Teach for America

December 19, 2014 - 7:47 am CST

In Education Week, Stephen Sawchuk reports that Teach for America (TFA) is closing its New York City and Los Angeles Institutes this summer.  These are the five-week summer programs where TFA claims to prepare recent college graduates to step in to lead classrooms without any previous coursework in education theory and without the kind of supervised student teaching that college majors in education must undertake in order to achieve full certification.

Valerie Strauss reprints the letter TFA has sent to the school districts with which the agency partners to provide new teachers.  In its letter TFA predicts that next fall, “we could fall short of our partners’ overall needs by more than 25 percent.”  The organization blames the drop in applications on the tough education climate in America today including, “an increasingly polarized public conversation around education coupled with shaky district budgets.”  There is, says TFA, “decreased interest in entering the field nationwide.”  TFA includes in its letter sample language—for social media, letters to the editor, blurb for newsletters, letter to your listserve—that partnering school districts might use to help TFA fill its ranks.

Valerie Strauss comments:  “Critics of TFA are likely to…  say that TFA itself is partly responsible for a perception that teaching is not a stable profession.  TFA, which has received millions of dollars from the Obama administration, has come under increasing criticism in the last few years for its longtime practice of recruiting new college graduates, giving them only five weeks of summer training and then placing them in classrooms in some of America’s most needy schools.  Furthermore, TFA only requires a two-year commitment from its corps members to stay in the classroom—which some corps members don’t meet—creating a great deal of turnover in classrooms with students who most need stability.  TFA says it has filled an important need by placing teachers in hard-to-fill positions though critics note that in many cases corps members have replaced veteran teachers.”  Strauss adds that lobbying by TFA has added to the No Child Left Behind Act a Teach-for-America-exemption that permits teachers-in-training in its five week summer programs and other such alternative certification programs to be labeled “highly qualified” teachers despite that they are not fully certified.

Interestingly Jessica Williams, a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, also picked up the original story from a December 12 report in Chalkbeat New York.  Williams reports on the closing of the New York training center and adds that today TFA corps members teach one of every five students in New Orleans.  Her analysis reflects what has been said by New Orleans parents over the years since TFA came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, when the Recovery School District permanently laid off its entire professional teaching staff and the mass charterization of the district began: “The group has long faced criticism for placing rookie teachers in front of needy public school children; these teachers often have trouble understanding local cultures and rarely are of the same race, ethnicity or socio-economic background of the children they serve, critics charge.”  Williams adds that TFA has been trying in recent years to respond to the criticism by bringing in more minority recruits and students who have received Pell Grants.

TFA’s diminished recruiting numbers for next school year reflect that all these concerns about TFA are being discussed on the college campuses where TFA does its recruiting.  It is good to see that, despite TFA’s elaborate public relations pitches, young people are increasingly considering the value of professional training and what ought to be the definition of preparedness to serve the children in our poorest communities.

For more go to: http://janresseger.wordpress.com/

October 5, 2014 - 8:51 am CDT

Is Teach for America, Inc. morphing into Leadership for Educational Equity?

Is there an image problem or are they just playing a shell game?

tfa (2)

Or are they doubling the money?

A job posting in the idealist:

Job posted by: Leadership For Educational Equity

 Senior Director, Supporter Relations

About Leadership for Educational Equity

Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) is a nonpartisan leadership development organization that inspires our members towards civic engagement. LEE is dedicated to empowering Teach For America corps members and alumni to grow as leaders in their communities and help build the movement for educational equity. For more information on LEE’s mission, vision and core values, please click here.

LEE is a high-growth, results-oriented organization that operates in an entrepreneurial environment and is committed to continuous improvement.

Check this out from the website:

Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellowship

LEE’s Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellowship is an opportunity for corps members and recent alumni to get their foot in the policy or advocacy door by working directly with an influential organization…

The ultimate goal of Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, Inc., is to keep the million dollar money mill going by ensuring that reforms that suit her business model remain in place.


For more on Teach for America, Inc., here is the following information from our page on Teach for America, Inc.:

What started out as a possibly altruistic idea of going into small towns in the South where it was difficult to staff schools and instead bring in lightly trained recent college graduates to populate the classrooms, has now become a multimillion dollar business relying on charter schools to use these recruits to staff their charter franchises.

These recruits contract with TFA, Inc. for two or three years then most move on to graduate school, law school or another chosen profession leaving schools and creating churn.

Another aspect of this that is overlooked is that with the new teacher evaluation system that is being pushed by Arne Duncan and his army of privatizers, the performance of the TFA, Inc. recruits will never be evaluated over time so there would be a steady stream of these young people teaching under the radar of the evaluation system.

Wendy Kopp charges school districts anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 per recruit each year for the “privilege” of having her recruits staff the most under-performing and impoverished schools or charter schools that do not hire union teachers.

And what does Wendy Kopp make each year from her endeavor to staff our schools with recruits after 5 weeks of “training”? We can take a look at her 990 form, the form that is submitted by tax exempt organizations, to get an idea.

According to the tax form that was submitted for 2009, at the end of that year there was a sum of almost $300M in net assets for TFA, Inc. Most of this cash came from wealthy donors such as Eli Broad and the Gates Foundation.

If that wasn’t enough, in 2010, Arne Duncan, through the Department of Education, provided Ms. Kopp with a $50M grant to help her teach the most impoverished children in our country. To explain this a bit, Wendy Kopp is on the Broad Foundation board.Arne Duncan who has close ties with Eli Broad from his days in Chicago as CEO of the Chicago school district, keeps the “Broad Prize” in the offices of the Department of Education, are you starting to see how this all works?

In a previous post, you can see that Ms. Kopp then charges the school district for the training of these recruits as clearly described in the contract that she has with the Seattle Public School system but at the same time, she considers that as an expense on her tax form.

Ms. Kopp paid herself that year a little over $375,000 and along with her staff, the total came to over $2M.

Not too shabby for a “non-profit”.

In Mr. Bilby’s words:

My name is John Bilby and I was a TFA teacher in the New York region from September 2009 until March 2010. I left the organization because I felt that it does not adequately prepare its people to serve the poorest children in public schools. I also think that TFA is more interested in power, access, and influence in the federal game of education than it is concerned with resolving educational inequity. Its “corps members” are merely a means to this end, providing the organization with a front while it pursues the goals of its donors, namely to remodel public education in this country in order to favor a high-turnover, non-unionized workforce in charters run by hedge-fund managers for tax breaks. I foresee this further stratifying our current system into one in which children with disabilities, children who don’t speak English, and children who do not do well on standardized tests are funneled into substandard schools in a constant state of crisis due to continuous budget cutting.

I still believe, however, in the democratic power of education and the right of the people to vote out those who might infringe upon it. I am beginning a traditional route teacher certification program and I am looking forward to getting back into a city classroom soon.

For more on Teach for America, Inc., see:

  • Parents Across America, Seattle: Part of Protest at Apple Store
  • How Interning for TFA Convinced me of its Injustice
  • Why I did TFA, and why you shouldn’t
  • TFA: The International Brotherhood of Corporate Interests
  • Teach for America Exposed in Seattle
  • A new look at Teach for America
  • Teach For America: A False Promise a policy brief from the Education and the Public Interest Center and the Education Policy Research Unit
  • Tell-All From A TFA and KIPP Teacher: Unprepared, Isolation, Shame, and Burnout
  • Why I Oppose Teach For America Coming To Sacramento
  • Learning On Other People’s Kids – an important book on Teach for America
  • Looking Past the Spin
  • Money From Donors, iPads for Free: How Is it That Teach For America’s Struggling Corps Are Broke?
  • Reconsidering TFA
  • Seattle’s Education Reform Hypocrisy

From 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

Growing TFA Resistance: 

  • Zach Schonfeld: Meet the Teach for America Resistance Movement that’s Growing from Within
  • Valerie Strauss: TFA Critics Gather To Organize Resistance
  • John Thompson: How Can Teach for America Stop Making Enemies?
  • James Cersonsky: A Break in TFA’s Ranks, TFA’s Deep Bench, TFA’s Civil War

General Issues around TFA:

  • Megan Erickson: A Nation of Little Lebowski Urban Achievers
  • Rachel Smith (student)’s Poetry on TFA Teachers: “Hallelujah the Saviors Are Here”
  • Joanne Barkan:  Got Dough?
  • Michael Paul Goldenberg:  Why Progressives Distrust KIPP and TFA
  • TFA: Hidden Curriculum of Liberal Do-Gooders | Jacobin
  • Stephanie Rivera: A Student Critique on TFA

Messages to Prospective TFA Corps Members:

  • Katie Osgood: An Open Letter to New TFA Recruits
  • College Seniors Should Reconsider Teach For America
  • Lois Weiner: An Open Letter to TFA Recruits in Chicago
  • Gary Rubinstein: Why I did TFA and Why You Shouldn’t
  • Camika Royal: Swift to Hear; Slow to Speak: A Message to TFA Teachers, Critics, and Education Reformers


  • Gary Rubinstein
  • Reconsidering TFA

Similar Actions

  • University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development
  • University of Minnesota Students Protest Teach for America
  • Organizing Resistance to Teach for America Wiki

Submitted by Dora Taylor

For more go to: http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/

September 1, 2014 - 6:30 am CDT

The Durham public school board voted 6-1 to finish its current contractwith Teach for America and then sever the relationship.

“The Durham school district will honor its current contract with Teach For America, but the national teacher training program’s future with Durham Public Schools is up in the air.

“The school board voted 6-1 last week to honor its commitment to TFA teachers, including five hired to work for DPS this school year, but to not pursue any new relationships with the program beyond the 2015-16 school year.

“That’s when the five TFA teachers hired for this school year will complete their service obligation with the program.

“Seven other TFA teachers have begun their second years with DPS and will complete their two-year obligation with the program at the end of this school year.

“Among concerns voiced by school board members who voted not to pursue any new relationships with TFA is the program’s use of inexperienced teachers in high-needs schools.

“It feels like despite the best intention and the efforts, this has potential to do harm to some of our neediest students,” said school board member Natalie Beyer, who voted against the school district’s contract with TFA three years ago.

“Others said they were concerned that TFA teachers only make a two-year commitment.

“I have a problem with the two years and gone, using it like community service as someone said,” said school board member Mike Lee.

“School board Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown was the only member to vote in favor of the district’s continuing its relationship with TFA.

“She agreed that school districts need teachers who are willing to make long-term commitments, but only if they are doing a good job in the classroom.

“Having tenure, just being there because you’re there and not dong what you should be doing, committed to every child, every day, having high expectations for every child, every day, if you’re not doing that, it doesn’t matter if you’ve become a veteran in the classroom,” said Forte-Brown. “I need a veteran, qualified teacher in every classroom.”

Some teachers asked the board to use the funds to try to replicate the highly successful North Carolina Teaching Fellows, a five-year training program for career teachers that was defunded by the Legislature. But the executive director of TFA for Eastern North Carolina defended the program, saying that it was “North Carolina’s source for our state’s most effective beginning teachers.”

The district was expected to pay TFA $3,000 for each beginning teacher. But the board decided not to continue the relationship.

For more go to www.dianeravitch.net

May 2, 2014 - 11:23 am CDT

Teaching Alongside TFA Special Forces

By Johnny Bravo
My story starts some years back, on my first day on the job as a public school teacher. (After twenty years of private industry work and collegiate teaching experience, I shifted gears relatively recently and became a teacher). Having expected to encounter a balanced mix of experienced-to-new teachers, I was surprised at what seemed to be an extremely large number of very young recruits at our orientation. Although they weren’t introduced to us as being part of Teach for America, it didn’t take long to find out. While we all wore the same uniform, so to speak, there was something different about them.

And now it’s time for my joke
How can you tell which guest at a party is a TFA corps member?
Answer: Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.

There’s a part two to my joke that I like to call “the conversation.”

Me: “So Jenny—where are you from?”

Me: “Wow—Wisconsin. What brings you all the way out here?”
“I put in for this assignment. I’ve always wanted to see this place.”

Me: “This place???” feeling a bit like a Sri Lankan rice farmer.

Special forces
We’ve now been through several rounds of TFA coworkers at my school and I’ve had many conversations just like this one. They tend to end quickly because the TFA recruit on the other end rarely inquires about me in return. In fact, these one-sided exchanges are typical of the relationship between the traditional teachers and the TFA recruits at my school. They cluster together and never really integrate with us. They rent their apartments near other TFA members—away from the school district. We don’t really get a chance to know them; they don’t seem interested in getting to know us. Last year I decided that it was finally time to break the ice. I invited all of the TFA newcomers to join a group of us for lunch in my classroom. Not a single one accepted.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

It’s not that hard to see why. TFA corps members don’t see themselves as teachers at our school. They’re TFA. Think of a transport plane that carries soldiers. There are regular infantry and then there are the Green Berets, the Special Forces. We may show up at the same school every day, ostensibly for the same reasons, but we’re not the same and the TFA corps members know it. They’re here on a brief and special mission and to integrate with us would serve as a distraction.

Until recently, I had the same mental concept of TFA that most non-teaching Americans probably have: recent college grads recruited to parachute into the sort of big-city schools seen in such films as Freedom Writers and Stand and Deliver. In other words, places where it was difficult, or even impossible, to recruit experienced teachers. The TFA recruits were filling an urgent need and using their *smart-people smarts* to help out. Except that in my predominantly suburban district there are plenty of experienced teachers looking for work. We also have a major university with a big teachers college nearby, regularly cranking out graduates who want to make a career out of teaching.

On a rescue mission—just not the one they think
While our district is more suburb than war zone, my TFA colleagues have been prepared for a rescue mission nonetheless. And they are on a rescue mission—it’s just not the one they think. The reality is that in my district, TFA recruits are hired to help balance the budget. They’re young. They start out at the bottom of the pay scale and leave long before reaching the middle, let alone the top. Gone in two years? Who cares? There will always be new corps members to take their place. District administrators have found a bottomless pool of cheap labor. Best of all, the corps members, data enthusiasts all, will work themselves virtually to death without uttering a complaint.

Corps members can’t see this exploitative situation for what it is—because they’ve been sold a brave heroic story about why they’re really here. And it’s a great story that anyone in their place would want to believe.

Sgt. Johnny Bravo serves on the front lines of public education.  Although he possesses a 4-year college degree, attended Officer Candidate School and has two decades of prior experience serving society in a different professional capacity, his true rank is not O-level, but rather non-commissioned officer. His experience on the front lines has convinced him that while many of his fellow TFA sergeants have graduated from the finest private military institutions around the nation, they don’t seem to shoot any straighter, aren’t any braver, and seem particularly vulnerable to fratricide. Sgt. Bravo’s field research interests include the impact of digital devices and culture on battlefield efficacy as well as the newly emerging study of herd dynamics.

For more go to: http://edushyster.com/

April 21, 2014 - 8:01 am CDT

Guest Post by Owen Davis

Owen Davis is a TFA alum and freelance writer who focuses on education. He’s also the education coordinator for alternative kid’s magazine IndyKids. Tweet @of_davis.

Dear Teach for America:

As an alum of your program, I like to keep apprised of your goings-on. Though we may have our differences, I always try to appreciate your bolder efforts. So I’m thrilled to see you taking a valiant stand in Newark, where the district is preparing to can over a thousand teachers without regard to seniority and in contravention of state tenure law. Remaining in a district so openly hostile to career educators must require not just millions from the Walton Family Foundation, but the bold resolve of knowing you’re part of the civil rights struggle of our generation. 

 On that note, I’m sure you know that the district’s moves will disproportionately impact teachers of color. As Rutgers’ Bruce Baker found (you follow his work I presume?), the district’s One Newark school closure/turnaround plan will almost certainly lead to a staff with fewer teachers of color. Just as the schools being impacted by One Newark enroll higher shares of black and low-income students, “teachers who face employment consequences as a function of One Newark are 2.11 times as likely to be black as to be white.”

That you, TFA, would stay committed to such an flagrantly inequitable project, despite the predictable cries of hypocrisy, speaks to the depth and subtlety of your educational vision.

I’m heartened, for instance, by your much-touted initiative to increase the number of black men in teaching (who indeed make up a too-small share of the teaching force nationwide – despite the fact, it must be mentioned, that primary school teacher is the top profession for black men with a bachelors degree, compared to no. 3 for white men). That an organization so committed to educators of color would continue ballooning in a district moving to offload droves of them speaks, more than anything, to your strength of will in the face of staggering contradiction.

One would expect an organization like yours to decry the district’s moves and, despite the fact that the plan would directly benefit you, stand with veteran teachers of color. But as your very own TFA-New Jersey exec said, “To work on behalf of kids, we have to believe and act as if the facts matter.” It’s clear that to some, they don’t.

Your ability to shrug off the naysayers is what really astonishes me. So what if TFA is on average whiter than the teachers it will replace? What does it matter that TFA is a necessary ingredient in the charter stew that drowns traditional public schools – and that Newark’s current layoff plans stem directly from the diverting of district funds  to charters? Who cares that 60% of NJ TFAers end up in that same charter sector, whose teachers are only 74% as likely to be black and half as likely to be Hispanic as in district schools? And the fact that half of TFA’s current teachers in Newark’s district schools landed in “renew schools,” where existing staff had to reapply en masse and where hundreds of educators were displaced?

As we all know, divisiveness gets us nowhere.

So rather than oppose Superintendent Cami Anderson’s baldly undemocratic One Newark plan and associated layoffs, you’ve planted a flag for transformational change. And I know it’s not just because of her history as the executive director of TFA-New York. I feel like it has more to do with your history.

The Newark situation can’t help but stir recollections of your stalwart march into New Orleans in the decade after Hurricane Katrina, when the number of TFA first- and second-years shot up from 85 to over 400, while the proportion of African-American educators dropped from 73% to 49%. Or in Chicago, where your corps size grew by a third while fifty schools were closed and a thousand positions were cut – and where previous mass layoffs hit black and Latino teachers hardest. It’s in these dire circumstances that “doing nothing is not an option.”

And boy did you do something.

So don’t let the nattering nabobs of negativity keep you from placing 370 corps members in New Jersey in the next two years, a stunning 75% increase from current levels. Don’t let them stop you from still dumping 80% of them in Newark, despite the protest and upheaval there. Don’t let them sling facts and figures “as if they matter” in the service of some outdated status quo – like the current demographics of Newark’s teaching force.

No, TFA, do what you’ve always done: Don’t back down.

Owen Davis is a TFA alum and freelance writer who focuses on education. He’s also the education coordinator for alternative kid’s magazine IndyKids. Tweet @of_davis.

For more go go: http://edushyster.com/

Katie Osgood
April 19, 2014 - 11:47 am CDT

Katie Osgood is a special education teacher in Chicago currently working at a psychiatric hospital. She previously taught in the Chicago Public Schools.

Around the country, hundreds of college seniors and a handful of career changers are receiving letters of acceptance into Teach For America (TFA). Congratulations on being accepted into this prestigious program. You clearly have demonstrated intelligence, passion, and leadership to make it this far.

And now I am asking you to quit.

TFA probably enticed you into the program with its call to end education inequality. That is a beautiful and noble mission. I applaud you for being moved by the chance to help children, to be part of creating equality in our schools, of ending poverty once and for all.

However, the actual practice of TFA does the exact opposite. TFA claims to fight to end educational inequality, and yet exacerbates one of the greatest inequalities in education today: Low-income children of color are much more likely to be given inexperienced, uncertified teachers. TFA’s five weeks of institute are simply not enough time to prepare anyone, no matter how dedicated or intelligent, with the skills necessary to help our neediest children. This fall, on that first day of school, you will be alone with kids who need so much more. You will represent one more inequality in our education system, denying kids from low-income backgrounds equitable educational opportunities.

Many of you no doubt believe you are joining a progressive education justice movement; that is the message TFA sells so well. But TFA is not progressive. The data-driven pedagogy, the fast-track preparation, the union-busting, the forced exploitation of your labor, the deep-pocketed affiliation with corporate education reform are all very conservative, very anti-progressive ideas. Look no further than TFA’s list of supporters/donors. The largest donations are from groups like the Walton Foundation, of Walmart fortune, which has a vested interest in the status quo of inequality, breaking unions, and keeping wages low and workers oppressed. Or notice the partnerships with JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, the very institutions that caused the financial collapse of 2008 and threw millions of Americans—including your future students’ families—into foreclosure, bankruptcy, and deeper poverty. These organizations choose to donate to TFA because TFA supports their agendas. If TFA was truly pushing back on the status quo of educational inequality, these donors would not only refuse financial support, they would be on the attack.

Ask yourself: Since when did billionaires, financial giants, or hedge fund managers on Wall Street begin to care about the education of poor black and brown children in America? If you follow the money, you will see the potential for mass profit through privatization, new construction, union-busting, and educational service industries. Why would a group dedicated to educational justice partner with these forces?

A Broken Model

In places like my city of Chicago, TFA represents a gross injustice from the very first day of training. TFA places up to five trainees at a time in our summer school classrooms. In Chicago, summer school is for children who failed courses during the school year. These are the children most in need of expert teaching and support; many have or eventually may need special education services. Instead, these students are used for practice as novice TFA corps members have their very first experiences working with a group of children. Last year, a phenomenal teacher friend of mine described his experience of having TFA forced upon his classroom, “They are using my kids as guinea pigs,” he lamented. This powerful, experienced teacher was told to sit silently in the back of his classroom. He was forbidden to give feedback as five novice TFAers fumbled their way through lessons for four weeks of a five-week summer term. Those kids will never get that time back.

TFA will tell you over and over that you will be offering something “better” than our traditionally trained teachers can provide. I want you to understand what even first-year teachers from traditional teacher prep programs bring with them: Preservice teachers are slowly introduced into teaching, beginning with many long hours of observation in multiple settings, along with discussion, reflection, and the study of pedagogy and child development. For many months, we practice small group instruction and short whole group lesson plans before moving on to extensive student teaching placements. The goal of this model is to minimize negative impact on children, and to create safe spaces for new teachers to practice under the watchful eye of a mentor.

Compare that to TFA’s model, in which novices take turns teaching a single group of students for four weeks, and then are placed in classrooms by themselves. Where is the time for observation and practice in different settings/age groups/subject matter/ability levels? How can anyone argue that the two types of training are comparable? And, if TFA truly offered higher quality prep, why aren’t schools serving upper-income students demanding first-year TFA teachers? The idea is preposterous. Upper-income parents would never allow uncertified, unprepared novices to teach their own children. So why should low-income students endure this type of injustice?

As former Chicago student and spoken word artist Rachel Smith explains:

Only see them for 2 years because we’re just a

steppingstone 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 master’s degrees and double majors,

and not the ones trying to do the black community

a couple favors.

Understand the Pushback

Most corps members are being thrown into highly contested, politically unstable education environments. Here in Chicago, there is a massive grassroots battle under way led by parents, teachers, students, and community members to save public education. Over the past few years, Chicago has seen mass protests, acts of civil disobedience, and a successful teachers strike—all to protest devastating corporate education reforms being forced on our schools. Despite this mass movement, 50 schools were closed by our mayor’s appointed board of education, thousands of teachers laid off, and school budgets were slashed. Tens of thousands of parents have come out to plead for their neighborhood schools, to beg for more funding, to demand an end to excessive high-stakes testing, and to speak out for their beloved teachers. Each time, the board turned a deaf ear.

To add insult to injury, mere weeks after the announcement of mass school closings, TFA successfully pushed the board to renew and expand TFA’s contract with Chicago Public Schools. In the middle of this supposed “budget crisis,” CPS increased the funding to TFA from $600,000 to $1,587,500. The number of TFA first-year novices went from 245 to 325.

As a result, we have thousands of displaced teachers looking for jobs. We have dozens of quality schools of education producing credentialed teachers who are looking for work in Chicago and other urban centers around the country. We have quality programs like Grow Your Own, which recruits people from high-needs communities, supports them through a full teacher education program, and then helps them find work in their own communities. Unfortunately, while TFA is handed millions in public funding and private donations, programs like GYO struggle to simply survive.

Like many other cities (New York City, Detroit, and Philadelphia to name a few) we have no teacher shortages. We have teacher surpluses. And yet, TFA is still placing first-year novice corps members in places like Chicago.

TFA has developed a cozy, troubling relationship with the very people implementing these horrible policies. Here in Chicago, board of education member Andrea Zopp spoke at TFA’s 2013 induction ceremonies. New board of education member Deborah Quazzo, a millionaire businesswoman, once sat on the Chicago board of TFA. These ties represent massive conflicts of interest as the policies being passed by the board are benefiting TFA directly. TFA pushes their alumni to get elected to local school councils, democratic bodies designed to give voice to parents, teachers, and community members, where they promote their TFA-friendly corporate reform agenda.

In many placement areas, TFA is closely tied to the charter school movement. Charter schools are highly controversial; research has shown that they tend to exclude students with disabilities, English language learners, and students with behavior problems. Charter schools are usually nonunion, which leads to teacher exploitation and arbitrary firings.

To put it bluntly, the last thing our students—undergoing mass school closings, budget cuts, and chaotic school policies—need is short-term, poorly trained novices.

Why You Must Say No

This is just the tip of the iceberg of TFA’s role in the assault on teachers and public education. As people new to the world of education, it’s important to understand the context you are entering (see “Learn More About TFA”, bottom of page). Read what other TFA alumni have written, eloquently describing why they no longer support the organization. Investigate research on TFA, its effect on education, and the shoddy research they use to support their practices. Learn why TFA alumni and education activists organized against TFA last summer in Chicago. Follow facebook groups like Resistance to TFA. Listen when groups of college students launch anti-TFA campaigns on their campuses. Read about the school board in Pittsburgh, which recently rescinded a $750,000 contract with TFA.

This pushback has nothing to do with you personally. There have been multiple abuses already endured in the cities you are entering, which TFA exploits. How else are stakeholders supposed to respond as TFA takes precious resources from districts and states in budgetary crisis? Or as TFA steals jobs from experienced teachers and qualified, fully credentialed teacher candidates? Or undermines our profession with false claims that teachers need little preparation? Or partners with the very wealthy and politically connected forces wreaking havoc on our schools against the will of communities?

You new recruits did not create this current situation. But by participating in TFA you will become a part of the problem.

A Chance to Do What's Right

If you truly want to work with children as a teacher, give those future students the greatest chance possible by doing a full preparation program before teaching alone in that classroom. Those of us in the teaching profession welcome bright young beginning teachers with open arms. If you are not sure teaching is for you, volunteer in a school, tutor, participate in after-school programs. All children deserve a fully prepared teacher for every day of their educational careers. Please do not participate in denying them that right.

And please do not become a foot soldier for the corporate education reform movement. Do not partner with the very people trying to destroy public education for their own personal gain.

You have a choice to make. TFA may open doors to lucrative careers, help you get into prestigious law and graduate degree programs, even give you direct paths into high-paid jobs in the worlds of education, business, or politics. But are you willing to participate in the destruction of public education, destroy the teaching profession, and deny children experienced long-term educators?

Please make the right choice. And then join those of us on the ground fighting for real reform. We need your passion and drive.

Please, do not do Teach For America.


Katie Osgood
Special education teacher in Chicago

The commentary piece was inititially posted in Alternet: An Open Letter to Teach for America Recruits | Alternet.


March 29, 2014 - 8:44 am CDT

I often get the sense that something happens to the brains of people who do their two years or less at Teach For America and then, rather than continue to teach, go on to "stay in education" as "leaders." Maybe their self-granted halos are a little too tight.

Take Newark State Superintendent Cami Anderson:


So, as a college student, I organized a group of female athletes to challenge the university on the basis of gender inequity. We had amazing mentors -- my aunt who was a university employee and is a sports enthusiast, the Title IX officer for the University of California, a free-lance journalist who knew a lot about the Title IX law and movement. After a thoroughly-researched, public letter threatening a lawsuit was distributed far and wide, dozens of meetings, and several news stories -- the university agreed to massive changes. Female and male sports budgets merged, across all sports, and head coaches were mandated to ensure equity. Literally, overnight, we bought three new boats, moved in to share the men's boat house, gained access to the best weight rooms at the university, and began to fly -- instead of driving 15 hours -- to races.


As Superintendent of Newark Public Schools (NPS), I am no stranger to controversy and feel many of the dynamics I experienced in my Title IX days -- and throughout my life as an activist -- are at play in the fight for educational equity (in Newark and nationally). Vilifying the leader is a way of discrediting them and preventing them from earning the trust they need to lead. Fear, intimidation, and gender politics are alive and well. More people benefit from a broken public education system than may otherwise be obvious including people who should be "natural allies" for change. In the face of abject failure, even mediocrity is celebrated and challenging that is difficult. It is wildly unpopular to say what we have been doing is failing and even more controversial to make bold proposals that challenge sacred cows -- and adult interests embedded in the status quo.

Folks, there's no bigger fan of Title IX than yours truly. I say that as the uncle and brother of some outstanding college athletes who happen to be women. Women deserve all the protections and entitlements and privileges that have been traditionally reserved for men. 

But let's recap:

Apparently, the following acts are exemplars of moral courage:

  • Requesting that the state overturn a recent tenure law that was negotiated in good faith by the Newark Teachers Union -- a law that seems to be working out well across the rest of the state.
  • Implementing a school restructuring plan that disproportionately targets teachers of color, even though there is scant little evidence that plan will do a thing to help student achievement.
  • Walking out on a mother because you, and you alone, have decided what is and is not appropriate speech for people who are advocating for their children.
  • Suspending principals for daring to exercise their first amendment rights.
  • Throwing PTO presidents out of schools and suspending staff because you don't like what they say on the phone when they're in the bathroom.
  • Reneging on teacher compensation deals that were suspicious to begin with. 
  • Taking a bow at the biggest speech of the year for your boss, who has said explicitly he does not care about the opinions of those citizens of Newark who dare to disagree with him.
  • According to them both, not heeding the summons of the chair of the state's most important legislative committee on schools, and not answering the emails of the elected representative of your school board.

All of these acts are so selfless, so noble, so righteous indeed that they deserve a public self-lauding -- one where the author can tell us all about her lonely, arduous crusade at her extremely elite college to get more money for her crew team so she could fly to her meets rather than drive.

Take a sec to let that sink in...

Anderson really should be more careful: she just might re-injure herself, what with all the contorting she's doing to pat herself on the back.

For more go to: http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/

March 17, 2014 - 4:40 am CDT

Have you ever found yourself trapped in the insufferable position of having to tolerate a Teach For America true believer relentlessly bombarding you with justifications for Teach For America’s placement atop the corporate org chart of educational excellence?

Teach for America is a $300 million “non-profit” organization that executes a highly sophisticated integrated marketing communications strategy that includes traditional and digital advertising, a wide range of experiential and special event initiatives, and plenty of public and media relations.

With millions spent on corporate communications, it’s to be expected that Teach For America has crafted a concise list of focus-group tested talking points. With discipline matched only by GOP pundits, Teach For America’s “brand evangelists” (from the corporate communications team all the way down to the on-campus recruitment interns) stay “on message” by relentlessly repeating the same lines. The only problem? Many are deceptive at best, while others are downright false.

Here are some suggested replies for eight of Teach For America’s most tried arguments.

1. When a Teach For America supporter says: ”Teach For America might not be the answer, but it’s a part of the solution.”

This is how you might respond: To overcome the challenges associated with educational inequity, Teach For America’s standard of training would require it to be vastly superior to any school of education or alternative route – not less. Corps members would need the ability to deconstruct their own privilege, fully understand their own role in historically oppressed communities, and develop strong relationships with true veteran teachers (not Teach For America corps members who only taught 2 or 3 years). Unfortunately, with only a few weeks of training, and often zero student-teaching hours within the placement community or assigned grade, Teach For America corps members receive nothing close to the unparalleled training that would be required to systemically reduce educational inequity. In all likelihood, by providing the least prepared teachers to the students with the greatest needs, Teach For America corps members may be doing more harm than good.

2. When a Teach For America supporter says: “Teach For America corps members are more effective teachers. The Mathematica study shows that Teach For America corps members produce gains equal to 2.6 extra months of learning.”

This is how you might respond: First, there is no such thing as a test that measures months of learning. That would mean all students learn at the same pace. As any parent or teacher knows, that’s not true. In fact, the “gain” was just .07 standard deviations (miniscule in statistics). By comparison, reducing class size can increase learning by .20 standard deviations (3x more effective). Second, the study only included Teach For America secondary math teachers (136 of them), but claims that this is true for all Teach For America corps members regardless of whether they teach secondary math or not. In most communities, the majority of Teach For America corps members teach elementary, not secondary. Therefore, the miniscule test score gains in this study do not apply to the vast majority of Teach For America corps members. Finally, the Teach For America secondary math teachers who were studied were only compared to other first and second year teachers. They were not compared to teachers who have more experience. Since most Teach For America corps members quit teaching within the first 5 years, they never grow into becoming more effective, experienced teachers. Therefore, implying that Teach For America corps members are more effective than other teachers is patently deceptive.

For more information on the Mathematica study check out:

How I teach 2.6 months more of math in a year than the rest of you slackers
New Mathematica TFA Study is Irrational Exuberance
“Does Not Compute”: Teach For America Mathematica Study is Deceptive?

3. When a Teach For America supporter says:  “Teach For America doesn’t take jobs from other teachers. Teach For America just provides corps members for regions that have teacher shortages.”

This is how you might respond: School districts run by politicians who are pushing for the corporate takeover of public education sign contracts with Teach For America to hire Teach For America corps members each year regardless of whether there is a qualified teacher shortage in the region or not. Chicago is a perfect example. In 2013, after closing 49 schools and laying off 850 teachers and staff because of “budget concerns”, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s hand-picked school board authorized an increase of 325 new Teach For America corps members at a cost to Chicago taxpayers of $1.6 million in addition to the salaries that the schools will pay Teach For America corps members. Teach For America corps members are now in direct competition with displaced teachers for available jobs at district schools and charter schools. Similar situations have occurred across the country includingBoston, New Orleans, and Newark.

4. When a Teach For America supporter says:  “Teach For America doesn’t take jobs from other teachers. Teach For America just provides teachers for subject areas that have teacher shortages.”

This is how you might respond: Teach For America’s school district contracts make clear that Teach For America teachers are to be considered for all open teaching positions in a district, not just hard to staff subject areas. Teach For America’s contract with Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Public School System explicitly states, “Teach For America Teachers will be hired by School District for vacancies across the full range of grades and subject matters and not restricted or limited to so-called ‘critical’ or ‘shortage’ subjects or grade level vacancies.”

5. When a Teach For America supporter says: “One third (33%) of Teach For America corps member alumni are still teaching.”

This is how you might respond: Teach For America’s data comes from their annual alumni survey. Unfortunately, Teach For America won’t provide that survey data to outside researchers to verify their claims. However, peer-reviewed research studies show that roughly only 20% of Teach For America corps members are still teaching anywhere after five years (the national average is approximately 50%).

6. When a Teach For America supporter says: “Two-thirds of Teach For America alumni remain in education”

This is how you might respond: Teach For America’s data comes from their annual alumni survey. Unfortunately, Teach For America won’t provide that survey data to outside researchers to verify their claims. However, it is widely accepted that many Teach For America alumni, including those who only taught for two or three years, go on to become principals at privately managed charter schools and run school districts. This begs the question, “Are novice teachers with 2-3 years experience really qualified to be running schools and districts?”

7. When a Teach For America supporter says: “Teach For America is not a part of a conspiracy to privatize education.”

This is how you might respond: In districts across the country, pro-business politicians are closing down public schools and replacing them with privately managed charter schools. Many recent court decisions have concluded that charter schools are not public schools even though they receive public money. A public entity is accountable to the public. A private enterprise is accountable to its board of directors and shareholders. Therefore, as public schools are closed and replaced by privately managed charter schools, the public school system is becoming privatized.

Teach For America’s role in this privatization agenda is by providing corps members to teach at the newly opened charter schools for wages that are often well below the first-year salary of local public school teachers. Recent documents revealed that many charter school management organizations are so dependent on Teach For America to provide them cheap labor that charter managers are reluctant to open new schools without Teach For America.

For more information on Teach For America’s connections to other agents in the privatization and corporate takeover of public education, read the report Mapping the Terrain: Teach For America, Charter School Reform, and Corporate Sponsorship by Teach For America alums, Kerry Ketchmar and Beth Sondel.

8. When a Teach For America supporter says: “Teach For America corps members will now have one year of training.”

This is how you might respond: This is a step in the right direction, but no details have emerged. Furthermore, it is being launched as a pilot program and will most likely not include all corps members. Therefore, Teach For America will still send thousands of the least prepared teachers into classrooms with children who have the greatest needs.

For all of Cloaking Inequity’s post on Teach For America click here.

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YOU CAN HELP: Do you have documents or information about TFA? Are you a TFA teacher that wants to share your experience in a blog. It’s okay if it doesn’t read like TFA’s slick promotion materials. Send to [email protected]

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Written in conjunction with Sarah Ishmael.

For more information go to:  http://cloakinginequity.com/


March 3, 2014 - 2:48 pm CST

In the middle of writing my piece on Jordan Davis and the lack of volume about the decision / non-decision on Michael Dunn, a few people bristled at the idea that Teach for America would use my piece as a rebuff of #ResistTFA, a trend started by education activists to combat the deleterious effects of Teach for America on K-12 education. Um, that’s not quite how it went down.

In fact, I knew about the hashtag, but I didn’t know when people would discuss this nor did I know that the conversation would make it to Al Jazeera or a few newspapers across the country. If anything, I wrote the Jordan Davis piece as its own isolated rejoinder to the ignorance I saw. I do mean ignorance in the truest sense of the word, for, to ignore this event is to ignore the students in front of you.

Unless you think you’re absolved from the results of a court case about a kid that looks like he could be my kid. Whatever works for you.

In any case, one commenter in particular found it curious that I would write this Davis piece because, “If the rule was that no one can speak out on an issue unless they have already spoken out on all the other concurrent tragedies, then everyone would have to go silent,” then went to try and challenge my record on these things.

A few things:

  • do speak to international issues, early and often. I speak on war, capitalism, race, gender, and homophobia frequently, but you’d actually have to know me to say that.
  • Me calling out folks for not speaking on these issues doesn’t dismiss any particular movement.
  • One of the more vocal people on this issue, Katie Osgood, actually did a lesson on Jordan Davis the day I published said piece, and I applauded it instantly.

But you don’t hear me though.

People want me to box me in because it behooves them. The “with us or against us” mentality helps people thick lines in the sand based on their handful of comfortable issues like Google’s latest gadgets, 1-to-1 laptop classrooms, teacher evaluation, Gates’ evil escapades, and standardized testing, as if our social ills would be instantly rectified if we just focused on the issues they only now deem relevant because it’s affecting their kids, too.

Yes, I #ResistTFA because Stephanie Rivera and Hannah Nguyen were a big part of it, and I also recognize that, while we want to reform the ways of the organization, we have a plethora of teachers in front of my kids right now, many of whom need to hear us out, not tune us out. There are teachers within TFA who agree with us and blend readily with us in marches and petition-writing campaigns. There’s also a multi-million dollar organization that negotiates with districts who, rather than have expert teachers in the neediest areas, hire novices who generally don’t see themselves as career teachers, symptomatic of a system willing to push students down a downward system of pipes meant to look like progress.

That’s called nuance, but you don’t hear me though.

Because, no matter the teacher in front of my son, I would love for her or him to have high expectations for him, a sense of cultural responsiveness, a good background in pedagogy and content knowledge, and a spine when my son needs them to have one. Perhaps I’m asking for too much, but, until them, I continue to advocate for an education system for our most in-need. This is part of an overall plan for racial justice that doesn’t just include electing a Black president.

It’s not over for me. Not by a long shot.


For more go to:  http://thejosevilson.com/

February 28, 2014 - 10:49 am CST

Broad Foundation emails indicate charter operators reluctant to expand without TFA presenceBy Chad Sommer and Jennifer BerkshireLast weekend, former Newark Starcolumnist Bob Braun published abombshell column, arguing that the state-appointed superintendent of Newark, NJ schools, Teach For America (TFA) alum Cami Anderson, wants to waive seniority rules to fire upwards of 700 tenured Newark teachers and replace a percentage of them with TFA recruits. Executive Director of Teach For America New Jersey, Fatimah Burnam Watkins, quickly dismissed Braun’s assertions as *conspiracy theories,* while claiming TFA has a small footprint in Newark.  But the heated back-and-forth misses the larger issue: TFA plays an increasingly essential role in staffing the charters that are rapidly expanding, replacing public schools from Newark to Philadelphia to Chicago to Los Angeles. In fact, newly released documents indicate that many charter operators won’t even consider opening new schools without TFA to provide a supply of *teacher talent.*TFA a requirementEmails sent by the Broad Foundation, a leading advocate of market-based education reform and charter expansion, and acquired through a freedom of information request, reveal that many charter management organizations consider TFA presence in a region a necessary prerequisite for opening new schools. According to the documents, charter management organizations including Rocketship, KIPP, Noble, LEARN and Uncommon Schools all indicated that a supply of TFA teachers was a general pre-condition for expanding into a new region. The emails, which detail the Broad Foundation’s failed efforts to lure high-performing charter operators to Detroit, were released as part of a trove ofthousands of documents requested as part of an investigation into Michigan’s embattled Education Achievement Authority.Greetings from the charter stateIn New Jersey, where controversial charter expansion plans have been unveiled in Newark and Camden, TFA is likely to play a key role in providing *local talent* to staff new schools. Cami Anderson’s One Newark education reform plan is predicated on 40% of Newark public schools becoming privately managed charter schools by the 2016-2017 school year. Meanwhile in Camden, yet another TFA-alum-turned-state-appointed-superintendent,Paymon Rouhanifard, has begun introducing local residents to the charter operators that will soon be *turning around* their public schools, but without naming the schools to be turned around. [Note: effective in the fall of 2014, TFA corps members in Newark, Camden and Trenton will all be managed under a single entity: TFA New Jersey]. Numbers gameIn Fatimah Burnam Watkins’ response to Bob Braun’s assertions, she points to the relatively tiny number of TFA corps members employed by the Newark Public Schools: *There are currently 65 TFA teachers in NPS schools (48 in their first year, 17 in their second year.* But as Watkins is no doubt aware, this number leaves out the corps members who are staffing local charter schools. If Newark bears any resemblance to neighboring Philly, the vast majority of corps members are now placed in charter schools—a pattern that is quickly becoming the norm in urban areas across the country. As previously documented on this site here and here, TFA has become an essential source of labor for urban charter schools.  The ROI of TFAWatkins also takes issue with Braun’s citing of a *months old* announcement from the Walton Family Foundation, TFA’s single largest funder, regarding a grant to recruit, train and support 370 TFA corps members in New Jersey. But it’s clear that the Walton Foundation, which has provided start-up fundingfor one out of four charter schools in the US, sees the expansion of TFA as key to its goal of *infusing competitive pressure into local schools systems.* In Los Angeles, the Walton Foundation, which is led by heirs to the Walmart fortune, has pumped millions of dollars into helping charters and TFA expand simultaneously. Last summer Walton gave TFA $20 million, much of it earmarked for the recruitment of 700 new TFA corps members in LA. An additional $4.5 million in start-up funds from Walton will help to open 23 new charter schools in the city. Ninety four percent of TFA corps members in LA last year were place in charter schools. The perfect fitCities from Newark to Chicago to Los Angeles to Philadelphia suffer from a surplus of experienced—read expensive—teachers. Add in the fact that the solidarity of a union doesn’t sit well with the privatization movement’s financial backers, and temporary, inexpensive Teach For America recruits are the obvious go-to. Anderson’s One Newark vision calls for the rapid expansion of charter schools, and by proxy, the growth of TFA. As Anderson puts it: *Teachers are selected because of their quality and ‘fit’ with the school mission.* If the mission is to drive down teacher pay, bust unions and burn out novice teachers every two years, then TFA is the perfect *fit.*Chad Sommer was a 2011 TFA corps member and taught 4th grade at Chicago’s Rudyard Kipling Elementary School. Jennifer Berkshire is the creator and editor of EduShyster.For more information go to: http://edushyster.com/