Archives for category: Teach for America

The Walton Family Foundation gave away $375 million last year. It gave away $202 million to educational groups.

The foundation’s money is generated by the vast earnings of Walmart. The foundation was established in 1987 by Sam Walton. At least six of the Walton family members are billionaires, maybe more. As they die off, the foundation will grow larger.

The leader of the education part of the Walton Foundation is Marc Sternberg, who worked for Joel Klein in the Néw York City Department of Education. From 2010 to 2013, Sternberg was in charge of school closures and charter co-locations inside public schools.

The foundation is not only very wealthy, it has an ideology. It is rightwing. It is reactionary. It does not like public schools. It favors privatization and deregulation, which is what you might expect of a powerful corporation that hates government telling it what to do (like paying its employees a living wage). It hates unions. It loves charters and vouchers.

You might ask, how can billionaires sleep at night when they know their employees are surviving on meager earnings? I don’t know. Maybe they don’t think about it. Maybe they say, “Tough. That’s life. Life is unfair. Where’s my Bentley?”

I think you will find it enlightening to see where its money went in the 2014 year.

The biggest chunks went to Teach for America and KIPP.

Here are some of the many beneficiaries of the Walton family’s largesse:


50CAN, INC. ($2.5 MILLION);
MIND TRUST ($500,000); Indianapolis
TEACH PLUS ($250,000);
THE NEW YORK TIMES ($150,000);

In addition,


A key Republican leader, who is closely tied to Florida’s booming and profitable charter industry, slipped into the state budget a bill to pay a bonus to teachers with high SAT scores. His bill is known as “Best and Brightest,” assuming that those with the highest SAT scores are or will be the best teachers.

In this post, Florida teacher Melissa Halpern explains the absurdity of this plan. Veteran teachers will get the bonus if they can locate their SAT scores, even if they took the test 20 years ago, but only if they also received a “highly effective” rating based on test scores.

Halpern explains the absurdity:

“Let’s start with the very notion of rewarding a correlation. Incentives work when people have the power to respond to them with effort and action, when they can initiate a cause of success. What if studies found that teaching performance correlated with race, gender, or socioeconomic status (all of which are correlated with SAT scores, by the way)? Would we ever find it acceptable to offer a gender bonus? Of course not. Aside from being discriminatory, such an incentive would be illogical; it offers no room for effort, no goal to work toward.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to discern which correlations are actually causal, but common sense helps. While a teacher’s 20-year-old SAT score is probably not the cause of her success in the classroom, her training, credentials, and years of experience might be; incidentally, these are all proven correlations with teacher performance that Florida has downplayed under its current “merit pay” system, which replaced the old experience-based salary schedule in 2010….

“It seems, then, that the Best and Brightest incentive is not really an incentive at all, and that whatever it is, it certainly wasn’t devised to reward experienced teachers in the first place.

“So who does stand to benefit from this program? Primarily new teachers, especially those who might like to grab a bonus for a short teaching stint, and bail for a career that actually pays. Teach For America corp members, who are only held to a two-year teaching commitment, might just fit the bill.

“Interestingly, teachers coming out of TFA tend to populate the revolving employment doors of charter schools run by for-profit companies—much like the ones with whom Rep. Fresen happens to have close business ties.

“It shouldn’t come as a shock that a Florida legislator might vote for a financially motivated policy in the name of public education—at least it makes their ultimate goal of privatizing education a little more transparent.”

Gary Rubinstein, a former member of Teach for America, now a career math teacher in Stuyvesant High School in New York City, has become one of the most formidable critics of TFA, albeit a critical friend.

Here he describes a new book, Teach for America Counter-Narratives: Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out, which consists of chapters by disillusioned TFA, including himself, describing their experiences.

He was stunned to learn that TFA responded to the book, before its release, by saying that “only” 20 people contributed chapters, out of the 50,000 satisfied TFA alumni.

I guess you might say the same about any critical book: Rachel Carson was only one person out of millions of satisfied users of DDT. Ralph Nader was only one person complaining about unsafe automobiles. Jane Jacobs was only one person griping about what high-rise projects were doing to her city. Jacob Riis was only one person complaining about the living conditions of poor people. On and on.

We should all wait for a book written by at least 30,000 people.

Patricia Schaeffer, a consultant to philanthropies, reviews Teach for America’s 25 years of promises and concludes that they have not been fulfilled. To draw thousands of bright young people into the classroom for a commitment of only two years, having only five weeks training, is not sufficient to close the achievement gap or to change American education in any significant way.

The many studies of TFA’s “effectiveness” conflict about whether its recruits raise scores more or less than other new teachers. No one, however, has ever demonstrated that TFA has closed the achievement gap anywhere. Or ever will.

Schaeffer writes:

“America has a love-hate relationship with Teach for America. What began as the dream of one idealistic undergraduate in the late 80s is now, some 26 years later, an internationally recognized behemoth in the education reform movement, with more than $200 million (yes, you read that correctly) in investments as of last year.

“A recent book, edited by T. Jameson Brewer and Kathleen deMarrais, titled ‘Teach for America Counter-Narratives’ is the latest to put the organization under scrutiny. In an article this week in the ‘Las Vegas Review-Journal,’ Washington Post columnist Esther J. Cepeda writes about the “explosive and jaw-dropping” stories written by 20 of TFA’s alumni, which she says “eviscerate the myth of TFA’s unmitigated success.” Her takeaway is that the book should be a cautionary tale to those studying the education reform movement. The stories reveal the smoke and mirrors (“money and great marketing,” in her words) that TFA uses to recruit the best and brightest while convincing their donors and other partners that they are moving the needle on outcomes.

“According to its most recent tax return, TFA has total assets of close to half a billion dollars and revenues of more than $330 million, of which about 90 percent comes from government grants and contributions from corporations, foundations and individuals. An organization of this size and stature has an obligation to its constituents to demonstrate its success, and TFA has accumulated years of research findings about its programming, expansion and scale-up efforts. Marty Levine and Ruth McCambridge asked on this site several weeks ago whether Teach for America’s results justify its pillar status.

“In 2013, Mathematica Policy Research concluded a federally-funded controlled study of TFA. Comparing TFA secondary math teachers across eight states with a control group of math teachers in the same schools, the study found that, on average, students in TFA classrooms gained the equivalent of an additional 2.6 months of school, as evidenced by end-of-year math assessments. However, two years later, a subsequent Mathematica evaluation was unable to replicate those results.

“While the later study concluded that TFA teachers in early primary grades produced roughly 1.3 months of extra reading gains, that good news was overshadowed by the more troubling evidence that an overwhelming majority of TFA staff (87 percent) reported that they did not plan to spend the rest of their career as a classroom teacher or, for that matter, in any education-related career.”

Kenneth Zeichner and Hilary G. Conklin complain that vendors of alternative pathways into teaching have been misusing research to slam university-based teacher education. In an excerpt from a longer study, they document how organizations like Teach for America, the National Council on Teacher Quality, and the Relay “Graduate School of Education” have selectively quoted research to support their own self-interest. They seek not to improve university-based teacher education, but to replace it with entrepreneurial programs.

Zeichner is a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington, Seattle, and professor emeritus in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A member of the National Academy of Education, he has done extensive research and teaching and teacher education. Conklin is a program leader and associate professor of secondary social studies at DePaul University whose research interests include teacher learning and the pedagogy of teacher education.

They write:

Critics of college and university-based teacher preparation have made many damaging claims about the programs that prepare most U.S. teachers–branding these programs as an “industry of mediocrity”–while touting the new privately-financed and- run entrepreneurial programs that are designed to replace them. These critics have constructed a narrative of failure about college and university Ed schools and a narrative of success about the entrepreneurial programs, in many cases using research evidence to support their claims.

Yet in a recent independently peer-reviewed study that will be published in Teachers College Record, we show how research has been misused in debates about the future of teacher education in the United States. Critics have labeled university teacher education programs failures and decreed their replacements successes by selectively citing research to support a particular point of view (knowledge ventriloquism), and by repeating claims based on non-existent or unvetted research, or repeatedly citing a small or unrepresentative sample of research (echo chambers).

After citing specific examples of the misuse of research, they make the following recommendations:

In order to hold all programs — public and private — to common standards of quality and evidence, we believe that several things need to be done to minimize the misuse of educational research.

First, all researchers who conduct studies that purport to offer information on the efficacy of different program models, and those who produce syntheses of studies done by others, should reveal their sources of funding, their direct and indirect links to the programs, and they should subject their work to independent and blind peer review.

Second, given that much academic research on education is inaccessible to policymakers, practitioners, and the general public, researchers should take more responsibility for communicating their findings in clear ways to various stakeholders.

Third, the media should cover claims about issues in teacher education in proportion to the strength of the evidence that stands behind them and whether or not they are supported by research that has been independently vetted.

Fourth, we should assess the quality of programs based on an analysis of a variety of costs and benefits associated with particular programs, and not just look at whose graduates can raise test scores the most. Research suggests that an emphasis only on raising test scores deepens educational inequities and continues to create a second-class system of schooling for students living in poverty.

Two not connected resignations:

Terry Grier steps down as Superintendent in Houston

Matt Kramer, co-CEO of TFA, steps down.

Educators tend to be child-centered and attentive to the needs of classrooms for adequate resources. Having been teachers, they are usually unwilling to support attacks on the teaching profession.

So where do rightwing governors find people to lead their state’s education department? Here is one major source: Teach for America.

When Bobby Jindal of Louisiana needed someone to lead his agenda for vouchers, charters, and anti-teacher proposals, he selected John White (TFA).

When Bill Haslam of Tennessee wanted someone to push the rightwing agenda, he chose Kevin Huffman (TFA).

When Terry Branstad of Iowa wanted someone to push his rightwing agenda, he chose Ryan Wise (TFA).

When North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory needed an education advisor to promote his extremist, anti-public school agenda, he chose Eric Guckian (TFA).

Let us not forget Michelle Rhee (TFA), who served a mayor, not a governor and was especially vitriolic towards teachers and unions. Her organization StudentsFirst has funded candidates who support privatization.

What is it about TFA that produces leaders who want to privatize public education and crush the teaching profession?

This article tells the story of Jessica Millen, who graduated from Notre Dame in 2013 and immediately joined Teach for America.

Jessica’s essay is part of a new book:”>new book: “Teach for America Counter-Narratives: Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out.”

As an idealistic college senior, she was drawn to TFA by the promise that she could change children’s lives in her two-year stint. She wanted to make a difference. She describes her experience of five intense weeks of training, which included rather bizarre chanting of TFA slogans and other exercises that encouraged loyalty to TFA.

Although she had been told repeatedly that she had the makings of a great teacher, when she arrived in her Néw Orleans classroom, she felt woefully unprepared. She knew she was supposed to enforce the strict behavioral management techniques of TFA, but they didn’t feel right to her.

She writes:

After those 5 weeks of training, I was alone in a classroom with 27 eight- and nine-year-olds. I had no idea what to do with the rigorous and inflexible curriculum modalities that dictated what I taught and when. There was nothing in our training that indicated our teaching lives would be so scripted and controlled. Moreover, I was confused by strict administrative policies that were completely developmentally inappropriate; for instance, my third graders were allowed only 20 minutes of recess, once a week. Again, there was no mention of what to do when school-wide policies were completely incongruent with what I knew at this point to be developmentally appropriate practices.

Trying to balance the demands and expectations of both my school and TFA was challenging, especially when both parties were extremely focused on data and standardized testing to the detriment of what my young students needed. This made it difficult for me to realize my vision of schooling. While I understood the necessity of assessment and its usefulness in gauging how much students know, and therefore in future lesson planning, both my school and TFA’s focus on testing overshadowed my legitimate concerns for students’ emotional and social well-being and academic growth beyond what could be measured in omnipresent assessments. I had to prepare my students for weekly and quarterly testing, on top of looming state-mandated tests that would also measure my success as a teacher. The pressure from both the state and district to raise student test scores manifested in my administration’s extreme concern with test scores and maximizing instructional time not only in specific subjects but also to specific isolated skill sets, always to the detriment of exploring other important areas of elementary education, such as exposure to culture, creative and scientific thinking, music, and art.

Armed only with TFA’s strictly behaviorist methods of classroom management, I was unprepared for many of the issues I faced, and my classroom quickly spiraled out of control. From my 5 weeks of training, I was knowledgeable only about behaviorist management methods that focused on giving clear directions, narrating student behavior when they were following directions, and then giving consequences to those students not complying. These management methods were presented as best practices during our training; no other alternatives were mentioned.

She could not follow orders. She was warned that she lacked leadership; she lacked confidence in herself. But she thought “my vision of schooling did not include a classroom where the teacher is all-powerful, all-knowledgeable, and in strict control at all times. What I was beginning to understand was that there was no room in their model for my vision; in fact, my vision was completely contrary to their understanding of how schooling should be conducted and why. TFA’s Teaching as Leadership model is based upon the idea that teachers are responsible for everything that happens inside of the classroom, regardless of whether or not you agree with the techniques and content you are being forced to adopt.”

The clash between what she believed to be right and what TFA taught her made it impossible to remain. She left TFA after six months. She is now a pre-school teacher in South Bend, Indiana.

The Walton Family Foundation is not going to like this. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that Teach for America teachers in a Detroit charter school have the right to unionize.

The charter operator fought the TFA newbies, claiming that they weren’t “real” teachers.

“The National Labor Relations Board ruled Friday that Teach for America teachers in a Detroit charter school have the right to be a part of a union.

“According to a statement from the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, the NLRB said Friday 14 Teach for America corps members should have been able to vote in an election last spring. That election was held to determine if teachers at University Prep Schools, a charter school network in Detroit, wanted to form a union.

“Detroit 90/90, the private company that operates the schools, argued the Teach for America members, as well as long-term substitutes, were not professional employees.

“We are really pleased to be recognized as professional teachers,” said Patrick Sheehan, a TFA corps member and second grade advisor at the time of the election. “U-Prep hired us to teach just like other teachers. Making the legal argument that we are not professionals means one of two things — either Detroit 90/90 doesn’t respect the work we do with students or they lied to prevent us from organizing a union.”

The vote to unionize at University YES caused their sponsor to abandon the school:

“University Yes Academy teachers voted to unionize earlier this year, despite their parent company — New Urban Learning — announcing it was walking away from the school. The announcement of New Urban Learning walking away from University Yes took place days after the school’s teachers announced they planned to hold a vote on unionization.”

Why won’t the Walton Family Foundation like these developments? The Waltons, owners of Walmart, don’t like unions. They like charters, because 90% or so are non-union. They have given more than $50 million to TFA to supply the workforce for non-union charters.

Kids! What’s the matter with kids today?

Mercedes Schneider did some digging into Teach for America’s budget and promotional activities on Capitol Hill and discovered some fascinating facts.

She writes:

“According to its 2013 990, TFA’s end-of-year total assets were $494 million, with $73.5 million of its 2013 revenue designated as “government grants” and $31.6 million of its 2013 revenue earmarked as “service fees revenue….

“For eight hours of work per week, TFA chair Wendy Kopp drew a 2013 salary of $176,657. Co-CEOs Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard drew salaries of $381,946 for 42 hrs/wk (Kramer) and $342,134 for 40 hrs/wk (Beard).

“TFA began as a Peace Corps-like temp agency that sends college graduates outside of the field of teaching into classrooms for usually two years. However, by 2001, TFA had established a second goal: To move former TFA corps members into positions of influence in education, business, and politics in order to solidify and expand TFA’s influence over public education.”

Schneider says that TFA charges districts up to $9,000 to place one of their inexperienced temps. “TFA really needs those temp fees. After all, it takes almost a million dollars a year to just pay Kopp, Kramer and Beard for their combined 90 hrs/wk ($900,737), and they are not the only TFA board members pulling a salary. Eight others work 40 or 41 hrs/wk and have salaries ranging from $190,638 to $282,759….

“But TFA has other needs, as well. Consider, for instance, the need for TFA to establish its presence on Capitol Hill. Now, according to its 2013 tax form, TFA only spent $595,870 on lobbying that year. However, if TFA pays interns to gain experience on Capitol Hill, it isn’t really lobbying– it’s just putting talented TFA alumni to work:

One of Schneider’s most fascinating discoveries is that TFA is seeking a new Government Affairs director, I.e., lobbyist.

And here is the kicker: a requirement for the job of lobbyist is SEVEN YEARS EXPERIENCE.

Isn’t that interesting?

TFA tells the world that a “great” teacher doesn’t need experience. It tells college seniors that they can change the “trajectory” of children’s lives if they commit to teach in the neediest schools, starting the September after graduating college.

Just five weeks of “institute,” no real teaching experience necessary.

Yet when TFA hires lobbyists, it requires seven years experience!

Is the job of lobbyist so much harder and so much more valuable than that of teacher?

Mitchell Robinson read Schneider’s post and raised some interesting questions:

*What does it say about your organization’s values when you require 7 years of experience for a lobbying position and require zero years of experience for teachers in charge of classrooms full of young children?

*What does it mean when your organization charges resource-strapped school districts up to $9000 per year in “service fees” for each recruit placed, while private and public universities charge nothing when their graduates get hired for the same positions?

*What does it say about your “non-profit” organization’s values when your top 3 executives are paid $381,946 (Co-CEO Matt Kramer) $342,134 (Elisa Villanueva Beard), and $176,657 (Wendy Kopp), while you attack public schools, teachers and unions for their “greed”?

Yes, curious contradictions.


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