Tim Knowles of the University of Chicago; and several members of Congress.
The purpose of this bill was to provide public funds for promoting the growth of entrepreneurial teacher education programs such as the ones seeded by New Schools Venture Fund (for example, Relay, MATCH Teacher Residency and Urban Teachers) that are mostly run by non-profits. At the time, the CEO of NSVF was Ted Mitchell, who is now the U.S. under secretary of education.
In June 2011, NSVF circulated a letter seeking endorsements for the bill. Among those who signed the letter were organizations in favor of greater deregulation and market competition in teacher education. Some have been financially supported by NSVF (Teach For America, TNTP, MATCH, Relay, etc.). Other backers included individuals and advocacy groups such as Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform. While this bill was introduced in the 112th Congress, it was not enacted.
On May 23, 2013, the GREAT Act was introduced into Congress and was included in Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization proposals in both chambers. It was eventually included in the final reauthorization bill passed by the House, but not in the final bill passed by the Senate. It was included, however, in the final compromise bill now before Congress which the House passed this week and the Senate is primed to approve this coming week. The teacher preparation academies that would be created under the legislation will be required to prepare teachers to serve in “high-needs” schools.
I argued then, as I do here, that the provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act that relate to teacher preparation academies have been primarily written to support entrepreneurial programs like those funded by venture philanthropists. These include fast-track teacher education programs such as Teach For America, Relay [Graduate School] and TNTP [The New Teacher Project], which place individuals in classrooms as teachers of record before they complete certification requirements. Typically these classrooms are in schools that serve students in high-poverty communities. Although there have been some changes in the language in since 2011, the provisions still serve to reduce standards for teachers prepared through the academies and will widen inequities rather than reduce them.
All of these apparent retreats and changes in position must be treated with abundant caution, and a healthy dose of informed skepticism–because as history has taught us, when big piles of money and unbridled power are involved, persons rarely change their goals or tactics.
So, here is my unsolicited advice for Messrs. Huffman, Cheney, and Duncan: Thanks for finally realizing that your “contributions” to education and politics might have caused some unexpected and negative consequences–like the manufactured “crisis” in public education, the rise of a neo-fascist candidate for the highest office in the land, and a rewrite of federal education policy that trashes teacher education programs in exchange for a faux-return of control to the states.
In other words: You broke it, you own it, guys.
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