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This is a stunning letter from Gary Rubinstein to TFA. Gary knows that reformers like to refer to public education as “the Blob,” but he knows that TFA has its own Blob, where no one really knows who is making decisions.
Gary takes this opportunity to give some sound advice to TFA, which I will summarize.
“What you need to do first is take a long look at yourself in the mirror. What is your plan? Do you hold meetings for staff members to do more responses for your growing ‘On The Record’ webpage where you respond to critics? That’s just not gonna do it. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re going about it all wrong. You should not be thinking “How can we change our communication strategy so that people don’t think that what we’re doing is hurting education?” People like me and other critics will see right through that. As they say, actions speak louder than words.
“No, if you really want to get critics off your back, you’ve got to start asking a different question. You have to get the staff members together and ask “What sorts of things are we doing that are bothering the critics so much? What is it about those things that we have such trouble stopping doing them? Do we want to stop doing them? What would it take to stop doing them.” These are the kinds of questions, amorphous TFA Blob, that you need to be asking yourself.”
First, TFA should stop the teacher-bashing. They should stop smearing current teachers. This is a slimy way to recruit new corps members (“join TFA to save children from their lousy teachers”).
Gary says: “Imagine that you were an organization looking to help people who wanted to become firemen. Being a fireman is a noble thing. You could say “Save lives. Be a fireman” or “Fight fires alongside some of the most heroic men and women in this country.” See, no fireman bashing. No, “The firemen in this country are failing because there are too many fires still to put out. You need to come in and show those lazy unionized firemen how it’s done.” So my first piece of advice is to find a way to celebrate the career teachers in this country rather than feed the teacher bashing narrative that is driving away old teacher and scaring away potential new teachers.
Second, stop lying. Stop using fraudulent statistics about how terrible public schools are as a way to recruit new members. Stop making false claims about charter schools that “graduate 100%” of their students, when typically 50% of their students didn’t make it to senior year. Stop claiming that 1/3 of TFA members remain in teaching when only 20% stay for a fifth year.
Third, if you are going to have an audit of your activities, hire a genuinely independent auditor, not a firm that will write a puff-piece about how wonderful you are.
Fourth, slim down. You have 2,000 staff members and an annual budget of $300 million. That seems excessive for training only 5,000 recruits.
Last, you hang out with a bad crowd. Most of them don’t know anything about education. Maybe you just want their money and power.
“I guess the most obvious and most powerful, while the least knowledgeable, friend of TFA is the current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. An example of how out of touch he is, he recently said in a television interview: “The vast majority who drop out of high school drop out not because it’s too hard but because it’s too easy.” To me, this is like the Surgeon General saying in an interview that you can contact Ebola by dancing the Hokey Pokey with the family member of someone infected by the disease. If the Surgeon General said something so inaccurate, the newspapers would be all over it, but it’s only education so who cares if the head of the US Department of Education knows what he is talking about. In some parallel world where TFA does not depend on money from the US DOE, you would be railing against the fact that our education system is being led by someone so naive.”
Will Gary get an answer?