Archives for category: Teach for America

Barbara Torre Veltri is a professor at Northern Arizona State University who has mentored many TFA students. She wrote a book about TFA called Learning on Other People’s Kids: Becoming a Teach for America Teacher.


She wrote the following comments on a recent article about TFA:



1. The CEOs from TFA are not speaking the truth when they say that they only
fill slots where there are teacher shortages.


What happens is this: superintendents (many graduates of the Eli Broad
superintendent’s academy) terminate veteran teachers in Detroit, Kansas City,
Newark, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and then note that there is a teacher
shortage….its one that they created.


2. It’s been documented for several years, in the language of Multi-year
contracts, that districts who hire,and then are billed by TFA, set aside
positions across all subject areas, even those that are not traditionally hard
to fill such as,math and science positions.


TFA bills districts annually, in the millions.


3. The collective research, blogs, first-person accounts (YouTube and Internet),
articles and publications not managed by TFA network alliances, has been ignored
(squelched, buried, met with an avalanche of TFA directed PR), but cannot be
silenced totally, because of social media and the saviness of young people to
communicate with each other.


4. It takes a groundswell movement of those that are new to this information,
to collectively coalesce.


And while, change may be slow to occur, as Harvard and other universities are so
entrenched with Teach For America, that their university presidents serve on
TFA’s national board, most over or approaching 60something leaders, are
out-of-touch with the collective force of young people who organize.


5. For over a decade, researchers (including myself), corps member and alumni,
have singled out TFA’s preparation model, as one that needed to be fixed.


But TFA redirected criticism to the teaching profession,in general.
The non-profit spends twice as much in marketing and public relations, as they
do in preparation of their corps members as noted on their tax returns.
6. Pouting that TFA was attacked, by Linda Darling Hammond and others who had
the courage to publicly question the use of public dollars to fund America’s
teaching corps, TFA founder, Wendy Kopp wrote in her (2003) book, “I knew we
needed to find allies to support TFA.”


If the TFA organization was not acting like a rebellious teenager, thinking that
a) they knew it all, b) viewing suggestions as reprimands, and c) isolating
themselves and never actually listening to what the other side had to say,we
could’ve worked together to make basic changes that would at least not place,
mostly naïve, pre-novitiates in high poverty elementary and middle school
classrooms, where the effects of poor teaching on one’s educational foundation
are most profound.


7. While I am not certain that Teach For America listens to anyone, I do know
that young people, in colleges, listen to each other.


Last month, a father of a May Georgetown grad happened to mention that his
daughter was accepted into TFA, but declined their offer to teach in the
Mississippi Delta.


She was not prepared to teach, had never been to Mississippi, and her friends’
convinced her to reject TFA and opt to work in Manhattan.


TFA states, on its website, that it accepts only 14% of its applicants, which
makes them more competitive than Harvard or Princeton.


I’d like to know how many applicants seem to fit this growing trend: apply,
then, decline TFA’s offer.


A reporter’s daughter in New York City said “No, I’m not going to St. Louis with
Teach For America; I will finish my traditional program, and be a fully
prepared teacher.


A North Carolina graduate said, No,I’m not going to Houston to teach 7th grade
math, I never took a math course.


A California senior, whose parents are teachers, said, “No, thanks,TFA, I’m
won’t go to New Orleans to teach high school English. I intend to work on an
international project in-line with my training.


A midcareer male from Atlanta said no to Teach for America, after he researched
the level of pressure evident during the interview process, and in reviewing the
expectations during TFA’s five-week training, which he figured was not going to
prepare him to teach adequately. He opted instead to earn his credential through another pathway, and remain in
the profession.


8. And finally and more importantly, is the question surfacing now by the
students themselves, who have experienced schooling, content, and curriculum
presented by Teach For America teachers. Are the experiences offered to all
children, fair, appropriate, enriched?


Or, are students of TFA teachers presented with scripted, test focused


Teach for America’s Corps member teachers are quick to note, that full
compliance to an outcome model, through standardized assessments, was tantamount
to proving student success, and their own worth, as a TFA corps member


Even if students could not “demonstrate” success, through day-to-day performance
tasks such as reading, writing, reasoning, and communicating, they were expected
to prove something on a test, which was, and remains, the only


Corps members, over multiple years, have and continue to admit, that they were
never adequately trained in how to teach, yet they were schooled in the
importance of reporting student assessment data, even if they had no baseline
data from which to assess student growth.


9. As this article points out, students schooled by Teach For America teachers
are beginning to question why they were assigned TFA teachers, why the principal
didn’t make this information known to students and parents, and, and (as noted
by the college student from North Carolina remarks) why she was not prepared for
college, nor career, by her TFA teacher, and why this is acceptable policy.


There’s much research and anecdotal evidence from corps members who have share
similar comments to this one:


“You start to recognize during training, or within the first two months, that
this is not really teaching.”





Northern Arizona University
College of Education
Associate professor

The Daily Tarheel published an editorial advising students at the University of North Carolina to think twice before joining Teach for America.

The writers noted that the state pays $3,000 per year for each of 500 TFA, most of whom will leave after two years in the classroom. At the same time the legislature set aside money for TFA temps, it eliminated the successful North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, whose graduates pledge to stay as teachers in the NC public schools for at least four years.

“More often, TFA’s shortcomings are symptomatic of broader failings in American education rather than of its own malfeasance. As of 2013, less than 1 percent of N.C. teachers were TFA employees. If the state wants better teachers, it should pay them more and restore the N.C. Teaching Fellows program, which required a four-year commitment to teach in the state’s public schools. And policymakers should recommit to tackling the crippling poverty that inhibits the educational advancement of all children nationally.

“Meanwhile, students and current TFA employees should continue pushing the program to reform itself. At the very least, TFA ought to consider increasing the length of its required commitment.

“This board holds a litany of other concerns with TFA, including the often insufficient emotional support it provides its young teachers and the particular effect it has on unions and teachers of color. Students, teachers, TFA alumni and current employees, we want to hear from you.”

A remarkable meeting took place in the Manhattan offices of Teach for America.


TFA leadership sat down with leaders of United Students Against Sweatshops, a group that has visited campuses to warn students against joining TFA.


This article that appears in “In These Times” describes the meeting. To see the links and read the article in full, open it.


It begins:


Dani Lea, a sophomore at Vanderbilt University, believes that Teach for America (TFA) teachers in her high school in Charlotte, North Carolina, were detrimental to her learning experience and for those around her.


Upon hearing this, TFA co-CEO Matthew Kramer said, “That’s not our lived experience.” Lea responded, “That was my lived experience.”


The volley took place during an unusual open meeting at TFA’s midtown Manhattan headquarters November 13 between United Students Against Sweatshop (USAS) activists and TFA’s top leadership, which offered the meeting after a widespread USAS campaign against the organization that includes visiting college campuses to question the education organization’s projected image as crusading do-gooders in American public education.


USAS is the country’s largest student labor organization, which has emerged in recent years as a serious force to be reckoned on labor issues ranging from sweatshop apparel production to campus union drives. The group’s main gripes with TFA and its Peace Corps-like model for American education, bringing college students—most from elite universities—to teach for a short period of time in some of the country’s poorest school districts, are that it is inadequately training teachers and promoting a for-profit, anti-union education reform agenda.


The Nation also recently released TFA documents regarding its response to critical press, adding to TFA’s recent headaches. USAS is demanding that TFA increase teacher training well beyond five-weeks and sever ties with anti-union corporations such as Walmart; USAS groups at universities like Harvard have demands their schools sever ties with TFA.


After offering an olive branch praising the intentions of TFA teachers across the country, USAS activists argued that the organization acts as a convenient staffing organization for municipalities looking to purge their career, unionized teaching staff and switch to a cheaper model based on high turnover.


Eastern Michigan University graduate student Will Daniels said his father, a career teacher in Detroit, was laid off in 2011 as a result of the city’s financial crisis, and said he saw the austerity-minded school authorities forming a marriage of convenience with TFA. The district could hire “three TFA members for the price of my dad,” Daniels said.


Kramer, who along with his co-CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard, patiently and calmly listened to the students, denied that the organization aims to get rid of existing teachers. “We only place people in open positions,” he said. “We do not force people out of a job.”


Beard also rejected the idea that TFA provides a pool of short-term teachers, saying 60 percent of TFA trained teachers stay for a third year and that while surely many young people think of it is a placeholder position before graduate school or some other endeavor, 67 percent stay in education.


But Harvard USAS activist Hannah McShea countered that in some school districts, teacher layoffs are so massive that veterans are laid off along with the rookies and unsatisfactory teachers. “TFA provides a solution of synthetic teachers,” she said. “It is complicit in austerity.”





Veteran journalist Bob Braun is outraged by what is being done to the powerless Newark school district, now under state control for nearly 2 decades.

He says that Christie and his superintendent Cami Anderson are placing unqualified teachers in the classroom, assigning teachers to teach subjects for which they have neither experience nor certification.

Worse, “Anderson put more than 400 perfectly qualified and experienced teachers in rubber rooms while hiring almost as many new teachers from an organization she once led, Teach for America (TFA), a real waste of money in a district facing a $57 million deficit.”

Time for an investigation?

Gary Rubinstein was a member of one of the first Teach for America in 1991. Since then, he became a career teacher. He teaches high school math in Néw York City. About four years ago, Gary began to speak out against TFA. He has written many posts about the flaws of TFA but this one is the most scathing I have read.

He refers to TFA as “Bait-and-Switch for America.”

He writes:

“Joining the 2015 TFA corps is a terrible mistake. Two years from now everyone will know this, but right now TFA has managed to get a few last lies out of their well-oiled PR machine and lure a few more unsuspecting kids into their trap. But here’s the problem with TFA: They are a bunch of self-serving liars and anyone who joins up with them is an accomplice to any of the damage that this lying results in.

“Take a claim, any claim, from TFA. It’s either completely untrue, or just extremely exaggerated. I’ve debunked so many of their claims, I’ve lost count though you can go through my archives if you want. As their lies get uncovered, TFA has changed their message. The big thing they say now is that TFA is not a teacher training organization, but a leadership pipeline, or something.”

He adds:

“TFA is a lot like the candy store that serves as a front for the racketeering outfit in the back room. That candy store isn’t a dangerous candy store at face value. They don’t poison the candy, for example. And working at that candy store might seem like an innocuous thing to do, selling candy, keeping the place as tidy as you can. But what’s going on in that back room is causing a thousand times more damage than any of the good that is coming from your work in the front. But they need that candy store and they need workers there so you’re going to have to decide if you really have to be one of them.”

There is much more. Read it.

TFA has a PR operation to protect their brand. The PR team must be very busy.

One of our regular readers posted a comment lInking to this blog post by David Cohen. Cohen is a National Board Certified Teacher and a member of a group in called Accomplished California Teachers. He teaches high school students in Palo Alto. He takes teaching very seriously. He took off this year to travel the state and document the work of excellent teachers.

In the post, he describes an exchange he had with Wendy Kopp on public radio. Here is the key part of their exchange:

“I put in a call myself, and was on the air in the final eight or nine minutes of the program if you care to listen to the audio online. Paraphrasing myself from memory here, I tried to make the point that TFA corps members are generally sent to low-performing schools that suffer from a lack of stability. There, more experienced teachers devote a great amount of time and effort to help train and support their new, TFA colleagues, even though TFA is not really dedicated to the idea that their corps members should remain in teaching as a long-term career. (I’m not arguing that they’re against that idea, but their vision is about seeing their alumni distributed throughout the education and political system). I expressed my concern that the TFA model does not concern itself in promoting stability in the schools that need it most. I passed along what I have read and heard about TFA teachers being under intense pressure to generate great results, to the point that they make a fetish of “achievement” data. To me, it looks like a recipe to produce a younger, cheaper, and more compliant teaching force, while logic, models from other professions, and any international schools comparison would suggest that we need to cultivate a stable, experienced, professional cadre of career teachers.

“Wendy Kopp’s reply came in two parts. One: “Read my book.” Two: it’s unfortunate that the education reform debate has resulted in people resisting innovation.

“If either of those parts of her reply really answers my questions about TFA, I fail to see it. Her book may or may not answer my question, but she had the microphone and the time to make the case to me and the listeners (how many of whom do you think have read the book?). Instead, she ducked the question. The suggestion that my comment was about resisting innovation was just a nicer version of “if you disagree with us then you support the status quo.”

This conversation reminded me of the time I debated Wendy Kopp at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2011. Given the nature of the crowd (very pro-TFA, pro-corporate reform), I felt like someone thrown to the lions in the Colosseum of Ancient Rome.

Wendy said that TFA had proven that it was possible to close the achievement gap, that success was not elusive, that TFA had proven “it can be done.” Her three examples of districts where TFA had closed the achievement gap were New Orleans, New York City, and the District of Columbia. None of this was true, but arguing with Wendy, I found, was like trying to grab hold of Jello. No matter what evidence I put forward, she blithely ignored it and stuck to her talking points. TFA was a huge success because she said so. End of story.

Sarah Lahm, writing in “In These Times,” follows the money being spent in the Minneapolis school board race. She says that outside Minneapolis funders have spent $290,000 on the school board race. How can grassroots parent and community leaders compete for office when billionaires decide to lavish hundreds of thousands of dollars to control the local school board? It can be done. We have seen candidates in past few years–like Amy Frogge in Nashville, Monica Ratliff in Los Angeles, and Glenda Ritz in Indiana–win their election despite being vastly outspent. What is key is reaching voters and letting them know that they must not allow big money to buy control of their public schools. Let them know what is at stake. What matters is grassroots organizing. It can counter big money successfully. The joke in Minneapolis is that the flyers from the billionaire-backed group accuse incumbent Rebecca Gagnon of being the candidate of “Big Money,” when she has raised only $12,000!


Lahm writes:


New campaign finance reports filed in Minnesota show that the 2014 Minneapolis school board election is being buoyed by a tremendous amount of outside money, including a $100,000 contribution from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.


Bloomberg’s money went to a group that calls itself the Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund. This fund also benefited from a $90,000 influx of cash from California billionaire and venture capitalist Arthur Rock, and another $25,000 from Connecticut businessman Jonathan Sackler, a trustee of the Achievement First charter school chain.


A campaign finance report filed by the Fund this week shows that between July 30 and October 21, it raised $228,300 and spent $146,860 on such things as phone banking, strategy and campaign literature, including $8,500 for social media and website resources. In total, the group has spent more than $286,000 on the race this year.


There are four contenders for the two open at-large seats on the school board. So far, all of the Fund’s resources have been used to promote two candidates: Don Samuels and Iris Altamirano. In addition to a website that advises people to vote for Samuels and Altamirano on November 4, the Fund also sent out two glossy campaign mailers that advocate for Samuels and Altamirano and criticize incumbent candidate Rebecca Gagnon.


One of the Fund’s recent mailers says that Gagnon is “Good For Big Donors” and therefore “Bad For Our School Board.” Gagnon’s personal campaign finance reports show that she has raised a little more than $12,000, putting her well behind fundraising frontrunners Samuels and Altamirano, who have raised more than $65,000 and $41,000, respectively. The fourth at-large candidate, Ira Jourdain, has raised just over $3,000.


The Fund is chaired by Minneapolis resident Daniel Sellers, who also serves as executive director of both the local education reform advocacy group MinnCAN and the Minnesota chapter of its 501c4 advocacy arm, 50CAN Action Fund, which is also campaigning for Samuels. While some might question why out-of-state billionaires like Bloomberg and Rock would throw their money into the Minneapolis school board race, Sellers tells In These Times that he considers their investments nothing more than an indication of their support for the city and for the Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund’s desire to raise awareness about the election.


What Bloomberg, Rock, and Sackler have in common is their love for privately managed charter schools and Teach for America.


The candidates supported by the billionaire-backed fund said they had nothing to do with the fund.







Katie Osgood is a special education teacher in Chicago who has worked for years with children in high need. She has been critical of Teach for America on her blog for sending inexperienced recruits to work in schools with vulnerable students who should have experienced teachers.

She wrote a comment on this blog today about TFA’s leaked memo on how to respond to critics:

“In TFA’s memo, they cite me BY NAME, as a “known detractor”. So, apparently your tax dollars are also going to spying and unsuccessfully debunking tweets/blog posts from a simple special education teacher in Chicago. I have no media team or PR strategy, I’m just writing the truth of TFA and its devastating impact on my city. I am pretty upset how TFA has singled me out and targeted me. I feel violated and even unsafe given the vast power and resources TFA has at its disposal.”

George Joseph, writing in The Nation, describes how Teach for America deals with critics. It has a rapid response team to debunk criticism, and it uses its extensive network in the halls of power to head off critics long before they publish. As more and more ex-TFA publish their criticism of the organization, the rapid response team is kept very busy. One of those critics–Alexandra Hootnick– wrote an article for The Nation. She filed a Freedom of Information Act with the U.S. Department of Education to get information about TFA; an operative inside the DOE immediately informed TFA. TFA knew about the article long before it was published, and the response was ready when the article appeared. The brand must be protected.


TFA has installed friendly allies in key places in D.C.:


With this extensive organizational infrastructure behind them, Teach For America alumni have climbed to prominence in the education policy sphere. As Hootnick noted in her piece for The Nation, “More than seventy alumni currently hold public office, including two state senators. Within the federal government, their ranks include two assistants to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as education policy advisers and associates in the offices of Senators Harry Reid and Al Franken and Representative George Miller.” And despite its non-profit status, which prohibits partisan political advocacy, from 2010 to 2013 TFA poured nearly $2.4 million into lobbying and “direct contact” with political figures to pass state legislation recognizing TFA’s five-week summer training as an alternative to traditional teacher certification, and to secure “adequate federal funding.”


Joseph writes:


While Teach For America has failed at providing the nation with many long-term educators, they have provided a stream of political operatives, who have gone on to help fuel their former organization’s expansion and codify its narrow, corporate vision of education reform. Though TFA corp members often complain of a lack of institutional support in the classroom, TFA has been proactive in setting up regional professional networks and leadership organizations to groom corp members for influential political platforms after their classroom stints. TFA’s “Leadership for Educational Equity,” “a nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering Teach for America corps members and alumni to grow as leaders,” has helped groom numerous policy makers, policy leaders, and education reform lobbyists; in fact, according to the latest IRS documents available, in 2012 alone TFA’s Leadership for Educational Equity, a 501c(4), spent nearly $3.2 million on “leadership development,” the vast majority of which came from five undisclosed donors. Furthermore, TFA’s tax records from 2010 to 2013 reveal the organization gave over $7.3 million to Leadership for Educational Equity.


Among TFA’s prominent alums are John White, who has promoted charter schools in Louisiana and Cami Anderson, now pushing charter schools in Newark. TFA alums were also engaged in Chicago, where the closure of 50 public schools was premised on the creation of new charter schools, whose teachers would be largely TFA.


Joseph concludes:


The anti-TFA movement appears to be picking up steam. Last month, the national student labor organization, United Students Against Sweatshops, announced a national campaign to kick Teach For America off campus at 15 colleges across the country. While the campaign will not immediately affect the organization’s corporate funding, the ongoing PR toll could damage TFA’s brand. As organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) Leewana Thomas explained, “By disrupting TFA’s campus recruitment efforts, we can cut off their efforts to capitalize on universities’ academic prestige.” At Harvard, for example, this September, USAS activists delivered a letter asking administrators to cut ties with TFA.


“We’ve asked schools to cut ties with TFA because our schools are a major source of corp members for TFA,” said Harvard USAS activist Hannah McShea, “The idea is that these kids [recruits] are going to be super energetic and passionate, but honestly they [students] need more than that. On the national level, Teach for America hasn’t been receiving a lot of criticism for about twenty years. This is a new thing for them.”


In a statement to The Nation, Teach For America claimed, “Most organizations have a media response strategy and TFA is no different—we work to correct the record when things are inaccurate. We also work to proactively share the stories of our teachers, students and the communities we partner with.” But as more and more of these same teachers, students, and communities speak out against their experiences with Teach For America, the organization is less able to “correct the record,” salvage its brand, and thereby justify its continued expansion.




Sarah Lahm has written an important article about an infusion of corporate reform campaign money for a school board seat in Minneapolis.

Do corporate reformers see Minneapolis as the next Néw Orleans, the next city where they can privatize the public schools?

She writes:

“In the aftermath of a failed 2013 bid for mayor, former Minneapolis city council member Don Samuels is running for a spot on the school board. If he wins, he will undoubtedly be able to thank the extensive financing and canvassing support he’s received from several well-heeled national organizations, such as the Washington, D.C.-based 50CAN, an offshoot of Education Reform Now called Students for Education Reform (SFER), and various people associated with Teach for America, which has been called a “political powerhouse” for its growing influence in policy and politics beyond the classroom.

“These groups often project an image of grassroots advocacy but are in fact very well-funded, often through the support of extremely wealthy hedge fund managers and large philanthropic foundations. Together, they and like-minded “education reform” proponents have dramatically, but not necessarily democratically, altered how public education works throughout the United States.

“While August campaign finance reports show Samuels out-raising his main competitor, incumbent Rebecca Gagnon, by almost 4 to 1 through local donations, they also show that Samuels is getting tremendous support from outside of Minnesota. The D.C.-based 50CAN Action Fund filed a campaign finance report in Minnesota showing that it was devoting $14,350 in financial resources to the Minneapolis school board race, as well as in-kind donations valued in the thousands of dollars. Since 50CAN Action Fund is a 501(c)(4), its reports do not have to disclose which candidates it is supporting, but 50CAN Action Fund’s Minnesota chair Daniel Sellers told a reporter in July that the group had spent money on Samuels.”


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