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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 22 2012

I Do Implore, Please Tell Me More! (Positive News From Mississippi)

This summer, I was happy to blog about my experience at the MS Department of Education to share my source of hope for the state as I packed up to move back to Massachusetts. Since then, I haven’t really heard much good news: there’s been firings, and scandals, tornados, etc. Fortunately, my friends and former colleagues seem to be doing okay. Recently, I read about the Mississippi Center for Public Policy’s “Exceed School” Initiative and I wanted to share the link.

Jackson’s George Elementary School received recognition Friday morning from the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

Basically, this school is being spotlighted because its students attain high proficiency rates despite a poverty rate of 95%. While this success is wonderful and a valid cause for celebration, the article does nothing for me! It’s nice, but I want to know more. I don’t buy it when organizations such as DFER, Student’s First, and the like showcase principals who say: “we make no excuses, therefore we improve.” That’s not sound logic; to be honest, it’s pretty useless rhetoric. It’s easy to say after you “win” that you kept your eye on the goal and made no excuses. I’m sure Lance Armstrong said the same thing- in fact, he still does.

If pop education reform rhetoric is all you give us to work with, don’t cry foul when folks such as Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody and Gary Rubinstein come along and burst your bubble! For example, this particular principal has been at the school for 9 years, but the school seems to have only recently jumped in scores from 60% to 80+% proficiency. Did the tests get easier, did smarter students matriculate, did TFA hires enter the building (JK), or did something miraculously click btw 2010 -2012? It’s more helpful and informative to know what’s contributing to success of this high-performing albeit tiny school.

It’s like the case of two siblings where the mom says: “Tito, why can’t you act more like your brother?” Umm, okay…

I know that some organizations would like to explore the method of success at high poverty – high proficiency schools, but they lack the resources and/or capacity to do so. However, is it unreasonable to expect SOMEONE to tackle the challenge of figuring out what’s going right? I’m tired of hearing what’s going wrong- we already know that! To tell schools to improve then withhold meaningful steps to improve is disingenuous and burdensome (fire everyone doesn’t count). We wouldn’t accept a teacher who tells a struggling student to merely “work harder” in order to improve; so, why should we accept organizations that tell struggling schools to merely “work harder” as if that’s somehow a magical remedy to cure all ills? Come on, now. We can do better.


One Response

  1. yoteach

    I very much agree. I also believe that too much emphasis is placed on just “having good or bad teachers” in analyzing the reasons for a school’s success ( as well as some “no excuses” talk). I think there is so much to be learned and shared about successful/unsuccessful school organizations that no one is qualitatively analyzing. This comes down to more than just how you pay/evaluate teachers. It’s about autonomy, the kinds of data collected, the curricula used, the way technology is used in the classroom, the efficaciousness of coaching, etc. Because of all the vague talk of what works, a lot of schools claim to implement “best practices” without having any qualitative understanding of what that means or how it should actually work. To continue with your student metaphor, it’s like a student who knows what you want to hear but has little understanding of what they he/she is actually saying.

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