Archives for category: Teach for America

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.”

Peter Greene discovers what the real purpose of Teach for America is: to get a great job in the corporate world! (Actually, that is not the real purpose of TFA: the real purpose is to provide low-wage, temporary non-union teachers for charter chains.)

He read an article, what is usually called a puff piece, in a business publication about how TFA is terrific preparation for working at Google. In some cases, the young graduates secure the job at Google first, then defer their start time until they have done their TFA stint.

He writes:

“People looking to get a job at Google might first want to spend a few years as a teacher.

“That is the lede for what appears to be a serious imitation of the classic Onion send-up of Teach For America. Business Insider has written a glowing portrait of how TFA can be a great stepping-stone to a career at Google.

“A company spokesperson tells BI writer Aaron Taube that the tech giant loves people from TFA because the program “requires new graduates to think on their feet and achieve success in a challenging new environment…” Google in fact has a partnership with TFA that allows Googlers to defer a job offer until they’ve served their two years with TFA. How liberating it must be to walk into that classroom knowing that your real job is already waiting for you.

“Taube’s interview was with Meghan Casserly, Google head of culture communications, and A. T. McWilliams, TFA alum and current Googler.

“TFA graduates have to coach their students in an environment where motivation isn’t always a given … and solve very complex problems that require patience, perseverance and commitment — things we really value at Google,” said Casserly. “It’s difficult to find talented professionals with this kind of intense experience at such an early stage in their career.”

“McWilliams offers his own experience as an example. He was placed in Brooklyn (in one of the “coveted” TFA openings).

“There, McWilliams learned a handful of skills that he says have helped make him more effective at his job at Google, where he became a full-time member of the company’s New York corporate communications team this past summer.

“Taube actually frames TFA’s infamous five weeks of training (hey– how much do you need to be a teacher, really) as a plus. It forced McWilliams to learn on the job and come up with creative solutions. See, if he had actually been trained to be a teacher, he would have wasted his time just implementing proven professional instructional techniques, and lord knows he wouldn’t have gotten any business training out of that.”

Greene is disgusted by the way his profession as a teacher is viewed by these corporate types.

“Sigh. It is McWilliams who has the last word in the article. “I think the Teach for America experience is really applicable in any place that requires you to be smart and creative,” he says. Because, yes, that’s what TFA is apparently supposed to do– provide college grads with an experience that they can apply to their real jobs later. Those children are just your own personal ladder to success.

“I often discuss TFA as if it is dismissive of teaching as a profession, that it belittles the whole idea of teaching. But this is actually worse, because teaching isn’t even on the radar in this article. It’s just one more life experience for a college grad who’s just passing through, unable to see the children for all the visions of Googlebucks. Sorry, Onion. Real life has passed you up.”

Many wealthy families want to leave a legacy, something to remind the world of their beneficence and power. Andrew Carnegie covered the land with free public libraries. Others have endowed museums, public parks, zoos, and many other monuments that the public would enjoy long after the family had gone.

The Kramer family of Minneapolis will leave as its legacy the destruction of public education in that city. They have devoted their considerable energy and power to building public support for charter schools and cutting away public support for public schools. Because of their role as advocates for charter schools, Minneapolis this year has 34,000 students, while the surging charter sector has 20,000. This year, the public schools expected enrollment growth of 900, but only two new students appeared. Meanwhile, the Board of Education bickers about “market share” and forgets their primary mission as stewards of a public trust, as Peter Greene explained.

What have the Kramers to do with the sinking fortunes of public education? EduShyster documented their leadership of the privatization movement in Minneapolis. She writes, in her cheeky fashion:

“Readers: meet the Minneapolis Kramers. Father Joel is the former publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and took home $8 million when the paper was sold to McClatchy. These days he presides over Minnpost.com and a brood of young rephormers. Son Matt is the president of Teach for America, in charge of TFA’s “overall performance, operations, and effectiveness.” Son Eli, another former TFAer, is the executive director of Hiawatha Academies, a mini charter empire in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, daughter-in-law Katie Barrett-Kramer is a former TFAer who now serves as director of academic excellence at Charter School Partners, a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the number of charters in Minneapolis, including the ones her brother-in-law runs.

“Now I have acquired a deep thirst just writing about the Kramer siblings and their dedication to the civil right$ i$$ue of our time. But there’s still more. Matt, who with his brother attended the tony Breck School (which I suspect is likely not a ‘no excuses’ school), also sits on numerous rephorm boards. Matt is the chair of the board of 50Can and a member of the board of Students for Education Reform.

“And did I mention that the Kramers are avid supporters of young TFA school board candidate and life-long educator Josh Reimnitz, who moved to Minneapolis in May, and received an undisclosed amount of money from TFA’s political phund???

But what about Père Kramer? Has he no role in this touching rephorm tableau? Phear not reader. Papa Kramer’s online publication, MinnPost, serves as an influential booster for all of the Kramers’ assorted kauses, including Hiawatha Academies. There is nothing the slightest bit conflict-of-interest-ish about this as evidenced by this, perhaps the kraziest quote from an actual publication that I have ever encountered:

“And here we must pause for Learning’s Curve’s lengthiest Kramer Disclaimer yet: [Charter School Partners] employs Katie Barrett-Kramer, wife of Teach for America President Matt Kramer and daughter-in-law of MinnPost founder and Editor Joel Kramer and Chief Revenue Officer Laurie Kramer.”

It is difficult to think that any family in the U.S. wants to be remembered as the family that destroyed and privatized public education. But that is how the Kramer family of Minneapolis will be remembered. How very sad.

Mitchell Robinson, who teaches teachers at Michigan State University, recently told Teach for America that they would not be allowed to recruit in his education program. Here he describes his conversation with the recruiters who wanted to know his problem with TFA.

 

One of my students was contacted by a Teach For America recruiting representative, and asked if she was interested in getting involved with the organization. She sent me the note, and I replied that TFA was not welcome in my teacher preparation classes (á la Mark Naison!). I received a reply asking for a meeting, to discuss my “problems with TFA.”

 

And so I met with the two TFA recruiters, both of whom had taught for three years as TFA corps members and then moved into leadership/management roles with the organization. The discussion went just about as well as I thought it would.

 

They asked how they could work more effectively with traditional teacher education programs, and I asked them how they justified sending out recruits with five weeks of “training” into some of the more challenging classrooms in our state.

 

When I suggested that TFA was contributing to the displacement of veteran teachers in Chicago, Detroit and other urban centers, looks of shock and disbelief registered on their faces. They said that was not their goal.

 

When I asked one of them to explain TFA’s goal, she said it was to improve education in urban schools. I asked her to list the factors contributing to the “problems” in those schools and explain what TFA was doing about those problems. She didn’t answer.

 

He tried to explain his objections. They didn’t understand. There was a failure to communicate.

 

 

 

Progressivism is not dead at Harvard University.

A group of students called on the University’s President Drew Faust to cut ties with Teach for America unless the organization made major changes.

“The group’s demonstration comes as part of a larger movement initiated by United Students Against Sweatshops, which holds that holds that Teach For America is working to privatize education through its relationships with big-name corporations that are threatening the sanctity of public education. The group had a TFA Truth Tour during March and April earlier this year, wherein protests were scheduled and executed on college campuses, including Harvard University.

“In their letter to President Faust, the student group outlined the reforms they would like to see within the organization:

“Send Teach for America participants only to areas where there is a teaching shortage

“Work to provide these participants with more training and education

“Eliminate the ties the organization has with such corporations as Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil, and JPMorgan Chase.”

In other words, SLAM recognizes that TFA is an enabler of privatization and acts like scabs, taking the jobs of experienced teachers and busting unions.

The first thing to be said about Kristen Buras’ new book is that the publisher overpriced the book ($125). As the author, she had nothing to do with that poor decision. This is a book that should be widely read, but at that price, it won’t be. There will eventually be a softcover edition, but probably not for a year. Urge your library to buy it, or get together a group of friends to pool the cost. Or contact the author directly, and she will send you a coupon that gives you a 20% discount (kburas@gsu.edu).

Although it has its share of academic jargon, it is a major contribution to the literature about post-Katrina New Orleans that directly challenges what you have seen on PBS or heard on NPR or read in the mainstream media. Buras has written her narrative from the grassroots, not from the top. She has spent countless hours interviewing students, parents, teachers, and reformers. She has read all the relevant documents. This is the other side of the story. It is important, and you should read it.

In 2010, I went to New Orleans at the invitation of my cyber-friend Lance Hill, who was running the Southern Institute for Education and Research. Lance arranged for me to speak at Dillard University, a historically black institution in New Orleans, and he invited some of the city’s leading (displaced) educators. There were advocates for the charter reforms in the audience, and they spoke up.

But most of the audience seemed to be angry teachers and administrators who had been fired, and angry parents whose neighborhood school had been taken over by a charter. What I remember most vividly from that evening, aside from meeting the direct descendants of Plessy and Ferguson, who now work together on behalf of racial and civic amity, was a woman in the audience who stood up and said, “After Katrina, first they stole our democracy, then they stole our schools.”

I understood that she was unhappy about the new regime, but I understood it even better after I read Kristen L. Buras’ Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space (Routledge). It is just published. As i said at the outset, the publisher priced it out of the reach of most people who want to read it. What a strange judgment at a time when so many cities are closing down their public schools and handing their children over to charter operators because they want to be “another New Orleans.” If there is one lesson in Buras’ book, it is this: Do not copy New Orleans.

Buras, now a professor of educational policy at Georgia State University, spent ten years researching this book. She describes fully the policy terrain: the Bush administration’s desire to turn Katrina-devastated New Orleans into a free enterprise zone. The support of New Orleans’ white-dominated business community and of the leadership of Tulane University, for privatization of the schools. Privatization also was encouraged by the Aspen Institute, whose chairman Walter Isaacson (former editor in chief of TIME) was simultaneously chairman of the board of Teach for America. A swarm of market-oriented “reformers” saw a chance to turn New Orleans into a model for the nation. They had no trouble getting tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, from the federal government and foundations to create the enterprise zone of independently operated charter schools they wanted.

Obstacles were quickly swept away. Some 7,500 veteran teachers, three-quarters of whom were African-American, the backbone of the African-American middle class in New Orleans, were abruptly fired without cause, making room for a new staff of inexperienced young TFA recruits. Public schools were soon eliminated, even those that were beloved in their communities, some with fabled histories and vibrant ties to the neighborhood.

Buras relates the troubled history of New Orleans, with its background of white supremacy and the disempowerment of African Americans, whether enslaved or free. She recoils at the accusation that black teachers were somehow responsible for the poor condition and poor academic results of the public schools of New Orleans before Katrina. She documents that those in power in the state systematically underfunded the schools until the charters came; then the money spigot opened.

Reviewing this history, and especially the years since the destruction caused by Katrina in 2005, Buras reaches some strong judgments about what happened to New Orleans that ties past to present.

When the new power elites were debating the best way to manage the schools, what became clear was that they distrusted local school boards as “politicized and ineffective,” and preferred either state control, mayoral control or appointed leadership. Behind their models was the Reconstruction-era assumption that “African Americans have no capacity for self-government.”

“Whether in terms of how [charter] boards are constituted or in terms of how student or familial challenges are addressed, the charter school movement in New Orleans is closely bound to the protection of whiteness as property, as the clearest beneficiaries are upper-class white (and a few black) entrepreneurs who seek to capitalize on public assets for their own advancement while dispossessing the very communities the schools are supposed to serve.”

Buras tells the counter-stories of community-supported public schools that resisted the charterization process. One chapter is devoted to Frrederick Douglass High School, the heart of the Bywater neighborhood in the city’s Upper 9th Ward. It opened in 1913 as an all-white school named for a Confederate general who was Reconstruction governor of Louisiana after the Civil War. With desegregation in the late 1960s, white flight commenced, and it eventually became an all-black school. Not until the 1990s was it renamed for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. As Buras shows, the local African American community tried to save the school, which was important to the neighborhood, but it was eventually handed over to KIPP.

Buras points out that most of the charter schools did not hire veteran teachers, and none has a union. They prefer to rely on the fresh recruits, “most of them white and from outside the community.” After Katrina, she writes, state officials and education entrepreneurs shifted the blame for poor academic results onto the city’s veteran teachers. She quotes Chas Roemer, currently the chair of the state education board, as saying “Charter schools are now a threat to the jobs program called public education.” (Roemer’s sister heads the state’s charter school association.) Buras concludes that his remark echoes the old racist view that African Americans are shiftless and lazy and dependent on state welfare. She counters that teachers in New Orleans before Katrina contended with “racism and a history of state neglect of black public schools.” Several teachers told her of the unfit conditions of the schools in which they taught. They did not have access to the bounty that arrived in the city for charter schools.

Beneath the chatter about a New Orleans “miracle,” Buras sees the unfolding of a narrative in which whites once again gain power to control the children of African American families and take possession of schools that once belonged to the black community and reflected their culture and their aspirations.

“Knowingly or unknowingly,” she writes, inexperienced white recruits with TFA undermine the best interests of black working-class students and veteran teachers to leverage a more financially stable and promising future for themselves.” Buras is especially scornful of TFA, which she holds culpable for treating its recruits as “human capital,” while helping to dismantle democratic institutions and take the place of unjustly fired black teachers.

In the end, she offers up her book as a warning to urban districts like Philadelphia, Newark, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, and others that New Orleans is not a model for anyone to follow. The entrepreneurs grow fat while families and children lose schools that once were the heart of their community. Schools are not just a place to produce test scores (and the evidence from the New Orleans-based “Research on Reforms” shows that New Orleans’ Recovery School District is one of the state’s lowest performing districts). Schools have civic functions as well. They are, or should be, democratic institutions, serving the needs of the local community and responsive to its goals. Schooling is not something done to children, but a process in which children learn about the world, develop their talents, and become independent, self-directed individuals and citizens.

The most potent criticism of Teach for America comes from recruits who joined the corps, then discovered they were ill-prepared for the challenges of a high-needs classroom.

This letter from Annie Tan was posted on the blog “Cloaking Inequity,” which is Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog.

She writes:

“I have had my gripes about TFA from sophomore year of college. Learning about the neoliberal education reform movement, lack of teachers of color in the profession, TFA’s support of charter schools, funding from questionable sources who may have ulterior motives in education other than the education of all students, factored into my criticism of TFA. I didn’t want to be a savior in education- I just wanted to teach. But I guess I did fall into a savior mentality as I joined- I thought I was going to be so much better, that I was going to save my students. I was very smug about it, until the realities of the first year beat me down.”

Annie taught in a Chicago charter school where most of the other teachers were TFA. It bothered her that the charter had displaced a beloved neighborhood public school. Parents realized that few of the teachers would stay for long. Annie came to see that she was not a savior.

In case you missed, here is my interview with Tavis Smiley from September 8. It is about 12 minutes. Tavis asked about the Vergara decision and teacher tenure, about the attacks on teachers and public education, about the goals of the current “reform” movement, Common Core, and my judgment of Race to the Top.

All in 12 minutes!

By the way, if you wonder why I was holding my head in last minutes of show, I should explain that I didn’t have a toothache. My earpiece with the audio feed was falling out, and I was holding it in my ear.

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