Archives for category: Teach for America

Jamaal Bowman wrote a powerful and important letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Bowman is a Néw York City middle school principal.

Please read and share. Help it go viral. It is an incisive critique of corporate reform. When did it become “liberal” to attack unions, career teachers, and public education? This used to be the agenda of the far rightwing of the Republican Party.

He writes:

“I hope this letter finds you and your family in good health and good spirits. I write not only to you, but also to those who share your view of public education….

“I also want to personally thank you for allowing me to provide testimony to the common core commission at the College of New Rochelle…..The work of the commission, along with your hiring of Jere Hochman as Deputy Secretary of Education, has me very excited about the direction in which we are moving.

“My excitement turned to devastation however as I watched your November 17th interview with David Gergen at the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Leadership [link to video is in Bowman’s post]. As an education practitioner for sixteen years, it was both frustrating and disheartening to watch the two of you pontificate about public education in what I consider to be a dangerous and irresponsible manner.

“Your discussion was wide ranging; covering topics from police reform to the new construction at LaGuardia Airport. As the conversation shifted to education, you told the audience that you are in constant conflict with the teacher union. You shared that your “unabashed” support for charter schools, to which you refer to as “laboratories of invention,” as well as your teacher evaluation mandate, are two of the causes of this conflict. You also went on to share your excitement around the possibilities of technology as a means to help circumvent the “machine” of the teacher union bureaucracy.

“Mr. Gergen, to whom you refer to as one of the experts and craftsman of his generation, recklessly framed the conversation in a way that greatly mis-categorizes the public education narrative. Mr. Gergen stated that teacher unions don’t want “young smart” people from Teach for America entering the profession. He then went on to praise charter schools as places that provide “24/7 support to children and families,” and “really work with the children themselves.” While Mr. Gergen made these comments, you nodded your head enthusiastically in agreement.

“There are two things that are incredibly careless about this conversation. First, it lacks a valid and reliable research base. Second, the two of you have a platform to really shape public discourse. As such, you must take extra special care to avoid facilitating misinformation regarding public education or any other topic. If you don’t, the perpetuation of child suffering will continue in schools throughout the state — as it does in schools all over the country.

“What does the data tell us about these widely discussed topics? First, public schools as a whole “outperform” charter schools. I place the word outperform in quotes because of our narrow view of what it means to perform in public schools today. The few charter schools that are celebrated for closing the alleged “achievement gap” have faced extreme criticism and scrutiny for their draconian test prep and recruitment practices, and boast incredibly high student and staff attrition rates. Some may argue these practices are the price to pay for achievement, but consider these questions:

“Are we ready to accept the instability and emotional trauma that comes with schools designed around draconian test prep practices?

“Does high performance on standardized assessments truly equate to what we all mean by achievement?
Research shows otherwise: In 2003, the “gold standard” of charter schools, KIPP, had a graduating class that ranked fifth in New York City on the math standardized tests. Six years after entering college, only 21% of that cohort had earned a college degree.

“In the landmark book, ‘Crossing The Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities,’ former college presidents William G. Bowen and Michael S. McPherson found that student high school G.P.A. was more predictive of college success than S.A.T. scores.

“As you can see Mr. Governor, high performance on standardized tests alone do not equate to a quality education. What research identifies as a determinate of quality schools, lies in a well rounded curriculum inclusive of both academic and adaptive skills, where students get to solve problems creatively, work with their peers, and experience both teacher and student centered pedagogy.

“As to your comments regarding charter schools serving as “labs of invention,” allow me to remind you that some of the most innovative schools in the country are public schools right here in your state. From the NYC iSchool, to Westside Collaborative, to Brooklyn New School, to Quest to Learn, there is amazing work happening in unionized public schools that we all can learn from. Charter schools that promote silent breakfast, silent lunch, silent hallway transitions, and have teachers walking around with clipboards to give demerits to students who misbehave, do not sound like labs of invention to me — they sound like labs of oppression.

“Your statement related to wanting teacher evaluations because “right now we have none” is categorically false. Teachers have been evaluated throughout my entire career. With regard to the new evaluation system, the issue isn’t that teachers are averse to evaluations, they just want evaluations that are fair and just. An evaluation that is 50% aligned to invalid and unreliable tests, created by a 3rd party for-profit company, aligned to new standards and curriculum with minimal teacher input, is both unfair and unjust. What makes matters worse is by continuing to turn a deaf ear to the research on child and brain development, we continue to have an achievement gap that will never be closed by an evaluation system tied to test scores.

“Furthermore, why are charter schools exempt from your teacher evaluation plan? That also doesn’t seem fair or just.

“Regarding Mr. Gergen’s comments, teacher unions aren’t afraid of “young smart” teachers entering the profession. On the contrary, that is what they want! Teacher unions oppose Teach for America (TFA) because the majority of TFA recruits leave the classroom within three years, with most leaving the profession entirely. This obviously creates a continued vacuum in our most vulnerable communities and has indirectly undermined the recruitment and stability of teachers via traditional pathways. Further, Teach for America has been around for 25 years and our so called “achievement gap” has grown. Their impact has been a net zero at best for the profession.

“Mr. Gergen also seems to think only charter schools support students and families 24/7. To this I say check my phone records, and the phone records of educators throughout the country. We all love our students as our own children and we are constantly in touch with families into the evenings and on weekends to support them with whatever they need. Mr. Gergen disrespects and undermines the profession with these nonsensical statements.

“Lastly, regarding your excitement for technology, technology is simply a tool to help us get things done more efficiently and effectively. It will not in and of itself “revolutionize public education” as you say. The education revolution begins with a paradigm shift driven by the needs and brilliance of the children we serve.

“If we really want to transform public education, Mr. Governor, we have to stop investing in purchasing, administering, and scoring annual assessments from grades 3-8. We know 3rd grade reading scores predict future outcomes, so let’s invest heavily in early childhood education, teacher training, and school support. Lets focus on birth to age eight programs, implement a strong literacy and Montessori curriculum, and institute portfolio based assessments and apprenticeships in grades 6-12. If we do this, you will have a model education system for the world to aspire to.

“Mr. Governor, you, like many of your elected colleagues, are lawyers, not educators. I am an educator. I have been throughout my professional life. I do not know the law, and would never try to speak with any conviction about what should happen in a courtroom. What’s most dangerous about the public education discourse is the fact that finance, tech, government, and the “elite” are all driving the conversation without educators included. They have the audacity, to make life-altering decisions for other people’s children, while sending their children to independent schools.

“The masses of people, which are our most vulnerable, continue to be handled without empathy or care. Empathy requires that we walk in the shoes of others; something that charter reformers, common core advocates, and Teach for America has never done.

“In closing, I want to turn your attention back to your announcement of the Common Core commission. Do you realize that in that speech you mentioned the word “standards” ten times, and the word “tests” fifteen times, while only mentioning the word “learning” one time? Standards and tests are meaningless if they aren’t grounded in learning. Learning is innate, natural, and driven by the needs of children. This is why we must change the conversation from standards and testing to teaching and learning. This fundamental flaw in ideology continues to lead our education system down a destructive path.

“Further, although you and Mr. Gergen discussed innovation as essential to moving the education agenda forward, during your Common Core commission announcement the words creativity, collaboration, and communication, which many experts believe are pillars of innovation, received a total of zero mentions. Innovation is not just about using a computer, tablet, or smartphone; innovation is a way of thinking, doing, and being.

“Thank you Mr. Governor for all that you do for our state. In the future please be mindful to handle the topic of public education with extreme care. Be weary of your pro charter school advisors. The charter school money train and gentrification plans are well documented. Our work isn’t about teacher unions, charters, or technology; our work is about children — and the future of our democracy.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final say in reality.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

A group of parents, teachers, and scholars wrote a petition to the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is hiring Teach for America to supply inexperienced teachers for students with disabilities. It is astonishing that the board would want to place young college graduates into classrooms with students who need well-trained teachers, not youngsters with five weeks of training.



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.


The long version–


This 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 rate 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.


We are a coalition of public education advocates that includes:


Tina Andres, Santa Ana Unified teacher and special education parent

Jameson Brewer, PhD, former TFA

Anthony Cody, co-founder/board member Network for Public Education

Paul Markowitz, teacher and principal, retired

Josh Leibner, National Board Certified Teacher

Ellen Lubic, Joining Forces for Education

Carl Petersen, Change the LAUSD

Betty Jo Ravitz, former teacher and Director of Music

Sari Rynew, retired teacher

Robert Skeels, Juris Doctor Candidate and public education advocate

Julian Vasquez Heilig, PhD, Cloaking Inequity

Karen Wolfe, PSconnect

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

THE union-hating Walton Family Foundation granted another $50 million to Teach for America, one of the nation’s most successful businesses. This will allow TFA to meet the needs of the charter industry, as TFA recruits are willing to work long hours and leave after 2-3 years.

93% of charters are nonunion.

The title isn’t right. In this post, Mercedes Schneider refers to a post by Gary Rubinstein, in which Gary speculated whether Teach for America might evolve into a different kind of organization, something closer to its original idea of placing young teachers where there were shortages, rather than boasting that they are better than anyone else, including experienced teachers.

Mercedes says the likelihood of TFA abandoning its currently lucrative role is as likely as donkeys flying.

She writes:

Trying to extract “reform” from TFA is not possible. TFA is corporate reform, and TFA without corporate reform leaves only legitimately trained, career-intended, non-ladder-climbing, dedicated teachers.

Non-corporate-reform TFA would have to publicly admit that teaching is an actual profession and that the TFA product is at best a two-dimensional, cardboard cut-out of a substitute. Such an admission would be TFA’s undeniably-market-reform undoing.

Ironically, trying to conceal the inadequacy of her product is also leading to the undoing of TFA. However, one issue is clear about Wendy Kopp: She operates from a corporate mindset. She intends to make TFA ever-bigger, ever more influential.

She then reviews TFA’s 990 forms, which every nonprofit files with the IRS every year.

The goal of TFA became one of advancing the privatization of public education, of offering market-model-indoctrinated, rotating staffing to not only traditional districts, but to market-model charter schools– and of supplanting traditional public education administration with TFA alums zealous about advancing the TFA brand. I live in a state– Louisiana– in which a former TFAer-gone-TFA-exec was politically placed into the position of state superintendent– John White– and he and one TFA executive-as-state board-member– Kira Orange-Jones– have made it their business to feed TFA a million-dollar contract that includes paying TFA a temp fee of up to $9,000 per TFA recruit.

In 2013-14, TFA’s total assets were $494 million.

$32 million was from “service fees.”

$73.5 million was from “government grants.”

But TFA does not only operate via taxpayer money in the form of temp fees. TFA is a corporate-reform-advancing machine. TFA draws millions from the Waltons and Broad, among other obscenely-moneyed corporate reformers.

In 2013-14, TFA garnered $208 million in “other contributions.”

Without test-score-obsessed corporate reform, there is no TFA machine. But with the strategic, national push to replace the community school with the under-regulated, cheaply-staffed, non-union charter, TFA can continue to be a machine– so long as the corporate reform model retains a hold around the throat of American public education.

In addition, she reports on some hefty salaries.

It is a good business. But it is not at all good for the teaching profession since it promotes the idea that teachers don’t need professional preparation. Anyone with a high SAT score can do it. For two years anyway. Except that it is not true. And continuing to push this claim encourages legislatures to lower standards for entry into teaching. And encourages Congress to insert amendments that interns (TFA) can be counted as “highly qualified teachers.”

Why did Matt Kramer step down as co-director of Teach for Anerica? He was making $400,000 a year. On the other hand, he had never taught.

Gary Rubinstein, TFA 1991, is one of the closest watchers of the organization. He makes some educated guesses. He predicts that the other co-director won’t be around long.

He wouldn’t be surprised if Wendy Kopp returns to salvage the organization, which pulls in a cool $300 million a year.

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.


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