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Just Say No to Teach for America

[ 97 ] July 3, 2013 |

Teach for America gets played at this great progressive thing. You, young bright-eyed college graduate, can go and change the world through your willpower and optimism. It taps into deeply seated notions among 21st century young people about the ability of the empowered individualism to create change in society. But the reality of Teach for America is far more sinister. In effect, the agency serves as the shock troops for busting teacher unions and sends inner-city kids the message that they don’t deserve qualified and experienced teachers. Chicago Public Schools teacher Katie Osgood has a long open letter urging TFA recruits to turn it down. In part:

Teach for America likely enticed you into the program with the call for ending education inequality. That is a beautiful and noble mission. I applaud you on being moved by the chance to help children, of being a part of creating equality in our schools, of ending poverty once and for all.

However, the actual practice of Teach for America does the exact opposite of its noble mission. TFA claims to fight to end educational inequality and yet ends up exacerbating one of the greatest inequalities in education today: that low-income children of color are much more likely to be given inexperienced, uncertified teachers. TFA’s five weeks of Institute are simply not enough time to prepare anyone, no matter how dedicated or intelligent, to have the skills necessary to help our neediest children. This fall, on that first day of school, you will be alone with kids who need so much more. You will represent one more inequality in our education system denying kids from low-income backgrounds equitable educational opportunities.

Many of you no doubt believe you are joining a progressive education justice movement, that is the message TFA sells so well. But I want you to understand clearly, TFA is not progressive. The kind of limited data-driven pedagogy, the fast-track preparation, the union-busting, the forced exploitation of your labor, the deep-pocketed affiliation with corporate education reform are all very conservative, very anti-progressive ideas. Look no further than TFA’s list of supporters/donors. The largest donations are from groups like the Walton Foundation, of Walmart fortune, which has a vested interest in the status quo of inequality, breaking unions, and keeping wages low and workers oppressed. Or notice the many partnerships with JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, the very institutions which caused the financial collapse and threw millions of Americans-including your future students’ families-into foreclosure, bankruptcy, and deeper poverty. These organizations choose to donate to TFA because TFA supports their agendas. If TFA was truly pushing back on the status quo of educational inequality, these types of donors would not only refuse financial support, they would be attacking a group which threatens their earning potential.

Ask yourself honestly, since when did billionaires, financial giants, or hedge fund managers on Wall St begin to care about the education of poor black and brown children in America? If you follow the money, you will see the potential for mass profit through privatization, new construction, union-busting, and various educational service industries. Why would a group dedicated to educational justice partner with these forces?

As Osgood also notes, Chicago has no teacher shortage. There are plenty of teachers. Rahm Emanuel has just closed 50 schools. Those teachers could be reassigned. But Emanuel and other teacher-busting mayors use TFA as a replacement labor force, undermining the teacher unions they loathe:

What’s even sicker is that TFA is poised to benefit greatly from the horrible policies happening to children and teachers here in Chicago. As I describe in the post “Teach for America Has Gone Too Far”, TFA plans to expand into the very neighborhoods experiencing schools closings, the neighborhoods which by definition have more teachers than they do positions. Teach for America has truly crossed a line when closing schools and slashing budgets-policies detrimental to children-become the avenue for expansion. Also, the new “per-pupil budgeting” pushed by the BOE and Mayor Emanuel, means principals now must pay more for experienced teachers. In the past, teacher positions were opened based on the number of students and principals were free to hire any qualified teacher, regardless of salary as that salary did not come out of the individual school budgets. Under this new formula, principals are given a lump sum for every student enrolled and therefore are incentivized to hire less-experienced, cheaper teachers in order to save money (all the more necessary as budgets are experiencing the largest cuts in living memory.) I suspect that TFA quietly helped push this new budgeting policy into place.

In other words, Just Say No to Teach for America

Comments (97)

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  1. Bitter Scribe says:

    So this is the latest way Emanuel is fucking over Chicago’s schools. It dovetails nicely with the budget cuts referenced in the post, which will force many if not most Chicago schools to knock off art, music, even phys ed.

    Emanuel is shaping up as the guy who mouths airy platitudes about education, then turns around and milks TIF tax money for things like a new basketball stadium for DePaul University and leaves the principals to rip the guts out of each school’s curriculum (and explain this to the parents).

    This article by Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader does a fine job with the details.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Well, it isn’t the latest way, but it is one of the ways. This sort of thing is central to the entire TFA mission and it’s happening in other cities as well.

  2. TribalistMeathead says:

    There was a great article in the Washington CityPaper about the program that’s several years old and, unfortunately, I can’t seem to find it in their archives. It followed two participants, one who thrived and one who (I believe) was ultimately fired from the program after some complaints from parents.

    One of my housemates from about 10 years ago participated in the program. Osgood nails it with “TFA’s five weeks of Institute are simply not enough time to prepare anyone, no matter how dedicated or intelligent, to have the skills necessary to help our neediest children.”

    Plus the whole thing just reeks of colonialism.

    • Tyro says:

      Education itself is colonialism. That might not be pleasant to digest, but it is reality. The uneducated wl always be taught by the better educated, and for their own good. The students and their families who learn to “get with the program” and follow the leads of the “colonizing” teachers will succeed and thrive in society, while those who don’t will not. One can decry this dynamic if you wish, but the fact remains that if the communities in question did not need this “colonial” intervention, then they would not be in such a position in the first place.

      Sorry, but mass numbers of middle class, experienced teachers were fired from their jobs in the late 60s and 70s on this exact premise that being educated by middle class white educated experienced teachers was “colonialism.”

      Now, TFA has many problems and seems to have been taken advantage of as a vehicle to support privatization, but the concept was to take America’s best college students and make them teachers, rather than relying on the poorly educated products of the Schools of Education.

      • TribalistMeathead says:

        lol

        • Tyro says:

          [shrug] What can I say? I just don’t view the school system as an employment program for local graduates of poor-performing education schools who are on the bottom of the academic pile of college applicants.

          And education has always been about getting students to conform to academic values. The students that learn to do this thrive, and the ones who don’t, don’t. The basis of modern public education has been about the state sending the educated out to the uneducated hinterlands to finally give everyone access to learning.

          • Becky says:

            Thanks for pointing out that our teacher prep programs generally recruit low-performing students. That is absolutely true. Although TFA is not the most ideal solution to the education problems in our country, placing incredibly intelligent, passionate, and hard-working individuals in a classroom, even without much experience, is better, or at least equal to, hiring mediocre ed majors to teach our children.

          • Barry says:

            Double Shrug Shrug-shruggy-shrug. What can I say? I just don’t view the school system as an employment program for tourists from Ivy League schools who roll out to grad school just about the time that they have a clue.

      • Gregor Sansa says:

        A lot of education schools are badly mediocre. Some aren’t. The classist attitude above doesn’t seem to me like the best approach to handling this problem.

      • Uhinged Liberal says:

        Education itself is colonialism.

        Even in a sea of weirdos, you stand out.

      • Origami Isopod says:

        Smug, asinine, classist, and racist. Get off my side.

      • joelhoffman says:

        the communities in question

        I assume you’re referring to the “child community?”

  3. Cody says:

    When can we elect Rahm Governor so he can end up in prison?

  4. Gregor Sansa says:

    My sister did TFA and met her wife there, and my wife and I effectively did Teach For Guatemala as we founded a rural public school here (I had planned to get a teaching credential at Mills, but my wife didn’t get her US visa, and then the town where she’d done her anthropology thesis fieldwork told us they needed a school.)

    I’m not going to say we didn’t do some good (my sister is a naturally great teacher, my sister-in-law and wife are pretty good, and even I was better than the alternative of no middle school at all), but having lived through that I’m sure that this article is right; inexperienced teachers are not the best teachers.

    My sister still gets the glossy TFA magazines which she leaves as bathroom reading material, and it’s shameless privatization propaganda all through.

  5. somethingblue says:

    I think this is a case where everybody involved really did start out with good intentions, and probably even did some good. But yeah, at this point they’re just shills for Rhee-ism.

    • TribalistMeathead says:

      Agreed. The program always bled idealism, but it certainly wasn’t conceived as an end-run around the unions.

    • Alex Blaze says:

      I blame Michelle Pfeiffer for giving a generation of well-intentioned white people the idea that, without experience, they walk right into a poor high school and do a better job than any of those black and latino teachers who’ve been there for decades.

      There is a racial dynamic to this. I was at a Chicago Teacher’s Union rally last year when they were striking, and the racial make-up of the teachers there was not at all like the lily-white crew of teachers at my suburban high school (there were 2 black teachers, 1 non-white hispanic teacher, and 1 Indian-American teacher out of 300, to be accurate). Over half the speakers were black. All the materials had been translated into Spanish.

      I don’t think Rahm, et al., were unaware of this.

  6. Demian says:

    Check out http://reconsideringtfa.wordpress.com/ for more critical commentary on TFA

  7. Frank Somatra says:

    I know little about TFA, but I do have a question (asked in good faith, I swear): why can’t these largely young, liberal, idealistic new teachers simply join the teachers’ unions in the districts they are assigned to?

    • TribalistMeathead says:

      TFA provides a stipend on top of their normal salary from the school district.

      Plus, these days, it’s probably easier to get jobs in cities like Chicago, where it’d be damn near impossible for someone with zero teaching experience and no graduate degree to get a job with the public schools through normal channels.

      • TribalistMeathead says:

        Easier to get jobs through TFA, that is.

      • Anonymous says:

        Though I am not a promotor of TFA and do not recommend the program unless you simply cannot find ANY other way of becoming certified to teach, I did receive my certification via TFA (and have remained in the classroom)- that said, I am not aware of any TFA corps member who has received a stipend above and beyond their regular salary. TFA makes it quite clear that you will be making the same salary as an otherwise traditionally prepared teacher. (Just to correct that point).

        If you are referring to the Americorps Ed. Award as being a “stipend”, this is a financial award that can either be used towards future education or to repay past student loan debt- you do not actually see a penny of it. And if you do use it to repay past federal student loan debt, you pay taxes on it as if it was income despite never getting a penny (as in you better have the reserve cash to pay the taxes b/c none of the award can be used to pay the taxes on it- hence why my Americorps Ed Award sits unused until I either have saved up the tax money and/or find the time to start my Masters in Ed) You can receive this award by completing numerous Americorps program- TFA is not the only recipient.

      • E. Rat says:

        TFA Corps Members don’t get the Americorps stipend that City Year and other programs receive – they get a teacher’s salary instead. They get the education award, which they can use to get a teaching credential or pay down student loans.

        The San Francisco Teacher Residency is an Americorps program (or at least is one when there isn’t a federal sequester). Student teachers in that program get a stipend in exchange for completing a credentialing program and working full-time in a classroom under an experienced teacher. It isn’t good money (Residents qualify for food stamps), but it is a way to get a teaching credential and be ready to run your own classroom.

        • TribalistMeathead says:

          TFA Corps Members don’t get the Americorps stipend that City Year and other programs receive – they get a teacher’s salary instead.

          Did that change at some point? I remember my housemate saying that he got a stipend on top of his DCPS salary. But he may have been talking about the education award.

      • Becky says:

        I never received a stipend on top of my normal salary… what are you talking about?

    • TribalistMeathead says:

      Plus TFA places you in a position, so if you’re, say, living in NYC but really want to teach in rural Louisiana, TFA will do the heavy lifting.

    • In addition to TribalistMeathead’s points (and the one about needing a masters is probably the biggest deal), TFA is a better resume bullet and produces better professional connections than getting on the ground floor with a big-city Teachers’ union.

      But I have drunk the higher-pay-but-less-job-security Kool-aid, so I am the wrong one to talk to.

      • Linnaeus says:

        TFA is a better resume bullet and produces better professional connections

        And that, it seems to me, is what TFA is more about these days rather than producing career teachers.

      • dlankerlanger says:

        “resume bullet” and “produces better professional connections”

        so, the same shameless bullshit they use to sell every other utter scam?

    • Isabella says:

      I’m not sure if they are explicitly forbidden or discouraged from joining the union, but I gather TFA teachers are kept very busy with TFA activities and “professional development,” and often don’t get very involved in the local teaching community.

      I also can see there being a, for lack of a better word, cultural issue where the TFA teacher comes from a non-union background, received his or her training (5 whole weeks of it) from an organization that’s become rather anti-teachers union, and is told he or she is somehow different or more special than standard public school teachers. The TFA teacher may have a negative view of the teachers union.

      Finally, people who are only in a workplace for two years generally aren’t very interested in their workplace’s union and aren’t very invested in the pay, benefits and working conditions since they’ve only got to experience them for two years.

      Even if TFA teachers are interested in their local union from day one, unions require long term leadership, activism and work to be effective. That doesn’t work very well if people are leaving every two years.

      • Anonymous says:

        As a former corps member, I can tell that you that at least in the region I taught, we were encouraged to joint the union as it played a large role in building community amongst the teachers. During my time there, I was a part of the local union and two of the teacher who helped me grow the most as teacher were my non-TFA mentor teachers assigned to me by my district during my first two years teaching. Unfortunately, the district more/less financially crumbled over the course of my second year teaching and we were notified there was to be a major RIF, consequently I was forced to find a job in a different district or become unemployed.

  8. Sly says:

    TFA is also bad for the would-be teacher on practical grounds; the program has an attrition rate of 80% after just three years (compared to 50% after five years nationally). There’s a reason why we call it “Teach For A While.”* If someone actually wants to teach, they’re much better off going with the traditional certification route. It takes longer than the five week crash-course in pedagogy that TFA offers (FIVE WEEKS WHAT THE FUCK!), but ultimately its time well spent.

    *And TFA does nothing to address this, because a high turnover rate is kind of the point of their existence; to deprofessionalize K-12 teaching via a labor force of semi-educated temps, and smooth out the high costs of turnover to districts by acting as an ersatz HR department.

    • Anonymous says:

      For some who wish to become a teacher, but have already graduated with a non-education degree, returning to school to pursue the “traditional” route is not financial a feasible option (I would fall into this group). For those, alternative certification programs (of which TFA is only one of many) is the only remaining option. That said, TFA is not the strongest of these alternative options and I wish I had known of the others when I was faced with figuring out how to become certified. TFA did allow me to become certified and I will be beginning my 6th year in the Fall (and hope to teach for many after that).

      TFA is not wonderful, but for some, it is a means to an end- to become a certified teacher.

      • Gregor Sansa says:

        Thanks for your comments, Anon. I’m going to use an offensive word now but I don’t intend to insult you personally.

        Now you’re a regular teacher, do you know of some other means to that end that doesn’t involve a scab army?

        • Dilan Esper says:

          Unions may hate scabs, but unions are also not public service organizations. They have fiduciary duties to put their members’ interests first.

          The flip side of this is that non-union members owe no obligations to unions. That’s the system. People have the right to be scabs, and since one way unions raise wages is by reducing the supply of labor, it’s unavoidable that some people will choose this route. People have to work.

      • Barry says:

        “TFA is not wonderful, but for some, it is a means to an end- to become a certified teacher.”

        With, as pointed out, an 80% attrition rate after 3 years, I would change ‘some’ to ‘a very few’.

  9. Manny Kant says:

    I think this article more or less says everything that needs to be said about TFA.

  10. dlankerlanger says:

    “pay taxes on upperclass wealth for america so teachers can teach for a paycheck” is a program that might actually do some good

  11. Gregor Sansa says:

    Would a good “give upper-class college grads a few years’ experience in underprivileged classrooms” be possible? If they were aides, I think yes. But that would take actual money.

  12. Mike Hess says:

    “Also, the new “per-pupil budgeting” pushed by the BOE and Mayor Emanuel, means principals now must pay more for experienced teachers. In the past, teacher positions were opened based on the number of students and principals were free to hire any qualified teacher, regardless of salary as that salary did not come out of the individual school budgets.”

    This is actually a good thing for schools with very few experienced teachers. Most experienced teachers teach in the least-needy schools right now because it’s easier, and they get paid the same salary either way. Therefore, the neediest schools subsidize the salaries of the most experienced teachers at less-needy schools. This budgeting change saves the neediest schools money, which they can spend on more teachers or instructional materials. This budgeting change would also force those less-needy schools to find money to pay their more expensive, experienced faculty and to hire fewer highly experienced faculty in the future. It’s a good thing for needy schools.

    • Gregor Sansa says:

      “It’s a good thing for needy schools in their zero-sum budget battle against less-needy schools” ≠ “It’s a good thing for pupils at needy schools”.

      • Mike Hess says:

        Unless you’ve got a method by which an experienced teacher can teach at both low and high-need schools simultaneously, the teacher hiring process is always going to be zero-sum.

        This budget reform makes it more likely that new teachers will be hired at low-need schools, and less likely that experienced teachers will be concentrated in low-need schools. It also means that high-need schools staffed with mostly new teachers will have more money (after staffing costs) than they do currently. It’s unambiguously a good thing.

        • Gregor Sansa says:

          This budget reform makes it more likely that new teachers will be hired at low-need schools, and less likely that experienced teachers will be concentrated in low-need schools. It also means Or, alternatively, it might mean that high-need schools staffed with mostly new teachers will have more money (after staffing costs) than they do currently. It’s unambiguously a good thing.

          Fixed. It’s likely to be the latter more often than not. And when it’s between good teachers or more money to throw at your problems, money is definitely the booby prize.

    • E. Rat says:

      CPS could have instituted per-pupil funding without incentivizing the hiring of low-seniority teachers. San Francisco USD has per-pupil funding and charges the same amount for any teacher. This isn’t a perfect system (schools with low-seniority teachers still subsidize other schools; PTOs are charged actual cost when they pay for teachers so wealthier school communities have an edge).

      Still, CPS chose to do this the ugly way. As far as I can tell, they’re also not providing any kind of weighting formula (SFUSD adjusts per-pupil costs so that English learners, students withs special needs, and poor students receive more money). Their whole formula seems calculated to make education worse at the highest-need schools.

  13. James E. Powell says:

    Back in the day, the local TFA trained at the high school where I worked. Four TFAs with a regular teacher and one or two TFA instructors. Not really like student teaching at all.

    My students were in those classes and the stories they told would have made a much better documentary than Waiting for Superman.

    I can’t completely hate on TFA because I met and worked with a few who stayed in teaching. But for nearly all of them it was a resume builder or an interlude before grad school or law school. There are other programs that work in schools, City Year, example, but that do not replace teachers.

  14. UserGoogol says:

    I don’t really understand what it means for teachers to be skilled. For a student like me, a Teach for America teacher might have been a very nice fit. I was pretty engaged to learning (if not always the best student in general) and someone fresh out of college might be better at answering questions beyond the course material, because they had more recently learned it themselves. I guess the problem is that with less engaged students, teachers need more “specialized” skills of teaching in itself rather than just having a big pool of academic knowledge to draw from. But what the hell are teachers supposed to do? The job of a teacher is to convey the knowledge students are supposed to learn, if the students aren’t absorbing that knowledge, it seems like they’d need more specialized care than what can be delivered in a classroom.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      First, even if our college education majors are not rigorous enough (and they are not), teachers still have to go through a significant amount of training. Second, even if TFA would have been a very nice fit for you, you don’t matter. The question is whether TFA is a better fit for students than an experienced teacher with a support group of other teachers mentoring them, etc. And the answer is almost certainly not.

      And call me quite unconvinced by the idea that freshness on the subject matter would matter. I would be mortified to deliver our public school history curriculum to random recent graduates over experienced history teachers. Or even recent history/education double majors with mentorship from their experienced colleagues.

      • UserGoogol says:

        I’m not entirely asking a rhetorical question. I legitimately don’t really understand what experienced teachers do.

        • Ed K says:

          Is it that you don’t (or don’t want to) understand what teachers do and so can’t see why it’s a craft that can only be fully developed with adequate training and long experience, and mentoring? Or are you just a fucking idiot?

        • Ed K says:

          To clarify: pedagogy isn’t information delivery. If you don’t understand why experience matters in teaching, likely you don’t understand the difference between teaching and conveying information.

          • UserGoogol says:

            I guess that’s what confuses me. It certainly felt like information delivery to me. Not necessarily delivering it through completely passive lecturing, but the goal of education should be to promote the pursuit of knowledge as its own reward, so as to create a more intellectual populace.

            So yes, I don’t understand what teachers do. I very sincerely want you to explain what they do.

            • UserGoogol says:

              Although to qualify my ignorance somewhat, I’m of course aware that education involves the teaching of skills in addition to pure theoretical knowledge. (And two ultimately go hand in hand.) But that’s still the conveying of information, just in particular the information on how to do something.

          • UserGoogol says:

            After going for a walk and ruminating on my ignorance more I think I have a better idea of why I’m an idiot.

            Teaching does involve a certain amount of tacit skills, and tacit skills are by definition skills which can’t be taught by the Teach for America organization in advance. Some of these tacit skills might be things that people reasonably ought to know by the time people graduate from college (how to converse with people) but I suppose I can see how there’s some specialized knowledge involved in knowing (for instance) how to read students and gauge what kind of mistakes they’re making. And precisely because they’re tacit skills, it’s kind of bullshit of me to ask to have them explained to me.

            That doesn’t necessarily mean that more experienced teachers are always better (since the acquisition of tacit skills is just one out of many different forces at play here) but it certainly gives a plausible reason to be skeptical of Teach for America.

            • MARGARET NOLAN says:

              The “tacit” skills to which you refer are actually rather measurable, if principals and other teaching supervisors could have the time to observe them in action. In my long experience as a teacher, the best success I achieved, and observed in other teachers, was helping able or less able pupils know their learning style. In any class, the range of learning skills was pretty diverse. Nevertheless, modes of learning, like listening, speaking, reading, and even simply writing information were useful to one or another of my pupils.
              Once someone learns the best way to learn, then the information can be absorbed.
              Of course, all of the above depends upon a teacher motivating a student, a less measurable talent.

        • cpinva says:

          “I’m not entirely asking a rhetorical question. I legitimately don’t really understand what experienced teachers do.”

          fair enough. let me ask you a question, that might illustrate this for you: you’ve been arrested, for a murder you didn’t commit, but there is circumstantial evidence against you. who would you rather have defending you, an experienced attorney, with many cases under their belt, or a fresh out of law school attorney, who barely knows the rules of evidence?

          • Barry says:

            But whose ‘knowledge’ is fresh!

            • Barry says:

              And note that a fresh Harvard grad might have had a better legal education, but the guy with a degree from Misc. State U and a couple of hundred cases might be preferable.

              Oh, to continue the analogy – the Harvard grad was recruited to ‘Defend America’, a one-year program pitched to them as a steppingstone to an associate position with an elite firm.

    • Alex Blaze says:

      “I don’t really understand what it means for teachers to be skilled.”

      Allow me to explain.

      My mom is a lifelong teacher and a department chair now (so she does hiring and mentoring). New teachers have issues, first and foremost, with classroom management. Kids walk all over new teachers (who are often just bigger kids themselves… 22 isn’t full maturity, sorry to the 22-year-olds reading here). New teachers often lack organization and communication skills. They have no idea how to manage crises, which occur often in the classroom. Grading is haphazard for new teachers. New teachers also take about twice as long to accomplish preparation and grading compared to experienced teachers (unless they just don’t care).

      Add to this the fact that TFA teachers are usually not going to be professional teachers and usually leave for med school or an MBA after a couple years, so the level of investment they put into developing these skills is lower.

      As for new material, it doesn’t not apply to any subject except for maybe a tech class. High school math is not about reading journal articles on the most recent developments in L-p equations, Spanish teachers don’t discuss the most recent linguistic studies of auxiliary verb usage among shepherds in southern Chile, etc. When it comes to high school, the curriculum has usually been around for a while.

      I did a similar program to TFA, except in France and it was teaching English. I can attest to the fact that I was poorly trained and had no clue what I was doing there, and most of my fellow English teachers were the same. They gave us a 1-day training session that was mostly wasted on paperwork and telling us not to lead the students in prayer.

      Still, each year the Education minister would be all like, “We’re going to stop being the worst European country when it comes to English education! We’re teaching in elementary school, just like Germany!” Yeah, except in Germany real teachers teach English, not American kids looking for a year of partying.

      • Alex Blaze says:

        Thinking about crisis management, here’s a story from my high school days. My homeroom class in 9th grade was run by a new, young, inexperienced teacher. She was maybe 5’5″, slight build. Next door was a more experienced teacher. Maybe mid-50′s. A little shorter. A little stouter, but not big or built by any means.

        Two boys (one a football player and the other a skater kid, both had already hit their growth spurts and were around my height, 5’10″ or so) in my class broke out into a fist fight in the middle of homeroom one day. Our teacher went into a corner and – I’ll never for get this – put her hands over her face and started saying “Oh my God, oh my God” over and over.

        Clearly not the best reaction.

        They pushed chairs around, made a lot of noise, and I’m sure us students were making noise too, so the experienced teacher next door came over. She grabbed them by their shoulders and told them both to knock it off. And they did. She took them to the principal’s office.

        These were kids. Their brains weren’t fully developed and the experienced teacher understood exactly what that means. She knew without hesitation that sounding authoritative still works even though either of those boys could have beaten her up if they wanted to. But they didn’t want to beat her up; 14 year olds still want the security of rules and structure and still want adult approval, even if they don’t show it.

        The experienced teacher got back in time to comfort our teacher, who was sitting at her desk, frazzled.

        That was ages ago. I’m sure the inexperienced teacher is now doing a better job. She was committed and probably got quite a few tips and lectures from administration and other teachers. But what incentive would she have had to learn from that situation if she knew that she’d be going to MBA school in a few months?

      • E. Rat says:

        Also, Teach for Americans are working in high-needs schools. These schools are under-resourced and generally have a decent population of English langauge learners. Most of the families live in poverty. This is not a suburban teaching assignment; these are the children who need more and TFA makes certain they’re getting less. No amount of dedication is going to make up for a lack of skill.

        Also, TFA tends to place Corps Members in Special Education classrooms, which strikes me as particularly ugly.

  15. ChrisTS says:

    I held off on commenting, for my own weird reasons.

    One of my nephews did TFA, post-Harvard, in New Orleans. He hated it, he hated his students – and said so quite openly. How can that possibly be good for anyone, most of all the kids?

    In fact, if TFA were really to be any use, most of those like my nephew should have gone to very different places to ‘help.’ He came from an insanely privileged background and only knew anyone of color because some kids of diplomats from other countries were in a few of his classes (or the tennis club and/or golf club). Why did anyone think that tossing him into an all AA school with kids from hideously impoverished families would be useful?

  16. Suzan says:

    Thanks. I figured this out several years ago (right after I signed up as an unemployed teacher in NC) when they started sending out odd anti-union missives to those who should have really desired being in a union.

    Again, they are not that smart (but they do pass for clever). My guess is that very few of the people running this venture are actually teachers.

    Thanks for your reporting!

    • cpinva says:

      “Again, they are not that smart (but they do pass for clever). My guess is that very few of the people running this venture are actually teachers.”

      your guess would be correct, the person that started it had never taught a day in her life, and started it right after getting her B.A.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teach_For_America

      I vaguely remembered reading about this, probably 10 or 15 years ago, and wondering how it was that someone, with absolutely zero background in the field, managed to garner so many big name sponsors? at the time (and still) I thought it was nothing more than a huge scam, designed to give an otherwise unemployable college graduate a job.

      • Tyro says:

        I vaguely remembered reading about this, probably 10 or 15 years ago, and wondering how it was that someone, with absolutely zero background in the field, managed to garner so many big name sponsors?

        Elite colleges reward the sort of applicants and personality that will start a venture right away, on their own, with no actual qualifications, so this isn’t that surprising. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kopp’s application to Princeton showed how she started various clubs and charitable ventures in high school. That she would do the same thing right after graduating college would make sense.

        The thing is that elite colleges don’t really have a path to public school teaching. The private schools have a system of teaching fellowships where young teachers teach a low-maintenance class for a couple of years to build their skills before applying to permanent positions elsewhere. I think the concept of TFA was to replicate this kind of system.

  17. Kyle says:

    What about all of the newly certified teachers who graduate with an undergrad in Education who decide to go into TFA? There are many applicants who have degrees in education and who could try to find a job in a privileged school but instead try to take a different route for less money for two years. What about these teachers?

    • Alex Blaze says:

      They’re different. But they’re not 100% of TFA teachers (are they even a majority? a plurality? I haven’t met a former TFA teacher who ended up as a career teacher, but then that’s not a scientific sample). And they shouldn’t have their labor exploited, either.

      • Alex Blaze says:

        Also: if they want to teach underprivileged youth, all they would have to do is apply to such schools through traditional means. If their hearts are in the right place, if they’re committed and mentor-able, and if they’re qualified for the profession, I’m sure schools in poorer neighborhoods would love to have them.

  18. Witt says:

    My feelings about TFA can be summed up in one sentence: Bragging about how “selective” your process is really means deluding a lot of poor chumps who aren’t a good fit for your program into applying just so you can say you rejected them.

    And that’s leaving aside whether your program is any good in the first place! No, thank you.

  19. Gareth Wilson says:

    No argument on TFA itself, but the stuff on the donors is rather shaky logic. By that reasoning, isn’t everything that “billionaires, financial giants, or hedge fund managers on Wall St” donate to inherently sinister? Like, er, Newark Public Schools?

    • James E. Powell says:

      It isn’t reasoning, it’s experience. If there is evidence that billionaires, financial giants or hedge fund managers on Wall Street have interest in improving the lives of poor people, I am not aware of it.

      • Gareth Wilson says:

        I’m not sure that Wall-Mart have any interest in busting teacher unions, either. What do they care?

        • DocAmazing says:

          Solidarity. Unions work together and support each other, ideally.

          • Gareth Wilson says:

            Okay, so what support have the teacher unions given to unionising Wall-Mart?

            • Gareth Wilson says:

              Wal-Mart, sorry.

            • The Wrath of Oliver Kahn says:

              The teacher’s unions are among the last unions in this country with any power (and even that isn’t consistent from place to place). By working to undercut them, Wal-Mart is able to significantly weaken any efforts to unionize in their own shops by simply eroding the ability of unions to influence workplace culture at all, to the point where the idea to unionize just wouldn’t occur to Wal-Mart employees.

              So to answer your question, the “support” is mainly indirect – i.e., providing an example of a functioning union that can sometimes actually extract concessions from employers. I don’t know of any instances where teachers’ unions walked picket lines at a Wal-Mart, but support doesn’t necessarily have to be that direct in order to have some value. And considering how far labor’s influence has fallen in this country over the last 40 years, you have to take what you can get.

    • Alex Blaze says:

      If that were the only thing, then yes, since I’m sure the Waltons donate to all sorts of charities and the argument is reductio ad waltonum.

      But TFA isn’t an uncontroversial charity (like a children’s hospital or soup kitchen or something). It’s a political organization with an agenda. There’s a reason the entire premise is that experience and training mean nothing in one of the last big, unionized professions.

      Employers who want to fire skilled union workers always look for ways to replace them with unqualified scabs who’ll work for a lower wage (usually because they’re immigrants, but here because they know they’ll be leaving plus they come from rich families who can subsidize them). The employers – school boards, politicians, etc. – can deliver a shoddy product so long as they can fool the consumers (kids and parents) for long enough that the product is just as good as it used to be.

      Plus TFA uses explicitly political rhetoric to recruit, usually about equality and stuff.

      So if you worked at a soup kitchen that Walmart donated food to, then you can ignore where the food came from (Walmart’s not going to poison homeless people). But if you’re working for a political organization Walmart donates to, you should be asking yourself if you share Walmart’s politics.

      • Gareth Wilson says:

        Sure, it’s possible that TFA is just serving a corporate agenda. But isn’t it also possible that the Waltons have just been persuaded by the same political rhetoric that they use to recruit? Just like, oh, Maggie Gyllenhaal for example. Not that I’m defending TFA, five weeks of training is madness. I had trouble believing it when Peter Parker did it in the Spiderman comics.

      • Barry says:

        “The employers – school boards, politicians, etc. – can deliver a shoddy product so long as they can fool the consumers (kids and parents) for long enough that the product is just as good as it used to be.”

        And this is where putting the students in the schools the poorest students helps – those are kids whose parents have no clout; schools where the press just rolls by to get a disaster story from time to time.

    • E. Rat says:

      All that hedge-fund and Facebook money isn’t doing a whole lot for students in Newark, actually. Goldman Sachs is making a mint off its investments in schools – I believe that the return is 39% – and the Facebook money seems to be funding advocacy for charter schools, teacher evaluation schemes, and whatnot.

      • Jeremy says:

        How did we reach the point as a society where public education has become just another thing for investment bankers to profit from? Aside from the investment bankers themselves, how did anyone come to the conclusion that that’s a good idea?

        • Cody says:

          It’s another result from being unwilling to fund schools through taxes. As their budget gets slashed, they have to find more and more creative ways to get money.

          In comes Wall Street to the rescue, out of the generosity of their “hearts”!

        • Barry says:

          “How did we reach the point as a society where public education has become just another thing for investment bankers to profit from? Aside from the investment bankers themselves, how did anyone come to the conclusion that that’s a good idea?”

          IMHO, the elites *always* want to suck the money out of the rest of us. In some eras, they have more ability to do so. And it’s been pointed out that the education sector is one of the last untapped pools of money for ‘privatization’.

  20. Aroeut says:

    I think you make a good point about the use of TFA in urban schools. I think it’s less of a good point in rural areas, where there really is a shortage of teachers and no one wants to go there to live, no matter how much the extremely cash-strapped districts would like to pay. There, it’s often TFA or no teachers at all/being crammed into classrooms with 40+ kids/being bused an hour to a district with teachers.

    • Barry says:

      “There, it’s often TFA or no teachers at all/being crammed into classrooms with 40+ kids/being bused an hour to a district with teachers.”

      We’re seeing in Chicago that that’s not the case. And this is a way to keep from fixing the system.

  21. wengler says:

    I thought the whole point of TFA these days is to allow bankers and politicians to claim they are former teachers when they loot public education under the banner of ‘reform’.

  22. Former teacher says:

    As a former teacher, I agree. My biggest beef with TFA is that there is simply no way that 5 weeks of training can prepare a 22 year old kid to deal with poverty, homelessness, spottong and reporting child abuse, recognizing drug use, adapting lessons to meet special education plans, effective lesson planning, using community resources, classroom management, evaluation methods, and dealing with statewide NCLB tests. My cousin did a similar program, and blogged about it – I read one of her first entries and called her to explain the kid she was furious with likely had a learning disability. She asked about it and learned he had an IEP that she obviously had not read and wasn’t implementing. What if a trained teacher hadn’t read the blog and called her? Enthusiasm is great, but what did we learn from Jaime Escalante? When one teacher is super dedicated, they can make a difference all by themselves – if they are willing to sacrifice their health, their family life, and their chance for fiscal solvency. Is that really the message we want to send to teachers? My blood boils. If you want to be a teacher, you need to get good training before you get in the classroom – it’s not fair to students for you to experiment on them. If you didn’t realize you wanted to teach as an ugrad, there are 1 year MAT programs.

  23. Kevin says:

    So, by the reasoning of this letter I should abstain from going to the Lincoln center because the Koch brothers find it? Or I should conclude that the new deal is just a scam to keep the comman oppressed because fdr happened to have been rich? I went to a perfectly fine nys public high school staffed with union members, but any reasonable person will conclude that the unions are bad for under serviced students, because, while there are outside factors beyond the union that compel teachers to perform well in an affluent and suburban setting, those factors generally don’t exist in impoverished and urban ones. And the teachers unions don’t care about the students, or the schools, any more than the nbapa cares about team owners and fans.

    • Barry says:

      No, but it’s a sign that when a bunch of people who want to make the country worse sponsor a ‘reform’ movement, you should be skeptical.

      “but any reasonable person will conclude that the unions are bad for under serviced students, because, while there are outside factors beyond the union that compel teachers to perform well in an affluent and suburban setting, those factors generally don’t exist in impoverished and urban ones. ”

      Note that any such factors would not exist for TFA; if anything, the opposite, since those people are just rolling through.

  24. [...] than decrease TFA funding and save teachers jobs, TFA funding skyrocketed. Teach for America is basically a union-busting organization. Seeing teachers’ unions as a problem is central to its ideology and it is happy to take jobs [...]

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