Archives for category: Teach for America TFA

Julian Vasquez Heilig has conducted peer-reviewed research on TFA over several years.

He is astonished that it has been converted into a political power machine, which makes it even more powerful.

Follow the money as TFA expands its base.

John Wilson explains on his blog on Education Week why states and districts should NOT contract with Teach for America.

He writes:

“Lately, I have been reading numbers of articles about Teach For America (TFA) written by former participants in the program as well as by researchers and investigative reporters. It appears that there is general consensus that TFA is not the answer to teacher shortages, closing achievement gaps, or eliminating poverty in this country. Most of the writers agree that the program is using public schools and poor children to develop a network of new leaders who will advance a corporate reform agenda. Great harm has been done in school districts and states where these new TFA leaders have emerged. Who bears the greatest portion of responsibility for what is happening?”

The young people are idealistic and eager to be of service to children and society. But recently there has been a startling number of admissions by former TFA that they were woefully unprepared for the challenges of teaching by their five weeks of training. Nonetheless, through their skillful networking, Congress dubbed them “highly qualified,” so these inexperienced newcomers could be placed in the classrooms of the nation’s neediest children. This serves the expansionist goals of the organization, but does a terrible disservice to the children, who actually need Highly Qualified Teachers, not newcomers.

Not only are they not “highly qualified teachers,” but the orgaization’s repeated claim that newcomers with little training are even better than experienced professionals weakens the very idea of professionalism.

Who would go to a doctor or lawyer or engineer who had “trained” for only five weeks

Sandra Korn, class of 2014 at Harvard, was invited to join TFA. She said no. She explains why here.

“For one, I am far from ready to enter a classroom on my own. Indeed, in my experience Harvard students have increasingly acknowledged that TFA drastically underprepares its recruits for the reality of teaching. But more importantly, TFA is not only sending young, idealistic, and inexperienced college grads into schools in neighborhoods different from where they’re from — it’s also working to destroy the American public education system. As a hopeful future teacher, that is not something I could ever conscionably put my name behind.”

Not only are young college graduates unprepared to teach, she writes, but they are being used to take jobs away from experienced teachers.

TFA’s association with privatization and standardized testing, she writes, is wrong. “In doing so, TFA is working directly against the interests of teachers, students, and communities alike. Neoliberal school reform is the true “educational injustice” here.”

Remember all the times that “reformers” like Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Wendy Kopp, and Joel Klein have said that the answer to poverty is to “fix” schools first? Remember their claims that school reform (more testing, more charters, more inexperienced teachers, larger classes, more technology) would vanquish poverty? For the past decade, our society has followed their advice, pouring billions into the pockets of the testing industry, consultants, and technology companies, as well as Teach for America, the over-hyped charter industry, and the multi-billion search for a surefire metric to evaluate teachers.

But what if they are wrong? What if all those billions were wasted on their pet projects, ambitions, and hunches, while child poverty kept growing?

The latest study, reported by Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post, shows a staggering increase in child poverty across the nation. The majority of public school students in the South and the West now qualify for free or reduced price lunch. By federal standards, that means they are poor.

The United States has a greater proportion of children living in poverty than any other advanced nation in the world. We are #1 in child poverty. This is shameful.

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once remarked on the phenomenon of “feeding the horses to feed the sparrows.” In this case, the horses are the educational industrial complex. They are gobbling up federal, state, and local funding while children and families go hungry, lacking the medical care, economic security, and essential services they need. Instead of helping their families to become self-sufficient, we are fattening the testing industry. Instead of assuring that their schools have the guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, and librarians the children need, our states are stripping their schools to the bare walls. Instead of supplying the arts and physical education that children need to nourish body and soul, we let them eat tests.

Every dollar that fattens the educational industrial complex–not only the testing industry and the inexperienced, ill-trained Teach for America but the corporations now collecting hundreds of millions of dollars to tell schools what to do–is a dollar diverted from what should be done now to address directly the pressing needs of our nation’s most vulnerable children, whose numbers continue to escalate, demonstrating the utter futility and self-serving nature of what is currently and deceptively called “reform.”

Once these futile programs have collapsed, once they have been exposed as hollow (though lucrative) gestures, we will look back with sorrow at the lives wasted, the billions squandered, the incalculable damage to our children and our society.

Someday we will say, as we should be saying now, that we cannot tolerate the loss of so many young lives. We cannot continue to blame teachers, principals, and schools for our collective abandonment of so many children. We cannot allow, and should no longer permit, the income inequality that protects the billionaires while neglecting the growth of a massive underclass. The age of the Robber Barons has returned. Good for them, but bad, very bad, for America.

Despite the glowing hyperbole in the media, Mercedes Schneider says there is nothing new in the results. The study is dated, there is missing data, the effects of the cheating scandal remain unknown, and the investigation of the cheating was turned over to an accounting firm with no experience in investigating cheating. Mercedes is not impressed.

One of the provisions of No Child Left Behind was a requirement that the neediest children would have “highly qualified teachers.” Most people would interpret that language to mean that poor kids would get teachers who are well-prepared and experienced.

But through its political connections on Capitol Hill, Teach for America managed to get a special exemption carved out for their corps members who have only five weeks of training. They too are “highly qualified.” When I met Senator Tom Harkin, the key member of the Senate Education committee, one of his top staff members was an alum of TFA. It seems that TFA has developed its lobbyists on Congressional staffs like Harkin’s.

As Valerie Strauss writes here, the new budget deal slipped in innocuous language that once again declared the inexperienced, ill-trained members of TFA to be “highly qualified.”

Meanwhile Julian Vasquez Heilig also noted that TFA was a big winner in the budget deal. And he points out: “Interesting fact for the day? Did you know that Pre-K is 1412% more effective than Teach For America?”

This professor urges her colleagues not to write letters of recommendation for TFA. In this post, she explains why.

Ironically, she is a TFA alum, yet she thinks that TFA has become part of the neoliberal attack on the public sector.

She writes to her colleagues in higher education:

“I encourage each of you to stand with me in refusing to write letters of recommendation for students who are applying to TFA. With this collective action, we can begin to undo some of the damage on the millions of children whose lives are harmed not only by the never-ending cycle of first- and second-year teachers that now populates disadvantaged schools, but also by the militarized, corporate, and data-obsessed approach to education that this army of under-trained, inexperienced teachers enables. Equally importantly, we can communicate to our college students how they will be negatively impacted and possibly even psychologically damaged by this system. Our collective action might eventually cause TFA to have to rethink its insistence that an army of naive and un-trained recent college graduates can form the solution to education inequities in this country.”

There is much, much more about how these idealistic young people are used and misled. Read it.

Rod Ellcessor of the Indiana Education Association raises a question: what kind of “new Democrat” wants to eliminate unions and public schools? He writes:

“Diane, unfortunately, we are besieged by the Mind Trust in Indianapolis. Bill Gates’ money is one of the primary sources for the Mind Trust which allows TFA to be placed in the Schools in Indy. As the Director of the Indianapolis Education Association, we are fighting the war with the right wing agenda and the super majorities in our Legislature. As well, our Tea Party Governor is no better. The goal of the Mind Trust is to collapse our Indianapolis Public Schools. The Director of the Mind Trust is David Harris who headed the Charter Schools for the former Indy Mayor Bart Peterson, a “New Democrat.” We have had horrible results with the TFA teachers. In fact, IPS administration came to us not knowing what to do due to their dismal results and discipline. The TFA’s barely last two years and DO NOT join the Union. Indiana has to be ground zero with all of the Charter schools and unrestricted vouchers. As well, we have had our collective bargaining rights diminished to a point that we just meet and confer. Clearly, if we do not follow the advice of Robert Reich and get involved there will be nothing left of Public Education. Thank you for your national leadership and the latest book, “Reign of Error.” I am recommending it to everyone I know and make contact with.”

Some governors and legislatures look on Teach for America
as a way to save money, because most leave after two or three years
at the bottom of the salary structure and never collect a pension.

This teacher has a suggestion for them:

“Governors who feel 1 and 2 year turnover of Teach for America teachers is the way to
excellence should resign after 2 years to let someone else take over.”

This is an interesting first-person account by a young person who felt lucky to be accepted into the super-elite Teach for America and reports on her year in the Atlanta Public Schools.

Two observations. The five week training program drilled into her that children fell behind because of their bad teachers. She was constantly reminded that she would close the achievement gap because she was better than those ordinary–not TFA–teachers.

The other striking impression: her five weeks of training did not prepare her for reality:

“During my training, I taught a group of nine well-behaved third-graders who had failed the state reading test and hoped to make it to fourth grade. Working with three other corps members, which created a generous teacher-student ratio, I had ample time for one-on-one instruction.

“That classroom training was completely unlike the situation I now faced in Atlanta: teaching math and science to two 20-person groups of rotating, difficult fifth-graders—fifth-graders so difficult that multiple substitute teachers would vow never to teach fifth grade at our school again.

“I had few insights or resources to draw on when preteen boys decided recess would be the perfect opportunity to beat each other bloody, or when parents all but accused me of being racist during meetings. Or when a student told me that his habit of doing nothing during class stemmed from his (admittedly sound) logic that “I did the same thing last year and I passed.” The Institute’s training curriculum was far too broad to help me navigate these situations. Because many corps members do not receive their specific teaching assignments until after training has ended, the same training is given to future kindergarten teachers in Atlanta, charter-school teachers in New Orleans, and high-school physics teachers in Memphis.”