Friday, July 12, 2013

Good Press for Corporate Reform

"Pipelines".  Sometimes pipelines have to do getting natural resources from the Yukon down to refineries off the coast of Texas.  In Tennessee, the discussion now often has to do with teachers.  Reformers proclaim that education schools are not producing enough teachers to fill open spots in the teaching profession, and that even if there are enough grads, there are not enough education school grads that become effective teachers.  To remedy this "problem," other "pipelines" for teachers must be developed.  Here in Memphis, we have a couple:  Teach for America and Memphis Teacher Residency come to mind.  We know that these "pipelines" often expand past their stated purposes and actually push out grads of traditionally credentialed, degreed rising teachers graduating from the nation's education schools.

No surprise, then, that the next step would be to replace credentialed, experienced, degreed administrators with "alumni" of similar "residencies."  Here's the article from Bill Dries.  Mr. Dries writes, "Education Pioneers has agreements with the state-run Achievement School District, the Tennessee Department of Education and charter school companies KIPP, Gestalt Community Schools, Promise Academy and LEAD Public Schools, among others."  ASD Supt. Chris Barbic is very excited about it.

So what's the program?  How does the residency work?  Mr. Dries explains, "[t]he program recruits students pursuing their master’s degrees still in school and those in the business sector just out of graduate school for roles that [Education Pioneers Southern Region Executive Director John Troy] described as 'the managers, the leaders, the data analysts that work outside the classroom to support the important work that teachers do each and every day.' There is a specific program just for data analysts and a different program for those closer to the classroom functions. 'They can work in everything related to financing, developing budgets, doing policy analysis, writing the curriculum that teachers might use inside the classroom, the people doing the analysis to dig into student achievement data, teacher effectiveness data,' he added."

Did you catch all that?  Education Pioneers is recruiting MBA's and MBA candidates to work in education.  Education Pioneers wants us to know that they have a highly competitive process, and that once these MBA's graduate and are selected for a "fellowship", they attend ten whole weeks of training (this is the residency part) after which they are qualified to be data analysts or even to write curriculum.  I suppose, the logic goes, that if it only takes 5 weeks to be an effective teacher for TFA recruits, ten WHOLE weeks of training will make these MBA's even more qualified to take on "leadership" roles both in schools and in central offices.  According to Mr. Dries, they've got nine fellows training right now in Memphis - they began back in June - with more to come in the fall.

Nothing should surprise us anymore.  While I might agree that data analysts don't need an education background, it is worth mentioning that districts, for the most part, simply do not have the luxury of having data analysts on staff.  Analyzing data (student achievement, teacher effectiveness, etc.) gets done by people that have other things on their plates - people like assistant superintendents.  Teachers have to learn it on the fly, though local education schools are now better incorporating the use of data in teacher training.  There just aren't a lot of these jobs available in traditional districts.  But there are a lot of these jobs available in charter schools.  My point is simply that data analysts are a luxury that traditional public schools just can't afford without help, from Gates, just for example.  I could maybe be convinced that this is a job that districts should fight harder to be able to afford given the over-reliance on test data - it would be difficult, but I'm not completely inflexible.

However, writing curriculum?  Really?  In MCS and SCS, curriculum often is worked on by committees of teachers, donating their time over the summer.  These committees are a lot of work, and are usually viewed as an honor to work on - at least partly because they recognize the great classroom work of the teachers selected.  For Education Pioneers, this really is new ground.  These MBA's declined to go to an education school as part of the undergraduate experience.  Then, when they graduated, they usually go to work for the best businesses and consultants they can.  Then, they apply to the best business schools they think they have a shot at.  Now, in their second year of business school, they're recruited by Education Pioneers, to join the education industry - never forget that for many, it is an industry.  You see, they have to be recruited because they just haven't considered getting into the education industry before.  On their website, Education Pioneers explains that you, too can invest in the very expensive process to "attract, develop, and retain" future executive-level education leaders, at a rate of $5,000 per fellow.

After all of that attracting and recruiting, 70% of their fellows work full time in education.  If we called it a graduation rate, it wouldn't reflect all that well.  But these fellows, according to Education Pioneers, who have not taught, not yet been involved in education from a providing-it standpoint, after ten weeks, are qualified to write curriculum.  Astonishing.  Guess it's no surprise at the list of local "partners" who have bought into the hype.

As you can tell, I didn't actually think that Bill Dries' article was all that favorable to Education Pioneers.  Well, through the wonders of the internet, and perhaps an indiscreet Facebook status update, I'm aware of at least one person who disagrees with me.  Go back to the article.  Scroll all the way down to the comments.  Where it says, "Press to see more comments"?  Keep pressing.  Eventually, you'll see a comment from someone named Eugine Chung.  Ms. Chung writes:  "If you are still wondering where I work.. (which is totally understandable). Great article which our External Relations team thinks it's the best they've seen."  On the Education Pioneers website, you can read Ms. Chung's bio here.

I cringe on behalf of Mr. Dries.  The subject of an article "thinks it's the best they've seen."  Mr. Dries correctly described Education Pioneers' intention, along with the state's intention.  I could always stand to have our local journalists look at the various forms of corporate education reform with a more critical eye.  Since I'm not a journalist, I don't know all the rules, but you probably are supposed to report on what people tell you about whatever it is.  I can't fault him for that.  But the effect is that Mr. Dries has written an article that the External Relations team (because like many in the education industry, Education Pioneers can afford an External Relations team to try to place articles) loves, according to inside source Eugine Chung.  How unfortunate.

If I could make a suggestion about the follow-up article.  I'm interested in knowing the very talented, newly-minted MBA's that have come to Memphis for their fellowships.  How many stay?  What are they paid?  What are their job titles?  What is the value of the contract between these local "partners" and Education Pioneers?  How much does it cost to put on the ten whole weeks of training?  Who pays for that?  Where do they live?  How much does that cost?  Who pays for that?  Let's watch this one unfold together.

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