Almost two weeks ago, I arrived in DC ready for “Induction,” TFA’s word to describe the week-long orientation period in our placement region. With 270 other DC corps members, I was continuously bombarded with stimuli over the week, whether through back-to-back info sessions (what I affectionately call “indoctrination sessions”), alumni lectures, community panels, hiring fairs, paperwork guidance sessions, meet-and-greets, or other general social events. There was a lot to take in. I doubt I absorbed even one quarter of the information thrown my way. How could I?
Yet, what did stick stuck well. I thought it would be appropriate to share some reflections, particularly on the “community panel” session that took place on Wednesday, June 24. Present at the panel were Jay Mathews (the WaPo education reporter who also wrote, among other things, the book on Jaime Escalante), William Hite (Prince George’s County superintendent), and Kaya Henderson (DCPS Deputy Chancellor). I must say—the panel inspired me:
KH talked about a “perfect storm” of factors that makes fixing the DCPS a realistic goal: public exasperation and demand for something different, the mayor’s full political backing, and a tremendous resource base (despite its inefficient deployment).
JM, using another metaphor, talked about how “all the stars are aligned” for tremendous progress in the education universe and that we are the “TFA insurgency” leading the revolution (a little too much exaggeration for my taste).
JM’s most salient point concerned the standard American mentality of “hopelessness” that people hold regarding low-income students. Essentially, some—or most?—Americans view low-income students as unable to achieve. When they do (as evidenced by the success of some trailblazing charter schools), there needs to be some “excuse” to explain how and why they are achieving (e.g. students from “good” backgrounds are selected or the students must purely be drilling for the test and have no real conceptual knowledge of what they are learning–both of which have been disproved by research). Maybe if these people were less cynical they would realize that charter schools are improving, not detracting from, the educational system.
WH told us outright that the TFA mentality is exactly what he wants to infuse in the PG county schools. He likes TFA teachers because they are willing to try new things, even if they go against long-held traditions. He advised us to “be on the verge of insubordination” in our own schools, that this was the only way to expunge some of the anachronistic practices of public education.
KH was the most interesting figure. I’ve heard so much about Chancellor Rhee recently, but the media offers little coverage of the rest of her team. I was extremely impressed by how passionate and devoted Henderson is to reforming education here. She was so eloquent and charismatic and it really made me happy to think that she was doing just as much to improve things in DC. In response to criticisms of the radical nature of the DCPS administration, KH mentioned that “nothing beats a failure but a try”.