There are many avenues of education reform, but I want to address one in particular: high-quality public charter schools .... we have to create and recruit more great charter schools. And I will stand in support of any reasonable measure that helps make that happen.
-- Mayor Karl Dean in last Sunday's Tennessean
It is noteworthy that CM Todd agrees with Hizzoner's conservative embrace of charter schools and has donated a large sum of money to Teach for America. TFA is a "teacher's pet" of corporate venture philanthropy that strives to remake public education on market-based models and business strategies irrespective of the views of veteran education professionals.
It is also noteworthy that TFA has its own problems. Witness just a snippet of the comments from a TFA alum to NPR last year:
the biggest thing is that politicians hear these inflated successes, and then they buy into the current myth that we've got these old, lazy teachers that need to be replaced with these young go-getters. And that's also not the way it works.
But the huge issue - and the thing that got me, about a year ago, writing on this almost weekly - is the TFA alumni who, after two or three years, leave the classroom and go into a leadership pipeline. Now, there are some great Teach for America alumni that became leaders. They taught for a lot of years, and they became principals and things like that.
But I'm talking about a certain, small class of them. They taught for maybe two or three years, and then they were given the reigns to take over a district - and they have not done a very good job. A prime example is Washington, D.C., where Teach for America alumni are sort of at all levels, including the very top, and they haven't succeeded there. They have a policy of shutting down schools, firing teachers, given bonuses based on what I consider to be inaccurate metrics. And they've sort of bought into the whole corporate reform movement.
Gary Rubenstein points out elsewhere that the corporate push behind TFA and education reform consistently renders those of us who are its opponents (many of whom, like me, do not make enough to offset CM Todd's big donation of $5,000) as "defenders of the status quo". Hardly. Both Mayor Dean and CM Todd are established, powerful politicians who rely on corporate donations in a Republican red state, by definition conservative. Calling themselves reformers in the sense of agents of change, is far from expressing truth in advertising.
The status quo in Tennessee is that poor students and students of color generally end up with poor education while students from wealthy, mostly white families are handed better opportunities. In fact, that is the status quo in America. Neither charter schools nor TFA do anything to change that status quo. On the contrary, charter schools "cream" the best performers from public schools and can move poor performers out. Moreover, education reformers defend the status quo themselves by drawing the discussion away from economic inequalities that keep some students down in the dust while lifting a few others to obscene heights. I certainly understand why: conservative corporate donors do not want to support anything that rocks the boat that brings them their wealth in the first place.
And consistent with the corporate status quo, it is not students who are the primary beneficiaries of school reform, but the few wealthy white guys bankrolling it with their investments; the kind of guys on whom Karl Dean and Carter Todd rely on to keep their powerful positions in Nashville. The Mayor and the Council Member may cheerlead the flipping of education away from public, but at the end of the day let's hope that they are honest enough to admit that it really will not amount to any real positive change for the vast majority of Nashville's students.