In this post, EduShyster interviews Teach for America alumna-turned-academic Terrenda White. She joined TFA in the early 2000s. CNN followed her around during her first year of teaching, presumably to show how successful this new thing called TFA was. Now she studies TFA’s diversity problem. While TFA claims to have increased the diversity of those within its ranks, it also causes a decrease in the number of teachers of color by displacing them.


White says:


While TFA may be improving their diversity numbers, that improvement has coincided with a drastic decline in the number of teachers of color, and Black teachers in particular, in the very cities where TFA has expanded. I don’t see them making a connection between their own diversity goals and the hits that teachers of color have taken as a result of policies to which TFA is connected: school closures where teachers of color disproportionately work, charter school expansion, teacher layoffs as schools are turned around. We have to talk about whether and how those policies have benefited TFA to expand in a way that they’re not ready to publicly acknowledge….


What happened in New Orleans, for example, is a microcosm of this larger issue where you have a blunt policy that we know resulted in the displacement of teachers of color, followed by TFA’s expansion in that region. I’ve never heard TFA talk about or address that issue. Or take Chicago, where the number of Black teachers has been cut in half as schools have been closed or turned around. In the lawsuits that teachers filed against the Chicago Board of Education, they used a lot of social science research and tracked that if a school was low performing and was located on the north or the west side and had a higher percentage of white teachers, that school was less likely to be closed. As the teachers pointed out, this wasn’t just about closing low-performing schools, but closing low-performing schools in communities of color, and particularly those schools that had a higher percentage of teachers of color. What bothers me is that we have a national rhetoric about wanting diversity when at the same time we’re actually manufacturing the lack of diversity in the way in which we craft our policies. And we mete them out in a racially discriminatory way. So in many ways we’re creating the problem we say we want to fix….


For TFA, the managerialism and the technocratic approach excludes a serious discussion about these larger, systemic problems: poverty, segregation and unequal funding. When I was a TFA corps member, I really believed that if I just had perfect lesson plans, then these larger problems wouldn’t matter. The technocratic approach is just about test scores and making them go up, and it’s disconnected from these larger questions. How do we involve parents, and do they have any say in what a good school is? Are they a part of these turnaround models? Do they get any kind of voice? I think the whole community-based model of schooling is very much being lost to a top-down managerial approach.


This is another fascinating interview from EduShyster that introduces us to a young scholar who will have a large impact on the future of teaching and on how TFA is perceived by the public.