Truth For America: New alum testimonials about @TeachForAmerica

I received this open letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) from a Teach For America alum. She was assigned to teach special education in California for 2014. Teach For America has about 80 new TFA teachers in LAUSD. They recently received mid-year LAUSD board approval for a 31% increase in the size of their corps specifically to “teach” special education. TFA spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on their marketing and recruitment. They have also expertly placed their alums (who are everywhere but the classroom) in positions of power to convince you that sending untrained teachers to teach our most vulnerable students is an acceptable— even brilliant idea. However, do you really want to know how unprepared Teach America’s teachers are? Read and watch the testimonials from Sonya and Rebecca about teaching special education as #TeachForAmerica corps members…

Dear LAUSD Board,

As you move forward with your plan to hire more Teach For America special Education corps members, I would like to urge you to think very critically about the effects of putting these teachers in classrooms.

As a ’14 Special Education corps member, I am well aware of the ineffective training that TFA and LMU provides, and how that deeply affects our students in the classroom. I am ashamed of my naivety in thinking that five weeks would be enough time to even remotely prepare me for my position as a special educator.  

I understand the need for teachers, especially special educators and know that this is a nationwide crisis that needs to be addressed, but Teach For America is not the answer. They are a Band-Aid fix that is quick to fall off, leaving our young people even more vulnerable and underserved. Teach For America places unprepared, untrained, and overwhelmed teachers into special education classrooms and the only thing it causes is more harm and a larger education gap.

The education we received during summer institute around actually working with and providing services for diverse learners was sub-par at best. We didn’t even see an IEP until the last week of institute, let alone receive instruction on how to write these legal documents. In a district where special education students are already underserved, what does it look like to send someone with four to five weeks of teacher “training” into the classroom? How can we truly believe that we are providing adequate support for our special education students?

On my first day in the classroom I was provided with copies of all 30 (above the legal limit) of my students’ IEPs and was expected to coordinate with their general education teaches how we would work together to provide them with all of the services they had a legal right to as per their IEPs. How was I to work on reading comprehension goals with students when I hadn’t learned proper intervention strategies? How was I to work on extensive social/emotional/behavioral goals when I had no experience either learning about or working with students who qualified for special education under Emotional Disturbance?

TFA corps members are notoriously underprepared, and most will willingly admit this. It is no secret within my corps year, however, that Special Education corps members were the least prepared. With uteachforamericaniversity courses that were irrelevant to our positions (elementary reading lesson planning for teachers placed in high school resource positions, etc.) and minimal support from TFA themselves (Special Education leads who had only 2 years of experience, “cram sessions” that completely disregarded our immediate needs in the classroom), we were set up to fail.

What we need are quality teachers who understand the diverse needs of our students. We need teachers who have been extensively trained, not thrown into a five-week crash course of lesson planning and behavior management. We need to think about how to retain current special educators and how to develop real and effective teacher training programs. We do not need TFA.

Diane Ravitch recently wrote that educators and others in Los Angeles have organized a petition against the hiring of more TFA in LAUSD.

“Cancel the contract that pays TFA to recruit untrained interns to teach our vulnerable special education students. Identify reputable programs to recruit graduates and student teachers who are committed to the teaching profession, to our schools and our students.”

This petition is to urge the LAUSD school board to immediately rescind its contract with TFA for special education services. Our most vulnerable students deserve the most qualified professionals possible.

Los Angeles Unified School District ratified a contract with Teach For America to provide trainees to fill 25 teaching positions in special education at its November 10, 2015 board meeting. There was no debate on the matter; it was hidden in the consent calendar with attachments of attachments buried deep.

While Board member Dr. George McKenna raised important questions about TFA’s retention rateScreen Shot 2015-11-23 at 4.44.55 PM and its commitment to our students, the answers he was provided were misleading because they rely on unchecked data from TFA itself, according to a report in American Prospect (1/5/15). The truth is 87% of TFA recruits plan to leave teaching after their internships end, according to a recent article in Bloomberg News (3/9/15). LAUSD was only the most recent stop by TFA on a statewide campaign over the last few months making the same claims about the need for special ed TFAers. Most school districts from Chula Vista to Santa Ana resisted the sales job after public outcry. But those districts held actual discussions about the controversial contracts with TFA.

LAUSD senior staff needs to go back to the drawing board to create partnerships with reputable teaching programs to recruit teachers who will be qualified on Day 1 and are likely to remain committed to the teaching profession.

TFA is one of the tools that Eli Broad is using to attack our schools and undermine the very fabric of the public school system in Los Angeles (his foundation is a top funder of TFA). Our elected leaders just endorsed that by approving this contract. It should be rescinded immediately.

Will you sign this petition? Click here:

Any finally, another video from the Truth For America series. I released Untrained, the first in the series, in the post Rebecca’s letter to new @TeachForAmerica recruits. Today, I am posting Drowning, the second in the series.

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

Please share this post below on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Thank you!

Want to know about Cloaking Inequity’s freshly pressed conversations about educational policy? Click the “Follow blog by email” button at the top of this page.

Please blame the media who continue to write only puff pieces for/about TFA for any typos (See for example Teach for America CEO helped transform the program)

Twitter: @ProfessorJVH

Click here for Vitae.

p.s. The Walton family LOVES Teach For America. See Walton foundation sustains local funding for Teach For America with new [$50 million] grant The Waltons are pro vouchers and support just about every other private control and privatization education policy out there. Are the Walton Foundation and TFA strange bedfellows or perfect bedfellows? In public the corps professes progressive values, civil rights etc, but it turns out they are actually allied closely with the privatizers… See Rewriting @MichelleMalkin’s bodyslam of Teach For America)

p.s.s. See the debate at USC with the TFA LA folks in the post EdMonth Storified: This Is What Happens When You Debate @TeachForAmerica



  • I am impatiently waiting to properly fund public education in California to avoid Teachers as Disposible Bandaids.


  • I have a connection to a TFA teacher. Her inner city students threw chairs at her. TFA simply does not prepare candidates for the realities of the challenging classrooms they are supposed to “save”.

    Yet TFA Is often more about saving money than saving schools. Ironic, given the sweat and cash poured into Common Core. Not to mention TFA doesn’t work as intended as teacher training, given that about 90% don’t continue anyway. The resulting turnover then disrupts learning. This is a failed experiment.


  • I have a connection to a TFA teacher. Her inner city students threw chairs at her. TFA simply does not prepare candidates for the realities of the challenging classrooms they are supposed to “save”.

    In fact it’s often more about saving money than saving schools. That’s ironic given how much effort and cash have been thrown into Common Core. Not to mention arguing that TFA creates teachers is contradicted by the fact that about 90% won’t continue. In turn the constant turnover disrupts learning. This experiment has failed.


  • I’m glad to have found your blog. Thanks for your posts. I’d appreciate your comments about my recent posts regarding college-level inequities: I believe we have a lot to do to get education on the right track, pre-K-16.


  • Reblogged this on College Counseling Culture and commented:
    Education quality is a continuum, not a set of disconnected stages…


  • I think I have already shared this with you but just to support what you are saying here — My daughter entered TFA because she had huge student loans to pay back. She spent five weeks in “training” at USC with TFA and then got a job at a middle school in south Los Angeles teaching science and math (her strength is English and social studies) to mixed levels of special ed students. She had a few weeks to prepare. Her classroom was empty and there weren’t even books for the students. The desks were dirty, as were the walls. There were no papers, pencils, supplies so she went out and spent $1000 on enough supplies for her classes. She prepared as best she could, having no idea how she would teach something to mixed classes of 6, 7, and 8th graders who were “special ed”. Somehow she struggled through the first month, doing what she could. Begging and cajoling for textbooks (was this before the Williams Case which is meant to guarantee textbooks for all major subjects?), talking with other teachers, trying to get some help from the main office which snickered and made nasty comments in front of her and behind her back. Her family came and tried to help — both with the initial cleaning and set up and with the classes. The kids were fine. What was wrong was that she had no training, no expertise in any of this. She resigned after a month and applied to get her credential and master’s degree at a local University. I am so sorry to report that this same university, where she did complete her credential and masters, is now the main headquarters of TFA in Los Angeles. Apparently money speaks at every level and the demise of public education is even more rapidly being carried out by those who pretend to care about the education of our children.
    P.S. I was so appalled at the condition of her middle school that I spoke with someone in UTLA who verified that this school was notorious for being difficult [an understatement] for all who entered there.


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