A parent speaks out about Teach For America

There is a lot in corporate education “reform” that astonishes, but perhaps nothing is so astonishing as the strategic deployment of TFA. It’s counter-intuitive that untrained recent graduates will fare better in the classroom than seasoned teachers. And the reason that this notion feels counter-intuitive is quite simple: its contrary to common sense and cool reason. With rare exceptions, there is no way at all that a person with 5 weeks training can take commanding control of the classroom and lead the students with equanimity.

I have known young people who went into TFA, and while I thought highly of them as individuals, I did not think that they were prepared to do a better job of teaching than someone with professional training. There is a reason we have EDUCATION PROGRAMS. Yesterday, we took teaching seriously: we saw it as a profession, a vocation, which makes great demands on its practitioners. We understood that it was no small thing to get up in front of children and then ask them to follow you. But today we–meaning “they”!!–have completely trivialized teaching. They have decided that teaching is just like brushing your teeth or driving your car: just about anyone can do it!

TFA is insidious for a number of reasons. It’s an integral part of the corporate plan to de-professionalize teachers and to bring them under strict management control. Professionalism is anathema to the corporate types because professionals have too much workplace autonomy. We can’t have that in our brave new schools of “accountability.” Professionals typically form unions. And this is the real value of TFA for the “reformers”: it allows management to go around union contracts by using “contract labor”–i.e., the TFA cohort. And it will always be true that people on short term contracts are more vulnerable, more pliable and less invested in their place of employment. In short, TFA gives management a considerable degree of “flexibility.”

And TFA is not the best option for students. As Jon Pelto says, there are many unemployed teachers in Connecticut. If Hartford BOE has money to spend, it should spend it on real teachers for the benefit of the children. TFA is not only part of union busting, it is also, sad to say, an engine for increasing the ghettoization of the ghetto. When TFA went to New Orleans, thousands of public school teachers were laid off, many of them people of color, whose middle class jobs were crucial for the stability of certain neighborhoods. When these people lost their jobs, the impact on their communities must have been terrible. I’m sure the same thing will happen in Hartford, albeit on a much smaller scale. But Hartford needs every good job that it currently has, as the city’s economy is anything but promising.

Superintendent Kishimoto (in league with Stefan Pryor) is wreaking havoc on Hartford’s future. She is taking from the needy to give to those who are already glutted. TFA is a rich organization, backed by powerful wealthy people; it does not need a penny of public money. If they want to send “brilliant young people” to the poorest school districts, let them pay for it!

One hopes that some of the young people recruited to TFA will wake up and see the light. I understand that many have good intentions, but they have to realize that they are being used. I told one person I know who was in TFA that she should immediately disabuse herself of the idea that she was going to “save poor kids in the ghetto.” What could she know as someone who grew up with wealth what it is was like to live in a distressed community like Hartford? TFA encourages their “bright young things” to think of themselves as “game changers.” In my view, this is little else than an incitement to willful innocence or disgusting arrogance. And what is more, when the TFA “teacher” has a hard time of it and is forced to revise her “idealism,” it is easy to see that she might become bitter and cynical–hardly the attitudes you want in a leader of children…

I always say if TFA is so great then send them to the wealthy districts like Avon and Farmington, and the veteran teachers in those communities can come and teach in places like Hartford and Windham. Of course, I am well aware this would never happen!

  • Linda174

    Standing ovation for JRP1900:

    • cindy

      I am furious that the university in CT to whom I have paid thousands of dollars, and hundreds of hours spent to become and remain a certified teacher are silent on this issue. They are complicit in ripping me off and running all of us in the classes through the hoops needed, and yet are not taking a stand against the unprepared TFA teachers.

  • Linda174

    In terms of fear and intimidating teachers so they won’t speak out or advocate for their students/families, see fear in the classroom:

    http://dianeravitch.net/2014/02/17/fear-in-the-classroom-thank-you-bill-and-eli/

  • cindy

    In reference to the authors point about sending TFA to wealthy districts and veterans from those communities to the poorer ones, could this be an underlying motivation of RTTT?

    The so-called “highly qualified teachers” will always come from wealthy communities because we know that is the real indicator of test success. Is this setting up the “voluntary transfer” of teachers and principals??

    This comes from Connecticut’s Race to the Top application. The state would have authority to investigate low performing schools, and “Requiring operations and instructional audits, directing the use of state or federal funds by the district, providing incentives to attract highly qualified teachers and principals, and directing the transfer of teachers and principals.”
    http://huskysport.uconn.edu/huskysport/assets/file/HartfordZone/data/CT%20Race%20to%20Top%20App.pdf

    • Terry Winters

      Or the TFA/AF self appointed eduexperts, who taught for two years, will become the “transferred” principals. Teach for two years, get indoctrinated at the AF “leadership” academy (or some such nonsense); there is a secret ceremony to knight you as a future Ed. Leader. NEAG authorizes the waiver of your 092 and 093 and bingo you are a principal or a super. A mini Broad academy brought to you by Dannel and Stefan.

      • JMC

        Exactly. Certified administrators be warned. Nullification of administrative endorsements is part of the privatizers’ CT legislative agenda this spring.

  • LutherW

    Reminds me of what started in the 80’s in the corporation where i worked. They started fast-track IT management training/rotation programs. It felt like a plan to bypass largely baby-boomer lower level management with the sons and daughters of the generation before us. Besides employing their children, it was a way to avoid those long-haired rebel, war protesting, baby boomers.

    The highest-level management used to criticize my generation for not keeping up with business – then I found that same management who never communicated with us, hosting quarterly meetings explaining their view of business to the rotate-es.

  • MJL

    Hi Jonathan, thanks for posting your thoughts. As a former Teach For America corps member and an Eastern CT native, I have a few thoughts about your comments.

    I agree with you that teaching should be a respected and professional vocation. But I am unaware of any education graduate school that does an adequate job of preparing its teachers for the challenges of working in high-poverty communities. Certainly, my experience in the Arkansas Delta and Brownsville Brooklyn was that everyone — ed school graduates and non-traditional teachers alike — was doing a lot of learning on the ground. Perhaps TFA corps members do need less on-the-job training and more preparation, but in these high-needs communities, so does everyone else.

    I am a little confused by your paragraph which begins “And TFA is not the best option for students”. The rest of the paragraph discusses teacher layoffs and job losses: in other words, things that hurt adults. If we are really discussing whether TFA is good for students, let’s look at data about the quality of education the kids receive. If we’re discussing the best interests of adults, we shouldn’t assume that’s the same as the best interests of students.

    I was disheartened to read about the career advice you gave to a corps member: “What could she know as someone who grew up with wealth what it is was like to live in a distressed community like Hartford?” I’m not sure what inference we are meant to draw from this. Is it that only people who are from high-needs communities should teach there? Is it that ed. schools have found a way to overcome the gulf between their graduates’ life experiences and those of their high-needs students, but TFA hasn’t? My anecdotal experience was that TFA did a great job of encouraging its corps members to notice, understand and be sensitive to the particular issues faced by students growing up in poverty.

    And do you have any evidence, even anecdotally, to suggest that any TFA teacher has “become bitter and cynical” about her students? Again, just my personal experience, but: I found that cynicism about my students’ capabilities was much more the domain of other teachers than it was TFA corps members.

    Personally, I tend to resist tarring all of a certain type of teacher with a negative brush. I met some proudly pro-union veteran teachers who taught for 30 years in one of the worst high schools in Arkansas and single-handedly stopped tens of students from dropping out every year. And I met some who read the newspaper every day during class and told the kids they weren’t going anywhere in life. I met TFA teachers who opened new worlds to their students and helped them become the first to attend college. And I met a few who couldn’t handle the classroom.

    But my experience with TFA was that, on the whole, the teachers were professional, hard-working and at least as effective as their peers. If you have any evidence that suggests otherwise, I’d be happy to check it out.

    • Linda174

      Jonathan didn’t write this. It is a CT parent. The ratio of the few ineffective TFA temps to few unionized teachers is probably the same. So how does five weeks top four years?

      There is research that the TFA gains are not as reported by Wendy’s “research”. I not sure TFA provides that to their interns.

      Check out #ResistTFA

      More to read here:

      http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/PB-TeachAmerica-Heilig.pdf

      http://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2010/06/teach-america-false-promise

      http://cloakinginequity.com/2014/01/07/teach-for-america-a-return-to-the-evidence-the-sequel/

      • MJL

        Hi Linda,

        Thanks for those studies. You are right that TFA’s results are so far a mixed bag. (The Mathematica study about secondary math teachers was heartening for me, though, as that was my subject/age group!)

        Not sure I can agree that the ratio was the same (it certainly wasn’t where I taught in Arkansas), but again, that is just my anecdotal experience.

        Oh, and one small correction: TFA teachers aren’t interns. They are full teachers, hired and paid by their school districts.

        • Linda174

          They leave; they dabble. They experiment on our kids and then move on to their real careers. They are highly paid interns boosting their resume while feigning concern for the plight of the poor child stuck in public schools. Great stories to tell their grandkids someday about how they once helped the lower class commoners.

        • MJL

          Hi again Linda,

          There are plenty of studies that show TFA is doing on par with or better than traditional programs. Then there are plenty that show it’s on par or worse. So I think it’s sort of a mixed bag. I’m happy to send you the more positive studies, but you seem well-versed in those studies so you probably already know about them.

          And “highly paid interns” is an odd term. We were paid the same as any other starting teacher in the district. And the rest of what you said strikes me as assuming the absolute worst about TFA corps members’ intentions. I have to assume, respectfully, that you do not have any data — anecdotal or otherwise — to back that up.

        • Mary Gallucci

          Let’s see the studies. I have seen none. When the question is framed in the most ludicrous fashion–do students in the first 3 weeks of school do as well on a multiple-choice test when they have 1) a veteran teacher 2) a first-year traditionally-trained teacher 3) a TFA person–well, I guess it might be hard to distinguish.
          But not really.

        • Linda174

          We got plenty of DATA; you are in a bubble. Sorry to pop it. Many many TFA failures have already been reported. New to this blog?

        • Linda174

          Check out this poem and Katie’s blog.

          Students Resist

          Luckily, more Chicago students are speaking out against Teach for America. Here is a spoken word piece from a former Chicago student Rachel Smith who powerfully says,

          “Only see them for 2 years because we’re just a
          stepping stone so they can get to their
          prep schools…

          It’s time we refute these self-proclaimed saviors and
          put our faith into the true educators,

          who demand Masters Degrees and double majors,
          and not the ones trying to do the black community
          a couple favors.”

          Here is what another Chicago high school student wrote recently on his facebook page: “I’m walking out of school and I run into a group of college students. They greet me and ask me if I go to this school. I say yes, I just graduated and I’m here because we’re facing massive budget cuts. I ask them if they are with an organization. They say, yes we’re from Teach For America. I told them ‘that program is no good, get away from my school.’”

          http://www.wbez.org/story/hallelujah-saviors-are-here-97183

          http://nationalpublicvoice.blogspot.com/2013/08/katie-osgood-teach-for-america-recruits.html

        • Linda174

          All of your information was anecdotal. That’s really all TFA’s got.

        • Mary Gallucci

          How many anecdotes do we get to hear from the students who don’t know if they will be seeing the same adults in the building the next year? who are subjected to demeaning tv shows that try to scare them–children, some of whom are living in precarious economic circumstances; some of whom are just attending their fiscally neglected neighborhood school–into believing that they just need to do well on the standardized tests and study hard and “own” their school work… that’s after the TFA “teacher” with 5 weeks training and a provisional certification (teacher! right!) has made it clear that this is a losing, low-performing school. How about some anecdotes from the parents who are condescended to by arrogant outsiders? Don’t worry, these anecdotes and true-life stories will be making the rounds soon enough, although I would never “use” a child or their life story to make political hay or to pat myself on the back. Only TFA does that.

        • MJL

          Hi Mary,

          My experience is that kids rarely care whether you will be there the next year; it’s more the building principals who get annoyed at having to constantly retain their staff. That said, it’s obviously better if teachers stay longer. (About half of TFA teachers stay in the classroom for more than their commitment. And again, anecdotal experience, but my experience was that all of my friends seriously considered staying longer, and that their schools could have done more to keep them and didn’t.)

          Here’s the main study I was referencing above: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20134015/pdf/20134015.pdf

        • Mary Gallucci

          Please stop talking about your experience.
          However, you are probably accurate when you say that “kids rarely care whether you will be there the next year”–I must say, I am in complete agreement with those students when it comes to TFA and with YOU, as you have just proven yourself to be–not a teacher, a person with a vocation and an investment in the life of the mind and in the possibility for equality, peace, and a better society. You are just a cog in a machine, so, no, the “kids” (I do not chose to call them that) really wouldn’t care if you were there the next year.
          Post script: Those children and students probably do care, even about someone as privileged and self-righteous as you are. For you to say this just demonstrates your huge limitations, as a teacher, as a professional, and as a human being.

        • Linda174

          Bravo…MJL has much to learn but doesn’t actually know this yet. Sigh..

        • MJL

          Sigh.

          You have no idea whether I’m a good teacher or not, no idea whether I was invested in equality or peace.

          If you want to talk about the studies, which as I stated above, show a mixed bag of positives and negatives for TFA, I’d be happy to do so.

          Otherwise, enjoy your echo chamber, guys.

        • Linda174

          Displacement…echo chamber..that’s an interesting choice of words…little do you know. Please do check out #ResistTFA and @SUPEnational. Sorry there isn’t any love for TFA scabs here.

        • MJL

          Sorry for misinterpreting! I thought this was a place to have a passionate and informed discussion, not just call people names.

        • Linda174

          Sorry Mike, let Nate Snow it didn’t work out so well.

          Thousands of teachers have lost their jobs in NOLA, Chicago, Boston and other cities only to be replaced by interns who would need to be replaced two years later. Churn, churn, churn. That’s the goal. You’re just one more cog.

        • Mary Gallucci

          Is this all you’ve got? Junk science and research that concerns itself with such particularized and qualified premises is just right for the ed reform crowd–new wave or not.
          The Government-submitted study (proudly accepted by that non-educator and charter-school ideologue Arne Duncan) is an example of a synthetic a posteriori proposition. Don’t worry about reading Kant or positivist philosophy to find out what this means. A synthetic a posteriori proposition (such as asking the degree of efficacy of TFA interns teaching math as opposed to traditionally trained and alternatively certified teachers in a certain year, controlling for student body, college education, age, weight, regional accent, and so forth)–will just result in illogical gobbeldy gook that could prove just about anything.

        • AMSY

          Okay, that’s a load of BS. Kids love seeing familiar faces when they return to school. It’s called stability and leaves them with a sense of pride in their school. Seeing TFA recruits move onto “bigger and better” things isn’t helpful.

        • Linda174

          Odd how quickly you read through three studies when you requested evidence not supporting your opinion. You must have already known about them. Not sure you’re being completely honest here. TFA calling on their alum to deal with all the “critical friends”?

    • Mary Gallucci

      Big time TFA apologist here.
      Yes, CT communities are very similar to your Delta experiences, aren’t they? Whenever there is a criticism of TFA and the impact on teacher retention and job recruitment, some TFAer or alum steps up onto their soapbox with a story of how they helped in a desperate and abandoned area of the US.
      Windham, CT had no teacher shortage–they had budget problems, some of which were related to the general economy but many of which were political. TFA was not and never will be needed to fill in teacher posts, nor to inject urgency into the problem. TFA is part of a larger corporate ed reform movement that is destroying the profession of teaching.
      Just so you are not allowed to spread more of your self-aggrandizing propaganda, how do you respond to the charge, backed up by research and by the heart-rending stories of those affected, that numerous middle-class African-American and so-called “minority” teachers lost their jobs so that TFA could come in and staff positions in Louisiana and Chicago? It happens everywhere TFA goes.
      And your smarmy, self-righteous comments about the training of teachers and their knowledge of their own students’ economic realities provide more evidence of TFA arrogance.
      I know your type all too well. I even think we’ve met.

      • Linda174

        My Year Volunteering As A Teacher Helped Educate A New Generation Of Underprivileged Kids

        Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?

        http://www.theonion.com/articles/my-year-volunteering-as-a-teacher-helped-educate-a,28803/

      • MJL

        Hi Mary,

        My experiences in Brooklyn and the Delta are certainly not exactly the same as the problems faced by teachers in Willimantic and Hartford, and I did not mean to suggest that they were. In fact, I don’t think I did.

        I don’t have a deep understanding of the way in which TFA displaces other teachers; maybe it’s heartless of me to believe that more competition for teaching positions in high-need areas is a good thing. Therefore, I chose not to comment on that. But I’m confused about your leap from “in Lousiana and Chicago” to “It happens everywhere TFA goes.” It certainly wasn’t happening where I taught in the Delta, and I’m not aware that it’s happening in Windham, either.

        And on a side note, we have met. I was therefore disheartened by the uncivil and unpleasant tone you took in responding to me. I would hope that you did not consider me “smarmy” or “self-aggrandizing” when I took you out to lunch to share my experience in my chosen profession with you.

        Take care,
        Michael

        • Mary Gallucci

          For the record, I found the comments of MJL to be “smarmy” regarding teacher training programs, not the poster himself. Several times on this thread, MJL has made completely false and stereotypical comments about teacher training programs.
          I do not teach in any Ed. Department, but I know many undergraduate teaching majors, many master’s students, and many veteran teachers. Most of the teachers I know went through traditional ed programs. The ones who went through alternative certification already had teaching experience, teaching course work and graduate level credits.
          It is easy enough to see the requirements for an education bachelor’s/master’s program at the University of CT and the CSUs. Besides a full complement of education and child development courses, ed majors also take credits in the academic subjects they will teach–say, Math or English–and, starting their junior year, they go at least once a week for a full day to a public school (the same one for that semester). These are called clinics. Students are placed with a veteran teacher for a full school day and they are thus mentored, helping the teacher and observing. One semester of this clinic placement MUST be in a high-poverty school (that is at least 14 weeks… ). Senior year, ed majors are placed in one school for the year. In the fall, they spend one full day per week in a classroom with a veteran teacher. In the spring, they take over that veteran teacher’s classes for the entire spring semester. Then, while doing master’s work, the student has additional placements and even receives mentoring and instruction with special ed students and with bilingual students.
          That is before taking praxis exams and being certified!

          CT has some of the most highly trained teachers in the US. Many have already taught in high poverty classrooms, and thus, MJL, they avoid the missionary zeal and condescension of the TFA “peace corps” mentality.
          I cannot really imagine that 5 weeks approaches even one clinic semester at a CT state university. All such trained teachers continue to learn “on the job”, as does the lawyer, the doctor, and the airline pilot–do you really think that a diploma or law degree is the terminus ad quem of a profession? Why is TFA constantly claiming to reinvent the wheel?

    • cindy

      So wait, are you still teaching or not?

      And while teachers don’t necessarily need to come from high-need areas, the veteran teachers in those communities are what is needed to mentor the new and well-prepared teachers. And you seem to imply that teacher preparation programs don’t work for inner city schools anyhow, so we can just dispense with them?

      We have always had bad teachers – and if principals used the power they do hold, and take the time to go through the due process, and build a learning community that does not tolerate complacence, those teachers would go away.

      • MJL

        Hi Cindy: I left after four years, but I am in the process (due process!) of going back in for next school year. I just couldn’t handle the 85-hour weeks again and again, but now I realize that in the classroom is where I belong.

        And I definitely agree with you about mentoring. TFA does a meh-to-OK job of this (you are assigned a veteran teacher as a mentor during training, and the program encourages you to have a faculty mentor at school) but it could do even better;

        I definitely don’t believe we should dispense with teacher prep programs! Sorry if I implied that. I think that, like TFA, their beforehand training could be strengthened to target the particular needs of high-poverty communities. And I think they should do more to encourage their graduates to teach in those kind of schools instead of going to the best-functioning schools.

        And I’m with you about principals.

        • cindy

          Well, as lofty and admirable as your goals were when you joined the ranks of TFA, you are now part of a profit-making, public-education destroying machine. I’m sorry for you to even have to put that on your resume, because it won’t be long before that name and the destruction/privatization of children’s education goes down in history as the biggest sham played on America.

          Yes, the bar should be raised in many ways on the admin and educators making all these policies. But you really, and I mean this sincerely, must dig into the background of RTTT and all the components that it requires of all schools. This is not a child-centered honorable mission; this is a profit-driven standard-centered agenda which will literally leave children damaged. Local control is what is needed to fix local problems. And if NCLB recognized that, we would not be in the extended mess – now called RTTT- that we are in.

          There are some things that are meant to be public, and like it or not, unions protect children as much as they protect teachers. Right now, children have no protection. It is a tragedy of epic proportions, and if you want to turn your TFA experience, and passion for teaching around, I hope you will research and speak up.

        • Mary Gallucci

          You are very reasonable, Cindy. You cannot argue with true believers and cult members. That is what it’s like for some in TFA. There are ideological empire-builders in TFA like Nate Snow and Morgan Barth and then there are people like this poster, although I cannot say for sure what his politics are (nor do I care). The fact that he refuses to see the deep damage to public education that TFA is doing is enough for me.

        • MJL

          And thanks for your encouragement, truly. It takes a lot to get back on the horse; this is truly the hardest and best job in the world.

        • Linda174

          You might want to get to know the community and the kids this time. They certainly do care if their teachers stick around. Many have served families: brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts for years. Teachers are members of the community. Children are happy to see familiar faces every year. YOU are seriously out of touch and too full of yourself, typical TFA affliction, to realize it. A dose of humility will go a long way. I shouldn’t worry…the kids will take care of that. They have great perception when it comes to phonies.

        • Mary Gallucci

          That’s exactly why the students don’t “miss” the TFA! It is so obvious to students that the TFA are just putting in their time.
          The average TFAer is a combination of utter self-delusion (they have no idea how they look to children and students of all ages, not to mention to the parents!) and complete self-promotion…

        • Linda174

          And what teaching job do you believe is waiting for you? Are you applying like all other ed. degree grads or are you using your TFA connections to bypass the route real teachers must follow? Charter school (AF, Jumoke, etc) saving a spot for you?

        • MJL

          We have different views about teachers’ unions, Cindy. My experience was not that the one I belonged to did not protect children. Rather, it protected teachers, with little regard for whether those teachers were doing their jobs.
          How is TFA (or new-wave ed reform) “profit-driven” at all?

        • cindy

          No. The principal did not do their job, to go back to the earlier point. Unions protect teachers in giving them due process, but in the course of that, they protect teachers who can’t be pushed into doing things that are bad for children. Right now, unions are selling out teachers. And goodness. you need to do some deep reading and critical thinking re: profit.

        • MJL

          Again, we have different views about teacher’s unions. I’m sure yours is, like mine, based on experience. I respect your view and I respectfully disagree.

        • Graves

          I am extremely dismayed to see the language and accusations being used here in response to what my colleague wrote. I have worked and taught with MJL and can attest to how grossly wrong all the assumptions made about him on this site are. I am a huge supporter of the unions and have devoted my professional life to helping reduce the influence of organizations like TFA, that said, MJL is (not just was or partly but fully is) an extraordinary teacher who has devoted himself to his kids.

          We can all debate the pros and cons to organizations like TFA but let’s focus it on just that and not demean the teachers involved.

          After reading this I cannot express how mean many of these responders are, especially with having never seen MJL with his students.

          Please if you decide to continue this debate, debate the issues and not the person. As a teacher I can attest to his passion, heart, experience, and joy he gets from being in the classroom with his students.

          Thank you

        • Mary Gallucci

          The consideration you wish to accord MJL was not extended by MJL to the teachers or “union members” he was so quick to criticize and generalize about. Let’s get this out in the open once and for all: this is not an argument about any particular person or any particular teacher’s abilities in the classroom. The last-ditch resort of the defenders of groups like TFA is to claim that the argument is ad hominem.
          TFA exists at the expense of traditionally trained classroom teachers. That is the simple truth. MJL continually veers and swerves in this thread, between the specific (his classroom, his teaching, his dedication) and the general (unions, traditionally trained teachers–whose training he has shown he knows little about–students, especially low-income students).
          I wish you and MJL would take note of this. It is NOT about MJL. The TFA debate, as posted in this blog and discussed on the thread, is about the way this organization is decimating public education and de-professionalizing teachers.

        • graves

          Then hold off on the personal attacks you keep assaulting him with. That is all I ask. If you think you have been arguing about the topic you are mistaken. Calling him (or things he said) smarmy, self-righteous, self-aggrandizing, and privileged as well as accusing him of using his students for personal gain, and lastly having “huge limitations … as a human being are not terms seen in high minded debate. I’m asking that you keep it about the issues at hand. Then I will be able to agree with you and debate MJL like I have done as his colleague.

        • Mary Gallucci

          When MJL says that in his experience “kids” (meaning students–and since it’s HIS experience, they must be HIS students) don’t care if the adults in the building are there from one year to the next, I can say with conviction that I have never heard a traditionally trained teacher (or a parent or a school administrator) say this. And it is not because the topic never came up. Understanding the importance of school culture is a fundamental aspect of teaching as a vocation and about education as a civic institution.
          So, I have to call that out. Only managerial people and drive-by philanthropists think that school is an assembly line, teachers are functionaries who deliver content units, and success is a test score.
          I am not saying MJL willingly embraces a management model for schools, but his statement betrayed a profound lack of knowledge–and empathy and fellow-feeling–regarding children, schooling, and teachers. I do find that knowledge (and admitting what you don’t know, like what teaching is and how teachers are actually trained–MJL has not answered those substantive issues after his global condemnation that “2 years” is not much for teacher prep–based on?) and empathy are necessary humane values–so lacking them is a limitation. I guess for someone in TFA, only the teachers, union members, and, above all, the “below basic” students have limitations.

        • Mary Gallucci

          A crucial point:
          My school district had TFA forced on it. We did not ask for it; we did not have a teacher shortage; we have since suffered hugely from teacher turnover and instability which TFA has exacerbated and accelerated. Children are NOT learning from TFA teachers. TFA has an interest in suppressing this fact. But I don’t.
          How can you or MJL defend this? Will you also defend the removal of local control from parents–because those are the districts most likely to have TFA. It’s a package, you see. And the founders and wealthy backers of TFA know this.

          Given this “tip of the iceberg” (because the damage in a school district is much deeper when it is colonized in this manner)–MJL’s personal feelings are rather beside the point, aren’t they?

        • Graves

          “Children are NOT learning from TFA teachers.” This statement is not true. It is a generalization unless you mean for specifically your district to which I cannot speak to. I have seen really successful TFA teachers, I have seen terrible TFA teachers, I have seen traditionally trained teacher who couldn’t care about their kids and thus were just as MJL said when he talked about kids not caring who stays or leaves. I have taught with him in areas where school is an after thought, classrooms overcrowded and faculty under staffed.

          Though I think TFA is not the answer, I am not about to deny the success they have had or suggest malicious intent as you are. That said I didn’t come here to defend, please reread my earlier posts. I agree with most of what you are saying about the damage TFA is inflicting, just not the idea that they intend to do so.

          Lastly I will return to the only reason I decided to post something on this extremely narrow minded thread, MJL isn’t the subject of this… just as you said, his personal feelings are beside the point. So act by your own words and leave his personal feelings out of it.

          Again debate the issues not the person. That said I won’t be returning to respond to this. Engaging in debate with people who reduce their arguments to insults and accusations are exemplary of the closed mindedness that needs to be expelled from the education debate.

        • Linda174

          I don’t have time to round up colleagues, friends and family to post in support. However, I ask that you share your advice, here on this blog, with Mr.MJL.

          His characterization of veteran, experienced, credentialed, unionized teachers is inaccurate. He makes many generalizations as well. The TFA superiority complex penetrates all their messages, including your friend. Keep to the issues at hand, yes, which is the usefulness of TFA not MJL. The orignal letter, the content of this blog post, was written by a CT parent. That was the issue.

          Teachers are losing their jobs and being replaced by teach for a while edutourists who will dabble for a few years and move on.
          Since you are concerned with respect, let’s show some for our dedicated, experienced, credentialed, unionized, veteran teachers.

        • Graves

          Odd, I thought this was about what is best for the students?

        • Graves

          Experience does not equal excellence. You are coming at this debate all wrong. As a union teacher I could care less about protecting traditionally trained teachers for the sake of it. I care about protecting those doing well at their job. That is what I have fought for and continue to debate with MJL. But the problem here is that the focus isn’t on the kids or what is best for them. When TFA came to my school, the TFA teachers stayed longer than the average traditionally trained teachers. Why is that? Because the TFAers, regardless of how poorly trained they were because in that respect I completely agree with how bad their 5 week training is, were devoted to the kids and passionate about the work. They stayed late with me and worked on improving their practice. The kids in our school were doing better with them and much better than they were with the traditional teachers the TFAers replaced.

          Perhaps looking at general data we can talk about the issues with TFA, but then it is general and MJL should be shown respect. If we focus on anecdotal stories, which are valued I believe in these debates, never for a moment suggest that MJL does not love and care deeply for his kids. He is no edu tourist, he is one of the strongest and most passionate teachers I have ever seen.

        • Linda174

          Teach him the meaning of humility and please practice what YOU preach.

        • Graves

          Same to you Linda.

        • Linda174

          Actually it’s what’s best for Wendy’s wallet or her newest set of minions.

          Real teachers live it, so we don’t have to toot our horn about children 24/7. It IS who we are, not what we fake.

          That’s for the edufrauds: Michelle Rhee and students last, Jonah Edelman and stand on children and many other posers.

          Many have dedicated their lives to children. I am on my 27th year. That’s the typical smarmy response and assumption from your ilk. So much for sticking to the issues and displaying respect. Both of you have a lot to learn.

        • Graves

          A little arrogant no? you have no idea what my background is yet you choose to assume. 27 years in education? Let’s talk about that record then, let’s make this personal for you. In the past 27 years our system has dropped considerably, are you willing to take any responsibility for that? I am a real teacher. I live it. And I live it for one thing, my kids success.

          The edufrauds i see here are those that want to keep the status quo, it is a shame that our students need to be stuck in such a demeaning system.

          And I don’t even support TFA, I read this post because I agreed with a lot of what it said, but I am awe struck by the narrow minded meanness of the people commenting.

          Thank god I have never actually met teachers so focused on their own existence that they spend time on sites like this posting like this.

          I am done with the singularity of this group, you all should be too, find diversity in opinions, then you all will be able to learn something to.

        • Linda174

          You missed the point again as you are mostly concerned with defending Michael. You really can’t see past that. It is difficult for you to process when upset for your friend.

          Dedicated career teachers will continue to learn and improve their craft every day.

          Best of luck to you.

        • Linda174

          The status quo is 12+ years of test driven measurements and ranking, stacking, categorizing children. This “reform” charade IS the status quo. May I suggest a book?

    • Linda174

      Latest from Diane Ravitch, while on vacation:

      Prediction

      by dianeravitch

      I know, I know!

      I’m on vacation.

      But the hotel has wi-fi, and I have two devices and a serious addiction to this blog. Of course, I forgot to bring my able staff of 92 so you may spot more typos than usual, as the glare of the sun in the West Indies is pretty intense.

      As a matter of record, I am not sorry to miss today’s snowstorm in NYC. But I will be back in a few days, ready to don the boots and triple layers of clothing. Ready to walk the 65-pound Mitzi in the slush after putting her snow boots on.

      Meanwhile, here is a prediction: today is the day this blog hits 10 MILLION page views. It passed 9 million only five weeks ago. The blog started April 26, 2012.

      That’s my metric, for which there are no bonuses or sanctions, just the pleasure I take in knowing that the blog has become a valuable information hub that helps educate all of us (including me).

      This is how we will prevail: by educating ourselves and educating the public.

      Step by step, we will tear down the status quo built by the Bush and Obama administrations, the Gates, Broad and Walton foundations, and we will together envision and build an education system that our children need and deserve. An education system that respects the individuality of every student, that treats them as humans, not data points, and that recognizes the potential and gifts that they have, instead of putting a number on them and processing them like chickens in a factory farm.

    • Graves

      Well said MJL!

    • jrp1900

      MJL: First, let me say that I respect your willingness to come in here and discuss matters. In my experience, disputants on educational reform are rarely able to converse with one another for an extended period. So many reformers are in bad faith: they want to win the argument, but they don’t want to specific debate points. I have tried, on more than one occasion, to engage the luminary, Steven Adamowski, in spirited discussion. My efforts have generally met with failure. It’s clear that he thinks that his side is winning, so why play defense? When it comes to sharp political disagreements, we could do pistols at forty paces, but I think engaged debate is the better option. So let’s get down to business…
      We agree that teaching should be “a respected and professional vocation.” My point was, that TFA precisely leads in the opposite direction. It is not respectful to the craft of teaching to suggest it can be more or less learned in five weeks of training. Can you think of any other profession where this would be accepted? Five weeks to becoming a lawyer; five weeks to becoming a doctor; five weeks to becoming a professional athlete; five weeks to becoming an airline pilot. In all these examples, the idea is too preposterous for anyone to consider. And yet TFA tells us that it’s only five weeks to becoming a “teacher”! The word “professional” has resonances of “trained expert,” “specialist,” and “master.” It speaks to “proficiency” and “expertise.” How, then, can a TFA member, with only five weeks of training behind them, lay claim to “professionalism”? Some people use the word “professional” to mean something like “presentable,” or “dedicated.” But being presentable and dedicated does not ensure that one has expertise. That is what the training schools are for. What would think of lawyer who dressed well and was dedicated but really knew nothing of the law? We would say that person isn’t really a “lawyer.” By the same measure, a TFAer is not really a “teacher.” Lastly, as the for the matter of “vocation,” I’m sure you know that most TFA members do NOT stay on as teachers, and, so evidently, teaching is not their chosen vocation.
      You say that education grad schools do not prepare their students “for the challenges of working in high-poverty communities.” I think you are painting too broadly with a “negative brush.” I know for a fact that many education programs have their students intern in high-poverty school districts. No doubt, education schools can do a better job in teacher training, but it’s a falsehood to suggest that they are routinely terrible. Not everyone who goes into teaching is suited for the “challenges” of working in high-poverty districts. But you will surely grant, this must also be true of those who join TFA. And, then again, quite a few of these “challenges” cannot be addressed by ANY form of educational training, because they are socio-economic matters of the wider world. TFA has no way of training their members to make them better able to deal with problems like homelessness, hunger, drug addiction, etc. And if TFA claims they do have such a method, then they should share it with the rest of us: the problems in American society are too deep for Wendy Kopp to keep her magic to herself. Would you agree?
      I stand by my claim that TFA is “not the best option for students.” I then went on to talk about job losses for students because it seems obvious to me that when you have real teachers in the classroom this is better FOR STUDENTS. You fall into the corporate reformer fallacy that if you advocate for teachers, you must be against “the children.” This is nonsense. Advocating for teachers is advocating for children, in the sense that advocating for doctors is good for patients. In other words, the interests of the children are indelibly bound to the interests of teachers. Most children would prefer a stable relationship with a teacher they know and trust. Do you really think that it’s in their interest to have fleeting relationships with adults who are only passing through their schools?
      I told the TFA member I knew to give up on saving “ghetto kids,” not because she had no experience of poverty, but because that whole way of looking at children–as damned lost souls–was part of the problem, not the solution, to educational inequality. The savior mentality is facile: it’s hard enough for any of us to live our own lives, without pretending we can order the life of another. And when children live in dire poverty it can only be a trivialization of that poverty if the teacher pretends she has a bag of tricks that will make the effects of poverty negligible in the classroom. I do believe that ANY child can learn, despite their social background, but I also believe that not ALL children will learn, and it is no particular fault of the teacher when this happens. If we want to place blame for academic failure, blame American society for allowing too many children to live in inhumane conditions.
      Another reason I am critical of the savior mentality is that it plays into a political morality that unhappily echoes “the white man’s burden.” TFA members want to do well and I applaud them for this sentiment, but they should think about what it means to go and “help” people in today’s America: How did this come about? Why is “help” being given in this fashion? Who gains from this model and who loses? These are just some of the questions a TFA should ask himself.
      Many distressed communities would be well and able to help themselves if they were provided the necessary resources. TFA sends the message to these communities that “you are helpless and hopeless and you need our interventions.” This is the rhetoric of the missionary. I don’t know about you, but I would find it insulting if people kept telling me “you need to be saved and I intend to save you.” The TFAer might feel that she is doing the right thing, but politics is so much more than good feelings. One must also attend to power, wealth and influence. And when you look at who backs TFA, you don’t find ordinary people , you find power, wealth and influence. That should tell you something about what TFA means on the American political landscape.

      • MJL

        Hi Jonathan,

        Thank you thank you thank you for your civil and reasoned response. I hope some other people on this board will follow your lead. (I sense that all of us are educators of one stripe or another; I hope none of us would let our students abuse each other the way some of these people have been doing today.)

        I definitely agree that teaching cannot be learned in 5 weeks. I’m not sure it can be learned in two years of ed school, either. I once asked a veteran teacher at a professional development session, “Hey, how long was it before you felt like you knew what you were doing?” She said, about five years. I can believe that. I think you can say that on-the-job training is not ideal, but I don’t really see how it’s avoidable in education. I also have to say, I’m more swayed when people cite specific things that I didn’t learn by virtue of doing TFA institute than just comparing it to an airline pilot. What specifically do you think TFA institute lacks?

        As far as TFA’s retention numbers go, my understanding is that 50% of all teachers are gone from the profession — across the socioeconomic board — within five years. TFA retains about 48% for three years, and 20% after 5 years. Considering that TFAs work in much harder-than-average schools, and considering that only 10% of corps members would have gone into teaching without TFA, this is at least a solid start. I agree, though, that it could and should be higher.

        You are right that I tend to paint ed. schools with a negative brush. It is heartening to hear that many send their teachers to high-poverty districts. Personally I think we should throw as many talented people at the problem (with proper training of course!) to try to help.

        I agree with you that a teacher can’t simply ignore the realities of poverty. But in my experience, a modicum of education is possible in almost any situation, and surely we could be providing a much higher quality of education than only 1 in 10 low-income kids graduating from college, and most kids in high poverty schools graduating high school reading on an eighth grade level.

        I would love for TFA to open-source the materials it uses for institute, as you suggest, as well as the TFA resource exchange (TFA teachers nationwide put up worksheets and lesson plans for other teachers to use.) I think they will eventually. I hope they do.

        I agree with you that it is a fallacy to say that if you advocate for teachers, you must be against “the children.” But conversely, I think it’s not the case that advocating for teachers is necessarily advocating for children. In fact, the two are discrete; often, they overlap.

        What you said about a savior mentality and the white man’s burden is SO important. I think it’s an issue that pervades every kind of service: the Peace Corps, CityYear, the Red Cross, being a social worker, heck being a teacher anywhere. I think TFA does an OK job of guiding corps members to the right mindset once you’re in the program (but I don’t have a baseline of other charitable organizations.) (And surely some people do better with this than others.) But I don’t think this is an argument against TFA; all anti-poverty work is fraught with this challenge.

        “Many distressed communities would be well and able to help themselves if they were provided the necessary resources.” I couldn’t agree more. And I think that a stock of good quality, motivated teachers is one of those resources. The key (for TFA teachers or anyone who teaches in a high-need community) is to see yourself as one of many resources, not as a savior.

        As far as TFA’s donors go, I always assumed (maybe naively) that these rich people are just looking for good publicity and an organization where they felt good about the money’s use. (The Waltons gave $12 million to Conservation International Foundation, more than TFA got, but I don’t see anyone questioning their motives in doing so.)

        In closing, thank you so much for your willingness to engage and to discuss this issue. I feel that we are, as you said, unlikely to win each other over, but I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your perspective, and it does change and nuance my own view to have this conversation. So thanks.

        • Mary Gallucci

          this is not Jonathan replying. It is the guest blogger and parent who wrote the blog to which you are responding. It is “jrp” and although the initials look similar, it is not Jonathan Pelto.

        • MJL

          Ah ok gotcha. Thanks Mary

        • jrp1900

          MLJ: While “we are unlikely to win each other over, ” there is still merit in debate because it helps to clarify the essential issues. We can get a better view of what exactly is at stake. For me, what is at stake in my disagreement with TFA is the organic connection between “democracy and education” (to quote John Dewey). Corporate education reform is mostly unfolding in poor communities, mostly populated by people of color. A significant aspect of this so-called “reform” is the extinction of local control of the local schools. Sometimes this is done by way of “strong mayors” and appointed school boards; sometimes it’s a matter of wholesale giveaways to charter school companies; and sometimes it’s a matter of direct State intervention. In every instance, the argument is made that local communities with “failing schools” need oversight, direction and “accountability.” It’s very telling that corporate reformers don’t say that what these communities need is justice, employment and more resources. As you can see, the ideological difference between these two perspectives is as wide as the Grand Canyon. TFA is lodged in the narrative of oversight and not in the narrative of justice. And, for me, that’s a really big problem…
          Of course teaching cannot be learned in two years, but this is no defense at all of a 5 week training program. If two years isn’t enough to ensure “proficiency”, then how do you begin to describe the inadequacies of 5 weeks? Yes, it takes years to become a good teacher and, interestingly, as your career develops you can keep on getting better. In fact, one might never reach one’s full potential as a teacher: the job is precisely as complex and inexhaustible as the range of people in the world. A teacher has always something to learn about how to reach that one student who does not go along with the lesson plan. In this sense, teaching is truly like medicine and law: whatever you know, there is more to learn. Teaching in this respect is unlike professional athletics, where your skills decline as you age. I compared teaching to airline piloting only in the sense that both involve a specialized set of skills. And those skills do not come to you in five weeks of training.
          What do I think TFA lacks? How about rigor, seriousness, humility, and respect. It’s not rigorous to reduce the art of teaching to a set of principles that can be taught in a Summer Camp. It’s not a serious way of thinking about education. It cries out a kind of arrogance. It is disrespectful to real teachers, many of whom struggle heroically with impossible circumstances. TFA also lacks a mature, considered perspective on the realities of race, class and power in American society. Perhaps TFA is lacking in any other areas. But the ones I outlined are bad enough!
          It won’t to do to compare teacher retention rates with TFA retention rates. One reason teachers are leaving the profession is the baleful effects of corporate reform on public schooling, including TFA! At bottom, TFA is a distraction. The real issues confronting American public schooling are racial segregation and the concomitant concentration of impoverished children into unsustainable districts; the demoralization of minority children by racism, which leaves them cynical and uninterested in educational matters; the penetration of private money and private power into civil society; the degradation of genuine education into mindless test-taking’ and the sustained attempt by the rich and powerful to de-professionalize teachers and make them “flexible labor.” How on earth does TFA help in addressing any of this issues, especially when it is used to undermine teaching as a profession?
          Personally, I don’t think that “a modicum of education” is good enough. I think the poorest child in the Delta has the same right as the richest child in Darien, CT. TFA gets in the way of addressing educational justice because it puts the focus on teachers as the best practical solution to the “achievement gap.” Let me make a heretical statement in this corporate times: public school professional teachers were not the cause of the achievement gap, and TFA is not the solution. TFA is not the solution because its members do not have the expertise, but TFA is not the solution because teachers are not the solution. The solution lies elsewhere in law, politics and economics.
          I dispute that TFA has any special “source materials” that can work academic magic among poor children. There are probably 1,000 education programs in the United; is it to be believed that TFA has something that they haven’t found? No, we cannot lend ourselves to such an absurd idea. We already know what children need to learn, but political willingness to provide those things is another matter. Again, TFA is just a useless distraction when we are talking pedagogy and curriculum.
          TFA cannot truly regard itself as a simple “resource” for a community to draw on. This is a naïve form of political sentimentalism. The fact is TFA TAKES RESOURCES AWAY from poor communities. If TFA provides a service, then that “service” isn’t cheap. But that’s how it goes with the privatization of public goods…
          Let me be clear about the savior mentality. I am not saying that people should not entertain charitable or altruistic motives. What I am saying is that one has to be a human being in relation to other human beings. The missionary is to be faulted precisely because he looked down upon others as lost and benighted. Everything about TFA encourages that same superior standpoint. After all, TFA boasts of taking the “best and brightest” and putting them in front of “failing students” in so-called “failing schools.” Now, are you telling me that this kind of set up is not productive of an objectionable savior mentality ? American society should be especially careful when it comes to “helping” the “blacks” and the “brown.” As I am sure you know, US history is replete with examples of obnoxious forms of white paternalism towards “the lower races.” It’s hard for me not to see TFA as part of this dreadful history. TFA is all too aware of this perception and has gone out of its way to recruit more minority members. But even the presence of a few minorities will not change the basic fact that TFA is essentially a matter of privileged white people leading benighted “blacks” to the American educational promised land. I put it like this because I want you to see the absurdity and offensiveness of the paternalist vision..
          You are right about your “naivety” when it comes to the motivation of the big players in corporate reform. Let me suggest that Gates and Walton and Broad are not motivated by “good publicity” so much as raw naked power. In the USA that’s the way it works. If you have the money, you can get what you really want.
          The ball is in your court…

        • Linda174

          Standing. Ovation. Bravo.

        • Mary Gallucci

          Excellent. If only Wendy Kopp would read this–or Dacia Toll or Stefan Pryor–but they won’t and they won’t understand it. They are too arrogant–and they do not see the children, parents, and communities where they are “placed” as equal to them.

        • MJL

          Hi JRP, I’m going to make this my last post so I can get back to other things. (You can see that being out of the classroom for this year has its benefits; I’d never be able to comment this much if I were still teaching!)

          Re: five weeks vs. two years: when I asked what TFA curriculum lacks, I was looking for specific courses (ed psych? better SpEd differentiation would be my wish) that you think TFA corps members are lacking. (I must object to your painting us with a similarly broad brush if you think none of us are humble or respectful.)

          Your nuanced and very intellectual discussion of the causes of the achievement gap is right on the money; the only place we diverge, I think, is that I see a crisis of teacher staffing and quality in high-needs schools, especially in rural areas. We could debate this endlessly; I would never compromise on this point, though.

          I think you misinterpreted my worksheets comment; I had thought you were saying that it was too bad that TFA hoards its resources. I’m sure if you don’t want my geometry worksheets, TFA is happy to keep them to itself. But I didn’t mean to suggest that these are a panacea. And I also think you misinterpreted my comment about the Delta. I was not suggesting a modicum of education is enough; I was just reacting to your comment that those kids are poor, and I was suggesting that we could still be achieving much better outcomes for these kids than we currently are, even considering the circumstances.

          One more point: I think you should be careful about using quotation marks when you are really offering a summary. “After all, TFA boasts of taking the “best and brightest” and putting them in front of “failing students” in so-called “failing schools.”” Does it? Where is this on TFA’s website, in their promotional materials? Here’s an actual quotation. “Teach For America is growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.” I don’t hear any denigration of the schools or the students. Rather, I think you’re attributing a narcissistic Jesus complex to TFA that could easily be attributed to any other service organization (Red Cross, Peace Corps, etc) by a cynical person.

          In closing, thanks for your thoughts. I really enjoyed engaging with you on this — happy to continue the conversation off-line if you are interested, just let me know. (Not too interested in being called names by some of the other people on here, though.)

        • Mary Gallucci

          I provided substantive information about teacher ed programs, and you are not going to respond. Yes, we all work and many of us teach, but we are kept busy even in our off hours trying to salvage the public in public education.
          TFA has on many occasions done the whole “elite grads” thing and the failing schools, achievement gap thing. Come on.

        • Linda174

          There was only one name: scab. Don’t get overly dramatic. Certified teachers are laid off, lose their jobs and hundreds of TFA temps are hired. What else should we call it so you don’t have your feelings hurt?

        • jrp1900

          MJL: I won’t address the substance of your post. I’ve said what I have to say. We remain apart on the issues, but that’s no surprise, as people don’t hold their convictions lightly. I enjoyed the discussion as well. But to be truthful, I also found it a little depressing, because I can see that you mean well and yet I feel you are very wrong in your conception of what TFA is. Perhaps we will run into each other in another forum…

        • Charlie Puffers

          The following is from the agenda for the next Hartford BOE Meeting:
          “Contract Continuation Approval: Teach for America $650,940 / 3-year contract (Supt. et al) Teach for America recruits teachers from the top colleges and universities across the
          country. Each teacher, corps member, commits to teach for two years in one of 39 urban and rural regions across the United States. Teach for America’s mission is to recruit, select, train and support outstanding recent college graduates to serve as highly qualified and effective teachers in urban schools.
          That the Hartford Board of Education authorizes the Superintendent to execute a contract with Teach for America for the term ending June 30, 2016 at an amount not to exceed $650,940.”
          Where did the Hartford superintendent of schools get the idea that TFA recruits, trains, selects, and supports ……highly qualified and effective teachers? Why does it cost $650,940? Does UConn also charge the same for recruiting, training, and supporting highly qualified and effective teachers?

  • greeblesoxc

    This is just more of the same political decision making regarding what children really need rather than listening to educators that has been going on since “No Child Left Behind”, “Race To The Top”, and now “Common Core” programs/testing have been implemented. It is more meetings and policies going forward with no educators invited. Governor’s meetings on education without educators, state and national education secretaries and superintendents that are not really dedicated educators, what can we expect?

    Where are our college and university educators? Why are they toeing the line of the present political environment rather than speaking out? Have they decided that everything they have previously researched and published regarding developmental needs of children and youth are no longer valid? Have they decided that the teacher training program is no longer necessary, thus enabling “Teach For America” to become our nations educational model?

    I left a very challenging and rewarding career that at one time I absolutely loved after many wonderful years as an educator of preschool – grade 3 children because education became a political football and tool for business ventures. It became too disheartening to see and hear young children voice their discouragement after being overwhelmed with test preparation, tests, “unacceptable” scores translating into failure at such young ages. It was becoming the norm to see too many “warm bodies” at the helm rather than teachers. It seemed it was more important to cut corners in dollars and real DEVELOPMENTAL educational goals for our youth than it was/is to truly educate!

    As a result, now we as a nation are spending huge amounts of money on constantly changing test programs, test developers, test scoring, test production, etc. rather than on actual exciting and creative teaching and learning. Our schools have become nothing more than test centers. They are no longer centers of true learning about how to socialize appropriately, question, explore, develop independent thoughts, or to create. With the very limited curriculum now being offered in our test bound public schools, along with scripted programs & test preparation, sadly I suppose the decision to recruit so many untrained teachers is a natural progression in this nation’s history of political and business corruption and graft.

    Teach for America not only puts unprepared (or briefly prepared) folks into classrooms, it eliminates the need for school districts to really work to employ AND SUPPORT certified teachers! Our education system is failing, but not due to “lazy” or poorly trained teachers; it is because we as a nation have allowed businesses, politicians, and the media to sell a flawed story regarding our nations “boots on the ground”, real front line educators and schools who actually do care deeply about children and their futures.

    The media painted a very flawed picture rather than helping to acknowledge that we as a nation have a very large disconnect between the haves and have nots. We as a nation have a much larger problem looming ahead if something is not done to help all of it’s citizens enjoy a basic standard of living. Testing will not solve the social ills of our present society either nationally or globally, and neither will replacing real teachers with stand ins.

    Welcome to the future of guaranteed mindless workers for the wealthy! Sound similar to some literature? Go back and explore “Metropolis”, “1984”, “Animal Farm”, “Brave New World”, “Hunger Games” just to name a few, and think about it!

  • Linda174

    Check out these resources on Students Resisting TFA:

    Written by TFA Alumni/former corps members:

    Gary Rubinstein: Why I did TFA and Why You Shouldn’t
    Owen Davis: Teach for America Apostates: a Primer of Alumni Resistance
    Jesse Hagopian: Seattle Public Schools should avoid ‘Teach for Awhile’ program
    Alex Caputo-Pearl: Teach for America Shows the Downside of Quick Fixes in Education
    Camika Royal: Swift to Hear; Slow to Speak: A Message to TFA Teachers, Critics, and Education Reformers
    True Confessions of a TFA Dropout
    Julian Vasquez Heilig: Teach for America: Feel-good Spin vs. Dose of Reality From a Corps Member
    Why I’m Quitting TFA
    The Atlantic: I Quit Teach for America
    Jameson Brewer: Hyper-accountability, Burnout and Blame: A Former TFA Corps Member Speaks Out
    Matt Barnum: It’s Time for Teach for America to Fold –former TFAer
    Noam Hassenfeld: This Former TFA Corps Members Thinks You Should Join City Year Instead

    And more:

    http://studentsresistingtfa.k12newsnetwork.com/resources/

    • Mary Gallucci

      Thanks. Great resources. We need to get some chapters up and running in Connecticut. Then we won’t have to be subjected to bogus research on TFA effectiveness and insulting comments about unions not protecting children.
      I would say that most teachers (traditionally-trained, not the new-fangled economy version packaged by TFA) assume as part of their vocation the welfare and development of their students. Just for clarification, however, unions exist to represent workers; maintain professional standards; negotiate over wages and benefits; and advocate for acceptable working conditions. It is not the union’s charge to “protect students,” to determine tests, assessments, graduation requirements, etc. That is how a thinking person can tell that the TFA/ed reform movement has nothing to do with educational standards and equitable funding for children–TFA prefers to attack teachers for their professional status and for that awful thing called job security–favorite bogeymen of the privatizing movement and corporate interests.

      • Linda174

        Oh yes….as if the sanctimonious Mr. MJL, Nate Snow and all the TFA edutourists invented the concept of caring for children, perfecting our craft and delivering quality services. Their holier than thou pompous egos serve them well when appealing to the hedgeucators whereas the real educators of America just want to vomit.

      • Gloria A. Brown

        Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. When I tried to negotiate smaller class sizes, it was because my teachers wanted to provide a better education for their students; but of course it was seen as wanting to do less work. Who benefits more when we reduce class size from 22 to 18- the teacher or the students? I would argue the students, who get more attention from their teacher in a smaller class.

        • jonpelto

          Gloria you are so right

  • Rob

    The moral of the story is that TFA should not place teachers in districts that don’t have a teacher shortage – it’s as simple as that. The organization has seriously lost its way, and criticisms like JRP1900’s – that Teach for America is essentially a hedge fund-backed form of reverse colonialism – are right on. I’m a TFA alum and I taught in Hartford for five years. I was good enough by year three and pretty decent by year four; I was outright bad my first year and scraped by during my second. The reality is that I never should’ve been there in the first place if a kid with real training through NEAG would’ve taken the job.

    I agree with Pelto and his readership on almost nothing ed-related (except for the fact that Steve Perry is a self-serving opportunist), but the skeptics are correct on this one. I may win a Senate seat one day and advocate for real, structural change to public education; I may become a CEO and endow a groundbreaking, elite teacher preparatory academy; I may go back and teach math again. One thing’s for sure, though – the kids I taught my first year will never get that year back.

    • qtvsd

      Half of my district’s schools are title-1, and chock full of TFA Corps members. But there is no way that anyone could say that we’ve got a shortage of qualified talent. TFA slots are pre-arranged.

  • Charles

    I have a question for those concerned with TFA shortcomings. There’s been a number of discussions that I have seen regarding a potential “Boomer TFA” with retirees. The argument is that more adults per class would improve education without incurring additional major costs. The Boomer TFAs might be structured as Teachers Aides or something else. Is this a good idea and how would you structure it differently to avoid the current TFA pitfalls?