Monday, June 10, 2013

Matt Yglesias may not be helping his cause

There was an odd exchange recently between Diane Ravitch and Matthew Yglesias.

Ravitch wrote a post about James Cersonsky's American Prospect article on Teach for America's political power. She introduced the post with this:
Teach for America began with a worthy goal: to supply bright, idealistic college graduates to serve in poor children in urban and rural districts.

But then it evolved into something with grand ambitions: to groom the leaders who would one day control American education.
Yglesias's response is rather strange. He doesn't mention Cersonsky or the American Prospect his post but  he only explicitly addresses points that come from Cersonsky's article; not from Ravitch. I say explicitly because the example Yglesias uses is certainly relevant to Ravitch's claim (though definitely not in the way he intended).
I thought of this over the weekend at my college reunion, where I met up with an old friend of mine who right after graduation was a science teacher in a public school in New Orleans. Later, she taught at a KIPP-affiliated school turnaround venture in New Orleans and then became founding assistant principal of a KIPP-affiliated school there. Then she moved back to the Boston area and became principal of a charter school called Excel Academy. Now she's a fellow at an nonprofit called Unlocking Potential, but soon she's going to become principal of a troubled public middle school in a a Massachusetts town whose school district has been placed in state receivership.
The part about reunion caught my eye. That's a lot of jobs for a 2003 graduate (Matt Yglesias '03 as they say at Harvard) so I did a little digging. I may have missed some important details but here's what turned up:

Barring a really astounding coincidence, Yglesias is talking about an educator named Komal Bhasin. Here's Bhasin's job history:

She taught from 2003 to 2005.

With a bachelor's degree and two years teaching experience, she was named assistant principal of a school.

With a bachelor's degree, two years teaching experience, and two years experience as an assistant principal, she was named principal of a different school halfway across the country. (You will often find sudden promotions within a school where you're dealing with known quantities. Putting a fledgling assistant principal in charge of a different school in a different region is much more unusual, particularly an administrator with almost no teaching experience.)

With these qualifications, and five years experience as a principal, she got a principal-in-residence with a high-profile education reform institute -- a relatively short tenure and thin resume for this kind of position.

Obviously, there's a limit to how much we should infer here, but Bhasin has indisputably gotten a series of promotions that were surprising given her job history, education and (as far as I can tell) publications and she has also gotten considerable exposure as a rising star in the reform movement .

Just to be clear, I am sure that Komal Bhasin is a smart and dedicated educator and may well be an excellent administrator. Nothing should take away from that, but it is also true that, given what we know, her career path would seem overwhelmingly to support the idea that she was being groomed for a Michelle Rhee type leadership role just the way Ravitch suggests.

In other words, Yglesias came up with a great example, just not for his side.


  1. In Higher Ed, there's a certain type of person who is quickly moved from teaching to administration of educational programs. Note that administering educational programs is different from being a department chair or dean or whatever. Chairs and deans lead permanent (we hope) units of an institution. People administering educational programs either have external grants or special funding from the central administration, and as the educational flavors of the month shift they move into new programs with new names but a similar cast of characters.

    Between summer salary, stipends, and whatnot, they make more than other tenure-track faculty, and A LOT more than adjuncts.

    Good work, if you can get it.

  2. I've noticed that two; the 'leaders' of TFA and related movements are notable for having two years in an actual classroom, and then moving into a series of mid- and senior-level managerial assignments (I think that they skipped any low-level managerial assignments).