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 <Barbara.Veltri@nau.edu>
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 <email@example.com>
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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 <email@example.com>
Teaching to the Test: Inside TFA Charter Schools and Classrooms by Beth Leah Sondel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.
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