Mike Klonsky : Drive-By Teachers and the Great Charter School Scam

Drive-by teachers: The Wal-Mart model. Image from Gawker.

Drive-by teachers:
The great TFA/charter school scam

‘Short careers by choice’ translates into teachers being reduced to low-wage information-age delivery clerks while most ‘learning’ is done by students sitting in front of a computer screen.

By Mike Klonsky | The Rag Blog | August 27, 2013

Educator, activist, former SDS leader, and “Small Schools” advocate Mike Klonsky will be Thorne Dreyer‘s guest on Rag Radio, Friday, August 30, 2013, from 2-3 p.m. (CDT) on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin, and streamed live to the world. Rag Radio is rebroadcast on WFTE-FM in Mt. Cobb and Scranton, PA, Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. (EDT), and on Houston’s KPFT HD-3 90.1 (Pacifica radio) Wednesdays at 1 p.m. (CDT). Podcasts of all shows are posted at the Internet Archive.

The August 27 New York Times carries a piece, “At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice,” by Mokoto Rich. The notion that young, inexperienced short-timers, many with only five weeks of Teach for America (TFA) training, should form the backbone of the nation’s teaching core, has become one of the lynchpins of corporate-style school reform.

The drive-by teacher strategy is being pushed heavily by the power philanthropists in the Gates, Broad, and Walton Foundations. It actually is based on the Wal-Mart model where about 70% of its poorly-paid workforce turns over within a year. This is what the reformers mean by 21st Century jobs.

At Success Academy Charter Schools, a chain run by Eva Moskowitz, a former New York City councilwoman, the average is about four years in the classroom. KIPP, one of the country’s best known and largest charter operators, with 141 schools in 20 states, also keeps teachers in classrooms for an average of about four years.

“Short careers by choice” translates into teachers being reduced to low-wage information-age delivery clerks while most “learning” is done by students sitting in front of a computer screen. The benefits to the charter operators include the elimination of pensions, tenure, salary increases, and union protection. This means more money going into the pockets of the charter operators. Moskowitz for example, pulls down about $400,000/year.

Rich says the notion of a foreshortened teaching career was largely introduced by Teach for America, which places high-achieving college graduates into low-income schools for two years. Today, Teach for America places about a third of its recruits in charter schools.

“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America. “The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”

But studies have shown that on average, teacher turnover diminishes student achievement, writes Rich. Advocates who argue that teaching should become more like medicine or law say that while programs like Teach for America fill a need in the short term, educational leaders should be focused on improving training and working environments so that teachers will invest in long careers.

Reformers claim that this is all a generational thing where today’s young teachers are “restless” and don’t like to stay in one job too long. One young teacher, “who is already thinking beyond the classroom,” is quoted, saying, “I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing, and always moving onto something bigger and better.”

I wonder, especially, with a shrinking job market and devastated middle class, what a real teacher would feel is “bigger and better” than teaching children?

This article was also posted by the author to Schooling in the Ownership Society.

[Mike Klonsky is a long-time education activist who teaches in the College of Education at DePaul University and is director of the Small Schools Workshop. He has spoken and written extensively on education issues and is active in the struggles in Chicago to save and transform public schools. A veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements, Klonsky is a former National Secretary of SDS. He blogs at his SmallTalk Blog and you can follow him on twitter here.]

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3 Responses to Mike Klonsky : Drive-By Teachers and the Great Charter School Scam

  1. Anonymous says:

    The drive-by teacher strategy is being pushed heavily by the power philanthropists in the Gates, Broad, and Walton Foundations. It actually is based on the Wal-Mart model …
    Seems like the author forgot to thank the architect of the most powerful movement reducing employees to disposable assets: OBAMA and his ACA.

    More part time workers translates to more “short careers”. Be careful progressives what you wish for … sometimes you get it 🙂

    – Extremist2TheDHS

  2. Anonymous says:

    Extremist2TheDHS,

    What is your point exactly? This article was about education not the ACA. Besides you also are under the misconception that all “progressives” ,whoever they are, like the President’s policies or the ACA. President Obama himself along with Arne Duncan have contributed to the decay of our public school system with Race to the Top and Common Core. Besides, it is not either or. If you really want to know why our workforce is weakening it is because of the implosion of unions and private corporations and lobbyists influencing the public that unions are “bad, communist, socialist.” The best years of our country saw the unions as powerful entities who kept the public and private sectors in check and ensured the well-being of their members. But, really you should be doing better research for yourself.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The article was about workers and their role in a changing 21st Century workplace. The workers in the article happened to be teachers. I added some balance. The author singled out large corporations to point the finger at for diminishing the role of workers. I made the point that Obama, who enjoyed huge voting majorities of progressives and liberals, has done much with the creation of the ACA to undermine full time employment and imperil workers, both unionized and otherwise.

    The best years of our country were when the government lived within its means, (mostly at least) and allowed people and business to be prosperous.

    But you knew that already.

    – Extremist2TheDHS

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