Teach For America critics gathering to organize resistance

TFA founder Wendy Kopp TFA founder Wendy Kopp

Teach For America alumni and students of corps members who are critical of TFA are holding this weekend what amounts to the first national assembly aimed at organizing resistance to the organization that is popular with school reformers.

The anti-TFA assembly is part of the Free Minds, Free People national conference starting Thursday in Chicago and hosted by the Education for Liberation Network, which promotes the use of education to promote social justice.

In an April post I wrote about plans for the summit, which is aimed at organizing “resistance to Teach for America and its role in privatization” of public education, according to a flier about the event. Participants will, among other things, share stories, draft letters to school districts urging them not to partner with Teach For America, and  plan a public service campaign to educate the public about why they believe TFA is harmful to schools and communities.

Teach for America was started more than 20 years ago to recruit new college graduates from elite universities, give them five weeks of summer training and then place them in some of America’s neediest urban and rural schools as teachers (under the assumption that five weeks is enough to turn out an effective teacher).  TFA is not looking for young people who want to be teachers, but rather, people it believes will have “important” jobs later in life who can advocate for public education. That’s why TFA recruits are asked to give only a two-year commitment to teaching.

Critics says that high-needs students, who are the ones who get TFA teachers, are the children who most need veteran teachers. In fact, some veterans are now losing their jobs to TFA corps members, because TFAers are less expensive to hire, and some school teaching communities are becoming less cohesive because TFA members leave teaching at a greater rate than traditionally trained teachers.

School reformers love the program, and the Obama administration has awarded it tens of millions of dollars.

In recent years, former TFA corps members have been increasingly speaking up about problems with the program. In this post, for example, one ex-TFAer argues that it is time for the organization to fold; in this one, an ex-TFA corps member about his lack of preparation for troubled students; and here a professor explains why TFA can’t recruit in his classroom.

Teach For America works in most states though recently has seen some pushback. For example, in May, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a line item inserted into the state’s higher education legislation that would have given $1.5 million to Teach For America over two years, explaining that he saw no reason to give state money to an organization whose net assets total more than $350 million. And in April,  the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing decided to change training requirements for teachers of English language learners, a move aimed in part at TFA corps members who will now have to get more training than they get in TFA’s boot camp.

Here are some of the issues that will be discussed at the assembly this Sunday, according to a press release by organizers:

TFA serves as an incubator for the privatization movement

TFA plays a key role in developing and connecting personnel, political support, and financial backing for neoliberal and market based policies, specifically charter school reform, the deregulation of teacher education, and accountability policies.

 

While TFA uses the rhetoric of justice and equity, these reforms in fact stifle democratic processes and are used to justify budget cuts and the takeover of public institutions by privately funded and privately run companies.

 

TFA perpetuates and reifies systemic inequalities

TFA plays a critical role in the growth of a two-tiered teacher preparation system. A rapidly increasing number of teachers trained to teach in low-income communities are in fast-track programs that heavily define successful teaching by test scores, while a majority of teachers in middle and upper class public schools are trained through University-based programs. Further, TFA’s two year commitment makes it nearly impossible for communities to create sustainable, experienced teaching

forces that are key to school transformation…

 

Teacher Practices: TFA primarily defines teacher effectiveness by standardized test scores. Research argues that test-driven curriculum and instruction decreases opportunity for developing critical thinking skills, promotes direct as opposed to child-centered instruction, diminishes relationships between teachers and students, and contributes to students’ stress level in relationship to learning (Lipman, 2004; McNeil, 2000; Valenzuela, 2005).

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · July 10, 2013