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Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund's one on one conference review, part 3, The New Teacher project takes over the district.

By Greg Sampson

JPEF One X One Conference: Breakout Sessions

There were 5: Getting Young Children Ready for School; Developing, Retaining and Empowering Great Teachers; Preparing Students for Success After High School; Social-Emotional Learning and Discipline Policies; and Testing & Accountability.

I was interested in 3 of them but could only go to 2: the second about great teachers, which I figured was about professional development; the SEL and discipline; and the testing sessions.

First I went to the Social-Emotional Learning Session. I was disappointed that they didn’t offer any knowledge or assistance. They spent the time explaining what they did and where they did it. While schools need to attend to the social and emotional needs of children, I found their presentation was more of a sales pitch than a sharing of professional knowledge.

We were tight on time. (More on that in my analysis post.) I allowed others to speak in the brief 7 minutes we were allowed a table discussion. When it ended, the volunteer at my table invited me to add my comments, which she would write down (dutifully?) on the Post-It Chart as she assured me the conference organizers would review all feedback given.

I said I needed at least 20 minutes to respond but I did say that the district had secured a grant to place a social worker and counselor in every middle school this year to attend to these needs of our students. I also took the opportunity to provide other feedback about the state accountability system—broken and needs to be recreated from the ground up and how teachers faced pressure to keep on the curriculum guides even when they realized the needs of students meant they needed to stop and take care of their students’ needs.

In other words, teachers can’t keep up with the pace demanded by district curriculum guides and if they addressed the needs in their classroom on any given day, that’s one more day they fall behind while facing pressure for catching up.

Then I went to the session on teacher quality, advertised on how to retain effective teachers.

Before then, during the AM table share-out, we were asked to say one thing we had learned. I made something up because I didn’t learn anything new in the AM (I do keep up), but the TNTP presentation … WOW. I learned how deeply TNTP has burrowed into this district and their mission philosophy has been adopted by the “powers-that-be.”

Before I begin, let me say that TNTP began as “The New Teachers Project.” For whatever reasons that made sense to them, they abandoned the words but retained the acronym as their brand. They are trying to create a new type of teacher, but don’t want anyone to know? Hmmmmm … maybe we can go by the first three letters—they are trying to blow up the teaching profession and to quote Harold Hill, they end with P and that rhymes with T and that stands for Trouble for Teachers.
The mission of TNTP as shared: ending the injustice of educational inequity by providing excellent teachers to students who need them most.  That’s my paraphrasing from my notes and I tried to Google them to give you their exact wording, but somehow that’s not available.

To push their mission, TNTP has 3 focuses (foci for my Latin teacher with whom I enjoy lunchroom conversations most days): rigorous academics, talented people, supportive environments.

In their DCPS work, it is number two that they are focused on. (Yes, I get the double entendre.)

The presentation trotted out the quoted-so-often-it’s-become-a-cliché mantra that the quality of the teacher is the number one factor in student learning. Then they described their work with the district.

Strategy One: Supply DCPS with strong, new teachers. That means helping DCPS hire better teachers than they have done in the past. The Big Idea that they shared was that the earlier a teacher was hired, the better the new teacher quality tended to be. “The best people, they want to know where they are going before graduation. You (DCPS) used to hire teachers in July. All the best candidates are gone by then. If you are a top college student, wouldn’t you find a job before you graduated? That’s how the charters get the best people. They recruit in November of the senior college year. We helped DCPS by getting you to go after them earlier in the year.” Also, “DTO gets first choice. They are allowed to recruit before other schools. That’s how DCPS is getting the best in front of the greatest need.” “The earlier the hire, the higher the quality and we have data to back that up.”

Good goggumugga! I admire how these people can keep a straight face. Now understand that this was my second breakout, and when I arrived, the people were too busy taking selfies with one another to get the second presentation underway. I had to ask someone if I was in the right place. They started 15 minutes late and were totally unconcerned about what they were supposed to do. When they cut their presentation off at the designated time, that they were not finished did not matter.

Thanks, TNTP, for telling us that we did not matter.

Strategy Two: Grow all teachers.

Cliché after cliché. I will spare you the tedium.

Strategy Three: Help schools keep their top teachers.

“Teacher retention is a big issue.”

“It is not a failure to retain teachers; it is the failure to retain the right teachers. Do we really want to keep the teachers who aren’t great?”

They presented nine strategies to retain great teachers that would not cost extra dollars. (So shut up, audience member, who offered the feedback that more money for teachers would keep the best teachers from leaving Duval County for other places that paid more.)

“A high percentage of low-performing teachers remain in the classroom.”

“What we ask: do they have the will or the skill to improve?”

“It takes 11 hires to find another great teacher to replace one who left.”

“We work with districts so they can identify among their applicants what teachers will become great.”

“Recruiting 2nd career teachers who will take a leave of absence from their chosen path to spend 5 or 10 years in a classroom is a great idea. Research has shown that such people produce learning gains over the College of Ed lifelong teacher.”

Let me make it clear. TNTP is driving district policy over the hiring and support of teachers. First, they think that great teachers are born, not made. They think our classrooms are filled with people punching a time clock that don’t give a hoot about their students. They whisper in the ears of our superintendent and his cabinet that if only, if ONLY, they could get the right people, the wicked Witch of the West would be melted, her sister long ago buried under a house, and the flying monkeys sent off to wherever. All would be right in Munchkin Land.

However, I live in Realville. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you want great teachers, you have to develop them. That takes a commitment to authentic professional development that this District refuses to adopt.

(And that’s a whole ‘nother post.)


  1. What type of learning gains do they think an effective teacher should have so that they would think it would important to retain that teacher?

    Do you think 70% learning gains would be high enough or only teachers who have 90%?

  2. Effective professional development you say? Did you read the report on the effectiveness of TNTP? Zero effectiveness. It was ignored by our powers that be of course. Then TNTP tried I say it was all PD ignoring the fact that they researched their own PD not everyone else's.