Archives for category: Teach for America TFA

Stuart Egan, an NBCT high school teacher in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, wrote an open letter to the Republican candidate for State Superintendent, Mark Johnson. Johnson is 32 years old. He worked for two years as a Teach for America teacher. He was elected to the Winston-Salem school board and is only halfway through his first term.

Egan writes:

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I read with great interest your essay posted on entitled “Our American Dream” on September 7th. Because you are a member of the school board from my own district and the republican nominee for State Superintendent, I was eager to read/see/hear what might distinguish you from Dr. Atkinson.

I agree that there is a lot to be done to help cure what ails our public education system, and I agree that we should not be reliant on so many tests in order that teachers can do what they are trained to do – teach. I also positively reacted to your stance on allowing local school boards to have more say in how assessment portfolios are conducted and focusing more resources on reading instruction in elementary grades.

However, I did not read much else that gives me as a voter the immediate impetus to rely on you to lead our public schools, specifically your words on student preparedness, the role of poverty, and school funding. In fact, many of the things you say about the current state of education in this op-ed make you seem more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming a statewide instructional leader.

You opening paragraph seems to set a tone of blame. You stated,

“Politicians, bureaucrats, and activists are quick to proffer that public education is under assault in North Carolina. They angrily allege attacks on the teaching profession; furiously fight against school choice; and petulantly push back against real reform for our education system. But why is there no comparable outrage that last June, thousands of high school seniors received diplomas despite being woefully unprepared for college or the workforce?”

In truth, many politicians and bureaucrats have engaged in attacks on the public school system and its teachers. Just look at the unregulated growth of charter schools, the rise of Opportunity Grants, and the creation of an ASD district. Look at the removal of due-process rights and graduate pay for new teachers.

Not only am I a teacher, but I am a parent of two children in public schools, a voter in local school board elections, and an activist. I have fought against school choice as it has been defined on West Jones Street with Opportunity Grants and charter schools because it has come at the expense of traditional public schools that still teach a vast majority of our kids.

And I would like to hear what you think real reforms are. Your op-ed would have been a great place to outline (not just mention) some of those reforms.

Johnson claimed in his statement:

“The education establishment and its political allies have one answer that they have pushed for the past 40 years – more money for more of the same.”

Egan asks:

First, I need for you to define “same.” In the years I have been in NC, I have been through many curriculum standards, evaluation systems, pay scales, NCLB, Race to the Top, etc. Secondly, who is the educational establishment? The people I see dictate policy in schools on West Jones Street certainly are not the same people who were crafting policy ten years ago. And less than fifteen years ago, North Carolina was considered the best, most progressive public school system in the Southeast. Is that part of the “same” you are referring to?

It is a brilliant dissection of the usual rightwing claims about our public schools. It is sad that many TFA alums have aligned themselves with Tea Party Republicans, as Johnson has.

Stuart Egan demonstrates once again why tenure matters. It protects his freedom to speak.

Jamaal Bowman, principal of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in the Bronx (New York City), wrote on Mark Naison’s blog about the fundamental errors of the “no excuses” charter schools that operate in high-needs communities like the Bronx, Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and wherever there is a concentration of children living in poverty.

Bowman is emerging as one of the most articulate critics of corporate reform. His credibility is enhanced by the fact that he is in charge of a school and is trying to forge a better alternative to the status quo.

Charters, he says, carefully select their students and set requirements to weed out and discourage unmotivated families. They can fire teachers at will and have high teacher turnover. Their model is sustained by Teach for America, whose members don’t plan to teach more than two years.

Based on what I know, as they are currently constituted, charters, TFA, and yearly standardized testing are wrong for our high need communities. We should stop funding them all unless they agree to make major adjustments to how they do business. Why? Because that money can be spent on giving all students a quality holistic education. Charters, TFA, and yearly testing infuse anxiety, disunity, and even worst, standardization into the psyche of society. They are trying to recreate a 21st century idea of “empire.” Keep the masses, and “lower class” under control while the elite continue to rule. A standardized mindset will always be controlled. Whereas in schools like Riverdale Country School, there are not state standardized assessment, no TFA and no need for a charter, and they are taught to lead and change the world.
Consider KIPP’S first graduating class. Ranked fifth in NYC in mathematics in the 8th grade, but only 21% graduated college. Why? Because KIPP test prepped the kids to death and the kids never built their character or learned to manage their own freedom. KIPP and many charters standardize and try to control everything from how kids walk through the halls to how they ask to go to the bathroom. But teaching and learning is organic; it is human. When are we gonna ask ourselves why must poor communities of color be treated like this, whereas middle class and upper class parents would NEVER go for this treatment!
WE HAVE TO hold politicians and private citizens who invest in education accountable to the true needs of our at-risk communities. We must give our communities a true voice. If charters, TFA, and the state really cared about our children being their very best, show us, by investing in daycare, Montessori, music, sports, counselors and everything in between. Charters should take all children and TFA should change everything! If not, the powers that be will continue to fatten up the district school kids to be slaughtered and fed to their private school bosses as adults.
For the rest we have jail cells waiting for them #wemustunitenow

Mercedes Schneider reports that the new Every Student Succeeds Act has revised a key element of No Child Left Behind. NCLB referred to “highly qualified” teachers 67 separate times. It seemed to be important when this bill was written in 2001 that every child should be instructed by a highly qualified teacher. But as she explains, Teach for America got into the act and persuaded its champions in Congress to play around with the definition so that even a young college graduate with only five weeks of training could be considered “highly qualified.”


The new ESSA solves this problem by deleting any reference to “highly qualified” teachers. Instead, it refers to “effective” teachers.


Schneider writes:


What is interesting is that ESSA foregoes the NCLB language prohibiting emergency or provisional certification. In fact, ESSA does allow for provisional certification and the waiving of licensing criteria for states and schools receiving Title I funding (see page 143). Furthermore, it seems that provisional or emergency certification could be subsumed in “certification obtained through alternative routes.”


It appears to be up to states to decide to specify emergency or provisional certification as belonging under the heading of “alternative certification.”


In October 2013, Senator Harkin worked to include language into federal government debt legislation a provision that allowed teachers in training to be considered “highly qualified.” Such a provision was a gift to Teach for America (TFA), for it allowed TFAers with their five weeks of summer training to “highly qualify” to become full-fledged teachers under NCLB.


However, someone like 2014-15 Alabama Teacher of the Year Ann Marie Corgill, who had been teaching elementary school for over two decades, could not be allowed to teach in a Title-I-funded state under her National Board certification because Alabama does not count National Board certification as an “alternative” certification, nor could the state offer Corgill provisional status to teach fifth grade because such was expressly prohibited under NCLB.


The professional teaching world is on its head, my friends.


To bring it home: Under NCLB and additionally Harkin’s provision stealthily slipped into a debt bill and altering the definition of “highly qualified,” a five-week-trained TFAer is qualified to replace Corgill as a teacher in a state receiving Title I funding.


Be it noted that Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa had Teach for America on his staff, advising on education legislation. Be it also noted that Arthur Rock, a wealthy businessman in California, underwrites the entire cost of putting TFA interns into key Congressional offices ($500,000 a year). There the interns have protected TFA’s interests, getting them named “highly effective,” and now getting them protected in the ESSA.


Is this like the tobacco industry offering free interns to the Senators who regulate their industry?

Here is the handbook of the for-profit education industry (although it does advise you to drop the label “for-profit”).


Here are some basic facts that it recites. The world spends many billions on education. The United States spends close to $2 trillion on education, nearly $900 billion on K-12.


This is a huge market for investors seeking to make a profit.


And then it launches into spin about how terrible the American public education system is, never mentioning that our students (white, Black, Hispanic, and Asian) now have the highest test scores ever on NAEP, the highest graduation rates in history (for all groups), and the lowest dropout rates (for all groups). It is the usual “sky-is-falling” hokum, all intended to persuade the public to turn their public schools over to hedge fund managers and equity investors and hucksters who know nothing at all about education.


There is also no mention of the many scandals that have surrounded the charter industry, as fly-by-night operators cash in on a newly deregulated industry.


The main point, the same point that Michael Moe of GSV Investors has been making for nearly 20 years, is that the education industry offers the opportunity to clean up for the canny investor and entrepreneur, by siphoning off taxpayer funds that were supposed to go to children and classrooms.


If you love Teach for America, charter schools, consultants, for-profit schools and colleges, online universities, and technology, you will love this report. If you loved No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and “Waiting for Superman,” you will love this report.


If you think that corporate reform is a pox on American education, read it and arm yourself for the battles ahead.





Mike Miles took charge of the Dallas Independent School District on July 1, 2012. He came from a district with 10,000 students to one with 150,000. His background was in the military, then a stint at the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy, where he learned the importance of top-down reform. He introduced himself to thousands of staff members at a shindig where he danced with a student group, then spoke inspiringly of the “disruptive transformation” that he would lead.

Being a Broadie, he immediately set out his quantified goals:

By 2020, he says, the graduation rate will be up to 90% from the 2010 rate of 75%.
By 2020, SAT scores will jump by 30%, and 60% of students will achieve at least a 21 on the ACT.
80% of students will be workplace ready, as determined by assessments created by the business and nonprofit communities.
He will create a new leadership academy to train principals in one year, based on what sounds like NYC’s unsuccessful one.
Teachers will be observed up to ten times a year, and these observations will factor into a pay-for-performance plan.
All classroom doors must be open all the times. so that teachers may be observed at any time, without warning.
Principals will have one year “to demonstrate that they have the capacity and what it takes to lead change and to improve the quality of instruction.”
Miles did not say how he intends to measure whether principals have this capacity.

By August 2015:
“At least 75 percent of the staff and 70 percent of community members agree or strongly agree with the direction of the district.

At least 80 percent of all classroom teachers and 100 percent of principals are placed on a pay-for-performance evaluation system.At least 60 percent of teachers on the pay-for-performance evaluation system and 75 percent of principals agree that the system is “fair, accurate and rigorous.”

Of disruption there has been an abundance. Of transformation, not so much. In the past (nearly) three years, he has been a polarizing figure, often in hot water with teachers, administrators, parents, and the school board. There has been a significant departure of teachers, unhappy with his “my-way-or-the-highway” style. He placed nearly two dozen young alumni of Teach for America in high-level administrative positions. Before Miles’ arrival, there were 111 administrators paid more than $100,000; the Dallas Morning News discovered that the number of administrators earning that much increased to 175 within two years after Miles took the job. He has fired many principals. He called the police to evict a school board member who was visiting one of the schools in her district. He became so controversial that he moved his family back to Colorado to ensure their safety. From time to time, the school board debates whether to fire him, yet he has thus far survived every attempt to oust him.

The last blowup with the school board occurred in February, when it was revealed that the 30-year-old director of human resources (a TFA alum who had been hired by Miles at age 28 and was earning $190,000) had sent a series of instant messages disparaging her co-workers and making inappropriate comments about their race, religion, and age. Miles fired her and paid her $79,000 in a separation agreement.

Most recently, he selected six schools with low test scores and designated them part of his ACE program (Accelerating Academic Performance). He replaced the principals and many of the teachers, and he pledged that there would be significant academic gains by December. The teachers are eligible to win stipends of up to $12,000 yearly over their salary.

These are the changes Miles is imposing on his six low-performing schools:

Students will receive at least 90 minutes of homework every night. The schools will stay open until 6 p.m. for those who wish to finish their work on campus. Dinner will be provided.
Failing grades will not be accepted. Students will have to redo assignments until they get passing scores. Saturday school will be offered to students who need help.
Parents will be required to sign a “contract” that details those expectations. Parents who object can send their children to another school, and transportation will be provided.
Each teacher must agree to spend an additional three hours a week — before or after school or on Saturday — supporting additional instructional time or monitoring student homework time.

Read the comments following the above article to see the bitter feelings for and against Miles.

Now Miles is engaged in some more disruption, since as we all know, disruption is a constant in the world of reform these days. A popular principal of a successful elementary school has been informed that she will be removed from her post at the end of the school year.

Rosemont Elementary School is considered a neighborhood gem in North Oak Cliff, boasting everything a Dallas ISD campus aspires to have: strong academics, passionate students and devoted parents. Those parents credit Anna Brining, Rosemont’s principal of 15 years, for that success.

But now they fear the school is in jeopardy. They learned Wednesday that Brining was told that her contract will not be renewed after this school year. And they believe it’s in retaliation for their activism.

Parents have been outspoken about their opposition to the overemphasis on testing, and they confronted Superintendent Miles with their concerns at open meetings. Afterwards, the principals got more visits from central administrators and was written up for minor infractions.

Just this past February, three of the school board trustees–after the scandal in the human resources department– wanted to discuss Miles’ future with the district. But they are a minority of the nine-member board. The Dallas Morning News reviewed the academic record of the district in the past three years and found no significant gains or losses. Disruption, yes. Transformation, no.

Julian Vasquez Heilig has studied Teach for America and its effects, and has come to the conclusion that the organization is harming the future of the teaching profession by its grandiose and false claims.

It has raised well over a billion dollars to support a large and handsomely paid staff. Its recruits will go to classrooms where students need experienced teachers, not five-week trainees. And 80% will leave the classroom in 2-3 years.

I this post, he is in dialogue with historian Jack Schneider.

Heilig writes:

“TFA is an example of a solution being a part of the problem. Our current national teacher strategy in the U.S. can be likened to taking a plate of pasta and throwing it against the ceiling and seeing what sticks. Teach For America, with its high-levels of attrition out of the classroom after the two year temporary commitment exacerbates this issue for poor students.

“We know from the data that about 50% of traditionally trained teachers remain in the profession after five years. By comparison, previous research on TFA has demonstrated that their attrition rate out the classroom to greener pastures (Note: I did not say in the “field” of education, a phrase TFA likes to use—meaning that corps members have left teaching and gone to graduate school, have begun working for an education-oriented foundation, etc.) is around 80%, though it varies by community.

“The falling spaghetti is not just Teach For America. Almost 60% of all new teachers in Texas are alternatively certified teachers, which means they could have as little as 30 hours of training online before they enter the classroom. Alternatively certified teachers also have higher rates of attrition out of the classroom compared to traditionally trained teachers.

“Our strategy in the U.S. is to send the least qualified teachers to the classroom as quickly as possible. Thus, the falling temporary teacher approach is essentially the antithesis of the national teacher strategies employed by the countries with the world’s leading educational systems.”

The fact is that we need a well-prepared teacher corps. We need experienced teachers. What we do not need is the illusion that TFA can change our schools by sending in inexperienced teachers who leave after 2-3 years. That’s a hoax.

Veteran journalist Bob Braun reports that Cami Anderson–the Christie administration’s state-appointed superintendent in Newark (and a graduate of Teach for America)–may lay off 700 Newark teachers and replace many or most of them with TFA.

He writes:

“The state administration of the Newark Public Schools (NPS) is expected to lay off hundreds of experienced city teachers and replace many with new hires, including more than 300 members of Teach for America (TFA). The report comes from union sources but is supported both by the latest version of the state’s “One Newark” plan and by the Walton Family Foundation website. The foundation is expected to subsidize the hiring of the new teachers.

“The NPS has not responded to requests for information or confirmation or denial of previous reports that Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent of Newark schools, will ask outgoing state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf to waive seniority rights of hundreds of Newark teachers. This would permit their firing without resort to the detenuring process. Members of the Newark school board, however, confirmed Anderson’s plans to “right-size” the teaching staff.”

The Colorado Education Association, which represents the overwhelming majority of teachers in the state, will sue to block further implementation of SB 10-191.

That law, written by ex-TFA State Senator Michael Johnston in 2010, wiped out due process for teachers and tied evaluations of teachers and principals to student test scores. This method, called VAM, has failed wherever it was tried. Most researchers agree it is inaccurate and deeply flawed.

This is the CEA statement:

“The Colorado Education Association (CEA) has announced plans for legal and legislative action to correct what the organization calls proven flaws in the mutual consent provision of Senate Bill 10-191 that allows school districts to remove qualified teachers from the classroom. SB191 gutted Colorado’s tenure protections for teachers, and replaced them with an unproven scheme that could fire teachers for their students scores on standardized tests.

“The CEA is Colorado’s largest teachers union. Denver teachers have earlier sought an arbitrator’s opinion with Denver Public Schools, an opinion which found SB191 unconstitutional.

“SB191 contains provisions that strip teachers of their teaching licenses, and in effect, the ability to earn a wage, without due process of law.”

Levi Cavener wrote this article about why young college graduates with only five weeks of training are not qualified to teach students with disabilities.

Levi B Cavener is a Special Education teacher at Vallivue High School, Caldwell, Idaho.

He wrote it after attending a local school board meeting, where a TFA representative claimed that TFA recruits are well prepared to teach students with high needs:

“At a December 10, 2013, Vallivue School Board meeting I listened to Nicole Brisbane, Idaho’s TFA point person, pitch her product. (The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, a heavy donor to the district, called the board members to see if they would meet with Ms. Brisbane.) During the presentation, board members inquired about TFA’s ability to provide staffing for “hard-to-fill” positions, particularly special education. Brisbane was clear: TFA can provide “highly qualified” special education instructors.”

In Idaho, one foundation calls the shots for education: the Albertson Foundation. This foundation promotes privatization, charters, online learning, and TFA.

EduShyster has some fun with the crazy idea that Teach for America is a charity in need of your holiday gifts, your nickels and dimes and quarters..

She notes that TFA has an annual budget of $300 million plus; it also has a score of high-paid executives, and many hundreds of millions in assets.

Let’s just say that this is not exactly like the Red Cross or the Salvation Army.

Yet some of our nation’s biggest, richest corporations ask you to buy their products with the promise that they will make a donation to TFA, which is rolling in dough.

What a great marketing plan!

Now if only they would require their recruits to have a year of professional preparation and stay in their jobs for 4-5 years, they would be worthy of all those gifts from Subaru, FedEx, J. Crew, etc.