Archives for category: Teach for America TFA

The New York Times has a good debate this morning about the value of experience for teaching.

The debate was prompted by a very controversial article last week in which charter leaders claimed that two or three years of teaching was good enough, and that they liked the constant turnover of bright inexperienced teachers. The title of the article actually referred teachers who had a “short career by choice,” though some might say that what these young people had was a job or a temp position. A career normally refers to a commitment, not an experience.

Most extraordinary was this statement:

“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America. “The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”

None of these young teachers will stay around long enough to be evaluated. How will we know if they are “great”?

This is one of the most depressing articles I have read lately.

It is a straightforward article about high teacher turnover in charter schools. It begins with quotes from a 24-year-old teacher in YES Prep in Houston, who is just starting his third year in the classroom, and he is already planning to move on.

The principal of his charter school is 28.

The New York Times reporter Motoko Rich points out:

As tens of millions of pupils across the country begin their school year, charter networks are developing what amounts to a youth cult in which teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable. Teachers in the nation’s traditional public schools have an average of close to 14 years of experience, and public school leaders and policy makers have long made it a priority to reduce teacher turnover.

The growing charter movement, she write, “is pushing to redefine the arc of a teaching career.” Yes, two years in the classroom, and you leave. What kind of a “career” is that? In what school she visited, the principal was 27 years old, and five of the nine teachers were in their first year of teaching.

She also notes that research indicates that teacher turnover is not good for school climate or student achievement, but Teach for America has a different view:

The notion of a foreshortened teaching career was largely introduced by Teach for America, which places high-achieving college graduates into low-income schools for two years. Today, Teach for America places about a third of its recruits in charter schools.

“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America. “The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”

Studies have shown that on average, teacher turnover diminishes student achievement. Advocates who argue that teaching should become more like medicine or law say that while programs like Teach for America fill a need in the short term, educational leaders should be focused on improving training and working environments so that teachers will invest in long careers.

“To become a master plumber you have to work for five years,” said Ronald Thorpe, president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a nonprofit groupthat certifies accomplished teachers. “Shouldn’t we have some kind of analog to that with the people we are entrusting our children to?”

Can you imagine that a “teacher” who graduated college in June is already “a great teacher” by September?

Why do we expect entrants to every other profession to spend years honing their craft but a brand-new teacher, with no experience, can be considered “great” in only one or two years, then leave to do something else?

This is a recipe to destroy the teaching profession.

How can anyone say they are education “reformers” if their goal is to destroy the profession?

What other nation is doing this?

This is not innovative. In fact, it returns us to the early nineteenth century, when the general belief was that “anyone can teach, no training needed.” Teaching then was a job for itinerants, widow ladies, young girls without a high school degree, and anyone who couldn’t do anything else. It took over a century to create a teaching profession, with qualifications and credentials needed before one could be certified to stand in front of a classroom of young children. We are rapidly going backwards.


What does The Onion think about Teach for America?

This article provides the young corps member’s view, and the reaction of a student.

I posted this when it first appeared, but it up is such a funny satire that I had to post it again.

When Kevin Huffman (ex-TFA) brought in his friend  Chris Barbic (ex-TFA) to run a district made up of the state’s lowest performing schools, the district was euphemistically called the Achievement School District.

Barbic promised that within five years, these schools would rank in the top 25% in the state.

In its first year report, the state ranked it 5 out of 5 in growth; math scores were up by 3% but reading scores were down by 5%.

Gary Rubinstein reviews the numbers and finds it amazing that the state could recognize a drop in reading scores in the state’s lowest performing schools as a sign of extraordinary growth.

Since Gary, also ex-TFA, knows the people involved, he holds out hope that Chris Barbic will be the first of the big-name corporate reformers to do a 180 and recognize that high expectations and TFA are not enough.

It is sad that this kind of hype has become predictable, when it should be inexcusable.

Teach for America has always said that its long-term goal
was to train future leaders who would take a significant role in
shaping education policy. That is happening. Such alumni as
Michelle Rhee, Kevin Huffman (state commissioner in Tennessee),
John White (state commissioner in Louisiana), and Eric Guckian
(education advisor to the extremist Governor of North Carolina) are
using their power to promote privatization of public education and
to attack the teaching profession. In Atlanta, four
TFA alumni are running for school board
and have a good
chance of winning. “Incumbent Courtney English (at-large Seat 7) is
a TFA alum. So is Matt Westmoreland, who is running unopposed for
the District 3 seat being vacated by Cecily Harsch-Kinnane. “So is
Eshe Collins, who is running for the District 6 seat being vacated
by Yolanda Johnson; as well as Jason Esteves, who is running for
the at-large Seat 9 being vacated by Emmett Johnson. However,
neither Collins nor Esteves mention TFA in their extensive campaign
biographies which appear on their respective websites. “Overall,
the four are a largely pro-charter school group. If all four are
elected, TFA alumni will constitute a near-majority voting bloc on
the BOE.” The linked article suggests that the four will advance a
pro-privatization agenda. At some point, TFA will be recognized as
a crucial cog in the rightwing effort to destroy public education
and dismantle the teaching profession.

This teacher describes a series of moves in Philadelphia to save money by hiring uncertified nurses and replacing experienced teachers with TFA. Superintendent Hite is a Broad Academy graduate.

She writes:

“It is a discouraging day for Philadelphia teachers. The school district has been scrambling/fighting to find $50 million to call back laid off employees in order to open schools.

“The mayor finally announced he would borrow the money, so we can now open schools on time. Then, the superintendent announced an “emergency” SRC (School Reform Commission- whose members are appointed by the state and mayor) meeting.

“This was a slick move on their part because it happened so fast to catch the union members off guard. Superintendent Hite asked them to temporarily suspend parts of the state school code to eliminate seniority, stop pay increases and hire uncertified nurses.

“This is a problem because they want to get rid of older, more experienced teachers to bring in cheaper Teach For America teachers, to be able to get rid of teachers easier, start paying teachers based on student test scores and bring in nurses to work in the schools who are not certified.

“I don’t buy their claim that this is “temporary.” I just don’t see them changing it back in the future, if this is the new national reform agenda.”

Black Agenda Report is a fierce critic of the privatization and dismantling of public education. Some of their rage must be due to the fact that the privatizers claim they are doing it to “save” minority children.

In this post BAR rages against Trach for America as a union-busting organization.

Bruce Dixon of BAR writes:

“Back in the days of organizing meat packing, steel and auto workers, employers couldn’t use tax-exempt donations to transport, pay and train their scabs, and they had to wait for strikes to deploy them. That was before Teach For America….

“What’s the Difference Between Teach For America, and a Scab Temp Agency?….

“If you’re a public school parent or student, there’s none. If you’re an educator or other school employee or a friend or relative of any school employee, there’s none. If you live in a community where the local public school is one of the last hopeful possibilities that might bind a neighborhood together, there’s none.

“If you’re a school CEO or administrator trying to hollow out your public schools to justify their closing and privatzation, or a mayor trying to justify those campaign contributions, there’s no difference at all, either. If you’re a hedge fund investor, like the charter school sugar daddies who contribute billions to Barack Obama and a host of black and white politicians in state and local government across the country; there’s still no difference.

“You have to be a taxpayer — and let’s understand that corporate elites and the wealthy have largely shed the burden of taxation onto the backs of the middle class and the poor in this the era of neoliberalism, to begin to see a little difference…. The Grapes of Wrath era scabs were generally not trained, transported or paid with tax-exempt foundation money.”

The article includes this rap from the HBO series “Treme”:

Davis M., rhyming to a musical collaborator:

Four years at Radcliffe, that’s all you know,

a desire to do good and a 4.0.

You’re here to save us from our plight, you got the answer cause you’re rich and white

on a two year sojourn you’re here to stay, Teach For America all the way

got no idea just what you’re facin’, no clue just who you’re displacin’

old lady taught fathers, old lady taught sons, old lady bought books for the little ones

old lady put in thirty years, sweat and toil, time and tears

was that really your sad intention, to help the state of Louisiana deny her pension?


Hold it, hold it….

First of all the state of Louisiana fired the teachers, not Teach for America

Davis M.:

A scab is a scab is a scab…
To The Nation’s Elites, Teachers are “Losers!”

There is a reason that people like Bill Gates, Chris Christie, Rahm Emmanuel, Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg and yes Barack Obama will never really listen to teachers voices. And that is because, in the competition for money, power, and position, which is what is all the that really counts to them, they see themselves as winners and teachers as losers. Regarding themselves as examples of what talent and ambition can achieve, they look at someone who spends their life in the classroom as lacking in drive and imagination, and therefore undeserving in having a voice in shaping the way we train the next generation of citizens and workers. Whether or not they will say this in their speeches, they certainly say it to one another, in their private meetings, and high powered policy seminars. It is why the only teacher training organization they really trust is Teach for America, because that organization shares their view that really talented people would only remain a teacher as a passage to a more rewarding career. Unless you understand this– you will never understand why editorial writers, television personalities, corporate leaders, and elected officials systematically exclude teachers voices, and why the policies they ultimately support prove disastrous on the ground. Every section of the American Elite is poisoned with a fatal arrogance, and getting through to them with sound arguments is well nigh impossible. They only understand and respect power.

Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Fordham University
“If you Want to Save America’s Public Schools: Replace Secretary of Education Arne Duncan With a Lifetime Educator.”

Paul Thomas here discusses the amazing phenomenon in which the TFA brand is losing its luster.

The dissidents and defectors grow more numerous, and some are so angry that they go overboard.

Alan Brown, a professor in North Carolina, wrote this open letter to State Senator Berger, who has sponsored a series of destructive bills that were passed into law. It was published here. It is clear, informed, and coherent. The tone is friendly and non-confrontational. Brown invites Senator Berger to look at the evidence. This letter could serve as a model. Everyone should write to their elected representatives, bringing to light the facts of your own state.

An open letter to Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger

Sen. Berger,

As a native of Guilford County and a former public school teacher, let me first thank you for your interest in K-12 education in North Carolina. I believe it is important to see our state representatives openly discussing the work of public schools while considering potential improvements.

Sadly, I fear you have set us on a destructive path to privatizing education while cutting many crucial budgetary items that make our schools successful. Instead of collaborating with educators to implement public policy, you and your colleagues seem convinced that ending teacher tenure, eliminating class size caps, cutting teacher assistants, adding armed guards, increasing funding for standardized tests, and encouraging recruitment of teachers with limited preparation will be some sort of saving grace for North Carolina schools.

While I cannot possibly speak to each of these policies in such a limited space, I hope to highlight a few that seem the most perilous.

Let me begin with your interest in private school vouchers and charter schools, both of which will likely push resources away from public schools at a time when so many, particularly schools serving low-income areas, are desperately in need of greater assistance. While few educational stakeholders would argue against the theory behind school choice (i.e., parents choosing the best schools for their children), you are clearly staking the futures of countless students on private schools, many of which will remain unaffordable for parents despite vouchers, and charter schools, well-intentioned organizations that have become direct competitors of public schools thanks in part to the influence of private donors.

In addition, caution is warranted because private schools generally require no teacher licensure and provide limited public accountability. Moreover, numerous studies have found that the average charter school is no more effective in educating its students than its average public school counterpart. As a result, I cannot help but wonder whom your policies serve to benefit most: the students who need the most support or the students whose parents have the economic resources to move their children out of public schools.

This brings me to teacher preparation. I want to commend you for considering alternative pathways for entering the teaching profession, but your emphasis on placing teachers with little to no preparation for the classroom through programs such as Teach for America also deserves closer examination.

Allow me to refer you to a 2012 study published in Educational Researcher by Gary T. Henry, Kevin C. Bastian and Adrienne A. Smith. This study offers a fascinating look at North Carolina’s nationally recognized Teaching Fellows Program, which I am disheartened to say is being phased out and replaced by a glorified lateral-entry program called N.C. Teacher Corps.

In this study, researchers found that, while N.C. Teaching Fellows are less likely to teach in lower-performing or high-poverty schools, they were highly qualified to enter the teaching profession, well prepared for their roles as teachers, better able to produce gains in most content areas, and more likely to remain in teaching beyond two or three years, the average retention rate of candidates placed in low-income schools through Teach for America. (See Donaldson & Johnson’s 2011 Phi Delta Kappa article on the attrition of TFA teachers.)

While you and others seem quick to pronounce alternative certification pathways as the next big trend in teacher recruitment, your desire to knowingly push unqualified candidates into the classroom further destabilizes an already unstable system that counts teacher turnover as one of the costliest financial challenges facing local school systems.

What I believe we should expect from future teachers is more, not less, preparation for the diverse and multifaceted roles they will face in K-12 schools. Although multiple pathways should be provided to help prospective candidates pursue a career in teaching, particularly in lower-income areas, we must expect teachers to enter the classroom with a firm understanding of content and pedagogy, the diverse ways in which children learn, the needs of English language learners and exceptional children, the hurdles of classroom management and the use of multiple forms of assessment.

Teachers receive years of preparation within teacher education programs and mere weeks of training in alternative certification pathways prior to their first day on the job. Ideally, we should encourage alternative certification programs such as Teach for America to partner with teacher education programs, not tout them as a more effective approach for recruiting teachers while providing them with public funding.

Likewise, your decision to cut pay for teachers who desire to further their education through an advanced degree is equally problematic, unless, of course, you argue that less-educated teachers are cheaper sources of labor in your current market system view of education. While experience is one of the greatest assets for inservice teachers, how can we possibly turn around underperforming schools when teachers have so little opportunity for advancement and no clear motivation to consider systematic changes or innovative pedagogical solutions through further academic study?
In what other profession is this restriction considered beneficial or advantageous? What message are we sending our students about the importance of education when we are not willing to support teachers who strive to remain lifelong learners?

Sen. Berger, I fear that you and your colleagues have become part of the problem with public education, not the solution. If you truly desire to have an impact, leave your political rhetoric behind and sit down with teachers, administrators, parents and teacher educators to explore innovative reforms that might actually effect positive change in local schools.

It is essential that we help public education remain a unifying process, not a series of divisive financial arrangements based on the political motives of partisan lawmakers.

If you believe teachers need additional preparation, mentoring and/or induction, I hope you will support them by valuing their professional expertise before considering major modifications to the landscape of public education.

My continued hope is that public servants, like yourself, will endeavor to work with public education advocates to improve instruction, not pit themselves against the teachers who spend their careers educating future generations of students with limited time and energy to oppose the political forces that are lining up to destroy their professional livelihood.

This letter reflects my personal beliefs and professional opinions and not those of any organization with which I am affiliated.


Alan Brown

Alan Brown, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of English education at Wake Forest University.