It's teacher hunting season!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Teach Plus: StudentsFirst Lobbying and Policy Apprenticeship Rolled Into One

In Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools - Joanne Barkan, writing in ''Dissent Magazine,'' Winter 2011, wrote on how billionaire philanthropists have shaped public education policy. Educators for Excellence ("E4E") and StudentsFirst are two major organizations created by billionaires. Yet, the attention they have gained has overshadowed other organizations. Teach Plus is a case in point.

Teach Plus which bills itself in its logo as a Teacher voice organization is apparently a group that combines StudentsFirst's aggressive contributing to policy formation and lobbying for that policy and with its Teach Plus Policy Fellows an apprenticeship policy specialist program.

Its policy emphasis was on focusing its claim that teachers are the most essential factor of student success. It changed its "Why We Exist" message on its website after Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post directly challenged Celine Coggins, the group's chief executive officer, on the veracity of that claim:
Previously, the statement said:

“Research makes clear that teachers are the most important variable in student success, yet the profession is not organized to reward excellence, promote teacher development, or retain top performers in the classroom.”

Research actually doesn’t show that; decades of studies show that home-based factors, especially the education level of a child’s mother, has the most influence on student achievement. Teachers may be the significant factor in student progress in the school building.

I asked Celine Coggins, chief executive officer, about this and she immediately corrected the Web site page to say:

Research makes clear that teachers are the most important school-based variable in student success, yet the profession is not organized to reward excellence, promote teacher development, or retain top performers in the classroom.

Anthony Cody noted in Education Week its Gates Foundation funding source:
The Gates Foundation continues to fund Teach For America, Stand For Children, The Media Bullpen, the National Council for Teacher Quality, Teach Plus, The New Teacher Project, and literally scores of other groups which carry on campaigns to undermine due process for teachers, and actively lobby for coercive legislation that forces public schools to use faulty test scores for the purposes of teacher evaluation, against the best judgment of administrators and academic experts.
Valerie Strauss, on May 23, 2011, in the Washington Post, further detailed the Gates Foundation support for the organization
Teach Plus, supported by a $4,010,611 grant awarded in 2009 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” takes positions on school reform in line with those taken by Gates, including the importance of linking standardized student test scores to teacher evaluation.
She also noted that it was a subject of attention in a May 21, 2011 New York Times article on Bill Gates' education philanthropy (or policy advocacy).

Cody also noted how it aggressively pushed policy in the Indiana state legislature, pushing for the inclusion of test score results in teacher evaluations:

Similar to StudentsFirst and DFER it attempts to boost its liberal profile by getting its material published in Huffington Post.

And it has used its connections to get into policy discussion events such as this one organized by the Center for American Progress:

It has been lauded by hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

It has pushed for California to pursue test scores as a foundation of teacher evaluation, by reasoning that it must do so to be compliant with the Obama administration's policy mandates.

Lastly, the group twins its policy lobbying operation with a teacher apprentice program, Teach Plus Policy Fellows or Teaching Policy Fellows.

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