Blogging Live from San Francisco AERA: Teach For America and Race (clueless?)

Blogging live from the AERA conference in San Francisco. I am currently listening to the presentations in the session The Racial Complexities of Teach for America in High-Poverty Schools and preparing for duties as discussant. So what is the data collected by researchers being said by these scholar of TFA? (See CI’s TFA posts here) Is there a counter-narrative to the meme that you read in the New York Times, Washington Post, etc? Here are excerpts from the discussion (The majority of the authors are TFA alums and “exiles”):

Teach For America’s Corp: Complying, Counter-Crusading, and Other Responses and Interventions in the Field by Barbara Torre Veltri <>

Teach For America’s alumni are a diverse force of eye-witnesses. No longer perched on the horizon, no longer content to be commodified, no longer compelled to respond to TFA’s external mandates, no longer willing to be spoken for, and about, they instead, are poised to call out the rhetoric, call out inequitable policies, call out TFA’s narrative marketed in the public domain as a public good initiative.

Teach for America and the “Endangerment” of Communities: Counter-stories From TFA Teachers of Color by Terrenda White <>

To be sure, TFA is not the equivalent of Brown’s monumental and watershed impact on black education, nor are the struggles of teachers of color within TFA equivalent to the decades of organizing done by black educators leading up to Brown. I argue, however, and based upon the narratives shared below, that TFA nonetheless appropriates a civil rights discourse similar to Brown by promising equity and access in the form high quality education for “all children”; a discourse which resonates acutely with many teachers of color who join the corps with high hopes and good intentions. TFA educators of color, moreover, and like their predecessors before them, are largely responsible for challenging inequitable practices within the organization’s preparation model and expanding and transforming definitions of ‘good’ teaching altogether. These efforts, unfortunately, and as the narratives will show, did little to change the structure of TFA as a whole, or the maintenance of white privilege embedded in its approach to communities of color. Hence, “as the ruling of Brown was a wonderful idea, its implementation was nonetheless intentionally destructive” (Siddle-Walker, 2012). In a similar vein, TFA’s equity goals and its ability to mobilize support for service in the neediest communities is a wonderful idea, yet its implementation has nonetheless been quite destructive to black school-communities and their professional networks, particularly for Black and Latino students taught by a chronic stream of novice teachers and for veteran educators of color who are again increasingly undermined, devalued, and in many instances wholly displaced in lieu of TFA’s aggressively expanding model.

The Culture of Education Markets: Teach for America, Union Busting, and Dispossession of Black Veteran Teachers in New Orleans by Kristen Buras <>

I argue that education markets are characterized by a host of cultural presumptions and outcomes, revealing that present strategies to “recruit new talent” and “replace lazy teachers” (the word place is crucial here) protected by the union are part of the racial-spatial formation process. That is to say, dispossessing veteran teachers in New Orleans of benefits accrued over a lifetime of public service is not simply an attempt to displace the city’s black middle class. This strategy also evidences a complete disregard for the role of place-based consciousness and community knowledge in the education of black students, which veteran teachers indigenous to the community are most likely to possess.

In the end, it [TFA] is nothing short of an assault on the dignity and epistemology of black communities in New Orleans to assume that talented teachers, innovative leaders, and educational institutions need to be “incubated” from without, especially when there are such rich cultural traditions from within.  Entrepreneurial claims made by TFA about the need to import “human capital” and “innovative models” of education are deeply troubling. Cultural capital already exists within the community; there are indigenous models upon which we can and should build.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Teach For America and the Making of Educational Leaders by Tina Trujillo, Janelle Scott, and Marialena Rivera <>


Teaching to the Test: Inside TFA Charter Schools and Classrooms by Beth Leah Sondel <>

The affects on students of this uncontested approach are undoubtedly dire. I do not point out the critique among TFA affiliated teachers to exonerate them from responsibility over the affects of their practice, or the reform movement of which they are a part. Scholarship and research have laid out clear reasons to challenge and attempt to end the growing presence of TFA in preparing teachers and promoting market-based reform. Yet at the same time, these organizations have unfounded and unconscionable corporate funding and bipartisan support, meaning they are likely not going anywhere.

Its hard to do the research and data justice presented here at the AERA session in a short blog post. I would encourage you to contact the authors for their papers. However, my overall impression from the data and information provided by these former TFA teachers about the inner-workings at TFA caused me to ask the question… are they clueless on race? I hope that TFA overtures to work with the TFA dissenters/dissidents/alumni to reform their reform are genuine. Only time will tell.

Please Facebook Like, Tweet, etc below to share this discussion with others.

Want to know about Cloaking Inequity’s freshly pressed conversations about educational policy? Click the “Follow blog by email” button in the upper left hand corner of this page.


  • Monty J. Thornburg

    Monty Thornburg, Ph.D. • I had the pleasure to attend this session at AERA. It was the most “lively” or “passionate” sessions that I attended. Many research sessions can be “dry” and frankly uninspiring. Additionally, the scholarship was excellent. The Q & A ran far after the allotted time and on this “May 1st” “May Day” I’m feeling a need to Blog my feelings about something not deeply covered in the research, i.e., teacher labor unions. In this specific case; UTNO the United Teachers of New Orleans was mentioned in one research presentation but without much depth or complexity.

    UTNO was formed in the early 70s as a “joined” teacher union, NEA and AFT. The AFT affiliate had been the “Black” union, and NEA the “White” union. Its joining together was both real and symbolic of the well meaning efforts to “desegregate” schools in New Orleans at the time. I became a building “rep” and district “rep” in the new union and I was selected by a formerly all “Black” faculty as I taught on a voluntary basis as a former “Teacher Corps” member in one of the historically important “Black” elementary schools near Xavier University (a supporter of Teacher Corps and “Workshop Way” for students at the time).

    African American teachers were generous, warm, friendly, and taught me how to teach in their unique, and til then previously segregated, isolated neighborhood. I wish I could say the same of my “white” counterparts in other schools where eventually a black teacher, and beloved teacher, “Mrs. C.” had to move. She was forced to move to fulfill what became a forced, court ordered faculty desegregation plan, where quotas needed to be filled and local N.O. white teachers had refused to move. In two years we went from a “voluntary” desegregation “plan” to a “court ordered” one.

    UTNO became the conduit for “negotiations” and “change” from a “dual” segregated system to a unitary one in those early years in the 70s. UTNO also became powerful politically in the city and became an important ally in the elections of the first African American Mayor’s and Board Members in the City, and the civic “power structure” was changed forever- and for the better.

    RESISTANCE: There was always resistance, and part of that resistance, frankly, came from parts of the Corporate sector: See: Miron, Louis F., “Corporate ideology and the anomaly of dedicated growth in New Orleans” (1990). College of Urban and Public Affairs (CUPA); or, “The social construction of urban schooling : situating the crisis” situated in N.O. (Pre Katrina). In my previous Blog: “Truth to Power” the “Angry White Man from TFA” at the AERA session, I think, was likely a representative of the “Corporate Ideology” of TFA discussed by Miron.

    The “Union Busting” of UTNO which was also a large part of the story as to why so many “regular teachers” were forced out; lost their jobs during the so called “Recovery” effort with the creation of “Teach NOLA” and its support by Corporate TFA.

    – Yes, “Union Busting” was a big part of the agenda by the Corporate interests, there, and is elsewhere with the “privatization’ of education.


  • Pingback: Blogging Live from San Francisco AERA: Teach For America and Race (clueless?) ← NPE News Briefs

  • Monty J. Thornburg

    Truth to power. That was my take away as observed. One of the themes from an interview presented, was about an AFrican American TFAer who became angry at being exploited by TFA. You know, the angry black man. Well, I witnessed the Angry White Man, a TFA Executive Type with Badge …. And, his affect was quite Angry! I so much wanted to know his thoughts. I just know, by his manner that I was hearing Truth to Power.


  • add my letter to the NYT that appeared today.


  • Lourdes Perez Ramirez

    Thanks and please keep feeding us with this info, including bu not limited to “Teach For America and the Making of Educational Leaders by Tina Trujillo, Janelle Scott, and Marialena Rivera.”


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s