Archives for category: Teach for America

Teach for America is reducing its corps members in Memphis, according to Chalkbeat.

“The organization is projecting placements of 110 new recruits in Memphis-area schools during the 2015-16 school year, down from 185 last year….

“TFA’s presence has not been without controversy. While school administrators in Memphis have struggled to find and keep qualified math and science teachers to work in some of its lowest-performing middle and high schools, local hiring of young, mostly white TFA members coincided with layoffs of many older black teachers amid significant budget cuts.

“Local teachers’ union officials have maintained that TFA recruits aren’t qualified and equipped to teach students in low-income environments.

“The district is required to pay TFA a $5,000 annual fee per recruit, most of which comes from a $90 million grant awarded to the district in 2009 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That money – designated for programs that improve teacher effectiveness in Memphis schools – soon will run out.”

Pasi Sahlberg, the eminent Finnish scholar, writes here about why there is no Teach for Finland and why Finland is not a model for Teach for America. In his travels, he has heard people say that TFA is like Finland, because both recruit “the best and the brightest.” Sahlberg explains why this is not the case. While it is true that would-be teachers are carefully selected, those who are selected must meet a number of criteria, including a readiness and intention to make teaching a lifelong career.


Once they are admitted to a teacher education program at the end of their secondary schooling, future teachers must engage in a rigorous program of study:


All teachers in Finland must hold a master’s degree either in education (primary school teachers) or in subjects that they teach (lower- and upper-secondary school teachers). Primary school teachers in Finland go through rigorous academic education that normally lasts five to six years and can only be done in one of the research universities that offer teacher education degrees. This advanced academic program includes modules on pedagogy, psychology, neuroscience, curriculum theories, assessment methods, research methods and clinical practical training in teacher training school attached to the university. Subject teachers complete advanced academic studies in their field and combine that with an additional year of an educational program. This approach differs dramatically from the one employed by TFA, requiring only five or six weeks of summer training for college graduates, with limited clinical training in the practice of teaching.


As Sahlberg explains, teaching in Finland is a profession, and no one would be allowed to teach based solely on having high grades, high test scores, and going to an elite university. There are high standards for entry into the teacher education program and high standards for entry into the classroom as a professional. Consequently, teaching in Finland is a prestigious career. And that is why Finland does not have Teach for Finland.

Katie Osgood, Chicago teacher if children with high needs, left this comment:

“Here is the link to the Atlanta BoE members: The four TFAers are Courtney English (I-AL7), Jason Esteves (AL-9), Matt Westmoreland (D-3) and Eshe’ Collins (D-6). I encourage everyone to click into their bios to see the organizations they’ve been in involved with, their youth, and the corporate choice of language. For example, Jason Esteves’ bio says, “Jason is a practicing attorney at the Atlanta law firm of McKenna Long & Aldridge, LLP, where he brings businesses, nonprofits and individuals together to solve problems and get results. Jason has also served on the boards of KIPP South Fulton Academy…” He did his TFA stint and then straight to law school. Or Courtney English which reads, “Courtney D. English, was elected to the Atlanta Board of Education in 2009 at 24 years old; and was at that time, the youngest person to bke elected citywide in any capacity in the city of Atlanta’s history.” He did TFA for two years and went straight into the politics of school. Then there is Eshe’ Collins who chose to include “As a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at A.D. Williams Elementary School, 92 percent of her students met or exceeded expectations on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test for both grade levels.” Citing test scores in a bio shows a deep edreform bias, something we know TFA focuses on heavily. And Matt Westmoreland, well he is a white boy from Princeton, need I say more?

“This atrocity is exactly what TFA’s end game is. An all charter district would be a wind fall for TFA and its corporate partners. Their youth and isolation within the edreform machine has clearly had a strong and damaging influence on their beliefs. Expect TFA to keep pushing people like this onto school boards and political office through their political branch, LEE. This is why TFA cannot be allowed to exist.”

I don’t think TFA is going to go out of business. But it is important to know their goals and strategies.

The leaders of Teach for America posted a response to the front-page article in the Néw York Times describing TFA’s declining enrollment.

They blame the decline in part on the overall dip in enrollments in teacher education programs, not acknowledging that TFA has contributed to the erosion of teacher professionalism by its insistence that its recruits with five weeks of training are just as good as (even better than) experienced teachers with a master’s degree.

As you might expect, they blame the decline in applications to an improving economy, which is actually not a good defense as it suggests that a substantial number of potential TFA are more interested in money than in teaching. Those whose prime motivation is money should not enter the field of education.

If only TFA were really like the Peace Corps! They would go where they were needed, do whatever needed to be done, no matter how lowly, and make no pretense that they were more capable than veteran foreign service officers. At the end of two or three years, they would move on to their real careers, having learned from their experiences.

Instead, TFA has cozied up to corporations and right-wing foundations, placed their members in key positions in Congressional offices to protect their brand and secure millions, all the while serving as the willing tool of those who want to destroy unions, promote privatization of public education, and support high-stakes testing, especially for teacher evaluation. The last item is indicative of TFA’s disrespect for the teaching profession, as these ratings based on test scores are unreliable and will have no consequences for TFA teachers, most of whom will abandon teaching before there is enough data to evaluate their performance.

What has hurt TFA the most is that college students have organized on many campuses to combat their message and to warn that TFA is undermining public education and working closely with reactionary forces. The student-led organization called United Students Against Sweatshops called Harvard’s President Drew Faust to sever ties with TFA; it claims to have affiliates on 150 campuses. Graduate students at the University of Minnesota protested against TFA. Even TFA alumni have objected to TFA’s strategies and political agenda.

It is the student protestors who are tarnishing TFA’s brand.

Motoko Rich reports in a front-page story in the New York Times that Teach for America has seen a significant decline in the number of applicants.


TFA executives explain that the improved economy has drawn young people to work in high-paying jobs, instead of joining TFA (this explanation raises unintended questions about their interest in teaching or children).


Another suggestion is that the lure of teaching is down, since enrollments in education colleges has also declined.


The story suggests that TFA has lost its luster because of its close association with standards and testing, with charter schools, with evaluation of teachers by test scores (which seldom affects TFA recruits, who don’t stay in the classroom long enough to build up a record), and with weakening of teacher tenure. Some potential recruits are turned off, writes Rich, by TFA’s close association with the Walton Family Foundation, which has given it more than $50 million, no doubt because TFA staffs many non-union schools. In short, they are an integral cog in the movement to privatize public education and to undermine the teaching profession.


How are students learning about the underside of TFA, its close connections with the agenda of the 1%, who look down their noses at public schools and unions? At the end of the story, Rich mentions Hannah Nguyen as a student who has organized protests against TFA on campus. Hannah wants to make a career in education, not a jumping-off place to build her resume en route to working at Goldman Sachs or J.P. Morgan Chase. There are many other aspiring teachers who have become activists on their own campuses in opposition to TFA; even some former members of TFA have spoken out against the role that TFA has played in lowering the status of the teaching profession. Their efforts may have played a large role in dimming TFA’s image among their peers. What real profession would permit anyone to become a member with only five weeks of training? When veteran teachers complain about TFA, they are not protecting their jobs, they are protecting their profession.

A group of alternative certification programs, the most significant of them being Teach for America, declared their support for the Obama administration’s plan to grade colleges of education by the test scores of the students taught by their graduates. Alternative certification teachers typically do not go to colleges of education, which is why their certification is “alternative.” Their decision to weigh in on this issue, which does not affect them, is no doubt intended to shutter the teacher prep programs where students study education for one or more years. It also is an expression of their support for value-added-measurement (VAM), which does not affect alternatively certified teachers who enter the classroom for only one or two years because they are not in teaching long enough to produce data by which to be evaluated.


The Department of Education’s proposal would make test scores the overriding purpose of education. Courses in child development, cognitive theory, the history and politics of education, psychometrics, and other studies that are usually part of teacher preparation, would be irrelevant as compared to test prep. Test prep is the specialty of the “graduate” schools (like Relay) that prepare charter school teachers, where many TFA teachers teach. The proposal would also discourage teachers from taking assignments in hard-to-staff schools or teaching students with disabilities, where it is harder to raise test scores, as compared to suburban districts and non-disabled students.


The groups represent (at most) 80,000 teachers out of more than 3 million teachers. Their proposal does not affect their own members. It supports junk science.


According to the Education Department plan, programs that train teachers would collect data on items such as the teaching performance of their graduates in the job market and track the exam scores of the graduates’ students—an approach challenged by teachers’ unions and many in the teacher-preparation business.


“This is neither a valid nor reliable way of assessing teacher quality,” Kevin Kumashiro, dean of the University of San Francisco’s School of Education, said in an interview, referring to the regulations. In a National Education Policy Center review last month, he argued that the proposed regulations would, among other things, too narrowly define the role of a teacher.

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.”


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