Jeannie Kaplan, a former member of the Denver Board of Education, began looking into the role of Teach for America in Denver. At first, she thought that they were probably a big problem but then decided that as teachers, they were not having much of an impact, except for their cost. Then she realized that the real problem was how rapidly they moved into leadership roles for which they were not prepared.

She writes:

When I started researching TFA in Denver, I thought my conclusions about its impact would be, “TFA is not only NOT the solution for teacher excellence, it is in fact the problem.” However, in all honesty I have not found that to be the case. The number of corps members is very small, and the impact of these CMs in classrooms has been negligible. One real threat TFA poses in Denver Public Schools appears to be in the leadership roles TFA recruits are assuming in the District. TFA CMs are rising rapidly to principal positions with little educational or leadership experience. (Information for the 2014-15 school year shows TFA has supplied DPS with 7 traditional school principals or assistants, 2 innovation principals, and 12 charter school leaders, 5 of whom are in the STRIVE network. Any relation between the TFA trained leaders and declining academic performance in the STRIVE network?) Another real threat posed by TFA is what effect these CMs are having on overall teacher morale. But here again, TFA is not solely to blame for the rift between professional teachers and alternatively licensed teachers. DPS has found other organizations to provide cheap, non-professional teachers.

One positive outcome from my TFA inquiry is the level of detail the DPS central administration gave me regarding this outsourcing. It responded with clarity and timeliness. One negative outcome from my inquiry has been more confirmation that charters are only public schools when they want taxpayer money. The DPS administration does not have charter school/TFA information because in reality, charters operate as private schools. Charters have their own boards, their own budgets, their own operating methods, and while taxpayers are funding most of these operating expenses, the central public school administration does not have access to this information. Or at least it has not shared it. To get the charter school information in general, TFA information specifically, a person has two options: 1) call each charter school or the Charter Management Organization (CMO). Denver has close to 60 charter schools and while twenty belong to two CMOs that still left leaves close to forty calls; or 2) call the organization in question, in this case TFA. I chose the option number 2.

At the beginning of February I had a pleasant meeting with the TFA Colorado State Director who regaled me with data and success rates of TFA in Colorado. We even had several pleasant email exchanges as I tried to dig deeper and get more information. Then something happened. After being assured I would get my requested information – how many teachers were currently at each TFA serviced school – our communication went from a pleasant “Let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns,…” to “I am not able to prioritize this right now” leaving me without several important pieces of data. What changed ? I believe it is the request for accountability. TFA seems unable to produce evidence that it is really making a difference, that its CMs are really getting better results. When asked to substantiate data and deliver real accountability, not just spin and talking points, TFA like most “reform” organizations is unable to “show me the money….”

Given all of this, here is possibly the worst consequence of TFA’s presence in Denver today: TFA in DPS is contributing to the constant teacher churn. TFA as currently structured, will hardly be the savior of delivering a “reform” top tenet: A GREAT TEACHER IN EVERY CLASSROOM. And as long as this nation refuses to address the affects of poverty on our students, no one “reform” organization, nor for that matter will “reform” itself, make any significant impact on academic achievement or really the more important goal – providing a world class, well rounded education for all!