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The Teach for America Scam

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In case you. needed a reminder that Teach for America is a scam that takes idealistic young people and uses them to bust teacher unions and undermine public schools by making them feel special while denigrating the hard work and training it takes to be a teacher, especially in a low-income neighborhood, Annie Waldman has a long Pro Publica exposé of just how craven it has become.

When the Walton Family Foundation announced in 2013 that it was donating $20 million to Teach For America to recruit and train nearly 4,000 teachers for low-income schools, its press release did not reveal the unusual terms for the grant.

Documents obtained by ProPublica show that the foundation, a staunch supporter of school choice and Teach For America’s largest private funder, was paying $4,000 for every teacher placed in a traditional public school — and $6,000 for every one placed in a charter school. The two-year grant was directed at nine cities where charter schools were sprouting up, including New Orleans; Memphis, Tennessee; and Los Angeles.

The gift’s purpose was far removed from Teach For America’s original mission of alleviating teacher shortages in traditional public schools. It was intended to “generate a longer-term leadership pipeline that advances the education movement, providing a source of talent for policy, advocacy and politics, as well as quality schools and new entrepreneurial ventures,” according to internal grant documents.

The incentives corresponded to a shift in Teach For America’s direction. Although only 7% of students go to charter schools, Teach For America sent almost 40% of its 6,736 teachers to them in 2018 — up from 34% in 2015 and 13% in 2008. In some large cities, charter schools employ the majority of TFA teachers: 54% in Houston, 58% in San Antonio and at least 70% in Los Angeles.

Established nearly 30 years ago to tap idealistic graduates of elite universities to teach at traditional public schools in high-poverty areas, Teach For America has evolved into an informal but vital ally of the charter school movement. Not only does it place a disproportionate number of its teachers in charter schools, but the organization and its affiliated groups also have become reliant on the support of the Walton Foundation and other school choice advocates, including a daughter of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor. As board members of Teach For America’s offshoot leadership organization, which gives to the political campaigns of former TFA teachers, Emma Bloomberg and a Walton family member have supplemented the organization’s contributions to charter school proponents with their own donations.

“There’s no question that Teach For America as it evolved became joined at the hip to a large degree with the national education reform movement. I suspect that some of this was coordinated in part with funders who are active in the Teach For America funding and the charter and reform activities,” said Jeffrey Henig, a professor at the Teachers College, Columbia University, and author of a book about education research and charter school policy. “These billionaire school reformers and the foundations with which they are allied really have become much more sophisticated in the way they strategically use their funding.”

Teach For America cautioned its public school teachers against participating in recent teacher strikes in Oakland, California, and Los Angeles. Ava Marinelli, one of just 35 Teach For America teachers in the Los Angeles traditional public schools, joined the picket line anyway.

“With the level of divisiveness between charter and public schools, Teach For America has aligned with the charter school agenda,” she said in a recent interview. “This shows with their donors and who their partners are.” Teach For America said that it took no stance on whether its teachers should strike, but that the terms of their AmeriCorps funding prohibited involvement with organized labor.

Wait, AmeriCorps funding prohibits involvement with organized labor? If I had time (which I do not over the next couple weeks with several writing deadlines facing me), I would look into this more.

In any case, I don’t blame the kids who join Teach for America. Some of them are very good and will do the right thing, as the student who walked out with LA teachers shows. But the organization at this point exists to destroy public schools and bust unions. Keep your kids away from them. And if you are a college professor, keep your students away from them as well, informing them about the organization if they ask for a letter of recommendation for the program.

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