Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Matt Yglesias may not be helping his cause -- REPOST

[I originally posted this at the Stat blog in 2013 but it's going to be relevant to an upcoming thread so I thought I'd reintroduce it to the conversation.]

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. Aside from this person, who I don't know anything about apart from what you've said ...

    But one can't help noticing that in the reform movement there seems to be a lot of people who fail up - sometimes getting promoted before their failure becomes apparent but sometimes not.

    1. Funny you should mention that. I'm working on a post titled "the Sinecure Safetynet" discussing how there always seems to be a cushy job waiting for movement reformers when they stumble.