Is TFA Cloaking Inequity?: Discussing Headwind on Al Jazeera

After several decades, Teach For America, a program that sends inexperienced teachers (typically only 5 weeks of summer training) before they are shipped off to teach on a (primarily) temporary basis in America’s toughest schools, is facing some headwind. Alumni are increasingly speaking out against the organization, many of whom who joined Teach For America with the right intentions. I suspect the high turnover at Teach For America’s internal administrative offices may also be related to similar epiphanies, but this I cannot confirm. For the last 8 years, I have taken calls from reporters who have puff pieces headed for print that extolled the virtues and soaring rhetoric of Teach For America— even more so at the start of each school year. I first received these calls because of a 2005 peer reviewed piece entitled Does teacher preparation matter? evidence about teacher certification, teach for america, and teacher effectiveness examining the effectiveness of Teach For America in Houston over a decade using statistical modeling. Then, when NEPC asked me to author two policy briefs examining all of the peer review research on the organization (Teach For America: A review of the evidence and Teach For America: A Return to the Evidence (The Sequel), the calls from the media increased in frequency to approximately each fortnight. I have spent a great deal of electronic ink discussing Teach For America here at Cloaking Inequity. I have also sought empower Teach For America alumni via Cloaking Inequity (i.e.“I felt Strange and Guilty”: Annie Tan @TeachForAmerica alum speaks) to make their counter-narrative on the organization available to the public (even from my own former student).

I have noticed that Teach For America is now facing headwind after all these decades in the media. Now the media still writes glowing (often race-pimping) pieces for Teach For America. I talked with Erika Mellon from Houston Chronicle for the puff piece Teach for America seeks diversity as it nears 25th anniversary and I told her essentially what I told Al Jazeera yesterday. Erika asked me a few questions about Teach For America. In response, I presented the peer reviewed research and counter-narratives from TFA alumni to her, it didn’t jive with her approach to praising TFA in her puff piece, so she changed the subject— the interview was over.  Not a sniff in her article of the critique that is permeating through the media. Not to put Erika on blast, but it’s the truth.

Regardless of whether the Houston Chronicle is attuned to the emerging critical public discourse surround TFA or not, The Harvard CrimsonHarvard MagazineThe Atlantic, The Nation, and TFA alumni education blogs are… which brings me to discuss my visit to Al Jazeera’s America Tonight with Joie Chen last night. How can I describe Al Jazeera? It’s like PBS, but major network style. I am aware that Time Warner and ATT have resisted carrying Al Jazeera in the past. Once I read the difficulty that Al Jazeera has had getting national distribution, I became curious. Turns out that Al Jazeera has won numerous awards for its reporting. I have been under the impression that MSNBC was the most thoughtful news network (minus Education Nation), I think Al Jazeera (formerly Al Gore’s Current TV) might give them a run for the money— which explains why the corporate media companies don’t want the general public to get hooked on the channel like many are on FoxNews (I don’t have cable so my father can’t watch it when he comes by the house). Imagine a nation where Al Jazeera is playing in every dentist office and doctors office instead of FoxNews— who chooses the damn station in those places anyways!? I digress, back to TFA, the segment last night on Al Jazeera was entitled The growing movement against Teach for America. In the first 4-minute portion, As Teach for America’s popularity grows, so does backlash (part one) here is snippet of what was said:

There’s a growing backlash led by some of its alumni who claim that TFA isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. For Nolan, she was in a bit of denial about TFA but grew skeptical about the program and its expectations for its teachers. She was placed in a magnet school in St. Louis, teaching science after completing TFA’s five-week training course.

She said she felt behind from the beginning because TFA hadn’t given her enough to transition from the summer program to classroom teaching. With 173 students, Nolan was overwhelmed. She resigned from TFA after teaching for just six months.

“I was miserable,” she said. “I was in a position where not only was I feeling incompetent every day — my incompetence was hurting the lives of children. So it was a heavy burden. It’s something where no amount of hard work I could do would fix it because I was so paralyzed by anxiety and discomfort and stress and sleep deprivation … I didn’t make forward progress.”

The second 4-minute portion As Teach for America’s popularity grows, so does backlash (part two) discussed the growing backlash from districts who have wised up to Teach For America

The backlash against TFA came to a head this fall. The Durham School District in North Carolina severed its relationship with the organization after more than a decade of working together. Last year Pittsburgh became the first school district in the country to reject an active Teach for America contract.

“Why should we put the least-experienced people in the schools that need the most help?” said Sylvia Wilson, a member of the Pittsburgh Public School Board, who helped decide to reject the TFA contract. “They didn’t have the kind of training that teachers are required for certification needs, what you need to have to become a teacher. I’m not saying that their hearts wouldn’t be there … But you have to have more than that. It takes more than just walking in a classroom and caring.”

In the final portion, I had a 3-minute one-on-one with Joie Chen. See the Youtube video below. Also check out the photos from the evening at the end of the post.

O-100 Real Quick. —Drake For Hip Hop music fans only. NSFW

Teach For America is clearly facing headwind against their “reform”. Will they continue on the same path or reform their “reform”?

For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on Teach For America click here.

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Please blame the media who continue to write only puff pieces for/about TFA for any typos.

Twitter: @ProfessorJVH

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