Everything Is Piketty-Boo

Timothy Shenk’s “What Was Socialism?” [May 5] was something you could sink your teeth into. Lefties are ambivalent about revolution. The revolutions of the twentieth century proved to be ephemeral flops that paved the way not for socialism but for a resurgent capitalism. They destroyed traditional societies, created working and professional classes, industrialized their countries and did the work of capitalism in record time. Those who benefited most are the plutocrats studied by Piketty & Co.
Randy Cunningham
cleveland, ohio

Shenk’s article on a revival of Marxism is long overdue. Marx’s analysis of capitalism seems much more persuasive now than it did in the early postwar era. Then we had at least some cooperation between capital and labor. Predictions of the immiseration of the working class appeared ridiculous then, but not any longer. Capital has clawed its way back, and working people have lost much of their safety net.
Peter B. Denison
somerset, mass.

…And When Did He Know It?

I hold no brief for Donald Rumsfeld, a man I consider a grotesque. But Errol Morris [“Q&A,” May 5] has got it wrong about Rumsfeld and the “unknown known.” The Unknown Known (UK) does indeed mean things you did not know you knew; KK are obviously things you know you know; KU are things you know that you don’t know; and UU (the most dangerous category in security terms) are things you don’t know that you don’t know. Morris’s “things you think you know that it turns out you did not” is not really part of this set.
Anthony Sweeney
darien, conn.

Teaching in Seattle

I was disappointed to read Alexandra Hootnick’s “Teach for America’s Growing Pains” [May 5]. Her article provides an incomplete picture of the successes our region has had since our launch. The piece does not include our efforts to tailor growth to local needs, our dedication to high-needs students, our commitment to diversity in the classroom or interviews with any of our partners in the community. It also doesn’t touch on the stark educational disparities of race and class that exist for our students. Here is the full picture of our work in Washington State.

Hootnick goes to great lengths to omit the many supportive voices of parents, principals and community leaders. She interviewed a PTSA official who balks at candidates with part-time job experience, but she did not include interviews from the principals who did hire our teachers. Teachers like Sunny Sinco, who in her first year led 73 percent of her middle school ELA students to demonstrated mastery in reading (14 percent above the school average) and 84 percent to demonstrated mastery in writing (18 percent above the school average) on district tests. Or Joanna Daniel, whose students had the highest writing scores in the entire Federal Way school district her first year. None of the voices of our colleagues and partners in South Central Washington are included either.

We’re working hard to meet community demand. As we’ve shared at teachforamerica.org/blog/five-commitments-one-case-study-growth, we did not do this well at first. Since then, we’ve built stronger relationships with school partners and families and made adjustments based on their feedback. We’ve increased the diversity of our corps and the number of Washingtonians we recruit. We’ve also expanded to meet the needs of new partners statewide. We’ve grown from twelve corps members in two districts to nearly forty teachers in eight districts today. Of our Washington corps, 90 percent have stayed beyond their two-year commitment.

We are committed to high-needs students. We work in communities with educational disparities along lines of race and class. We typically partner with schools with at least 60 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL), a common measure of need (see teachforamerica.org/tfa-on-the-record/responses/april-22-2014- nation). In addition, our teachers apply for open positions in such high-needs subject areas as ELL, special education and STEM. Even where there are lower FRPL percentages, educational disparities run along racial lines.

We are committed to providing diverse teaching talent. We believe that teachers who share the racial and/or socioeconomic backgrounds of their students can have a profound impact. We also believe that educators who bring privilege and a commitment to channel that privilege for equity are critical. Therefore, we invest heavily in a diverse cohort of teachers. Less than 10 percent of Washington’s teaching force identify as people of color, while 40 percent of its students do. Since our launch, nearly half of our teachers identify as people of color, 40 percent received Pell grants and 38 percent were the first in their family to attend college.

We Washingtonians wear the racial and socioeconomic diversity of our region as a badge of pride. Yet despite our aspirations, nearly all of our struggling schools are in low-income neighborhoods serving primarily students of color. Washington ranks thirty-seventh nationwide for high school completion. While 75 percent of all students will graduate, only half of African-Americans will.

As an African-American and a parent who cares deeply about the education of my son and his peers in our Rainier Beach community, this gap is personal. We need to stop the misleading headlines and commit to the real work of teaching our students.

Lindsay Hill, executive director Teach for America

Hootnick Replies

Lindsay Hill’s comments fail to address the point of the article: TFA’s expansion is undermining its educational purpose. As a TFA alum, I found that writing this story opened my eyes to many uncomfortable aspects of the nonprofit’s growth that I simply wasn’t aware of as a corps member. My article’s conclusions are backed by more than a year and a half of research, which included interviewing dozens of people—community members, parents, teachers, corps members, TFA staff, politicians, and local and federal Education Department officials, to name a few—with widely ranging views on the organization. I also filed numerous freedom of information requests to the Education Department for TFA’s grant performance results.

Hill describes recent anecdotal successes in Seattle, but she doesn’t mention the organization’s inability to shrink the growing opportunity gap over the past twenty-four years—or address the fact that TFA’s mission is the creation of leaders, not teachers.

Alexandra Hootnick
syracuse, n.y.