Friday, December 19, 2008

Don't Blame Us, It Was TFA!

Richard Whitmire, president of the National Education Writers Association:

Today, TFA alums—14,400 from the last 18 years—are scattered around the country, many holding high-powered jobs (8 percent of Princeton seniors recently applied to join). Two thirds of those alums either work or study in the education field, almost half as classroom teachers. Even alums who left education for good after their two-year teaching commitment and now work as lawyers and investment bankers look upon those two years as their formidable domestic Peace Corps experience—93 percent say they contribute to the TFA "mission" in some way. These folks, who are not beholden to the system, are hungry for reform.

This is not a group to be messed with, so it should come as no surprise that when Obama appointed Stanford education professor and TFA critic Linda Darling-Hammond as his transition education chief, TFA alums (the organization itself stayed neutral) rallied the troops to block her appointment as secretary. It was a messy, one-sided battle. In fact, it got so bloody that Darling-Hammond's allies finally had to rally to her defense with op-eds and letters to the editor, correctly pointing out that her distinguished education career amounted to more than being a union toady. I can't name a single other Obama transition chief who endured that kind of hazing.

Two lessons for Duncan in his new job: Don't mess with TFA, and don't even try to ignore the Michelle Rhee confrontation over teacher competence. At 6-foot, 5-inches tall, you can dunk once on the diminutive Rhee. But don't try it a second time.

Mr. Whitmire is a bit too hasty to try to give the credit or blame to for the media onslaught on Linda Darling-Hammond to TFA. If the 14,400 TFA alums have an outsized influence over national education policy -- that's about the same number of citizens who are active teachers in Rhode Island -- Mr. Whitmire and his colleagues in the media have played a major role in giving them that influence.

Maybe I don't understand how the world works, but from my chair, the primary public manifestation of the attacks on Dr. Darling-Hammond came from newspaper editorials, op-ed columns and via education writers.

What Whitmire is really saying is, "don't mess with us, the education writers, cause we'll put a shiv into you and then put it in the hand of this handsome 22 year old Yalie, who you know no jury in this town will ever convict."

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