Will San Francisco Cancel TFA?: @TeachForAmerica Alum letter to Board details threats, depression, and debt

Teach For America is facing headwind. Several states have cut back funding and TFA has revealed that they are short of their lofty recruiting goals that were set when they received $50 million from Arne Duncan a few years ago. (See all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on Teach For America here). Today I was contacted by two different individuals from the Bay Area about Teach For America. Jose Luis Pavon contacted me to relay that the San Francisco school board is reconsidering Teach For America. I will begin the post with his letter. Later in the day, I received a phone call from a TFA corp member who relayed a tell-all. I will conclude with her letter. (See also Tell-All From A TFA and KIPP Teacher: Unprepared, Isolation, Shame, and Burnout and “I felt Strange and Guilty”: Annie Tan @TeachForAmerica alum speaks) Jose Luis Pavon’s letter:

Dear Parents, Educators and Allies,

I am writing to inform you about a very important decision being made by the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) school board that will impact Everett Middle School. On April 14, 2015 the SFUSD school board made a motion to terminate the school district contract with Teach for America and a final decision will be made soon.

Administrators at Everett have failed to inform parents and the public about the detrimental activities of Teach for America at Everett and SFUSD. Teach for America (TFA) is a large scale corporate non-profit (www.teachforamerica.org). TFA is national non-traditional teacher training program that claims to support education equity. They offer college students with a bachelor’s degree money to pay off loans, a five week training program and a full time teaching intern position for two years at a public school where they are given permission to teach a class room, without attaining a credential or doing a student teaching internship. After two years the TFA teaching interns have the option to pursue a teaching credential or quit teaching and pursue a separate career. The individual teaching interns and credentialed TFA alumni put their hearts and hard labor into their work as educators with good intentions, the teachers are not the problem. It is the TFA leadership, management methods, policy agenda, and corporate funders such as Walmart that must be scrutinized because of the damage they can do potentially to SFUSD. TFA has a track record nationally of scapegoating teachers, supporting high stakes testing, attacking teachers unions, and privatizing public schools by dismantling them into corporate charter schools. TFA is funded by corporations like Walmart and Monsanto, consequently TFA supports running schools like a business (https://www.teachforamerica.org/sites/default/files/150217_annualletter_financialsfinal.pdf).

Public Schools are not private for profit businesses, they are publicly owned institutions with an essential mission to provide high quality education to the public and insure a strong democracy. We must support and defend high quality public education. There is a national movement of parents, educators, scholars, public officials and labor leaders opposing TFA and defending public education. a. (A Force for Real Education Reform Emerges. October 9th, 2013. By Jeff Bryant, Education Opportunity Network. http://www.otlcampaign.org/node/3274) b. (http://www.networkforpubliceducation.org/)

There is a growing list of serious concerns among teachers, parents, administrators, public officials and community members regarding the activities of TFA at Everett and other SFUSD schools. 

  • Sending novice teachers to teach classrooms of high need students such as low performing students of color, low income students, students with IEPs, English language learners and high risk students. Allowing teaching interns to train on the job managing a classroom instead of apprenticing under a credentialed teacher lowers the quality of education for high need students and sets up TFA teaching interns as well as students to fail.
  • TFA is practicing unconventional education reform policy experiments on students with out informing parents or public officials.
  • Everett administrators have a high rate of suspensions and police contact with high risk students and is not efficiently utilizing its resources to implement racially equitable restorative practices.
  • Enlgish Langauge Learners are being assigned TFA intern teachers or teachers with minimal experience teaching ELL while competent veteran bilingual teachers are assigned to teach mainstream students and are pressured to resign.
  • When students fail or misbehave due to inexperienced staff’s learning curve, students receive the consequence of bad grades or discipline. Administrators are not held accountable for making bad decisions.
  • Everett has a high rate of turn over for TFA interns and long term TFA alumni with teaching credentials.
  • Everett is the only school in SFUSD with a high percentage of teaching interns and credentialed TFA alumni. Everett is the only school in SFUSD with three TFA administrators who are all novice administrators.
  • Parents are not being fully informed that their children have TFA teaching interns or that Everett is practicing TFA policy experiments on their students.
  • Parents voice is not respected or heard by Everett administrators.
  • Parents feel that there is a lack of cultural competence from how the administration manages staff to meet the needs of students of color, ELD parents and parents of high performing students.
  • High need students, ELL students and high performing students are in mixed classrooms with novice teachers. This is a difficult task and is a job for  highly experienced credentialed treacher,
  • High quality teachers and support staff are resigning at a high rate creating instability for students. This includes credentialed TFA alumni, TFA interns, traditionally credentialed teachers and paraprofessional support staff .
  • TFA administrators are pressuring high quality, veteran, traditionally credentialed teachers to resign and using unfair labor practices that are anti-union. Teachers are targeted with intimidation if they engage in union activities or assert their voice.
  • Everett teachers feel like they do not have a voice and that their expertise is not validated or utilized to maximize academic efficiency. Teachers and support staff feel that TFA staff with less experience in SFUSD are given preferential treatment.
  • Everett administrators have had conflicts with community organizations and do not respect historical community expertise.

Take Action! Please help terminate TFA’s contract with SFUSD. Our schools need the highest quality teachers available and educators deserve support and respect to provide the most effective education possible.

Then a former TFA corp member contacted me on Facebook just hours after I received Jose’s letter. Since she was a Bay Area teacher, I asked her to write a letter to the San Francisco board. She has chosen to be anonymous because she fears reprisal from Teach For America.

Dear San Francisco’s Board of Education,

I was a member of the 2013 Bay Area TFA Corps. I have always had a passion to improve our school system. Prior to teaching in June 2013, friends and family described me as overly optimistic, a dreamer, healthy, always happy and laughing, and overflowing with joy. In just six months of teaching as a TFA corps member, the people closest to me expressed deep concern about my emotional state, describing me as irritable, severely underweight (92lbs), easily agitated, overly anxious, cynical, negative, and depressed. It was my family who gave me the courage to finally put my health and safety before the TFA-LMU program.

I was placed as a 2nd-5th grade Special Education Resource Specialist Teacher. As part of the TFA program, we were required to take classes through their partnered university — Loyola Marymount (LMU). However, the classes were completely irrelevant and waste of time. My peers and I were required to take 3 classes back to back through an extension program once a week for a total of 3-4 hours. Majority of the time the classes were used for us to complain how we were not learning anything that was feasible in our classes, and how overwhelmed we were. We wished that we were taught on what we were supposed to be doing in the classroom.

On the first day of school, I had no idea what to do or what to teach, plus what duties the Special Education Resource Specialist has.  I would study the material and read tips online. As a first year teacher in desperate need of support and training, LMU did nothing to provide me with these things. Furthermore, my LMU supervisor, instructors, and TFA overseers provided me with a disgraceful amount of support. My frustration regarding the lack of application the courses had to my practice grew as nothing was ever being done.

Prior to those courses, we were required to attend summer training, which proved to be even less helpful than the fall courses. Five weeks of unpaid training NOT in Special Education, NOT as a Resource Specialist, NOT as an Elementary General Education, but rather in a completely different subject and grade level — as an English Teacher for 8th Graders. It just doesn’t make sense. I received absolutely no training for becoming a Resource Specialist to Elementary students, which was only a month away from school starting. Also, we were required to teach for 40 minutes 4x a week to only 5-9 students with 3 other corp member teachers for LAUSD as our experience internship hours. Furthermore, no mention of IEPs came about until late August at Foundations Training, which is a travesty. The LMU classes during TFA summer institute were incredibly unorganized and seemed to simply be “going through the motions” to check off a box saying the course was completed for California legal purposes rather than truly checking to see if we understood any of the material. Furthermore, to think that five weeks of training over the summer is sufficient preparation for working in the most demanding districts is absurd. Not to mention the training had nothing to do with the placed position as a Special Education Resource Specialist. Furthermore, we were told that the degree was a M.Ed with a specialization in Mild to Moderate Special Education, not a M.A. in Special Education.  We only found out in the middle of the fall semester that the degree was a Masters in Art, not a M.Ed. We were also lied by TFA that we would receive a credential after our first year. LMU told us towards the end of the fall semester that this wasn’t true. Better yet, the 2013-2014 courses did not comply with CTC requirements.

Before the summer session of training, I was accepted into TFA under the false pretense that the Master’s Degree was a M.Ed and would be heavily compensated financially. This was not the case. Members like myself who joined last year had no frame of reference for what the expenses would actually look like. We were simply told the Credential program was “heavily compensated” and “incredibly sufficient” to support us in the class. Furthermore, when into the first semester, myself and others started to slowly go into debt, which was unbelievable. One should never go into debt when fully employed.

I did everything possible to never go into debt. I have been working since I was 14 years old to save for college. I attended undergrad and postgrad and graduated debt-free because of my savings. Right after receiving my Masters, I joined TFA to work and support education within the bay. I provided 120 working hours per a week for the TFA-LMU collaboration, along with a negative amount of money per a month.  And then to be asked to give more… for what? As a citizen of this country, I worked very hard to save throughout my life, and tried to give back to my community through TFA. However, the program failed me, coworkers, schools, and students.

Others and myself  were completely deceived by the TFA-LMU collaboration, and now feel very threatened about the fines that we are all expected to pay off while we are draining our savings (going into debt when fully employed) and then dealing with anxiety, depression and PTSD. As I said before, I entered teaching as the most optimistic, happy person you could possibly know. I am now trying to get myself out of an incredibly unfair place that is a direct result of the outrageous expectations put on me to teach in:

1.     The on-going debt due to the credential program monthly fees

2.     Taking courses that did not help with my job

3.     No training in emotional care for myself and students

4.     No emotional support from the TFA-LMU community

5.     No training as a RSP Teacher in Elementary schools during the summer

To think that we are now asked to pay thousands of dollars for such a negative experience of nonstop pressure, stress, trauma, and chaos is overwhelming. Many of us are dealing/dealt with deep rooted anxiety and depression as serving as a TFA corp member and the  ‘TFA& LMU Owe’ is simply adding more fuel to the fire. As for myself, in return, I was unemployed and receiving Medi-cal and even qualified for Food Stamps.

I also want to note, we have been threaten by a higher debt if we leave the program. If we walk away, we are then required to sign a privacy agreement with TFA. We are scared of TFA and LMU’s legal team. This is why this particular situation is not common to find in the press; however, it is common amongst all of TFA Bay Area Corps Members 2013 who were within the field of Special Education. Many of my fellow peers feel chained, or have dropped out deal with their health while trying to recover and paying off their enormous debt. Those who have remained are still trying to figure out how to do their job and deal with labor abuse.

I pray you take this into consideration to stop TFA from entering our schools, especially within Special Education. If not for my fellow corps members, do it for the disservice students. They do not deserve this. They are our future and we should always want the best for them. And lastly, it was the students that brought others and myself to join TFA. We wanted to make a difference; however, I fear we have caused them inadequate teaching and support. It’s distasteful and shameful what the TFA-LMU partnership is doing by taking advantage of a broken school system and making a profit from it, regardless of their corp members well-being, and children who are hurt in the process.



You can email school board members and Superintendent Carranza. Please copy emails to compile complaints/feedback at: defendpublicsfusd@gmail.com

If you decide to email, please keep it professional and informative.

See also two NEPC 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)

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

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.

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

Twitter: @ProfessorJVH

Click here for Vitae.

See also


  • Go to SFGate and read the editorials slamming the San Francisco Board of Education for voting against the TFA contract. It is clear that the Chronicle Editorial Board took the TFA PR machine at their word and simply quoted some of the same inaccurate data that was presented to the Board earlier in the year. The most damning assertion is that TFA interns persist at the same or better rates than other new teachers in the district. The rate of return for the second year of teaching is only a little less for TFA interns, however, this does not include those who have left without staying for the whole year, the ones who leave two weeks or two months into the school year, leaving their students with a series of substitutes for sometimes extended periods. Most, importantly, it does not recognize that the TFA interns have signed a contract with TFA for two years, but no more. But, the biggest discrepency is at the five-year mark. Fewer than one-in-five teachers who start as TFA interns remain teaching in the district, compared to more than half of all SFUSD teachers (includes them, meaning there is an even greater difference), and 80% of San Francsico Teacher Residency graduates. We know how to train new teachers, and it is not cheap or the work of untrained interns.
    The Board of Education deserves credit for standing up to the corporate-backed machine. In San Francisco, the privatization agenda is cloaked in “progressive” reform. Consider that the members of the Board who call themselves progressives have always been the biggest supporters of charter schools, using the “parents like them” argument to play right into the corporate “reform” agenda. And, surprise, surprise, the teachers’ union has supported all of them, while eschewing support for the outspoken opponents of charters.
    Superintendent Richard Carranza, about to decamp for Houston Independent School Distirct, has been trying to walk the line between the rhetoric of distrust for corporate reformers and the reality that San Francisco’s big private supporters of the school district are almost all also charter supporters. But, after hiring a Human Resources Director who came straight from TFA’s corporate team, this part of the corporate plan really started to take hold. There was also a “partenrship” with The New Teacher Project to train site administrators. The question is, was Richard Carranza as invested in inclusive decision-making as the culture of SFUSD demands? And will his genuine commitment to equity be enough for HISD to move the needle on closing the achievement gap?


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  • “But the program has faced criticism from educators who say that its brief training periods are not enough to prepare teachers for the classroom.

    “When your larger message is, you only need five weeks to become a teacher…it oversimplifies what it is that teachers ought to be doing and what they do,” said Eleni Katsarou, who directs elementary education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    If current application trends continue, TFA will fall short of its recruitment goal, Anderson said.”


  • Thanks for posting this important story. My heart goes out to those TFA teachers and the students! Hang in there, you are brave to speak out! TFA overlords like Matt Kramer, Cami Anderson, John White, etc., are the colonizers and poverty pimps of poor children of color, and human traffickers of the young teachers who work with these children. “Other Important Signs: In addition to some of the obvious physical and mental indicators of trafficking, there are other signs that an individual is being controlled by someone else. Red flags should go up for police or aid workers who notice any of the following during an intake. The individual:……Suffers from verbal or psychological abuse designed to intimidate, degrade and frighten the individual. Has a trafficker or pimp who controls all the money, victim will have very little or no pocket money.” Source:http://www.humantrafficking.org/combat_trafficking


  • Thank you for this article and form exposing one of the many cheap tricks the fat cats at 555 Franklin Street at SFUSD pulling. Now let’s move on to disassemble their shady Teacher On Special Assignment (TSA) scam where overs 200 above-standard teachers have been pulled from the classroom to figure out how best to to get standardized test scores up.


  • Any word on TFA Sacramento?


  • Any word on any ripple effect on TFA Sacramento?


  • This story from TFA San Francisco is eerily familiar. I went through the exact training a year prior as part of the 2012 corps in the south bay.

    We had about 4 hours of Special ed training at institute and then about a day and a half of training up in SF. That was about it

    I ended up only teaching for a semester. Things were bad at my placement school. I got in touch with CTA and after my administrators found out they threatened that they would fire all other TFA teachers at my placement site if I didn’t resign.

    I finally paid off the LMU debt for a semester back in March. The whole TFA-LMU is a racket. They’re making hundreds of thousands off AmeriCorps grants and have a contract making them the sole provider of instruction in the state.

    From personal experience, I find it difficult to believe that a TFA teacher doing ELL or SPED does more good than harm. The amount of training required in those specialized areas of instruction is just something you can’t learn with the way TFA conducts its training.


  • This is why I think TFA is now pushing Pre-K so hard. They are facing backlash in K-12, losing ground in most areas of the country, and are relying more heavily on PR and careful wordsmithing to “prove” their effectiveness.
    Pre-K opens up a previously untapped “market” where their “best and brightest” are more likely to succeed in their 2 year lets-pretend-I’m-a-teacher stint, with small classes, less depth in content teaching. The city of Seattle just established a Pre-K program (voted on last year) that has TFA written all over it – tons of “administrative” positions, nebulous job descriptions for “teachers”. Kids wil be in and out in a couple of years, so the turnover will be less noticeable, at least from that side of it. I’m guessing the bulk of the hires will be from TFA, TeachersUnited, and the rest of the Ed Reformy crowd here in Seattle.


    • Low and behold, we now have a “director of early leaning” just hired by our ed deformer mayor, and she is ex-TFA (so’s her husband), a good buddy of Michelle Rhee, and owned/ran a charter school in AZ with her husband before it was shut down for poor performance and financial issues. We got the whole ed deformer package. Better yet, her husband was hired to run the Parks department, and the two of them will be taking home a hefty $320k in salary from the City of Seattle. Amazing how much ed deform pay$. Now if only the state of Washington would pay its teachers…


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