Archives for category: Teach for America

In a post from 2019, Mercedes Schneider reviewed the spectacular career of a TFA “reformer” who became a star in Nevada, briefly disappeared, then resurfaced with a cushy job in the booming IDEA charter chain in Houston (Betsy DeVos’s favorite).

Alison Serafin flourished in Nevada when there was a Republican Governor. She was vice-president of the state board. She launched a start-up called Opportunity 180 to foster charter schools. She resigned from the state board in December 2015 since her Organization was seeking state funding. In April 2016 her Opportunity 180 won a $10 million grant to being high-performing charters to Nevada.

Opportunity 180 was supposed to create the Nevada Achievement School District, modeled on Tennessee’s failed program.

By 2017, Serafin resigned, and her name was scrubbed from the website of the organization she founded.

Not to worry. Now Serafin works for IDEA in Houston, which has big plans for expansion.

Reformers fail upwards.

A new reader to the blog posted her own recipe to describe “reform,” which has an unfortunate habit of failing again and again but being revived by Betsy DeVos and/or Bill Gates and the Walton Family:

Sandy Dixon Forrest Recipe for sucking in public tax money and making obscene profits on the backs of public school teachers and students: FINANCE inappropriate “standards” to be implemented by all teachers, REQUIRE the use of products which financially benefit the creator of the “goals,” SMILE as hired “cheerleaders” tout the benefits of the mandated program, BEAM proudly as profits roll into the companies producing the “magic” solution, CRINGE privately at dismal results, REWRITE the “cheerleader” script, AND THEN…drum roll, please.. BLAME the teachers for disappointing results of the non-educators’ (but obscenely wealthy) magic elixir to cure the problems of all public school students. RESULTS?! The sponsors of this hoax made buckets of money! Wave goodbye to the career teachers; TFA folks are cheaper and more (desperate) cooperative anyway. Don’t worry about the kiddos; just give them a double dose of grit. It’s all good…right?

 

In this brief video, Dr. Leslie Fenwick, former dean of the College of Education at Howard University, explains why the “schemes” of corporate reformers always fail. She doesn’t hold back about charters, vouchers, Broad superintendents, and Teach for America.

The video is part of a series of hundreds of interviews of educators, conducted by former teacher Bob Greenberg. He calls his series the Brainwaves Video Anthology. After you watch Dr. Fenwick’s wonderful interview, you should browse his collection. It’s very impressive.

Mercedes Schneider heard an interview with Jill Biden in which she pledged that a future President Bidennwoyld choose a Secretary of Education who has spent time “in the classroom.” That set Mercedes’ teeth on edge. “In the classroom” could mean a Teach for America tyro who spent two years “in the classroom.”

No, sir-ee. If you want the votes of millions of teachers, you have to do better than make a fuzzy promise.

She writes:

On the surface, that sounds fantastic. On the surface.

The problem is that the education reform movement specializes in its members having temp time “in the public schools” as a resume-padding device designed to catapult them into leadership positions in K12 education, such as district and state superintendents. So, technically, one of these classroom-exiting, sleight-of-experience resume padders could slide right on in as the next secretary of education, without spending but a moment’s time as a classroom teacher, and you, sir, might not know the difference because the person is *technically* able to declare having been “in the public schools.”

Peter Greene turns his attention to Rhode Island and finds that it has been subject to a corporate education reform takeover.
Not only is the governor a former venture capitalist who made her reputation by taking an axe to teachers’ pensions, but her husband Andy Moffitt is a TFA alum who moved on to McKinsey. Not only that, he co-authored a book with Michael Barber of Pearson about “Deliverology,” a philosophy that turns education into data analytics.

Governor Gina Raimondo hired a TFA alum to lead the State Education Department; the new Commissioner immediately joined Jen Bush’s far-rightwing Chiefs for Change and led a state takeover of Providence schools. There is no template for a successful state takeover, so we will see how that goes. Think Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District, funded with $100 million from Duncan’s Race to the Top. Think Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, which closed after six of boasts but consistent failure.

Read Greene’s incisive review of the First Couple of Rhode Island and remember that Governor Gina Raimondo is a Democrat, though it’s hard to differentiate her views from those of Betsy DeVos.

Barbara Veltri is a teacher educator at Northern Arizona University. She has mentored TFA corps members, and she wrote a book about TFA.

In this essay, she notes that Doug Ducey, Republican Governor of Arizona and a favorite of Charles Joch, is an avid supporter of Trump, school choice, and TFA.

She writes:

Tara Kini, wrote, “We’re hearing a lot of conflicting scenarios and projections related to the teacher workforce come fall. On the one hand, there is a fear of massive layoffs precipitated by the Cov-19 recession and state budget cuts. On the other, there are projections of staffing shortages and state budget cuts. (June 25, 2020).

We have been here before.

In 2012, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that in fiscal year 2013, 35 states were spending less than they did during the recession. Since 2009, more than 200,000 teacher jobs vanished and in spite of teacher movements, states were still not back to pre-recession spending levels of a decade ago, which prompted national Teachers’ Movements and voter initiative to support K-12 teachers.

According to NEA job survey data from my state, Arizona teachers’ starting salaries at $30,404 in 2010 ranked 35th in the nation. Then, even veteran teachers in hard-to-staff assignments, such as special education faced reduced-in-force measures, while novice teachers without focused special needs training, were hired. Then, Arizona paid finder’s fees for Teach For America Teachers of more than 1.5 million dollars (noted on IRS Form 990 over the years 2010-2013).

And now, amid the rising temperatures and Cov-19 numbers, Governor Doug Ducey, who served on Teach For America’s Regional Board of Directors, announced in the Arizona Education Grant on Wednesday, “$500,000 for Teach For America to provide tutoring to students needing extra help.”

This when Wallet Hub (2019) ranked Arizona’s pupil-to-teacher ratio, the worst in the nation.

This when Arizona educators earn less than peers in 48 other states, yet pivoted immediately to prepare, present, and teach to support their students.

The Governor’s Education Grant also includes $700,000 for leadership and $1million for micro grants, that leave open too many questions as to just who will benefit from these funds.

Policies minimized educators in a state that has prioritized and legislated millions of dollars in funding directed towards Teach For America, over the last two decades, with friends in high places. In 2016, Wendy Kopp the founder of TFA was the commencement speaker at Arizona State University.

The Dean of The College of Education serves as a TFA Regional Board Member member. Ms. Kopp addressed the Arizona Legislature and Arizona Chamber of Commerce who overwhelmingly support her initiatives and corps member teachers.

The education non-profit reported:
$1,329,197 on lobbying (TFA IRS 990, 2019) ‘for direct contact with legislators, their staffs, government officials or a legislative body,” (Schedule C, IRS Form 990, 2017, pg. 3);
$45, 222, 433 in government grants (IRS 990, 2016, Part VII, p. 9);
$11, 255, 064 in Publicly Traded Securities/Non-Cash Contributions (IRS 990, 2017, line 9 p. 94) and $9,259 in crypto currency (Average sale price, line, 28).

The non-profit reports, “Program Service Revenue,” in the amount of $23, 415, 992 (Form 990, 2017, line 2A):

“Teach for America has contractual agreements with various school districts across the United States of America to recruit, select, train, and place corps members to teach within their school districts. Teach for America recognizes revenue related to these contractual agreement as earned, that is when the corps member is placed.”

These ‘program service fees’ are ‘finders’ fees’ that schools and districts pay to TFA (up front and in full), even if novice corps members leave their placement any time prior to their two-year commitment. And, Districts pay each TFA corps member’s salary and benefits.

Annie E. posed the question eight years ago, in a May 8, 2012 blog post, “So, is TFA’s mission still about education? If it is, then why take money from huge foundations and corporations whose missions are clearly not about education?”

But there’s more to this….

In a recent interview with CNBC, Merck CEO, Kenneth Frazier shared how he had the opportunity, as a black youth in Philadelphia’s inner city, to “change his life trajectory.”
He boarded a bus and rode 30 miles to the suburbs where he received a rigorous opportunity to learn from lifelong teachers and interact with peers who lived in middle-class and affluent professional neighborhoods.

A lightbulb went on for me at that moment.

As someone who researched, met, mentored and learned from TFA teachers and their students, I recognized that instead of the opportunity for schooling to change his life’s trajectory, corporations, lobbyists, universities, media, philanthropists and policymakers (who I term The CLUMPP Network) opted instead to jointly support, through financing, marketing, in-kind donations (i.e. office space), in-state tuition, and even taxpayer funded AmeriCorps stipends, a Caucasian, female’s undergraduate sociologist thesis in 1989 that she reworked with diligence, focus, and good intent.

The education initiatives that supported black and brown children moving out of high-poverty community schools, as Mr. Frazier experienced, instead brought in, recent college grads who knew nothing about education, weren’t trained, might’ve been idealistic, didn’t stay, uprooted veterans’ local knowledge of the community, but kept poor children of color, exactly where corporations and policymakers wanted them – in schools that were underfunded, with scripted teaching, constant assessments, police presence in schools, no frills curriculum, limited resources for arts, music, sports and, not removed from the realities of systemic poverty.

I chronicled my ethnographer’s notes from their teaching field, over consecutive years.
Then, in the middle of all of financial and environmental crisis when teachers lost jobs, not only was TFA hired, but Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and others (as noted on TFA tax returns) paid millions of dollars each in finder’s fees to bring TFA novices in (and out) over multiple years – while the kids, and their communities were effected by innovation.

It didn’t matter which tag line: One Day All Children, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, or Every Child Succeeds – the trajectory for poor kids, no matter how many competitions or standardized tests, didn’t match the learning that Kenneth Frazier experienced.

And the reason is this – unlike the educational policies of the 60s that transported a young Kenneth Frazier, from his Philly inner city neighborhood to the suburbs, where he notes that he received a quality education that “paved the way for my admittance to Penn State University (undergraduate degree) and then Harvard law school,” three decades of young people who just happened to be born poor, black or brown, were/are recipients of another social experiment that not only made segregation popular, but profitable – charter schools.

Policies kept poor children of color localized in their communities as suburban communities, fell back on residency requirements and real estate pricing to maintain an us vs. them mindset.

In Stamford, Connecticut my kids were transported, by bus, to a public elementary magnet school, surrounded by “the projects.” The arts and critical thinking curriculum and admissions policy: 50% majority/50% minority; 50% male/ 50% female (with siblings automatically accepted) was supported by community buy-in and integrated schools. The by-product – from a young age, kids learn from and befriend kids from different religions, ethnicities, social class, and race.

So what happened?

From 1990-2020 we saw a systemic attempt to control who gets to be schooled where and by whom. And with limited opportunity for kids to interact, learn, befriend and grow up with children other than themselves, in public schools, the system promotes and finances policies that separate us and keep kids living and learning, within limited societal structures and neighborhoods by bringing in young outsiders and paying for that service.

Over the last two decades, policies embraced by both sides of the political spectrum, advanced homeschooling, tax credits for religious schools, charter schools, encouraged a police presence within low-income schools and limited financial opportunities for programs that benefitted my kids, and Merck CEO Frazier.

The result: The alignment of the “CLUMPP” network of which, TFA was/remains the cog in the wheel that moves and advances an agenda that is predetermined and particularized to keep poor children of color from leaving where they were born, to be schooled in the suburbs.

To taxpayers, teachers and parents across the other 40 U.S. states whose Governors are appropriating pandemic education support dollars…. Examine the funding and think Teachers, not TFA.

I recently had a conversation with Julian Vasquez Heilig, the dean of the College of Education at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Heilig discusses his own background, a trajectory that took him from Michigan to Stanford, then to Texas, California, and now Kentucky. He is a scholar and an activist who now seeks to lead a new conversation about education in a Kentucky, bringing the community into close connection with the schools.

I have known Julian since 2012, when he became a founding member of the board of the Network for Public Education.

His blog, “Cloaking Inequity,” is one of the liveliest on the web. He has a passion for equity and inclusion that shines through his scholarship, his blog, and his activism.

Thanks to the reporting of Mercedes Schneider, we have followed the travails of that state over several years of “reform” leadership: Republican Governor Jindal pushed charters and vouchers. Out-of-State money elected a pro-Jindal Board. That board selected John White as state superintendent. White was TFA and Broadies. He had worked for Joel Klein, then briefly ran the New Orleans Recovery School District. As Jindal’s chief school officer, he enthusiastically promoted charters and vouchers and made outlandish promises about what he would achieve. When Democrat John Bel Edwards was elected, he wanted to dump White, but didn’t have the votes on the board. White resigned earlier this year. The state board appointed Cade Brumley, a veteran Louisiana educator (surprise!).

As Schneider describes here, White’s team of inexperienced but well paid assistants, mostly TFA alums, headed for the exits.

She writes:

Brumley’s leadership hires tend to have both classroom and administrative experience related to a traditional ed career path; they tend to have roots in Louisiana, and they include women and people of color.

Furthermore, even though some of his admin hires represent ed reform, Brumley favors individuals with grounding in traditional teacher/admin training. And, keep in mind that all who accept a position in Brumley’s LDOE must be willing to work under a state superintendent to whom John White’s TFA-heavy, ed-reform leadership is submitting their resignations.

I find all of this very encouraging, indeed.

Mercedes Schneider, a veteran high school teacher in Louisiana with a Ph.D. in research and statistics, was stunned to learn that Teach for America teachers—recent college Gradiates—will begin teaching with no actual teaching experience.

In this time of school closures and social distancing, teacher temp agency, Teach for America (TFA), has decided to “train” its 2020 corps members online.

As former TFAer-gone-career teacher, Gary Rubinstein, writes, pre-COVID, TFA trainees actually teach on average one hour per day over the course of four weeks during the summer, in classrooms which they share with four other TFA trainees.

As such, TFA trainees have no experience teaching even one entire school day in a classroom in which the trainee is responsible for all instruction.

And now, with the social restrictions and classroom complexities introduced by the coronavirus, TFA’s 2020 trainees will have no experience being in charge of a classroom– not even an entire classroom online.

In this post, Mercedes Schneider interviews Annie Tan, who joined Teach for America in 2011, and, with inadequate training, was assigned be a teacher of special education in Chicago. Her experience was, she says, a disaster.

One of Tan’s responses:

Tan: I will never forget the first day when we had our celebration, and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools came and made a speech to us. It felt very strange for him to be there for some reason. Yes, we were going to be 250 new teachers in Chicago, so logically it may have made sense to introduce us and do a welcome, but I also couldn’t imagine him doing that at a regular university that had education majors graduating. I couldn’t imagine him going to one of those graduations and making a speech.

There were a few moments that I still remember that were odd, as well. I remember the first day of professional development through Teach for America, when we got no talk around how segregated Chicago was, just people alluding to it, like Teach for America was not even going to approach that schools were unequal because of race and income, especially in Chicago, which really stands out since I worked in Chicago Public Schools for five years and taught there for four.

And then, the speech from some Teach for America staff members, that we might be the first teachers in some of these kids’ lives that had high expectations for them. I first thought to myself, “How can I have high expectations for my students when I don’t even know them yet? All I’ve done was graduate from a fancy college, so how am I better than someone else?” That really rubbed me the wrong way.

Schneider called this attitude “the savior complex.”

Who thought it was good to place an unprepared young teacher in a classroom of children with special needs?

It is a revealing interview.