Archives for category: Teach for America

Rachel M. Cohen writes in “The American Prospect” about the true cost of Teach for America and its impact on urban schools.


She notes that districts Re required to pay a finder’s fee to TFA for every recruit they hire, typically between $2,000-$5,000 per year.


“To put the finder’s fees in perspective: If one city’s TFA cohort, consisting of 200 corps members, comes with an annual finder’s fee of $4,250 for each teacher recruited from the organization—then that cohort’s two-year commitment will cost the district an additional $1,700,000 in dues to the organization. This is not a trivial sum for school districts experiencing massive budget shortfalls.”


Why are districts willing to pay a finder’s fee when they could hire a traditionally trained teacher or a veteran teacher with no finder’s fee? The research does not show a marked superiority for TFA over regular teachers. Some states and districts have TFA alumni in charge or on the school board. But others see an advantage in hiring young teachers who will leave in 2-3 years: they are at the bottom of the salary scale and will not be around long enough to get paid more or to collect a pension.


The long-term harm of the TFA model is that it popularizes the belief that “great teachers” need only five weeks of training. TFA would work well if their recruits entered schools as “teaching assistants” or paraprofessionals. To call them “teachers” after five weeks of training undermines teaching as a profession. No profession requires so little specialized education. Except, as a reader reminded me recently, “the oldest profession.” In every other real profession, experience is considered a plus. Who would go to a brand-new “lawyer” who had only five weeks training when they could hire a senior partner for the same fee? Who would see a “doctor” with five weeks training instead of an experienced surgeon? Is teaching a profession or a trade?

Joe Bower, a terrific blogger and educator in Canada, noticed something odd in a report about new teachers who are staying longer. The teacher whose picture illustrated the report was a Teach for America recruit who didn’t stay. She taught for two years and quit.

Bower wrote:

“The article featured the picture to the right of Gabrielle Wooden. She taught in Mississippi for a whopping two years before quitting to become an account manager for Insight Global in St. Louis.

“Wooden belonged to Teach for America which is an organization that undermines children’s basic needs and is an accomplice to the corporate take over and privatization of public education.”

Peter Greene jumped on the story.

He writes:

“The Center for American Progress got another quick lesson in How the Internet Works. In their haste to prove that beginning teachers are sticking around for years and years (well, six years, anyway) they slapped up a lovely picture of a TFA temp who finished her two year stint and headed off to her real career in a corporate office. They helpfully included her name (Gabrielle Wooden) so that her actual job history could be found by anybody with an internet hookup and access to google. Joe Bower (in Canada) worked out this tricky research problem as well, and in the last fifteen hours a very long list have people have emailed and messaged me to join this particular swimming party in the warm waters of Lake Schadenfreude….”

“CAP raises a couple of legit concerns beyond the not-shocking news that media do not always report scientific research accurately.

“One is that the existing work on teacher retention is old, that we are talking about data from seven or eight years ago. Most importantly, we are not far enough down the road to see the effects of Common Core on the teacher force. Not to do obvious math here, but there’s no way to know what percentage of teachers are staying past five years when looking at teachers who entered the profession after 2009.

“Another is that this data can be highly local. My theory is that it’s even worse in the most teacher-hostile states. In North Carolina, a state that has gone out of its way to make teaching non-viable as a lifetime career, it would appear (via CAP) that a good local administration can make the difference between losing 10% or 20% of the teaching staff. When there’s a terrible storm blowing, what you do next depends a lot on whether you’re in a tumble-down shack or a solid brick structure. This is a problem with plenty of educational research and almost all education policy– every school is different in distinct and important ways (kind of like human children– go figure).”

Kristen Buras recently published a book about the dissolution of public education in Néw Orleans and its replacement by privately managed charter schools, staffed largely by inexperienced Teach for America recruits after the abrupt dismissal of 7,500 veteran teachers. Her book is titled “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance.”

In the current issue of “The Progressive,” Buras explains what happened in Néw Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The story is different from what the major media say. It is important because so many public officials and civic leaders want to turn struggling districts into another Néw Orleans. Beware.

It begins like this:

“Within days of Hurricane Katrina, the conservative Heritage Foundation advocated the creation of a “Gulf Opportunity Zone,” including federal funds for charter schools and entrepreneurs. Slowly but surely, the narrative of disaster turned to one of opportunity, even triumph. We were told that families abandoned in the storm were finding new hope in transformation of the city’s public schools by charter school operators.

“Report after report praised New Orleans as a model for urban school districts across the nation. Charter school operators, most of them white, declared “school choice” to be the new civil rights movement.

“Now, almost a decade later, New Orleans is the nation’s first all-charter school district. Charter advocates describe the district’s achievements as nothing short of a miracle.

“The truth is quite different: Flooding New Orleans with charter schools has been disastrous.”

– See more at:

Teach for America will not run its five weeks of training program (“institute”) in Néw York City this summer. Instead, the recruits will train in Philadelphia. The change is due to a sharp decline in TFA recruits, possibly 25%. I reported this in an earlier post, which gave the impression that TFA was closing its NYC offices; in fact, it is closing its NYC training program and shifting it to Philadelphia.

TFA currently has 790 recruits working in Néw York City, according to the article. It is not clear how many work in public schools or in charter schools.

“Philadelphia now has 150 corps members in Philadelphia schools, mostly charters. This is up from 120 when the program first arrived in 2003, according to the city’s TFA page.

“Just nine of these students are in District-run schools, which largely stopped using TFA when it began laying off teachers due to budget cuts. The rest are in charters.”

A teacher in Connecticut, signing in as Linda, wrote the following comment:

Brace yourself Rhode Island…it is worse than you think. Hide your children and warn the teachers. He is coming to charterize, privatize, monetize your schools. See Pelto research here:

Gina Raimondo’s husband Andy Moffitt was Cory Booker’s roommate.
Moffitt is a member Stand for Children Board of Directors

Moffit is a Senior Practice Expert and member of core leadership team for McKinsey & Company’s Global Education Practice.

“Since co-founding the Global Education Practice in 2005, Andy has worked with multiple large urban districts, state education departments and charter management organizations to markedly improve system performance and close achievement gaps.

He co-authored a recent book, Deliverology 101: A Field Guide for School System Leaders (Corwin Press, 2010), which describes key success factors and steps in driving results in global school system reforms.

Before joining McKinsey, Andy was an elementary school teacher in an inner-city school in Houston, Texas as a corps member of Teach For America.”

From my recent article in the Progressive:

The Corporate Education Reform Industry effort to buy control of Public Education

This year’s election season provided a series of textbook examples of how corporate education reformers used their personal fortunes to contaminate the democratic process.

Let’s begin with the little state of Rhode Island, where former hedge fund owner and charter school champion, Democrat Gina Raimondo was elected governor with 40 percent of the vote in a three-way race—one in which there was an unprecedented level of campaign spending.

Raimondo, who as Rhode Island’s state treasurer won national acclaim from conservatives for successfully dismantling the state employee pension fund, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors associated with funding the education reform movement and profiting from the charter school industry. Her running mate, Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee, one of the state’s most vocal supporters of charter schools, was elected lieutenant governor with help from many of the same donors.

Over the course of her gubernatorial campaign, Raimondo collected checks from many of the major players in the charter school and “education reform” movement, including donations from billionaires Eli Broad and members of the Walton Family. (The Broad Foundation and Walton Foundation, along with Gates Foundation, are the primary funders behind the overall education reform movement.)

Another billionaire, former Enron executive John Arnold along with his wife, not only donated directly to Raimondo’s campaign and her political action committee, called Gina PAC, but the couple’s $100,000 check made them the largest donors to the American LeadHERship Council, a Super PAC affiliated with Raimondo. The second largest donor to the Super PAC was Eli Broad with $15,000.

A proponent of doing away with public employee pensions, Arnold also donated as much as $500,000 to an advocacy group called Engage Rhode Island, which spent approximately $740,000 lobbying for Raimondo’s successful assault on public employee pensions. Over the past three years, the John and Laura Arnold Foundation has donated more than $100 million in support of charter schools and entities involved in the corporate education reform industry, including being one of the largest contributors to Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence.

Raimondo’s success in raising funds from the charter school industry includes at least $50,000 from the members of the board of directors of Achievement First, Inc., the large charter chain that recently opened a school in Rhode Island, adding to their existing schools in Connecticut and New York.

Jonathan Sackler, an investment manager and heir to the Purdue Pharma fortune, is not only a founding member of Achievement First, Inc, but a founder of a national charter school advocacy group called 50CAN. One of 50CAN’s related entities, 50CAN Action Fund, dumped $90,000 to run TV commercials to help Raimondo’s running mate win his primary race.

Elizabeth Green recently published a book called Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone). It has been widely and favorably reviewed. I have known Elizabeth for about ten years, when she was covering education for the now defunct New York Sun. I like her, and I consider her a friend. Elizabeth is cofounder of Gotham Schools, which is now called Chalkbeat. It is a publication that covers education issues in New York City, Tennessee, Indiana, and Colorado. Chalkbeat is funded by a large number of foundations and individuals, many of whom are prominent in today’s charter school movement (the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and some board members of the hedge-funders’ Democrats for Education Reform).


Since I know Elizabeth, I have decided to review the book as a letter to her. Somewhat unconventional, but let’s see how it works out.



Dear Elizabeth,


Thank you for sending me galleys of your book. I am sorry to be so late in reviewing it, but better late than never. There were things about the book that I liked very much, and other things that I found puzzling. I will be as honest with you as you would expect me to be.


To begin with, you are certainly a skilled journalist. I like the way you effortlessly weave the stories of individuals into larger themes and use those stories to make a larger point. The book is very well-written, and you manage to inject liveliness and high interest into pedagogical issues, which is no small feat.


You begin the book by strongly asserting that good teachers are made, not born, and that it is a fallacy to believe that some people are just “natural” teachers, while others will never learn no matter how hard they try. Your goal, clearly, is to persuade the reader that anyone, armed with the right training and preparation, can become a good teacher. You had me convinced until you got into the lives of the people you highlight as heroes—like Deborah Loewenberg Ball and Magdalene Lampert—who do seem to have been born to teach, not products of a specific pedagogical training program.


The book seemed to me to be two different books. The first book tells the story of the search for a research-based approach to teaching teachers, drawing on the work of John Dewey, Nathaniel Gage, and Lee Shulman. I thought I knew where you were going. I thought you would visit not only Japan but also Finland, to learn how thoughtfully their teachers are prepared to teach. I liked this book, I was sure it would end up with recommendations for higher standards for entry into teaching, for practice-based internships, for mentors for new teachers, and other ideas that would send new teachers into the classroom with both knowledge and experience, as well as support for them in their early years as teachers.


But suddenly the second book emerges, and the second book says that the problems of teaching are being solved in charter schools run by entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial sector, in your telling, is doing what the researchers, academicians, and university-based scholars hope to accomplish, and the entrepreneurs are doing it without the benefit of any study of education. This line of thought threw me for a loop, because the teachers in the entrepreneurial sector enter teaching with little or no preparation (i.e., low standards or no standards), just the assurance that they are really smart because they graduated from an Ivy League college or some other top university. Somehow this smacks of class bias. Most of them are in Teach for America, which means they start teaching with only five weeks of training. I got confused. There is no profession that can be entered into with only five weeks of training.


You also have many pages about the “no excuses” charter schools, which you treat with ambivalence. On the one hand, as we are assured by people you quote, the children they enroll—black, Hispanic, and poor—need the tough-love discipline, the rules that can never be broken, the fear of suspension or exclusion or stigma. This boot-camp discipline, they say, makes it possible for the children to learn. On the other hand, you quote graduates who speak of the demoralization of students, who know that the school intends to crush their spirit, and who “hated school.”


What often appears to be an admiring portrait of the “no excuses” charter schools is tempered by this statement about Academy of the Pacific Rim:


“The first year, Doug Lemov and Stacey Boyd had started out with a class of fifty-five or so seventh-graders. But by the time that class made it to senior year, only eleven students remained. And three of them had only joined later on, in ninth grade.” (p. 203) Elizabeth, you recognize the problems and contradictions, but you render no judgment other than to include facts like these. A graduating class that contains only 8 of the 55 students who started is hardly a portrait of a model school or a beacon for American education.


I may have missed it, but I didn’t see data on teacher attrition at either “no excuses” charter schools or charter schools in general. From other sources, we know that teacher attrition is high; the teachers are inexperienced, and (as you point out) the hours are exceptionally long, set with the assumption that teachers do not have families or personal lives. We know that TFA corps members are typically gone after three or four years. How, under these circumstances, can entrepreneurial charters—with their high teacher churn—be seen as laboratories where excellent teaching is being developed and is, in fact, already happening? If it is happening, why do as many as 50% of the teachers leave some of the most successful charters every year?


What seems strangest about the book to me is its detachment from the real world of mandates and demands by federal and state authorities, punishments and rewards, school closings and political interference with teaching. Your account does not reflect the atmosphere of teacher-bashing, the hunt for “the bad teacher,” the demoralization that so many teachers express today. Nor does it dwell on the current obsession with test-based accountability that has made many teachers feel that they are disrespected and are not allowed to exercise any professional judgment. You set up a dichotomy between accountability and autonomy, but surely you know that the scales are heavily weighted by federal policy against any autonomy for teachers. A profession that lacks autonomy is not a profession.


Elizabeth, I hope you will not be offended by my candor. I found the book well-written and engaging. I was hoping that you would make a case for developing a stronger teaching profession, but that is not what the charter sector will produce; it relies on a constant turnover of low-wage teachers, and whatever they learn in the classroom will be lost when they move on to a different career. I appreciated your footnote at the bottom of p. 156, where you write that “Multiple studies of charter school performance have shown that the schools often perform just as poorly as the district-run schools they seek to outdo. And across the country, charter schools have been the victim of the same inefficiency and corruption challenges that plague neighborhood public schools.” That’s almost right. I don’t know of any public school superintendent or principal who has built a multi-million dollar mansion in Palm Beach like a certain charter entrepreneur in Pennsylvania or acquired a multi-million yacht like a certain charter entrepreneur in Florida. Absent regulation and oversight, there is even more corruption in the entrepreneurial charter sector than in the public schools.


In the end, I don’t think you demonstrate how to build a better teacher. You show that a lot of people are trying to do so. You show that there is a longing for a coherent system of standards, tests, and accountability, but behind that longing is the behaviorist belief that teachers should teach to the same standards, and students will do well on the tests. If that’s coherence, it’s pretty well played out. That’s what we have been trying to do since No Child Left Behind was passed, and after 13 years, it seems to be a dead end. I have no doubt that we need better teacher preparation at the university level (Finland requires five years of teacher education, and a master’s degree for every teacher). But even with a long period of preparation, I doubt that every teacher will adopt and implement the same methodology. What strikes me, as I reflect on your very provocative book, is the urgency of establishing professional norms that protect teachers against legislators, politicians, philanthropists, for-profit entrepreneurs, and non-educators who want to play school.

Julian Vasquez Heilig has probably fine more research on Trach for Amertica than any other scholar. In this post, he describes the growing backlash against TFA, much of it emanating from TFA alums who became discouraged when they realized that their five weeks of training were inadequate preparation for the rigors of teaching.

Valerie Strauss here analyzes the sharp drop in Teach for America recruits. The numbers of new corps members are down by as much as 25%.

Why? Teachers’ morale has declined precipitously from 2008-2012 (will Arne Duncan be held accountable?) and the teaching profession has lost its allure. Strauss points out that TFA may be a causal factor in the loss of respect for the profession, since it claims that brand néw college graduates are better than veteran teachers. By doing so, TFA has encouraged the belief that 5 weeks of training is good enough. This destroys the profession as such. Veteran teachers have been replaced by TFA kids. This can contribute to instability and demoralization.

There have been rumors for months that TFA has seen a sharp decline in applicants. This may be confirmation.

Teach for America is closing down its NYC office because of a decline in recruitment.

It seems the pushback from alumni has made a difference, despite TFA’s massive PR and funding. Alumni have written many articles warning that they were ill-prepared for their assignments.

Mercedes. Schneider read an article in Forbes about Carrie Walton Penner, the family member now in charge of education strategy for the Walton Family Foundation. Schneider blew a fuse. Maybe more than one. Carrie wants lots and lots of charters so that the free market will force the public schools to compete. Just like Walmart forces mom-and-pop stores to compete by cutting prices and forcing them out of business.

Schneider writes about the Walmart business model. While family members are billionaires, Walmart workers work for low wages, and some apply for food stamps. Walmart, she says, has even used prison labor to cut costs.

Walmart is closely allied with ALEC and favors the model legislation that helps big corporations and the 1%.

What really annoys Schneider is that Carrie promotes YES Prep as a model for the nation because, allegedly, 100% of its graduates enroll in four-year colleges. Since Schneider had only recently deconstructed the YES Prep story, she was flummoxed that the Forbes writer reported the tale without investigating the backstory. Like the 40% attrition rate. Like the schools’ requirement that students get accepted into a four-year college or they can’t graduate.

She concludes:

“This Forbes writer brushes off criticism of the likes of YES Prep as the “anticharter crowd derid[ing] the gains.”

“I’m fine with this labeling. I certainly do “deride” so-called “gains” that are little more that student deselection via student-handbook-encouraged attrition.

“But I will make a deal:

“When Carrie Walton Penner enrolls her children at a predominately-TFA-staffed charter school as their principal means of formal education, and when she publicizes their test scores as evidence that the charter model she promoted for other people’s children has served her children well, then I will consider the charters that she pays for with money that should go to paying Walmart workers a living wage as being “successful.”

“Not a minute sooner.”


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