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