Not long ago Fox News contributor and columnist Michelle Malkin issued a stinging critique of Teach For America in the New York Post entitled The militant takeover of the ‘Teach for America’ corps. I was surprised that the right was turning on Teach For America. They have been huge supporters of their temporary teacher model over the years. I tweeted the following.
This single tweet caused a 1,000 tweet Twitter storm directed at me by Teach For America supporters. I couldn’t even keep up with all of the tweets flying around so I had to bring Chad Sommer, Annie Tan and other TFA alum dissidents into the Twitter conversation as backup. The predominance of tweets tried to frame my tweet as agreeing with Malkin’s entire thesis (See for example Choosing A Battle in the Fight for Educational Justice). I explained to the Teach For America supporters on Twitter (deluging me with tweets) that I only agreed with the portion about the need to stop public funding. They weren’t satisfied with that point. I don’t think there is any mystery why I have levied critiques against TFA and proffered that they reform for their “reform.” I have blogged extensive counter narrative here at Cloaking Inequity. For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on Teach For America click here. So I found the attacks on Twitter disingenuous. But, to make my perspective more clear relative to Malkin’s argument, I have taken some creative liberty and rewritten Ms. Malkin’s column. I use the parts of her argument that I agree with verbatim, and then made modifications where my perspective diverges from her’s.
It’s increasingly difficult to tell the difference between Teach for America — whose leaders are at the forefront of anti-teacher, privatizing forces in New Orleans, Chicago and elsewhere — and right-leaning foundations such at the Walton Family Foundation (TFA’s largest donor) and the Broad Foundation (another large donor). Guess what, taxpayers? You’re paying for it! Wendy Kopp founded Teach for America in 1989 after writing her Princeton University thesis on the need for a “national teaching corps” of elite college grads who would serve students on short-term stints in low-income neighborhoods. The group has exploded into a massive, nonprofit business. “Between 2000 and 2013,” researchers at the National Educational Policy Center (that was us 😀) reported, “TFA’s yearly operating expenditures increased 1,930 percent — from $10 million to $193.5 million. Of those expenditures, TFA annual reports show that about a third of operating costs are borne by the public.” Individual TFA chapters have raked in millions in federal AmeriCorps grants, supported by leaders in both political parties. Large corporations (including $100 million donor Wal-Mart), philanthropic foundations, and individuals have pitched in nearly a half-billion dollars in tax-deductible charitable private donations. Teach for America spends copious amounts on advertising, lobbying and public relations to hype its academic benefits, but its record on producing benefits for students is mixed (See the post Do you have five minutes to understand whether @TeachForAmerica is effective?). Teachers’ unions don’t like the organization’s fast-track “boot camp” training or its support of public charter schools, but they have yet to directly take on Teach For America in public forums. But those concerns pale in comparison to the divisive, privatization-mongering activities of the group’s increasingly radicalized officials and alumni. TFA’s most infamous public faces are all about privatization, tweets and education markets (Rhee, Cami, White, etc.) In New Orleans, Teach for America alums have led a wholesale takeover of New Orleans schools. The debate on the impact of those changes is raging. Complicated by the fact that for a decade the state of Louisiana has resisted sharing data with researchers. Only within the past few months (after a decade!) have courts forced Louisiana to share their data with researchers that haven’t been hand picked by politicians. This summer dueling academic research conferences will be discussing the 10-year anniversary of the implementation of private control in New Orleans. I previously discussed the approach in the post LA and the Recovery School District approach (SB1718): A P.T. Barnum Circus Teach For America is also credited in peer-reviewed research published education faculty and alumni of the corps to be leading the private control of schools. In the post To Whom does Teach For America Give Power and Influence? I discussed Mapping the Terrain: Teach For America, Charter School Reform, and Corporate Sponsorship. This article demonstrates that TFA is a central and important node in a network promoting the rapid expansion of market-based education, a reform effort that amplifies the voices of an elite network of privately sponsored organizations and individuals, while potentially disenfranchising the voices of community members and educational professionals. Using policy network analysis, the authors create a visual representation of TFA’s key role in developing and connecting personnel, political support, and financial backing to create a powerful network of interdependent organizations and individuals who promote and implement the expansion of charter schools and other market-based reforms. TFA alumni networks have been a primary driving force for private control of schools. The research depicts the broad scope of connections within TFA’s alumni network and demonstrate that the organization is not only an important actor in education “reform” policy, but also a preeminent incubator for personnel who leave the classroom after two years (typically) and go on to quickly lead and staff existing and new pro-market reform organizations. Given the rapid expansion of charters driven in part by the strategic and extensively funded TFA network outlined in this article, it is readily apparent how TFA is influencing policy decisions are being made and to whose benefit. While TFA’s network is intricately connected, extremely powerful, and rhetorically committed to “equity and justice”, the impact of their promoted policies on students and communities must be evaluated with a critical eye for its actual impact on the children of our nation (this passage was drawn primarily from the abstract of the article). Teach for America has transformed itself into a recruiting center of progressive individuals for Koch brothers style market-based education reform (Thanks to TFA alum Chad Sommer for this thought). Alums are inculcated as private control sympathizers and placed in position of leadership that empowers them to press for non-democratic schools. When a government-funded outfit abandons democratically-controlled education as its mission in favor of private control agitation, it’s time to cut off the taxpayer pipeline.
Teach For America alums are increasingly speaking out. In fact, there is an new book out this week entitled Teach For America Counter-Narratives. Check it out. One of the most striking statistics in the book was the Teach For America alums, on average, only have 18 hours of classroom time before they start teaching. I recently wrote an endorsement for another book authored by a TFA alum. This was my impression after reading the book about her corps experience on the East Coast.
Very rarely does the public get to see inside the tumultuous and difficult lives of Teach For America corps members in the way that [Author] has accomplished in this book. Why don’t we hear more often about the struggles of TFA corps members? TFA has dominated the public discourse by spending millions of dollars on marketing and millions more on research to positively spin sending inexperienced teachers to teach poor children. Similar to the deception perpetrated by the tobacco industry, TFA has sought to convince the public that their temporary teachers are a right and beneficial. However, just as the evidence mounted against the tobacco industry, TFA is encountering a steady stream of counternarrative from their alums, researchers, and the media after decades of friendly treatment. Policymakers, educators and communities are taking notice that TFA’s corps members are poorly trained and temporary. This book eloquently reveals the trials and travails of many very well meaning young people who have been thrust into classrooms without adequate preparation by TFA. I hope XXXXXXXXXXXXX inspires you to act.
I also want to be the first to let you know to look out for a new project called Truth For America from the Network For Public Education on Facebook and elsewhere. More soon!
See also Voices for Education recent podcast on Teach For America featuring two TFA alums and Dr. Barb Veltri here.
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.
Click here for Vitae.