Why are TFA and “reformers” perhaps the least interested in reform?

Why are TFA and, more generally, “reformers” perhaps the least interested in reform? Why do they get defensive when faced with critiques based on empiricism (data and research) and efficacy (is their reform working)? See for example Jonathan Alter get defensive when I discuss charter school data and research on the Melissa Harris-Perry show. He went Jerry Springer. Is it because their reform is driven by ideology rather than the best interests of children and society? During the past week, TFA alumni have joined members of the public in the #resistTFA movement and put forth a variety of suggestions for #reformTFA. Some Twitter users responded to the critique and framed it as “hate” and “attacks.”

TFA has gone about their usual approach of engaging the critique with their strategy of “let’s agree” and “we are all on the same side” and “we care about the same things” so they can move on and go on doing what they have been doing for the past 20 years— sending inexperienced, poorly trained teachers into our toughest classrooms. But, really, we don’t agree— we aren’t on the “same side” and we don’t “care about the same things” because the implementation of TFA is problematic for children (See Teach For America: A Return to the Evidence (The Sequel)

Juice Fong, TFA’s head of internal communications, said that the calls for reforming TFA “doesn’t keep them up at night.” Which is exactly the point isn’t it? TFA is okay with the STATUS QUO. The public is growing more and more conscious and understanding how the TFA temp model as currently implemented is problematic.

That is why there are so many reform proposals out there in the public discourse— many of them from TFA alumni. But, TFA continues to be tone deaf— or asleep as Juice alluded. Thus, the TFA “reformers” appear to be the least interested in reform— how ironic.

TFA corps members and alums email me all the time. One alum recently told me that reading Cloaking Inequity is a “guilty pleasure” of TFA teachers at her school. When they contact me, I often encourage them to write a blog post for Cloaking Inequity. Several have done so. See for example:

It’s Sommer Time: TFA alum Critiques Co-CEO’s “Slick Willie” Interview

Tell-All from Oakland TFA Teacher: “I didn’t do my research” “Left by Winter Break”

Tell-All From A TFA and KIPP Teacher: Unprepared, Isolation, Shame, and Burnout

Some choose to be anonymous because they are afraid of blowback from TFA and others are able to go on the record. Today AnnaMarie Moffit, a TFA alum from the Texas Rio Grande Valley has chosen to go on the record. Here are her five suggestions to #reformTFA.


1. Transform the current program to recruit education majors, rather than non-education majors, and provide them with a two year internship. This internship would include the development of an action research project to be implemented by the corps member at their school site and evaluated by their education team at the end of their internship.

 Making this change would provide those committed to becoming a highly-qualified and well-prepared educator an experience similar to becoming a doctor or skilled tradesman. The internship would include pairing the intern with an education team specifically selected based on the area of interest or study determined by the participant. The corp member’s team would include site-based educators (practice), designated Curriculum and Instruction staff from the local university (theory) and other TFA peers. The education team’s responsibilities would include supporting the corps member during their classroom experience, as well as assisting with the implementation of the corps members’s action research plan.

Similar to a Master’s program, successful participants would then receive a specialized degree or higher level of certification. This type of program would also provide the means to try new practices or targeted curricula in the existing public school system which contains a random sampling of children. Unlike many of the successful reforms that have been purported by the school choice movement, positive outcomes would  more likely be based on the efficacy of innovative practices or curricula, not the manipulation of student participation.

 Also, rather than displacing qualified and certified teachers in participating schools, this program would provide corps members the opportunity to participate in a post-secondary apprenticeship program that would be a collaborative effort between TFA, local universities and on-site school staff, not a competition.

2. Corps members should be assigned a team (2-3) of professional educators, including at least one special education staff member, at their school site. 

After spending five weeks at the Summer Institute, being taught only by fellow corps members, I was inadequately prepared to teach in my TFA placement. It was not until my second year through the collaboration with my first grade team did I feel equipped with the necessary tools and resources to be a successful first grade teacher.

At the Summer Institute, we were told to not be in the teacher’s lounge and were encouraged to mostly collaborate with past alums or current corps members already placed at the school site. These practices and attitudes negatively impacted the relationship between the school staff and corps members over the years, ultimately resulting in an “us vs. them” mentality. 

This site-based support group would alleviate this problem by engaging and including the experienced and certified staff at the corps members placement site, as well as utilize the resources and experiences within the current staff. During this time, corps members would work with the support team to create goals, identify areas of need within their practice and develop a long-term education career plan (ie. vision mapping).

3. Corps members should be discouraged from leading extra-curricular student groups or participating in non-academic activities (ie. coaching/community-organizing).

During my time in the Valley, TFA corp members were highly encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities or coaching sports teams that took their valuable time and attention away from the classroom. Although numerous individuals had large numbers of students not mastering material or making adequate academic gains in their classrooms, valuable time was spent on planning special TFA events or coaching teams, not improving their teaching skills or knowledge base.

Their student’s poor academic progress was often blamed on the kids or the previous years’ teachers. I believe that this was partly due to TFA’s current belief that anyone can teach. There was little pressure or incentive to spend time on reflecting, improving and developing effective instructional practices. For many of the TFA folks, their time in the Valley was a stepping-stone to other careers or universities.

4. At the end of the academic school year, interns should be required to remain in the community and attend the local university to further develop their teaching skills.

The majority of corps members I worked with in Texas would return to their homes for the summer or travel abroad. There were very few that stayed to take more classes, unless it was made mandatory by the receiving district. Once again, I attribute this to the attitude perpetuated by TFA’s messaging: anyone can teach.

By remaining in their teaching community, corps members will develop a deeper understanding of the challenges and strengths that exist within the community and build stronger relationships with their families and school staff. This would also allow corps members the opportunity to be involved in extra-curricular groups that would not interfere with their work during the academic school year.

5. TFA should no longer be allowed to place corps members in a classrooms that primarily serve children with children with special needs unless they have notified parents and received their consent. No corps member should be allowed to teach in a bilingual setting unless they can pass language competency exams.

My caseload at Rico Elementary contained OVER 40 students, Spanish and English speakers, ranging from Kindergarten to fourth grade with special needs. I was particularly concerned about my students who only spoke Spanish since I didn’t speak any Spanish. However, when I brought this concern to my Principal, she instructed me to just sit next to them in the Spanish classroom and that would be in compliance with IDEA. Of course, she was also fired that year for cheating on the mandatory state evaluation by changing answers on students’ tests.

In my experience, corps members were being placed in settings that had students with a high level of care and complex needs, but they lacked any specialized training, or even the language of instruction. This practice led to not only having kids and teachers put in danger, but also inadequate and ineffective teaching being provided to those most in need of support and remediation.

If the program would make these changes, I do believe they would be fulfilling their mission statement – One day all children will receive an excellent education.

In conclusion, as demonstrated by AnneMarie Moffit, TFA doesn’t solve the persisting teacher quality inequalities in our schools that our country has historically ignored— they magnify the problems by sending inexperience teachers into those situations. It turns out that the most successful countries in the world have taken exactly the opposite approach of TFA on this issue (See WTF: US “Reformers” arguments are antithesis of Finland). It is impossible for TFA to be unaware of the suggestions in the public discourse for #tfareform from their alums and others. As “reformers,” TFA should be the most interested in reform— not the least. #reformTFA For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on TFA go here.

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YOU CAN HELP: Do you have documents or information about TFA? Are you a TFA teacher that wants to share your experience in a blog. It’s okay if it doesn’t read like TFA’s slick promotion materials. Send to jvh@austin.utexas.edu

p.s. Boycott FedEx for their Hypocrisy and Support of TFA

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