Schools Matter: Behind the Advocacy: TFA Remains Mostly Spin, Distraction
Andrea Gabor examines the rise of charter schools in post-Katrina New Orleans, raising an important question in the subhead: “Are New Orleans’s schools a model for the nation—or a cautionary tale?”
Gabor ends the piece suggesting caution:
But even for students who don’t fall through the cracks or get expelled, it bears asking: have the pressures and incentive systems surrounding charter schools taken public education in the direction we want it to go? Anthony Recasner, a partner in founding New Orleans Charter Middle School and FirstLine, is visibly torn between his hopes for the New Orleans charter experiment and his disappointment in the distance that remains between today’s no-excuses charter-school culture and the movement’s progressive roots. “Education should be a higher-order exploration,” says Recasner, a child psychologist who left FirstLine in 2011 to become CEO of Agenda for Children, a children’s advocacy organization. The typical charter school in New Orleans “is not sustainable for the adults, not fun for kids,” says Recasner, who is one of the few African-American charter leaders in New Orleans; his own experience as a poor child raised by a single parent mirrors that of most students in the charter schools. “Is that really,” he asks, “what we want for the nation’s poor children?”
In my review of Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope for The Wilson Quarterly, I found Carr’s work to suggest, also, that New Orleans was yet more evidence of the failures of charter schools, “no excuses” ideology, and Teach for America. Below is my expanded review:
Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children is a story of place.
Readers see first a map of eastern New Orleans, the 9th and 7th Wards, Treme, French Quarter, and Algiers—situating the three schools at the center of the story, Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) Renaissance, SciAcademy, and O. Perry Walker.
As a Southerner, I thought of Yoknapatawpha County maps in William Faulkner’s novels. That connection predicted accurately the narrative Carr shapes about the intersection of place, race, class, education, and America’s pervasive market ideology. New Orleans public schools have a long history of failure connected to the city’s high poverty rates and racial diversity, but post-Katrina New Orleans has experienced a second flood, a school reform surge characterized by charter schools, Teach for America (TFA), and education reformers from outside the city and the South:
But in 2007…Paul Vallas, the new superintendent of the state-run Recovery School District [RSD], helped bring hundreds of young educators to the region. Vallas arrived in New Orleans in 2007 after a decade spent leading the Chicago and Philadelphia schools….Vallas brought the mind-set of a frenetic businessman to the New Orleans superintendency.
An education journalist for over a decade (The Chronicle of Higher Education, New Orleans Times-Picayune), Carr weaves a vivid story of twenty-first century education reform, examining the influx of charter schools in New Orleans as options designed to address high-poverty and minority students. The stories are drawn from principal Mary Laurie, student Geraldlynn Stewart, and TFA recruit and Harvard graduate Aidan Kelly in the wake of Katrina recovery efforts from 2010 through 2012.
The place, New Orleans, is Carr’s touchstone for six parts, each divided among The Family (Geraldlyn’s family), The Teacher (Kelly), and The Principal (Laurie). Geraldlyn expresses ambivalent attitudes about her KIPP education as it contrasts with her mother’s efforts to provide Geraldlyn a better life. Kelly personifies the “missionary zeal” of TFA recruits, but also offers insight into those ideals as they clash with the reality of day-to-day schooling. Dedicated to her city, Laurie was a successful public school educator before Katrina, but after the hurricane, the RSD laid off public school teachers and dissolved the teachers unions; charter schools gave Laurie a new start, but not without complications.
Carr crafts some of the best education reform journalism to date, presenting a critical eye on charter schools (specifically KIPP), TFA, and a market-based model supported by both Republicans and Democrats. Charter schools and TFA represent reform policies that view public school traditions, teacher certification and teachers unions, as root causes of poor academic outcomes. To eradicate those in-school problems, choice and competition are embraced as the primary tools for reform. Carr’s examination, however, calls these claims and solutions into question.
Education journalism often offers slogans such as “miracle schools” and “grit” (Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and Whatever It Takes, David Kirp’s Improbable Scholars, and Jay Matthews’s Work Hard. Be Nice.). But Carr allows KIPP and TFA advocates to speak for themselves. For example, Kelly reveals his unwavering idealism as it intersects the no-excuses ideology of TFA and KIPP, organizations that attract and encourage privileged young people who believe they can change the world through their own determination.
Instead of silver bullets, Carr presents a nuanced analysis: “A trap confronted schools: If they took the students with the most intense needs, their numbers might suffer. But the state would shut them down if their numbers suffered too much and for too long. Then who would take the neediest?” That analysis is driven by stories. At the end of Part II, Rebirth, Carr quotes Laurie, principal of O. Perry Walker High School:
There are so many stories, she said one afternoon, sitting on a bench under Walker’s breezeway. “I worry that they will get lost, that there’s no one to tell them. My big fear is that all folks will remember is that when Katrina hit, people had to ride in on their white horses and save the children of New Orleans.” She shuddered at the thought.
Yet, stories are often ignored in twenty-first century education after the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Since NCLB, school and teacher accountability has increased, based primarily on high-stakes tests and judged against data such as the achievement gap. Later, a comment from Laurie stands at the center of the education reform movement that Carr’s narrative confronts, unmasks, and exposes powerfully:
“I think we’ve done good work, but I don’t know that the numbers (test scores, attendance and graduation rates) will always reflect our good work because of the kids we take on,” said Laurie, referring to the fact that the school accepts some of the city’s most challenged and challenging students….“Walker’s a twenty-four-seven school. We believe we’ve got to find a way to give kids a safe place to be,” Laurie said. “And that’s not spoken for in these numbers.”
To this, we might add that Laurie’s concern about her charter school in the crucible of New Orleans education reform parallels the often-ignored problem at the center of universal public education in the U.S., a system designed to serve any and all students with equity regardless of background.
While Carr challenges education reform and the limits of good intentions among KIPP and TFA advocates, she also grounds her confrontations in a larger commitment: “At times, both KIPP’s staunchest supporters and its fiercest critics insult and demean the very families they purpose to protect by assuming they, and they alone, know what is best for other people’s children.”
Furthermore, by echoing educator Lisa Delpit’s recognition that many reforms ask less of “other people’s children” by narrowing their learning to worksheets and test-prep, Carr forces critics of KIPP and TFA to examine why many low-income minority parents not only choose no-excuses schools but also enthusiastically encourage no-excuses practices. No-excuses ideologies place an emphasis on authoritarian discipline and a culture of intense personal responsibility that includes teachers and students being held accountable for outcomes that critics warn are beyond the control of either. No-excuses advocates, including parents, embrace the exact paternalism critics challenge.
Carr offers a skeptical voice against education reform mirroring “disaster capitalism” in New Orleans, when markets generate profit from the “blank slate” of disasters (see The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalismby Naomi Klein). Yet, she offers nuanced praise when reformers succeed. For example, students are told at KIPP orientation a Cherokee legend about everyone embodying a good and bad wolf. That lesson gains a life of its own among students: “The fable’s power over their actions seemed to suggest that appealing to a person’s high self, no matter whether they are young teenagers or adults, carries more influence than rules or demerits ever could.”
In the middle of the book, Carr discusses Woodson Middle School, supplanted by a KIPP campus after FEMA declared the building irreparable because of Katrina. Woodson Middle had been named for Carter G. Woodson, author of The Mis-Education of the Negro in the 1930s. Woodson “represented an evolution, and radicalization, of W.E.B. Du Bois’s philosophy, which emphasized black empowerment through political rights and educational attainment”—a “philosophy…[that] stood in stark contrast to the view of contemporary school reformers” such as Michelle Rhee (TFA recruit, former chancellor of education in Washington DC, and founder of Students First), KIPP advocates, and TFA supporters.
Hope Against Hope is a cautionary tale about ideology—reformers honoring market forces over democratic values by stressing indirect reform through choice and competition instead of reforming directly public institutions when they fail to achieve equity—and the muted and ignored agency of people in their own lives.
As Carr acknowledges in the Prologue, her narrative details “competing visions for how to combat racial inequality in America,” but anyone seeking silver bullets, trite slogans, or popular assumptions will find “inside the schools, the war over education no longer seems so stark and clearly defined. Edges blur, shades of gray abound, and simple solutions prove elusive.” Like Kathleen Nolan confronting zero-tolerance policies in Police in the Hallways (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), Carr shows that simple solutions cannot remedy complex problems.
Where claims of “miracle” schools and no-excuses mantras stumble, Hope against Hope soars in its bittersweet humanity, the rich and uncomfortable tapestry of living and learning in poverty in twenty-first century America.
Carr’s Epilogue offers advice for reforming education reform: “If the schools want to succeed in the long run, the education they offer must become an extension of the will of the community—not as a result of its submission.”
To understand U.S. education and education reform, then, Carr’s story of New Orleans is an essential place to start.
Randy Olson’s Flock of Dodos (2006) explores the evolution and Intelligent Design (ID) debate that represents the newest attack on teaching evolution in U.S. public schools. The documentary is engaging, enlightening, and nearly too fair considering Olson admits upfront that he stands with scientists who support evolution as credible science and reject ID as something outside the realm of science.
Olson’s film, however, offers a powerful message that rises above the evolution debate. Particularly in the scenes depicting scientists discussing (during a poker game) why evolution remains a target of political and public interests, the documentary shows that evidence-based expertise often fails against clear and compelling messages (such as “teach the controversy”)—even when those clear and compelling messages are inaccurate.
In other words, ID advocacy has often won in the courts of political and public opinion despite having no credibility within the discipline it claims to inform—evolutionary biology.
With that sobering reality in mind, please identify what XYZ represents in the following statement about “What We Know Now”:
Is there a bottom line to all of this? If there is one, it would appear to be this: Despite media coverage, which has been exceedingly selective and misrepresentative, and despite the anecdotal meanderings of politicians, community members, educators, board members, parents, and students, XYZ have not been effective in achieving the outcomes they were assumed to aid….
This analysis is addressing school uniform policies, conducted by sociologist David L. Brunsma who examined evidence on school uniform effectiveness (did school uniform policies achieve stated goals of those policies) “from a variety of data gathered during eight years of rigorous research into this issue.”
This comprehensive analysis of research from Brunsma replicates the message in Flock of Dodos—political, public, and media messaging continues to trump evidence in the education reform debate. Making that reality more troubling is that a central element of No Child Left Behind was a call to usher in an era of scientifically based education research. As Sasha Zucker notes in a 2004 policy report for Pearson, “A significant aspect of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is the use of the phrase ‘scientifically based research’ well over 100 times throughout the text of the law.”
Brunsma’s conclusion about school uniform policies, I regret to note, is not an outlier in education reform but a typical representation of education reform policy. Let’s consider what we know now about the major education reform agendas currently impacting out schools:
- What we know now about grade retention: Grade retention is growing in popularity across the U.S., represented by accountability policies in Florida. But grade retention has been shown by four decades of research not to achieve the goals advocates claim, and to cause harm.
- What we know now about charter schools: Despite the increased support and funding for charter schools, “charterness” has not been shown to be a determining factor in school quality (when compared to traditional public schools [TPS]), charter schools have produced a range of outcomes essentially indistinguishable from TPS, but charter schools have increased segregation (by class and race) as well as underserved English language learners and special needs students (see annotated research here).
- What we know now about school choice (and competition): Decades of a variety of commitments to school choice (notably vouchers) have resulted in a growing body of evidence that school choice fails to achieve the goals of its proponents (see a critical analysis of choice here). Choice, however, has been associated, like charter schools, with shuffling populations of students and increasing segregation. More broadly, the research on competition shows that it causes harm, and not the positive outcomes choice advocates claim.
- What we know now about value added methods (VAM) of teacher evaluation: Although it is fair to say that the jury is still out on VAM, even advocates for exploring the potential for VAM have expressed caution about using it in high-stakes policies (see cautious considerations of VAM validity and reliability). Broadly, high-stakes implementation of VAM is certainly premature, and likely a significant waste of time and money better spent on problems more pressing and clearly defined.
- What we know now about teacher quality: Teacher quality matters, but teacher quality is dwarfed by factors outside of school and outside the control of schools. The real teacher quality problem in schools is teacher assignment since impoverished students, African American students, Latina/o students, English language learners, and special needs students are disproportionately assigned to inexperienced and un-/under-certified teachers.
- What we know now about merit pay: Simply stated, merit pay doesn’t work (and it may often have powerful negative consequences). It doesn’t work in education (see Pink also), but the business world has recognized that as well.
- What we know now about Teach for America (TFA): The growing research base on TFA reveals a mixed picture, but it also shows that TFA advocacy is misleading (see also “three biggest lies”). Further TFA contributes negatively to some central problems public education faces: teacher attrition/turnover and inequitable teacher assignments (high-poverty and minority students being assigned disproportionately new and uncertified teachers).
- What we know now about the SAT: The SAT remains a weaker predictor of freshman college success than GPA and also does not contribute positively to the public perception of school quality. SAT-prep classes also create a drain on school time and resources that could be better used addressing other needs. As well, the SAT remains race, class, and gender biased*.
- What we know now about accountability, standards, and high-stakes testing: After thirty years of accountability, standards, and high-stakes testing in 50 separate state experiments, the research base is clear: “the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself” (Mathis, 2012).
- What we know now about miracle schools: Virtually every school designated “miracle” by advocates or the media (Texas miracle, Chicago miracle, Harlem miracle, Florida miracle, etc.) has been debunked by close analysis. Claims that some high-poverty schools excel (and thus all should excel) has also been exposed as misleading: “only 1.1 percent of high-poverty schools were identified as ‘high flyers.’”
- What we know now about education as a social change agent: Simply stated: “you are better off being born rich regardless of whether you go to college than being born poor and getting a college degree” (Bruenig, 2013, based on data from “Pursuing the American Dream,” Pew Charitable Trusts).
Well into the second decade of the twenty-first century, then, education reform continues a failed tradition of honoring messaging over evidence. Neither the claims made about educational failures, nor the solutions for education reform policy today are supported by large bodies of compelling research.
As the fate of NCLB continues to be debated, the evidence shows not only that NCLB has failed its stated goals, but also that politicians, the media, and the public have failed to embrace the one element of the legislation that held the most promise—scientifically based research—suggesting that dodos may in fact not be extinct.
* Santelices, M. V., & Wilson, M. (2010, Spring). Unfair treatment? The case of Freedle, the SAT, and the standardization approach to differential item functioning. Harvard Educational Review, 80(1), 106-133.; Spelke, E. S. (2005, December). Sex differences in intrinsic aptitude for mathematics and science? American Psychologist, 60(9), 950-958; See page 4 for 2012 SAT data: http://media.collegeboard.com/digitalServices/pdf/research/TotalGroup-2012.pdf
The United States of America fails Allie Fox, pushing him to abandon his homeland and to drag his family to the coast of Honduras in Paul Theroux’s Mosquito Coast, popularized by the Harrison Ford and River Phoenix film adaptation:
“That’s business,” the captain said.
“That’s ruin,” Father [Allie Fox] said. “We eat when we’re not hungry, drink when we’re not thirsty, buy what we don’t need, and throw away everything that’s useful. Don’t sell a man what he wants—sell him what he doesn’t want. Pretend he’s got eight feet and two stomachs and money to burn. That’s not illogical—it’s evil.” (p. 75)
The novel, narrated by Allie’s son, Charlie, presents Allie as a gifted scientist/inventor with socialistic ideals and an aggressive humanism: “Father said, ‘Man is God’” (p. 85). In fact, Charlie notes, “It seemed as if Father could work miracles” (p. 63).
However, one character, Polski, recognizes danger lurking beneath Allie’s missionary zeal: “‘Your father’s the most obnoxious man I’ve ever met,’ Polski said”:
“He’s the worst kind of pain in the neck—a know-it-all who’s sometimes vight.”
Then, with all the sawdust in him stirring, he added, “I’ve come to see he’s dangerous….Tell him he’s a dangerous man, and one of these days he’s going to get you al killed….” (p. 55)
Theroux’s novel echoes and parallels other works about hubris and missionary zeal—Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ”Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Yet, in Theroux’s narrative Allie is one type of missionary who sees himself above the religious missionaries in the novel. Reverend Spellgood is mocked by Allie, but the reverend’s daughter, Emily Spellgood, explains to Charlie, “‘My father’s real famous there. We’ve got a mission in the jungle. It’s really neat’” (p. 71).
Allie, however, seems comfortable with his own mission: “‘I was sent here,’ Father said” (p. 136)—a mission that involves buying land and imposing his Utopia on the native people of that land and his own family.
The novel builds to a predictable end, revealing that despite Allie’s considerable gifts and altruism, his missionary zeal reduces him to a careless tyrant, an embodiment of evil.
As a grand allegory, Theroux’s novel raises questions about paternalism, the quest by some agent of privilege to help others who appear to be in need.
Traditional religious missionary work certainly confronts that paradox of paternalism inherent in their missionary zeal, but education also faces this dilemma, broadly in commitments such as service learning and more narrowly in the mission of Teach for America, an organization that champions its missionary zeal.
In “Why Service-Learning Is Bad,” John W. Eby (1998) identifies the often ignored negative consequences of the good intentions behind service learning:
The excitement and euphoria of the service-learning movement, fueled by dramatic stories of the benefits of linking learning and service masks underlying troubling issues. The limitations of service done in the name of service-learning are often overlooked and possible harm done by to communities by short term volunteers is ignored. Conversations about negative aspects of service-learning do surface occasionally in the hallways of the academy and in the lounges of service-learning conferences. There is talk of McService, service bites, quick fix service, happy meal community service, or service in a box. Discussions of the limits service-learning have surfaced on the Internet. Community leaders and agency representatives concerned about fundamental community change raise significant questions when given opportunity.
Unfortunately these voices are often informal and sporadic. Much of the discussion about service-learning is carried on by advocates. Most of the published research about service-learning is done by academicians particularly interested in the learning side of the equation. Community leaders and residents do not have a voice in the dialogue. (p. 2)
The potential for imposed and misguided paternalism in service learning highlights the essential paradox of both service and teaching: What is the role of the population being served and/or taught, and even more complex, if that population is genuinely in need, how do those with privilege seeking to help or teach provide for others who may be unaware of those needs?
In service learning contexts, Eby does not suggest abandoning service learning, but does raise cautions about the dangers he outlines. In short, service learning helps both populations being served and the learners charged with conducting service learning when all stakeholders have equal and powerful voices guiding the projects.
A far more problematic situation, however, is the high-poverty and predominantly minority populations being served by TFA. As Sarah Car has documented in New Orleans, despite many critics condemning TFA for its missionary zeal and classist/racist practices, impoverished and minority families often eagerly choose and embrace TFA and the highly authoritarian charter schools that have flooded the city.
Carr’s work as well as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow exposes the problem of choice underneath the paradox of paternalism. Just as Carr’s narrative forces readers to consider why impoverished minorities embrace TFA and “no excuses” charter schools, Alexander directly confronts the fact that high-poverty and African American neighborhoods appear to support the mass incarceration Alexander characterizes as the new JimCrow:
Given the dilemma facing poor black communities, it is inaccurate to say that black people “support” mass incarceration or “get-tough” policies [because] if the only choice that is offered blacks is rampant crime or more prisons, the predictable (and understandable) answer will be “more prisons.” (p. 210)
The world controlled by Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast is eventually revealed as a world with artificial choices, choices that back innocent people into corners, choices that mask the corrosive influence of privilege and rendering people being served as the Other.
Just as Eby recognizes how service learning can fall prey to forces that corrupt its mission, TFA (and “no excuses” charter schools) often falls prey to their missionary zeal, like Allie, and causes far more harm than good—despite their stated mission.
The troubling difference between TFA and Theroux’s novel, of course, is that TFA is a reality for children and communities, not simply an engaging and disturbing novel/film.
The paradox of paternalism inherent in service and teaching is not an easy problem to overcome—although awareness is a first step—but when it is compounded with missionary zeal, the outcomes are too easily predicted—children, adults, and communities underserved by a traditional system once again being mis-served by an organization promising a land of milk and honey.
Allie’s death in the novel reveals that he has become the thing he mocked: “But a white man’s death was news—a missionary, they called him. How he would have hated that!” (p. 373).
Those of us drawn to service and teaching, then, should beware missionary zeal and be aware of the paradox of paternalism.
New Orleans may be the extreme test case, but reforms like these are reshaping public education across the country. The movement is rooted in the notion that “fixing” schools is the strongest lever for lifting communities out of poverty. The criminal justice and health care systems may be broken, living-wage jobs in short supply, and families forced to live in unstable or unsafe conditions. But the buck supposedly stops in the classroom. Thus teachers can find themselves charged with remedying an impossibly broad set of challenges that go far beyond reading at grade level.
Post-Katrina New Orleans represents a crucible for both disaster capitalism and the neoliberal (privatization) agenda driving education reform. After the hurricane devastated New Orleans, the city was swept clean of its teacher workforce (overwhelmingly African Americans constituting a significant percentage of the black middle class), its public schools, and its teachers union so that Paul Vallas could rebuild the school system with charter schools and Teach for American recruits, inexperienced and uncertified teachers who are often white, affluent, and transplants to New Orleans from all across the US. Carr highlights the tensions in this human-made flood of the city:
But most explanations have focused on the radical overhaul of the city’s education system: the expansion of independent charter schools (which more than 80 percent of New Orleans public school children now attend); a greater reliance on alternative teacher training programs like Teach for America; and the increased use of test scores to determine whether educators should keep their jobs and schools should stay open….
This mentality has attracted ambitious, talented young teachers from across the country. But it has also risked turning teaching into a missionary pursuit. At a few of the charter schools I have reported on over the last six years, less than 10 percent of the teachers came from New Orleans or were older than 35. “I think a lot of people who come to New Orleans want to change New Orleanians,” said Mary Laurie, a veteran school administrator and principal of O. Perry Walker High School….
This disconnect can manifest itself in ways both small (as when a teacher fails to recognize a popular New Orleans term, like “beaucoup” for “a lot”) and large (as when a teacher can’t grasp what students are going through at home).
Yet, while New Orleans has become a feast for disaster capitalism (see Archer and Bessie’s graphic journalism here, here, and here), political and public concern for the city and for the greater assault on public education, children and families living in poverty, and teachers remains essentially absent.
In her critical analysis of education reform in New Orleans, Kristen Buras concludes: “Critical research and ongoing activism in multiple spaces are crucial. What is currently happening in New Orleans is not socially conscious capitalism. It is simply unconscionable” (p. 324).
That New Orleans, public schools across the US, teachers, teachers unions, and families in poverty remain under assault while political leadership, advocacy representatives, and the public remain focused on baseless calls for Common Core and next generation testing as well as equally baseless attacks of teacher education exposes some harsh realities about the US: profit and the privilege of wealth matter, but workers, children, and the impoverished do not.
There is simply no other lesson one can draw from New Orleans today.
In her Chapter 3 for Becoming and Being a Teacher, Katherine Crawford-Garrett (University of New Mexico) “trace[d] the experiences of one cohort of first-year TFA corps members teaching in Philadelphia during the 2010-2011 school year at a time when the School District faced intense pressure to reform” (p. 27).
This chapter is a examination of several tensions related to Teach for America (TFA), teacher education, teacher agency, and urban education. Her new book from Peter Lang USA, Teach For America and the Struggle for Urban School Reform: Searching for Agency in an Era of Standardization, presents an extended critical analysis of those same experiences.
While TFA research, advocacy, and commentary offer various degrees of soaring rhetoric and harsh condemnation, Crawford-Garrett’s work reminds me of the powerful and effective look at one TFA corp member in New Orleans detailed in Sara Carr’s Hope Against Hope. Crawford-Garret, like Carr, seeks important understanding about education, education reform, and teacher education through a critical look at the complex and unpredictable experiences of novice teachers in high-poverty urban schools under incredible accountability pressure.
The seven chapters of Teach For America and the Struggle for Urban School Reform are grounded in some key contexts:
[T]he tragedy of urban education in this country has become a media spectacle, with the film Waiting for Superman garnering accolades, regardless of its limiting portrayals of teachers, optimistic endorsement of school choice and unexamined claim that outside intervention is an unequivocal good….The favored remedies…have little to do with the deep, reflective and locally driven approach that characterized the Civil Rights movement, emphasizing instead the de-professionalization of teachers, the persistent depiction of students and families as deficient and an overreliance on top-down mechanisms to improve teaching and learning. (p. 3)
For educators, administrators, policy leaders, and the public, Crawford-Garrett details an accessible, in-depth, and critical journey that maintains a focus on the tensions and complexity of education in two often contradictory contexts—high-stakes accountability and urban education.
While it would be easy simply to marginalize or reject TFA as an organization or even the often overly idealistic corp members, Crawford-Garrett instead confronts and challenges deficit perspectives about teaching, learning, and students; assumptions about urban education; and the failure of traditional education and education reform to honor and support teacher agency.
Reading this volume helps stakeholders from many arenas better understand the challenges of urban education, education reform, teacher education, and ultimately achieving the often ignored goals of democratic and emancipatory public education.
I just read and reviewed Hope against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children by Sarah Carr, to be released February 26, 2013. I urge you to pre-order it.
Books on education tend to be deeply misguided and self-promoting or trapped in the “miracle” school/ “no excuses” memes that also dominate flawed education reform.
Diane Ravitch’s recent and upcoming books as well as Kathleen Nolan’s Police in the Hallways are rare exceptions.
I am surprised, then, and eager to recommend Carr’s wonderful narrative of post-Katrina education reform in New Orleans, a crucible of the keynotes of the newest reform movement invested in charter schools and Teach for America.
If you are skeptical of the new reforms and frustrated with the status quo of public education’s failure to address children and neighborhoods most in need, Carr’s book is a perfect story of three people living the reality of both.
See an excerpt at The Atlantic: “The Real Reason More Low-Income Students Don’t Go to College”
While reading, I also compiled a companion reading list, below:
Police in the Hallways: Discipline in an Urban High School, Kathleen Nolan
“More Challenges to Kirp’s ‘Miracle’ Narrative,” @ The Chalk Face, P. L. Thomas
“Final Words of Advice,” “Where Do We Go from Here?” Martin Luther King Jr. (1967)
Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom and “Multiplication Is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit
“Murky Waters: The Education Debate in New Orleans,” Truthout, Adam Bessie and Dan Archer
“The Teaching Profession as a Service Industry,” Daily Censored, P. L. Thomas
“Is There a Christmas Miracle in School Reform Debate?” The Answer Sheet/The Washington Post, P. L. Thomas
“Unpacking TFA Support: Twisted Logic and Assumptions,” Schools Matter, P. L. Thomas
“Current Education Reform Perpetuating, Not Curbing, Inequity,” the becoming radical, P. L. Thomas
“Lessons from the Zombie Apocalypse,” the becoming radical, P. L. Thomas
“Reconsidering Education ‘Miracles,’” OpEdNews, P. L. Thomas
“The New Layoff Formula Project,” The Shanker Blog, Matthew Di Carlo
The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter Woodson
“Poor Teaching for Poor Children in the Name of Reform,” Education Week, Alfie Kohn
“The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching,” Phi Delta Kappan, Martin Haberman
“’They’re All Our Children,’” AlterNet, P. L. Thomas