A Student, Future Teacher, and Educational Equity Activist’s Critique on Teach For America

Man, if I were all of you, I would think I was a bitter ol’ 20 year old who doesn’t like anything. I don’t blame you. But of course, that is not true (although I know many of my friends would beg to differ), I like many things. I just do not like lies, I do not like people being manipulated, and I especially do not like counter-productive approaches to “fixing our education system.” As you may have noticed, educational equity is kinda-sorta really important to me.

A few days ago I sent out a Tweet\Facebook status on how excited I was to meet other students who also did not support Teach For America. With that being said, I was not surprised when my phone started blowing up from Facebook messages\comments\tweetbacks (you would’ve thought people were accusing me of being the devil!). So rather than responding to each one individually, why not write an entire post? It was definitely a long time coming.

And I know many have made a claim that I am a criticizer rather than a builder. But, I’d like to argue constructive criticism is necessary for better things to be built. As I mentioned in my last post, I have a strange and unconditional love for the truth. I write such posts because fixing the educational inequity crisis is what I put my heart and soul and arms and legs and toes (you get the point) into. I made the statement many times before: I want to leave this world knowing I did whatever I could to make educational equity a reality. I refuse to realize what is prohibiting that, and simply move on.

To clarify early, I am not here to destroy or take down TFA. I simply do not support their approach. My goal of this post is to force others to question what they believe in. I am not telling anyone what to think, I am just putting out facts that aren’t easily recognized. If there is one thing I hope others can take away from my post, it is to compel others to start questioning everything.

*Note about this blog post, it is a little different than typical posts. I published this a little early before sending it out via social media because I wanted to gain some feedback before it hit the masses. With that being said, it seemed to reach the right people. One new and current TFA member read through my post and sent me her feedback. As a TFA member herself, she is a skeptic as well. I included her notes throughout the post just to provide perspective. I want to be as credible as possible when I make my critiques, so providing authentic feedback from an actual TFA Corp Member (CM) seems to be a step in the right direction.

Okay, finally, I’ll move on to the reason of this post. It’s pretty long, but definitely necessary.

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Reason #1: Students who go into TFA have good intentions, and that’s what scares me.

“I get a little nauseous on behalf of the bright-eyed young idealists who announce their plans to conquer educational inequity with such conviction. It makes me deeply uncomfortable to see them, because I recognize in them a less damaged version of myself.”
Former TFA Corp Member

“Starry-eyed grads are actually one of the worst part of the TFA program…you end up with people entering, thinking they will change the educational system by two years in an underserved school, look around and say “Oh, this is bulls**t.”

I Quit TFA, Will it Hurt Me? Question on Top-Law-Schools.com Forum

As I said before, I believe students who go into organizations such as SFER and TFA have good intentions, but that’s what’s so concerning. Students who genuinely want to make a difference are being made a fool–I was one of them.

Many people don’t know, but TFA was my life-long goal the second I discovered it my freshmen year in college (I’m going to be a junior now). I thought it was a path paved from the gods above. Going into underprivileged schools? Only the elite of the elite get accepted? Heck yea, how could I not want to be a  part of TFA?! Then, back in January (coincidentally when I started my blog), I saw Nancy Carlsson-Paige\Matt Damon’s mom decline her nomination for an Education Award because of its organization’s collaboration with TFA, I was beside myself. And as I read more into her reasoning, did more researching myself, I was livid. TFA decorated their organization, twisted my intentions, and made me support something I would never stand up for.

It’s critical we look beyond glorified missions. We must try to understand fully what type of impact the organizations we support are making. If this applies to you, why do you support TFA? Why do you want to join? Because you believe this is the path to fixing our education system? Because you want to become a life-long teacher? Because you believe every student regardless of where they come from deserves a chance? Great. But I promise, if you look around a little more, there’s much more out there than TFA.

[*Note from current TFA CM: "You're right that there are more organizations out there with the same end goal of TFA, but they are SO much harder to find on your own, which I think is why people choose to apply to TFA anyway; it's the path of least resistance.  AND TFA makes it so easy; they have campus recruiters on all of the major colleges whose sole job it is to get the best and the brightest (and a lot of them) to apply."]

And just keep in mind, via “Teach for America: What’s the Purpose?”

The two-year program that places recent college graduates into teaching positions at urban schools was initially started to fix a teaching shortage.

Teach for America is a nonprofit organization whose vision is that “one day, all children in our nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education” (Kopp 2001, 174). Its goal is to provide a corps of excellent teachers for inner-city and rural areas where chronic teacher shortages occur.” 

And, to those going into it because they aspire to be long-life educators, here are words from TFA’s CEO, Wendy Kopp herself:

“TFA is not a teaching organization, but rather a leadership development organization.”

If leadership is what you want, please go somewhere else. Don’t put students’ lives at risk just because you want to become a better leader.

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Reason #2: Old TFA Corp Members Are Speaking Up 

I’ve never been a TFA corp member, so I fully understand my perspective is limited. To level my argument, I’ll let some of the ones who have experienced TFA on a first hand basis speak for themselves:

July 15, 2012 - Why I Quit Teach for America

TFA used to be a solution to a problem of teacher shortages in high-need areas, but now it has itself become the problem. I won’t pretend that quitting wasn’t selfish, but I haven’t regretted it for a second. I quit for myself, to save my health and sanity.

June 12, 2012 - Why I Quit TFA after my first year | Mr. Parello Sensei

Despite my first year disillusionment with TFA, I do not oppose the organization and I started a blog on this site with the aim of adding my voice to those wanting to improve the organization, not undermine it. 

May 28, 2012 - Occupy TFA | 1991 TFA Alumni

One of the ironies of TFA is that while they select corps members because of their leadership potential, they also expect those same future transformational leaders to be very obedient followers during training.  Though TFAers joke about ‘Drinking The Kool-Aid,’ and taking a blind leap of faith, it is worth noting that the ‘Kool Aid’ thing is a reference to a cult mass suicide in the 1970s.

[*Note from current\new TFA member: "The "Occupy TFA" post is so true.  My group at Institute (what they call our 5 week long summer training) ran into some "push back" as TFA calls it when we would question things - even if they needed to be questioned.  They expect you to be leaders, but only the types of leaders who subscribe to the TFA way of thinking."]

May 19, 2012 - Why I Left Teach for America | Teaching in the D

To any current or future corps member, please remember that you can be happy. If that’s being in the corps, then do it with all your might and know there is a silent corps ready to support you. But if it isn’t, don’t be afraid to leave.

May 17, 2012 - I’ve Always Hated Teach for America – Reasons Why I Quit 5 Years Ago

I joined Teach for America when I graduated from undergrad with the intention of using it as a tool to get me in a school and teach for the rest of my life. Much to my surprise, I found out rather quickly how TFA has no intention of creating life-long educators.

December 19, 2011 - Why I Don’t Teach For America Anymore

 Another not so ugly truth is my students are not charity cases. They deserve a legitimate teacher, not some idealistic graduate student barely scraping by with her sanity.

September 7, 2011 - Why I Quit Teach for America

 If it wasn’t for the kids, I wouldn’t be here.  I would not have stayed this long.  And I also feel I am leaving for the kids.  I can better serve the kids in a different role.  Do I know what that role is yet?  No, but I know that I won’t discover it by struggling through two years in a classroom, checking illusory boxes that don’t actually put me any closer to discovering what role I will play. 

October 31, 2011 - Why I Did TFA and why you shouldn’t

If I were ‘America’ I would have this to say to TFA:  While I appreciate your offer to ‘teach’ for me, I’ve already got enough untrained teachers for my poorest kids.  And if teaching is just a stepping stone, for you, on the path to becoming an influential education ‘leader,’ thanks, but no thanks to that too.

August 30, 2011 - TFA: A Disillusioned Corps Member’s Experience

When one of my special needs students couldn’t tell me how many quarters were in a dollar, should I have skipped over that information to make sure he can find the surface area of a cylinder because he’ll be tested on it? The answer from both my TFA and charter school supervisors was “Yes.”

[*Note from current\new TFA member: "The "TFA: A Dissillusioned CMs experience" post is also very accurate,  TFA cares so much about data and even describes itself as a data driven organization.  They want us as teachers to get the students to pass their end of course/end of grade (EOC/EOG) tests, even if that doesn't necessarily meant that they are learning what should be important.  At Institute, we are taught to "align" our entire lesson to the post test the student take at the end of the summer school program that tells you (and more importantly, TFA) how well you've taught your students.  Only, "aligning" is another way of saying "teach to the test." And if your problems in your lesson didn't match up perfectly to the test, you were told to redoit until the did.]

May 22, 2011 – Answers (Or, how it feels to quit TFA) | The Untold Teacher Story

 I sat through a workshop at a TFA Professional Development Saturday last November designed to help solve management issues, and I was stunned by the sense of despair that permeated the room.  In a group of perhaps twenty corps members, everyone was on the verge of giving up.  And everyone gave the same reasons:  “I stand there, and I talk, and then I yell, and then I beg, and then I threaten, and still no one has heard a word I’ve said.  It’s like I’m invisible.  I might as well not be there.”

March 5, 2011 - Why I Am Quitting TFA

Do I disagree with TFA’s mission?  Not even the slightest bit.  Do I think that TFA works, though?  I can only speak from personal experience, and I have to say the heartbreaking word that none of us want to hear — the very same word that I should have said in my own fateful email last November:  No.

May 18, 2010 - Why I Quit Teach For America

I don’t think I view the group with any kind of outright hostility…(I think the group is very aware of its flaws, and is working…relentlessly…to fix them), but I couldn’t feel good about what I was doing.

April 7, 2010 - True Confessions of a TFA Drop-Out

She said that she also gets nervous when people say they are thinking of joining Teach for America: “How do you tell them, ‘Teach for America took the brightest, most amazing person I knew and just totally F***ED her.’”

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Reason #3: 5 Weeks of training are simply not enough

[*Note from current TFA CM: I totally agree that 5 weeks is not enough time (although trust me, TFA tries their hardest). You have hours and hours of sessions, and they constantly ask for and use feedback to improve the training process. There is still a long way to go for them to perfect it, but it isn't as bad as most people think - including me before I went through it.

My problem -one that so often gets overlooked in criticisms of TFA - is that we totally and completely screw over the summer school students. These are kids who NEED the very best teachers...I had some students who were 15, 16, even one who was 17 years old who were trying to graduate middle schools and they legitimately could not do long division and did not know their most basic multiplication facts, and they were given a brand new, learning as we go, "fake it til you make it" teacher? Are you out of your mind?! And the worst part about all of this is that TFA says it's all about "student achievement," but I really think that anyone with even the most basic critical thinking skill set can see that Institute is less about student achievement and more about corps member training.]

I cannot stress this enough. First, the lack of proper training often throws teachers in classrooms where they are poorly prepared. A former TFA corp member and current education reformist, Michelle Rhee, said she “was incredibly bad” her first year. If you’re interested, you can read more into the struggles current\former TFA members here.

The time teachers spend on struggling in the classroom is valuable learning time students cannot get back. Yes, I understand there are cases where teachers get it on their first shot (so much kudos). But why, why, why insist on risking it? These students aren’t laboratory rats to perform experiments on. We don’t have this kind of time to wait around waiting for TFA to perfect their 5 weeks of training–it’s been 20 years already. These are students’ futures we have on the line, why insist on putting them at more risk than they already are at?

Furthermore, I understand some people who go into TFA have some experience in the education field, but that’s less than half:

Would you want a doctor who has only had 5 weeks of training? And if your response was, “But that’s different,” then that’s a problem in itself.

The fact that our nation fails to take the profession of educators seriously is one of the main reasons that has allowed our education system to become what it has. I know that not all teachers are the best, but I also know attacking teachers as a whole is not the right path to take if we want to fix our education system. After all (even TFA says it themselves), education changes lives, so why not give educators the credit and support they deserve?

My point is, TFA is another attack on not only teachers, but current students who are in the education field. It deprofessionalizes the teaching profession. It takes away our dignity. From the perspective of a student studying education, it’s insulting. It’s basically saying that what I choose to study for years as an undergrad, as well as put myself in debt for, are things that can be learned in 5 weeks.

Ok.

[*Note from current TFA corp member: We're working 15 hour days 5 days a week with most of our planning and prep taking place on the weekends.  I understand that you don't think it's adequate for a teacher's training (and I don't either), but don't discredit all the work we did while going through it.  It's a miserable 5 weeks where you have about 4 or 5 hours of sessions, an hour to an hour of a half of teaching, and many more hours of planning and prepping that go into it.  On top of all of that, some CMs still take even more time to go in early or stay after school to tutor their students to ensure they're getting as much help as possible, as well as making home visits to drop work off or spend more one on one time tutoring.]

Even further, TFA puts the most inexperienced teachers in the most high-need schools. Through mentoring students from high-poverty areas, and attending their student panels, I often ask, “What advice do you have for current and future teachers?” Their response: “Get experience. Please.” I could go on for another couple paragraphs on the complexities of being a teacher, but that would again stray away from the point. If you want me to go further into it, feel free to e-mail me and I’d be happy to talk further.

It was, in no uncertain terms, instructional planning boot camp, and I couldn’t have wished for a better introduction to the ins and outs of the first domain of the Danielson framework for teaching—planning and preparation. However, once I was teaching, I had education classes two nights a week after working a nine-hour day, weekend professional development, and regular meetings with my supervisor. At the same time, I was expected to teach while, truth be told, I was still learning how to do it. My students were my guinea pigs, and I was exhausted. – Genie Albina, Former TFA corp

I would simply urge CMs to try to have some perspective. Most CMs (myself included) came from high achieving backgrounds and were constantly being told how smart and talented we were. For many CMs, being a teacher is the first thing many of us ever *truly* had to struggle with academically or professionally. And that can be depressing…particularly when you’re accustomed to being successful at everything. – Hannah, Former TFA corp member on why she left

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Reason #4: 2 Years (If you make it) are also not enough

TFA corp members go into high-need, underprivileged schools for 2 years. I don’t know how many are familiar with such environments, but many of these students already deal with instability. I cannot see the benefit of throwing teachers (with minimal experience) in there who are going to come, know they are going grow close to students, and then leave in a few short years. If you go back to the examples I stated above, you see how some corp members leave even before their 2 years are up. In addition, in a study done by the Harvard Graduate School of Education on Teach For America, “…an estimated 56% of TFA teachers left their initial school within their first two years of teaching.”

But why does the amount of years a teacher teach matter?

A study done by three researchers from University of Michigan, Standford, and University of Virginia found that:

Though there may be cases where turnover is actually helpful to student achievement, on average, it is harmful…Implementing such policies may be especially important in schools with large populations of low-performing and black students, where turnover has the strongest negative effect on student achievement.

But what about the CMs who stay in the teaching field? According to TFA, nearly two-thirds of CMs continue working in education after their two years. In the same Harvard study stated above, it found:

24% of the teachers are predicted to have remained in teaching beyond 6 years

Yet, this same exact study states:

By the end of 6 years, when data collection ceased, fewer that 10% of the original group of teachers are predicted to have remained in their initial school.

Former TFA member and current educator, Gary Rubinstein, analyzes this issue here.

I want to make a note that some who enter TFA may not stay in the education field, but go into their next careers with more concern for education–which I think is great. But, once again, TFA shouldn’t be what introduces the issues in our education system. Maybe a nationwide movement that requires an education related course to be taken at the university level, or even at the primary ed level. I do believe our society as a whole should know the truth of what is going on in our education system, but I don’t think we should be risking students’ education and lives along the way. If TFA had 90% of their corp members staying in the education field after their 2 years were up, then it would be a totally different story.

“….the achievement gap that TFA says it is committed to closing will require new, gifted teachers to join the profession and stick with it for far more than two years.”
-Former TFA corp member

[Note from current TFA CM: Agree 2 years is not enough, BUT I don't think you should discredit the 79% who don't stay in education long term.  While some do the 2 years as a resume booster (although in my so far limited experience, this seems like it is a very small section of CMs), many do TFA and then take their experience and go into law or policy and try to change the very things they experienced as teachers and try to improve the achievement gap that way. I think we both agree that the gap can't be attributed solely to teachers or schools, but to a more systematic problem with our society, and I don't think you should count out the TFA alums who try to combat it in a way outside of the classroom. ]

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Reason #5: Where is the student voice?

One thing TFA does do is provide research. Unfortunately, I do not have time to go about and read through every single one of these pieces of evidence to see if they are credible or misleading. But, I have to give them credit for providing it.

[*Edit - Someone shared an article that critiques TFA's research: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/teach-for-america-research-questioned/2011/12/12/gIQANb40rO_blog.html]

I also want to make note on their videos. It’s great to see the TFA corp members videos throughout their website speaking on behalf of the success. But, what I think would really make them credible is hearing the students perspective–after all, it’s about the students, isn’t it? Let’s hear from them.

With that being said, maybe students in these urban schools don’t want TFA corp members. A student who has TFA corp members in her school wrote a poem called, “Hallelujah, the Saviors are Here.”

“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…
and not the ones trying to do the black community
a couple favors.”

The article on the 18-year-old senior and full poem can be found here. I understand this is only one of thousands of students who have had TFA teachers, but I definitely think this is significant food for thought.

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Reason #6: TFA & Charter Schools

I honestly didn’t even know TFA supported charter schools until a current TFA CM (whose name I will not disclose) brought it to my attention. She e-mailed me questioning why I didn’t support TFA, because she is also skeptical.

my most serious concern with TFA is the emphasis they place on charter schools.  I think that the more focus there is on charter schools and school vouchers reliable options for our educational inequality woes there is, the less of a focus there is on what we actually need to do – fix our public school education system.  In my opinion, charter schools are actually extending the achievement gap, not closing it as they are credited with doing, because even to just apply to one parents often must have the knowledge, resources, and time to make it happen.  Anyway, I can go on and on about my dislike of charter schools but I’ll stop here for now.  

Now, if you’d like to see my other arguments against charter schools, feel free to see my posts about SFER. As the corp member above mentioned, many people could go on forever discussing issues held against charters. But, once again, I do not want to stray too far away from the point of the article. For the sake of my post, I’ll throw out a couple quick points:

      • Saves a few, while leaving many behind

 

      • Supporters of charters claim they are performing better than public, when research proves there isn’t much of a difference

 

 

      • From UCLA Civil Rights Project:
        • “…targeted recruitment of students could help charter schools accomplish achievement promises made to their private funders.”
      • Corporate Agenda

      • It’s deterring from issue at hand (Will be discussed later)

[Note from current TFA CM: Also, the problem with charter schools and research is that many supporters say that students in charter schools do better than those who don't, but the actuality of the situation is that students who APPLY to charter schools, regardless of admittance, do better than those who don't apply because they come from a different background than those who do not apply. (I'll try and find this article and send it to you!)

Fun Fact that I'm not sure if you know: Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of TFA is married to one of the co-founders of KIPP. UGH is all I have to say on that topic.]

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Reason #7: Teach For America has donors from large organizations, corporations, and banks such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and much more. Why are the corp members asking for donations?


These donors have donated “over the past 20 years to partner with us to expand the movement for educational excellence and equity. List current as of 1/15/12″

Call me crazy, but this looks like a lot of money–and this isn’t even all the donors. Full list can be seen here.

Regardless, over 600 TFA Corp Members are asking for donations on DonorsChoose.org. Meaning even though TFA has multiple large organizations donating millions to them, they can’t seem to afford basics such as scissors and construction paper.

Do not get me wrong, I think DonorsChoose.org is great. And it kills me knowing students don’t have access to such basic supplies. But, think of all the other teachers and students out there who aren’t with TFA, who don’t have a big organization backing them up that gets funded millions a year. I’m not blaming the corp members for asking, I am questioning where the priorities of TFA lie. Why use money to give 9,000 new Ipads out to TFA corp members, when the students you are supposed to be helping can’t even have markers?

And just more food for thought, according to Charity Navigator Rating, TFA had money left over in 2010. Their “4 star” accountability rate was published in 2012, but the most recent info on their income statement is the one presented below from 2010.

And most recently, they will also be receiving even more donations from benefit concert, Teachers Rock.

[Notes from current TFA CM: 

We, as TFA corps members, do not personally see any of that money. We're completely on our own for financing this entire thing... The most help I got from TFA was them hosting a google doc that listed who was driving, who was flying, and who needed a ride.We're on our own for everything that's associated with our new job...

*A note: TFA does provide you the opportunity to apply for "transitional funding" in the forms of 0% interest loans and (for a lucky few) grants - but these are only a few thousand dollars as max and most must be paid back within your 2 year commitment.]

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Reason #8: TFA makes way for a culture of racial oppression

After this weekend at the National Student Power Convergence, there was a fantastic workshop done by Nayantara Sen from Color Lines and the Applied Research Center. The workshop was focused on acknowledging our privileges and oppression, both at which she noted are essential to our social justice work.

Personally, I have found discussing one’s own race and privilege something that is rarely discussed. We live in a time where many still believe, “Oh, I don’t even see color!” is the means of being anti-racist (which is completely wrong. By not acknowledging race or one’s ethnicity, you are ignoring a very significant part one’s being). But I can leave that talk for another time. My point here is, I applaud TFA for wanting to create more diversity in their program, but they are failing. And like I mentioned before, how much time can we afford to let go to waste?

“In many segregated urban schools, then nonwhite students face white teachers all day and often come to see them as a part of the structure of authority of the state” [1].

With schools more segregated than they were in 1968 [2], and then glorifying a program that (even if unintentionally) makes whites–as the student above puts it–be “saviors,” TFA contributes to the growing racial dividing line. The structure of TFA puts forth the idea that those of color need whites to save them, it reinforces the idea that whites will always be above. I know this may not be the intention at all, but that is why we must reconsider the impact our actions are making.

And as a former TFA corp member said these students “aren’t charity cases.”

[Note from current TFA CM: TFA wants more diversity but expects it's corps members to lay out literally thousands of dollars of their own money in the summer that is for most of us between college graduation and our first real paycheck.  It is nearly impossible to do TFA unless you

1) have a significant savings account

2) go into even further debt

3) rely on parents or other friends or family members to pay for your materials

4) some combination of the 3.  How can TFA expect college students who come from disadvantaged or low income backgrounds to even AFFORD to take on this job?  It's no wonder they're severely lacking in diversity. ]

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Reason #9: We are battling the symptoms, not the sickness.

Moreover, the stakes are too high to waste time on this front.  We can’t get it right ten years down the road, because by then an entire decade of America’s youth will be hurt by our missteps.  We need an overhaul that fixes it here, and now.  No more alternative schools …  No more mass teacher firings – we’re playing a misdirected blame game.  No more arguments over assessment data.  We need to change the default operating system in our schools.

Former TFA corp member

Trust me, I get it. Just because a student comes from a low-income background, that does not make him or her any less smarter than those in wealthier areas. They deserve just an equal chance than those in wealthier area (this idea itself is how my blog started). But, we cannot just focus on the achievement gap alone. There are much greater problems at the core of “the achievement gap” that I feel many are not realizing. Many are stuck in the belief that schools or teaching alone can fix these inequalities–maybe that is possible, but it may not be the most efficient way to go. We can cure a couple symptoms here and there, but we cannot ignore the sickness expecting the symptoms never to come back again.

I know teachers alone can’t save the education system. With everything inside of me, I strongly believe we collectively as a nation must put education and poverty at the forefront of our concerns. Do not mistake me for a cynic, I do believe in making the best of the worst situations. I mentor students who face dangers of living in a high-poverty area, I’ve donated multiple times to classrooms in need, I take part in battling the symptoms, too. But that does not mean we should passively accept the fact that our youth are being damaged by something bigger. We cannot keep throwing all these small antidotes at the symptoms expecting everything to be fixed. Yes, the intentions are marvelous, the mission is beautiful, and it all sounds fantastic. But, this is not going to close the achievement gap. TFA may be “saving” a few students, but there are too many students being left behind in the process. Why save a few when there is a way to save many?

I am not expecting this blog post alone to change your mind. I just hope that it forces you to question your morals and your values when facts are handed to you.

Again, I applaud the intent many students have when they go into TFA. But our country, our students, and our schools need more than just charity and sympathy. Start challenging and questioning why this is happening. Our country shouldn’t even need TFA. Why do dozens of large corporations have enough money to flood into this organization, but we have a million homeless students in our own country? On one end, we have students from high-poverty areas who come from broken homes, are surrounded by gang-violence, do not have access to quality health care, and have the extra struggle learning because English is not their native language (and that’s just to name a few). On the other end, we have students who come from wealthier families, have access to advance technology, get the highest quality books, and so on. Regardless of these extreme differences from the start, our policy makers, reformers, even society as a whole, expects students on completely different ends to excel at the same rate. To me, I just do not see how this is possibly “equal opportunity.” If we do not focus on the core of the problem, then we are choosing to consciously fight a battle that is set to destroy us from the start.

TFA says, “Poverty is not a destiny,” ok. But poverty is promoting inequality. Research shows that relieving families of some of the stresses of poverty does help to raise educational achievement in students [3], so why are we ignoring the flashing red lights standing right in front of our face? Until you choose to acknowledge poverty as one of the key elements of our broken education system, then we will never reach our goal on closing the achievement gap. Period.

Page 35 – Education and Capitalism – Jeff Bale & Sarah Knopp

So now what?

One issue that has me stuck is, I provide facts, but what’s next? I’ve found that many hold similar views. But, as I mentioned, I do not want to take down or destroy any organization–that goal would just be too attack-driven, and not enough building-driven. I could spend the rest of my life spitting out facts or trying to “take down” organizations, or I could build the alternative.

And that’s what I want to do, and I can’t do it alone.

In addition to the initial form on my SFER post, together I hope to build some type of alternative. [Note - This would be the same alternative proposed for SFER]. Whether you are a student, an educator, or a supporter, you have a place in this new opportunity. We are still in the very early brainstorming stage, so if you do not want to be involved but want to offer ideas, we are willing to hear them. (For instance, should be a campaign or an organization? If an organization, what type of actions should be implement?) All ideas are welcome. I can get a googlegroup going, schedule some conference calls, draft up a website to organize our information–this has a lot of potential, but having a team is absolutely crucial. (Please see interest form below)

If the idea of an alternative doesn’t appeal to you, that’s understandable. If you want to look at some other types of alternatives that exist, please shoot me an e-mail and I’d be glad to recommend some organizations that fit into your interest.

Again, I am always open for discussion, and would love to hear as much feedback as possible on this post.

Keep fighting the good fight,

Stephanie Rivera

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[1] Bale, Kopp, Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012 (28)

[2] Bale, Kopp, Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012 (27)

[3] Bale, Kopp, Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012 (35)

39 thoughts on “A Student, Future Teacher, and Educational Equity Activist’s Critique on Teach For America

  1. Dude, you’re making a wonderful statement on a program that is truly hypocritical and useless. However, your poor grammar and inarticulate proclivities obscure otherwise decent points behind a giant veil of ‘Holy hell, you go to Rutgers?’ thoughts. This may be SPAWNED by a Facebook comment, but leaving it sounding like one won’t really help create a legitimate feeling toward the points you are making. Editing, parsing it with a proper eye, and rephrasing run-on sentences MAY just be advisable. There are moments that it’s clear you can write more fluently and precisely, so do that and express that. People less amenable to your position will read through this and knock on your mastery of the wording, using it as a springboard from which to denounce your entire critique.

  2. I wonder if you might sound less biased if you talked to TFA corps members and alumni who didn’t hate their experience in some way or become disillusioned. You should also keep in mind that it is very difficult to generalize across regions. While TFA is a national organization, how the Bay Area operates is different from how the Delta operates which is different how New York City operates, and that’s not just TFA as an organization but how the schools partner with the organization as well. TFA teachers do still serve in areas where there are teacher shortages, of that I assure you. Did you also know that at Institute, TFA pays for all corps members’ housing, 3 meals a day, resources, copy paper, staff, etc.? I am guessing that’s where a lot of the money goes.

    • Thank you for your suggestion, S. Definitely good advice I’ll take into consideration if I do a post like this again. And thank you for pointing out how TFA differs across regions. And no, I did not know that about the institute. The person who I am contact with\the new TFA Corp Member told me:

      “We’re completely on our own for financing this entire thing, including transportaion to and from our mandatory, unpaid summer training that can be thousands of miles from your placement region. In my case I had to travel 1,200 miles to get to Institute, and chose to drive to save money. The most help I got from TFA was them hosting a google doc that listed who was driving, who was flying, and who needed a ride.”

      • Just FYI, there are transitional grants and interest-free loans available to EVERY corps member who demonstrates need by applying for one to cover institute costs. Its unfortunate that, if the CM who emailed you needed it, she did not take advantage of that fund, and if she is in need of further assistance, I’d recommend to her that she gets in touch with her region.

        Thus, corps members use donors choose (as I’m sure you will when you’re a teacher), TFA CMs are employees of the district who make the same starting teacher salary as everyone else, and thus, like most teachers, pay for supplies out of their own pockets or via donations.

        The majority of the money TFA National receives is, as your graphic pointed out, used for recruiting and training corps members. (An above poster was right in that a large chunk of that goes to institutes). These costs are important to note, as, while it’s absolutely true that TFA is not nearly as diverse as it needs to be, it has a higher proportion of people of color in it’s 2011 and 2012 corps than are coming out of undergraduate or graduate schools of education. The work toward creating a more diverse corps is very explicit: http://www.teachforamerica.org/diversity-statement You should also know that the entirety of the pre-work Corps Members are now responsible for is an exploration of Race, Class and Privilege-a curriculum that, while not perfect, is ongoing throughout a corps members 2-year training and support.

        I don’t agree with many of your thoughts here because some of them (as I and others have pointed to) are factually inaccurate or misinformed. That said, I think you have some very sound criticism-some of which I agree with and speak up about-and I do want you to know that people at TFA see/hear these things, and we are TALKING and WORKING on much of it. At the end of the day, our common enemy is educational inequity, so we are constantly striving to do better, which means taking seriously the criticism of those who don’t agree with us.

        Moreover, I appreciate the way you take feedback, as evidenced by your responses in this column post. If we were all having the conversation in the way you are, kids would be better off, because adults would be acting rationally.

        In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an alum of the program and a current staff member (I have spent time in the government sector as well, outside of this org.), and am happy to provide you a varied perspective or any information that may prove helpful-not to change your mind necessarily, but just to help you paint the fullest picture possible. You’ve started a solid dialogue here, for certain.

        I have no doubt that your future students will be very blessed to have you, and thank you for your dedication to this fight.

      • Hi Miss Packnett,

        I apologize for my extremely delayed response. But I wanted to thank you for taking the time to read my post, and for providing important points to think about. As I mention often, I know I have a lot left to learn, and I’m happy my blog posts can serve as a platform. I hope you continue visiting my blog and offer your insight as I believe I have a lot to learn from others, even those I may not immediately agree with. Thank you again.

        Best,
        Stephanie

  3. Honestly, I’m just disappointed by this post. You, and others, spend SO much time researching why organizations aren’t instantaneously solving a crisis in our education system (and country as a whole)… spinning facts to look like negatives. Of course, feedback, with a critical eye, is needed to make organizations better and more effective; however, complaints from people who aren’t actually doing anything isn’t productive or helping kids read, motivating them to want more out of life, rise above their situations, etc. That, coupled with a shameless posting of your link on TFA’s information for people who ARE actually interested in making a change, is just distasteful. You should spend your time actually DOING something. Over half of Teach For America alums stay in education and continue to fight for their kids and empower their communities. Teach For America isn’t a faceless corporation made up of people using kids as a stepping stone. There are corps members with their fellow teachers fighting for their kids every single day for a better life and demanding a better education for their kids. Rather than attempting to sway others from dedicating their lives to changing our nation, go to a classroom- live their life. Work alongside of corps members and veteran teachers (…not just the skeptical ones- but the ones who love what they do and why they do it). Then, pass your own judgment.

    • Instantaneously solving a crisis! TFA has been around for twenty years. What is their mission anyway….to destroy
      the teaching profession?

      They are taking jobs where teachers have been laid off. They are not filling a shortage in all cities. In some areas TFA temps are viewed as SCABS.

      They have a 300 million dollar surplus and they are the benefit of a fundraiser being held in a city where there are homeless, abused and hungry children. They get millions from the federal government while also charging fees for each member and another fee on top of that. They love to lie and gloat about their temps being more effective than the lazy unionized veteran teadhers. They no longer serve their original mission, which I believe has something to do with the achievement gap. Twenty years? Maybe TFA is the status quo!

      This is a money making venture that benefits the Kopp/Barth household. The brand name is now viewed as another faux reform organization cashing in on the public trough while feigning concern for the poor minority children.

      Why don’t you ask Wendy to donate the proceeds from the Teachers Rock concert to a local homeless shelter in
      LA? She has 300 million in surplus and she is running a “non-profit”. I think she could spare a half a million, don’t you?

      Be informed: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/16/usa-education-teachforamerica-idUSL2E8JF8NT20120816

      • I totally agree with you, Linda. TFA as an organization has at best strayed from their original goal, and at worst become just another corrupt organization seeking to profit from education without providing a valuable service.

        As for Nikki – if you read the poster’s profile, you’ll see that she is studying to be a teacher and is an activist looking for better solutions than the weak one provided by TFA. After teaching 14 years, and knowing there’s always more to learn, I definitely appreciate people willing to complete more in-depth training *before* they walk into a classroom and make guinea pigs of their students. It’s hard enough to do a good job in your first year after the year or two of classes and semester of student teaching required of university teacher preparation programs. How sad that the most disadvantaged students have to endure the least prepared teachers, many of whom don’t even complete one school year!

        I’m tired of seeing public schools starved of funding through schemes like this one that require schools to pay for a teacher and a half to get one barely-prepared teacher. What a waste of taxpayer money! Every student deserves a quality school with a highly qualified teacher.

        Many thanks to Stephanie for taking a deeper look at this organization. This kind of reflection is what will enable Stephanie and the education profession to improve.

    • Hi Nikki,

      Thank you for your response, I really appreciate it. I am amazed how quick you are to attack my criticism and tell me to do something. If you would have simply read a little bit further about what I do, you’d see I’m in school. Also, that I mentor at a high-poverty high school, provide positive activities for students in these under-served students, was a teacher’s assistant this summer, part of an organization that reaches out to New Brunswick–but I’m not here to laundry list to disprove your quite ignorant response. In addition to the fact that this blog IS doing something. Knowledge is quite valuable and important to share with others–no? That’s why I blog.

      Again, I appreciate your response.

      Sincerely,

      Stephanie

  4. Excellent article. I appreciate all of the links that you provided. Have you shared and discussed this with your professors and fellow students in the education department at Rutgers University?

    • Hi Betsy,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my response. I hope to discuss it with a couple professors this upcoming semester to get their feedback. Very curious what their thoughts are!

      - Stephanie

  5. Very good multi-faceted critique of TFA! I’m glad to see college kids questioning how TFA operates.
    In case you haven’t checked it out, I maintain the reconsideringtfa.wordpress.com site which is a resource of critical commentary and links to research on TFA.

  6. Pingback: A Student, Future Teacher, and Educational Equity Activist’s Critique on Teach For America | Reconsidering TFA

  7. Stephanie,

    I also almost fell for the TFA advertising campaign. I come from a lower-income background and jumped at the chance to give back to my community through education. But then I sat down and really thought about it, and arrived at many of the same conclusions you did. They sure do employ some good ad people. Their campaign makes sense when you hear it, and doesn’t give people with a background in disciplines other than education a reason to question anything they’re saying.

    I instead did an alternative program where I was placed as a teaching assistant with a lead certified teacher, getting to help kids by lowering the student:teacher ratio but without potentially screwing up their education by not knowing what the heck I was doing. I’ve finished my second year of co-teaching and now more than ever I’m sure that this was the right decision for me. I’ve had two years to learn and perfect my teaching and classroom management styles. Although I still have a lot to learn, when I step into my own classroom I can feel confident in what I’m doing and know I’ll truly be helping kids, not hurting them.

    I applaud you for writing this post. As many have said, the research is amazing and I am impressed by your perspective and maturity. Keep speaking out. Knowledge is power. After all, hat’s what “an excellent education” should be all about. Right?

    • A, I’m curious what teaching assistant program you are a part of? I was seriously considering TFA but after everything I’ve learned about it, I just don’t feel like I could enter in with a clear conscience…

    • Hi A,

      I apologize for the delayed response. Thank you for reading my (extremely) long post and for your words of encouragement. It’s great to hear you found yourself in an alternative program, and it’s even greater to hear you’re happy with your decision. I believe if we find a way to continue not only spreading knowledge, but opportunities such as the alternate you’re involved in, we can bring forth needed change.

  8. Pingback: Response to Student’s Response on my TFA Post « Teacher Under Construction

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  11. I’d just add that there’s this assumption that input into educational policy by TFA members who taught for a while is automatically a good thing. Policy doesn’t work that way. Intervention could be either good or bad. In my experience, the lack of understanding that most corp and former corp members have of educational policy means then didn’t spend enough time in the classroom before moving on to enact poor policy.

    If you are working for a reactionary educational advocacy group post TFA, let’s be real, you aren’t doing anything to close the “achievement gap”. You are profiting off the dissemination of policy that hurts kids.

  12. Pingback: Stephanie Rivera « Rutgers Creative Blogging Fall 2012

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  16. Hi Stephanie,

    I was a 2011 Corps member and left the program in December 2011. From time to time, I follow what’s going on behind the TFA scenes, aka from people like you. I can’t agree enough with your blog. I have a lot of guilt still from leaving TFA but it’s very uplifting to read something like this. Glad you’re passionate about education in a far more productive manner than TFA is.

    It’s articles like this that the world needs to see more of in a more public setting. People need to see the criticisms of an organization and really consider them before jumping in after hearing all the good stuff. I wish I had considered more.

    Thanks!

  17. Pingback: Another person’s thoughts on Teach for America | eastendenigma's Blog

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