Teach for America: Here We Go Again

It's been so long since I last complained about Teach for America, I apparently just couldn't go another day without. Now is a particularly conflicting time for me as some of the first students I taught are being accepted into Teach for America. In the last weeks, I've gotten more than a few Facebook messages from former students either telling me of their acceptance or asking my opinion.

I have no idea how to react. There's a part of me that wants to go on a tirade, wants to tell them everything I think about TFA. And there's another part of me that is so proud of their commitment to education, because I don't think I have any former students who are using TFA to get into law school or work in Congress.

It's just so frustrating to listen to those new to the profession preach about their commitment to educational equity without the necessary understanding of what really drives policy and inequity.

Alas, I should keep my mouth shut. I was no different six years ago. I did not have the background knowledge I have now, and I was downright ignorant of the way education policy works and what drives it. (Inequity is no accident.)

My frustration has me typing this blog post on TFA's cons (more for my own purposes than anyone else's - plenty of capable bloggers and journalists have done extensive work on reasons to be wary of TFA here, here, here, here, and here). In essence, I'm trying to figure out how to explain my worries about Teach for America to a soon-to-be college graduate without sounding like a crackpot. How can I tell them what I worry about without making them think I'm against their ambitions? Without being overly vitriolic?

Let's see what I can do....

Without boring the hell out of you, I think there are four main reasons I have such a problem with Teach for America.

1) It assumes that quality teaching is an effect of innate ability and passion rather than experience. It uses this specious line of argument to place woefully under-prepared 22-year-olds (the majority of whom do not stay in classrooms long enough to learn from their errors) in front of our most underprivileged students whose quality education demands so much more. On top of this, it expects these poor recruits to be doing graduate school work WHILE teaching. Perhaps more detrimental, TFA, along with the media, have found a way to convince the public that this is appropriate.

(Side story: I was in a doctor's office in Manhattan last year getting tests done to try to determine the origin of some weird chest pains when the doctors asked what I did for a living. I told them, and they asked if I was in Teach for America. My expression must have betrayed my feelings because they asked what problems I had with the organization. I just shook my head. "Who's going to teach those kids if not for TFA?" they asked. "How about qualified professionals?" I said coldly. "I wouldn't feel very good right now if you two were just out of undergrad and about to go to med school, would I?")

2) Teach for America indoctrinates its recruits into a vision of quality teaching that understands test scores as synonymous with student achievement. (See here on why this is something of a problem.) This is perhaps the point for which the negative effects take the longest to see clearly. You can go back in forth in your head for years on how valuable standardized tests are, and to what degree they should be used in judging educational quality. I have come to the strong opinion that, the way they're currently being used, these tests do far more to harm than good.

3) TFA has transformed from an organization that used to talk about putting itself out of business to a public relations behemoth. Every year it scrounges more money from Congress and more money from districts for placing its low-cost teachers in positions that demand the most experienced (districts have to pay TFA for each recruit they accept). In the disgusting world of hard-ball education politics, this allows districts either strapped for cash or under the leadership of those who believe the public sector should be starved of funds to point to TFA's propaganda around closing the achievement gap as justification for paying its teaching force significantly less money by forcing out experienced teachers in favor of much cheaper TFA recruits (as happened just recently, and so disgustingly, in Memphis.)

4) It was founded by a Princeton college senior who never had (and still never has) worked in a single school in her entire life, much less an underprivileged school. Listening to Wendy Kopp speak (or reading her book) is like doing a case study on narcissistic personality disorder. Self-righteous would be an understatement, which sort of explains the flaws noted above.

From my perspective, TFA is, at best, analogous to putting a band-aid on a brain hemorrhage. At worst, it is a racist, staggeringly arrogant organization that profits (both in money and fame) off the poor.

How was that for nicely communicating my feelings? Pretty crappy, huh?

It's not the TFA corps members I have problems with (although a good many of them personify the organization's arrogance and lack of respect for the teaching profession); it's the notion and push behind the endeavor itself. I have nothing but the utmost respect for people who join TFA out of a sincere desire to effect change and teach their hearts out. I just caution them to be prepared for a potential rude awakening. (See Gary Rubinstein's beautiful post on why he joined TFA, and why it's no longer needed.)

To the new TFA corps members for the coming year, I wish you all the best, but try to keep an open mind during the propaganda process, I mean, "Institute."


  1. James: Well said. I agree with your analysis of Teach for America and would go one step further to argue that Teach for America promotes the inaccurate idea (touted by the billionaire reform crowd) that teachers are wholly responsible for the success or failure of all students. This idea would be laughable (if it wasn't resulting in the real loss of jobs and other benefits to so many teachers) and ignores the huge amount of research and sociological evidence to the contrary.

    1. I completely agree. Insinuating that the failure of low income public schools across the nation is the result of individual failures(i.e, the ineffectiveness of teachers), rather than a societal failure, is ignorant at best (intentionally manipulative at worst).

  2. I went to a wonderful conference on math and social justice this past weekend (creatingbalanceconference.org). At one of the workshops, at least 3 of the participants were from TFA. I couldn't figure out what to say without disrupting the good work being done by the person running the workshop. But I was not happy.

    I'd like to have a one-page letter I could hand to them to explain my distress at the choice they've made. Your 4 points (in reverse order) might make a good framework for that.

  3. Attorney DC: Absolutely!

    Sue: Good point. They did seem out of order. I switched them as you suggested. In regard to TFAers, I continually have to remind myself to stay calm down around them. I would have auditioned for TFA myself had I not been accepted into my college's teacher prep program.

    When I was 23, I had NO clue. I was also full of nifty catch phrases about improving equitable access and working tirelessly to improve underprivileged communities - which I still believe, obviously, I'm just a lot more wise.

    I feel like when you're just starting out of college, you have this unwarranted sense that you're doing something big, perhaps something nobody has done before. And it takes a few years of hard, painful realizations to snap out of it.

  4. NO 22 year old fresh out of an undergraduate degree (even a degree in education) should teach, unless they are under close supervision of a master teacher. The problem lies less in TFA than in teacher education programs across the country. I'm all for following a more medical model with a paid clinical experience (like residency) as the grand finale.

    1. This is the real crux of the matter. It's not about TFA or not TFA, it's that the schools assume that a teacher coming into their school can be thrown in a room and close the door. The student-teacher experience is supposed to provide some guided experience, but it's sure not much time, and most of those programs are in nice schools near the University a student attended -- not out in the rough and tumble of some urban district. Some cooperating teachers just suck, too -- tends to be more about ego than teaching skill.

      There are a few new teachers who just get it and are great out of the gate, but it's not common. Schools have to stop whining about preparation and training and take responsibility and commit to providing guided experience for new teachers. Apprenticeships are where it's at. They'll complain about money. They can find the money if they want to -- heck, they've got 3-4K extra per new teacher to give TFA apparently.

    2. Interesting point. I received a BA in education myself, but felt completely unprepared to manage a classroom on my own right out of undergrad. So I enrolled in a collaborative internship graduate program, which allowed me to teach under an experienced professional while receiving my Master's degree. I attended Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts... it would be great if more universities across the nation adopted education training programs such as this!

  5. I think you make a lot of overly simplified statements here. Especially the one where you said "quality teaching is an effect of innate ability and passion."

    Honestly, I think the problem is that people just see TFA as one big conglomerate. It's actually very different from region to region: the regional offices run their own corps.

    When I served in TFA, I taught in the rural Mississippi Delta. If it was not for TFA, my school would not have been able to fill the positions it had open. Schools around us had several uncertified "facilitators" watching classes because they simply did not have the staff to fill the positions. Sadly, not very many teachers dedicated to the profession choose to live in rural Mississippi, where students need the best teachers they can get.

    I think you just need to think of TFA as a first-year teacher recruiting program. Every first-year teacher sucks, regardless of their training because so much of teaching is developing your own style and practicing the skills of a master teacher. Yes, a first-year teacher will NEVER be better than a skilled veteran teacher, but sadly there are many underpriviledged students in America who don't have access to skill veterans, and it's clear from Mississippi's place in dead last (compared to other states) in Education, that those students need someone.

    I never would have moved to the Delta on my own, but I'm still living and teaching here after my commitment, and I am so glad that TFA gave me this opportunity. You say that you are not criticizing corps members, but you have to realize that TFA IS the corps members and the commitment they make...it's no longer just Wendy Kopp. I think it's fine to tell your former students to be wary of the struggles of a first-year teacher, but I think bashing an ENTIRE organization made up of thousands of dedicated teachers is a bit much, especially since you only have an outsider perspective.

  6. Hi triggerheart. Thank you for your comment. There are always two sides to the story.

    I did, of course, oversimplify a lot of things. That was sort of the purpose of the post - to try and communicate succinctly and coherently my biggest problems with the organization.

    If every first-year teacher sucks, why not require TFA recruits to commit to five years? Instead of two, when they will have, at most, only one decent year of teaching.

    In regard to the what TFA consists of, exactly: The public relations arm of TFA, the one that has stopped talking about putting itself out of a job, the one the lobbies Congress year after year for more money when there are far better options for improving overall educational equity is certainly NOT made up of the collective. This organization is not the Borg from Star Trek. There are people in leadership positions that are pushing TFA into more and more communities, and publicizing their growth as a success - when only 10 or 15 years ago they would have seen it as a failure.

  7. Hi, I'm a 31 year old professional who was just rejected during the latest round of TFA applications. I hadn't really heard any bad stuff about them until really after the whole process was over.

    If your point 2 on test scores is really true, then I'm not surprised at all about why I wasn't accepted since my statement basically talked about going beyond scores as measures of success and instead about the things that inspired me to learn that I'd want to pass on.

    I'm going to really dig around for more info now.

    1. Hello,

      I am a 24 year old professional who was just accepted into the TFA program as a 2013 Corps member. I would have to disagree with your conclusion because I was vehemently opposed to standardized test scores, as they don't even begin to cover the spectrum of learning. My interviewee asked me several times about my stance on standardized tests and though her responses weren't overt, I can tell she was in agreement. Concomitant to the pre-work that we have to do and the stratified selection of works by authors from various backgrounds, I have to disagree with your view on how TFA sees test scores, and I agree with triggerheart in that you've oversimplified and generalized one view as the voice of thousands.

      I'm proud to be a part of TFA, and I only hope that those that use it as a stepping stone to get into law school use it to make some systemic changes to Educational Policy.

  8. re 1) "It assumes that quality teaching is an effect of innate ability and passion rather than experience."
    That's not at all what TFA assumes or practice. TFA assumes that quality teaching is an effect of a mindset and consistent, targeted training. TFA believes in the motto "get better fast."

    re 2) "Teach for America indoctrinates its recruits into a vision of quality teaching that understands test scores as synonymous with student achievement."

    That's also not true. TFA recognizes the value of this data and places emphasis on it, but have a much more holistic view of student achievement, which is why we push positive decision-making, college-based careers, and family engagement. A --> B, but not B --> A, which I think is a fallacy you are accusing us of committing.

    re 3) "TFA has transformed from an organization that used to talk about putting itself out of business to a public relations behemoth."

    These are not in contradiction...

    "... (districts have to pay TFA for each recruit they accept)."

    No. Districts don't pay for partnerships. District pay salaries (to TFA teachers) -- like they would to other teachers.

    re 4) "It was founded by a Princeton college senior who never had (and still never has) worked in a single school in her entire life, much less an underprivileged school."

    Ad hominem.

  9. Hi Anon at 2:12. Thanks for commenting. Perhaps you'd like to identify yourself and write a guest post in response to my original.

    re re 1) A few TFAers have told me the same thing. If TFA is saying that, why not align the way it trains teachers and put them in schools with that understanding? The organization makes more money every year. Why not increase the amount of training time and increase the commitment to five years rather than two. Some would, of course, drop out before the five-year commitment ends (as many currently do before their two-year commitment ends), but it would go a long way toward improving teacher quality, no?

    re re 2) I'm sure there are many TFAers who don't think that improving standardized tests is synonymous with student achievement. However, ever study I've ever read by TFA and friends around teacher quality and their growing assertion that their teachers are as good or better than experienced teachers relies on these indicators. Additionally, virtually everyone I have ever talked to who has gone through the Institute and TFA experience has had something to complain about regarding the way they're being pushed on test scores. It seems that in many ways, TFAers are being used by districts as data changers. When experienced teachers don't buy into the test games, TFAers can be used more reliably that way. That is at least what I gather from conversation after conversation with TFA corps members and materials I've gathered from TFA itself.

    re re 3) This is not my understanding. I believe it is true that districts pay TFA $3-4,000 for the placement of each recruit. Districts then go on to pay the salaries of the recruits. And regarding the public relations behemoth - I perhaps could have worded it better to better get across my concern - but it is clear that TFA is attempting to expand, which is antithetical to their original stated mission. They now have an incentive (especially in this economy) to place their recruits in places where unemployed experienced teachers are available.

    re re 4) It is a character attack, but I don't think its irrelevant. Why would someone who's never worked in or even attended an underprivileged school know how to fix them? Her motivations and experience are worth considering, no?

    Look - my point is not that TFA is all bad and that everyone in it is evil. My point is that its actions are antithetical to achieving what it claims its mission is: increasing educational equity. If you accept that great teachers are borne out of both commitment AND experience (which I think anyone and everyone who's taught for a while and reflects honestly would say), then TFA is only relying on one of those, which is not enough for our neediest students. The saddest thing I see with the organization is that it is now powerful enough to really effect positive change and apparently chooses not to. Instead of increasing the recruits and members, why not redirect resources to improve training and increase its length? Why not invest in keeping experienced teachers in the classroom with real money rather than just rhetoric? It seems that what TFA is really about is providing networking opportunities and certain privileged individuals to relieve their sense of white guilt, or, more appropriately, privileged guilt. While there are certainly students who benefit from TFA's drive in some places, the REAL beneficiaries are the corps members who join what's now considered an elite group of public servants. They can use their experience for future networking opportunities and as a means of impressing those who don't really know what's happening with their commitment to disadvantaged youth. Until TFA changes its model, I don't think that's going to change.

  10. http://publicola.com/2011/09/09/under-questioning-from-board-members/

    Check out the above link to see the fee TFA charges that I'm referring to in my blog post.

  11. Even the TFA in my school see the problem with the fact that there is a glut of teachers right now - not a shortage in MOST areas, yet TFA is allowed to not only recruit but gets president to place a percentage of new hires, the majority of new TFA are white - the majority of children they teach are black, they have only had 5 weeks training, they are on their way to a career elsewhere, the job is a stepping stone. Our new coach will have to spend all her time on getting the newbies up to speed each year rather than on helping those who are committed to a career in education perfect their craft.

  12. Whoops, should say "...precedent".

  13. Thanks for the post. In my opinion, TFA isn't particularly effectual.

  14. i teach in Kansas City. Our school board fired 80 experienced teachers last spring and hired 150 TFA interns. TFA was paid $3000 for each intern. That was above and beyond the salaries being paid to the TFAers. Most of them seem nice and dedicated, but they aren't very good teachers. They certainly aren't adequate replacements for the experienced teachers who were fired. Our kids deserve better. That's the real shame here.

  15. I did TFA for two years; I did not take in all the propaganda and I realized my veteran counterparts were my best allies. I feel we did more harm than good. The school I used to work for fired almost all non-TFA teachers and replaced them with snobbish 22 year old first year teachers who's only concern is data from test scores. They are not interested in growth models or any constructivist views. It's a shame to assume you know everything at the ripe old age of 22. It is also a disservice to the children. I fell in love with teaching because I was cognizant enough to realize that TFA did not have all the answers. I learned from my veteran teachers the art of building up a child both academically and working together as a community of teachers. TFA operates like a frat house. You join the cult you are treated pleasant; question them once and you are ostracized. This is not the mindset of a person mature enough to be responsible in the education of our nation's youth. I realized I wanted to be a teacher so I took a break to work as a TA and finished my masters. The next time I step into the classroom, as a teacher, I will be truly prepared. Had I known what I know now I would have never joined TFA. Most of us were not well enough prepared for what we were expected to do.

  16. TFA needs to end. My daughter, who is certified in NJ, with a BA in Elementary Education, is having a difficult time finding a job. She has worked since 2007 in educational settings. She babysat half her life. She studied hard, she earned her teaching degree and certificate, she did 8 months of clinical student teaching. She can't get a job. She can't get a job in Newark, NJ either, where they are hard pressed for teachers, because no one wants to work there. However, Newark has contracted with TFA, and Newark will hire unskilled, 5-week-taught kids who didn't want to teach in the first place, and they will likely quit before their tours are up. So, whats a gal to do? My daughter applied to TFA, hoping to get in and teach in Newark. TFA doesn't want her tho. She didn't graduate from an Ivy League school. No...she graduated from a NJ teaching college, because she wants to teach. She doesn't want to teach for 2 years, then return to school on TFA's sponsors dime and get a Master's in Finance, etc., or take the LSATs and continue on to law school...or work for one of TFA's corporate sponsors. She didn't answer the questions correctly because she WANTS TO BE A TEACHER. It is all she has ever wanted to do.

    She took a job in day care hoping it would be experience enough to put on her resume while she applies and applies and reapplies for jobs an hour in any direction from where she lives. You know what kills tho? Besides TFA contracting for jobs, putting veterans out of the business and filling spots with people who could care less about teaching as a vocation...is the other side of the coin where her neighbor's daughter gets a job in the district because her mom teaches in the district. I've seen countless occurrences of this as well. Either you know someone, or you're a TFAer. How does a person who has wanted to do nothing but teach get a teaching job these days?

    She recently left the day care position and is going to substitute teach in a few districts. She is hoping that "foot in the door" will count for something. Her grades were good, her references fantastic, but her connections .... lacking. It breaks my heart.

    I hate TFA. It is doing more harm than good and it is taking teaching jobs away from people who want to be teachers. Then again, it creates a revolving door of temporary employees who will never be around long enough to get tenure and a decent long-term wage. Perhaps it saves districts $ in the short run, but at the expense of true education.

    Anyhow, thank you for allowing me to comment. I've never been more frustrated. Its a shame when trained professionals aren't allow an opportunity to do what has been their life-long passion....and wealthy day trippers are allowed to teach for a moment and poof...pompously move on patting themselves on the back, drinking the TFA koolaid. It sickens me.

  17. First of all, babysitting does not count. Everyone babysits! You aren't going to hire teenagers to teach a class of thirty middle schoolers, are you? Babysitting one toddler DOES NOT count towards controlling a class.

    Secondly, most teachers these days have master's degrees, so your daughter should consider getting one, and one from a top school. Otherwise she is going to struggle. And these underpriviliged children deserve to be taught from someone with an Ivy League education.

    P.S. If your daughter wants to teach that badly, she can relocate. No one is forcing her to stay in New Jersey.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  18. "These underprivileged children deserve to be taught from someone with an Ivy League education"??

    That is quite a statement. Why do you want Ivy Leaguers teaching poor children? What does it matter?

  19. I'm with James, that was an odd statement... There are hundreds of qualified, experienced teachers who went to state universities that are plenty rigorous. I student taught for 2 years and had 4 mentors. They all went to state universities and taught beautifully in the classroom.

  20. I'm an experienced teacher, but I've chosen to apply to Teach for America. Understanding (and agreeing with) all of the criticisms of the program that you've mentioned, it still seems like a great opportunity. I have my teaching licensure and an MA in my field, but I know that I'll need an M.Ed eventually, if I want to continue teaching (which I do). There are a few options out there for those experienced teachers in my position: work full-time and pay out-of-pocket to get the degree part-time, stop working for a year to attend a full-time program, or join one of the many teacher residency programs that give scholarships for M.Ed, but that usually require you to work for a year or more at below-poverty-level rates.

    Then, consider TFA: a full-time teaching job (and salary), a substantial scholarship, partnerships with some of the best M.Ed programs in the country (Johns Hopkins and UPenn included), and assistance with paying your existing student loans. It just seems like a no-brainer... Until I consider its offensive assumption that 22 year-old Ivy grads could possibly make better teachers than, well, actual teachers. Or the advice that I've gotten from many people, that my teaching experience may actually hurt my application, since this teaching program inexplicably seems to prefer those who have no experience or long-term interest in the profession.

    So, well, call me a sell-out or what you will...TFA, with all of its many flaws, still seems like the most feasible option for those who, like me, really do want to stay in the teaching profession, and get an affordable M.Ed. I hope in the future that somehow these teaching residency programs will begin to offer the kind of perks that TFA seems to alone possess. But, in the meantime, if I can get in, I'm going to try to get what I can from the program.

  21. Part 1:

    I am a "graduate" of TFA. While I readily acknowledge flaws with this program (and what program does not have flaws?), here are a few rebuttals from my own experience (and I am aware that this reflects only one region, and only two years, of the organization's capacity):

    "It assumes that quality teaching is an effect of innate ability and passion rather than experience" --In our training, we heard repeatedly that "great teachers are not born, they're made." Training, practice, experience, reflection, etc is what makes a great teacher. I would argue that none of my TFA colleagues had a preconception that they were an "innately" gifted teacher.

    ""Who's going to teach those kids if not for TFA?" they asked. "How about qualified professionals?" I said coldly. "I wouldn't feel very good right now if you two were just out of undergrad and about to go to med school, would I?"" Yes, TFA teachers are often brand new to the field, if you disregard the summer institute experience and previous readings (and yes, no summer program or book is an adequate replacement for actual teaching). However,neither is a student teaching internship. I challenge you to find any program that adequately prepares a new teacher for the classroom (and let me know where they are and how they do it!). And really, how can you prepare, since teaching is the delicate and nuanced skill of working with human beings. No system or program could encompass everything necessary to motivate hundreds of individual children. This is not the fault of TFA--this is the fault of the US (and many international) education system(s).

    "Teach for America indoctrinates its recruits into a vision of quality teaching that understands test scores as synonymous with student achievement." While my TFA staff urged its corps members to look at quantitative data, they in no way intimated that this was the ONLY type of data necessary. And more often than not, we were in agreement that standardized test scores were a sort of common enemy--taking valuable time away from instruction and pushing students to be test-takers rather than critical thinkers. In fact, nationally, TFA has adopted a new catchphrase (and no, I don't buy wholeheartedly into the kool-aid and catchphrases, but I do think this is a good one) of "transformational learning"--learning that inspires students to be self-motivated, to contemplate beyond their grades or academics or test scores how they can become great leaders not only in the future, but every day in their classrooms and communities. Does this work perfectly every time? Of course not. But saying TFA endorses only standardized test scores as a form of measurement is a vast oversimplification.

    "TFA has transformed from an organization that used to talk about putting itself out of business to a public relations behemoth." While I am not an expert on the funding of TFA or any other non-profit (and while I do raise my eyebrows at Wendy Kopp's 6-figure salary), the data provided here is not nearly as morally questionable as you intimate:
    From my personal experience, our TFA staff was compensated only slightly higher than we were as teachers, and like us, they put in 60-100 hour work weeks. As for public relations, while not flawless, at any rate TFA is one part of many working to rebrand the profession of teacher, working to instill values of education in a highly materialistic society.

  22. Part 2:

    "It was founded by a Princeton college senior who never had (and still never has) worked in a single school in her entire life, much less an underprivileged school. Listening to Wendy Kopp speak (or reading her book) is like doing a case study on narcissistic personality disorder. Self-righteous would be an understatement, which sort of explains the flaws noted above." Regarding Wendy Kopp, I can't say anything about your personal opinion of her. I have however heard her speak, and she readily acknowledged that she was burdened with a huge amount of stage fright--one of the reasons she cited that she never wanted to be a teacher. She did however make clear that if she needed to learn to teach, she could do just that--learn. It was not innate for her, she told us. But she could learn. Regarding her experience teaching--no, she has not taught in a classroom. But one of the first things she did when she began the non-profit was to hire other people who had. And that's efficiency--she handles the marketing, the building, the PR--plays to her strengths--while ensuring that pedagogy is taken care of by other people she trusts with relevant experience in that field. In my own experience, while I took some useful things from my TFA professional development, it was the relationships I built (and was encouraged to build by TFA) that made the most impact on my experience at my school, and my students' experience in my class.

    Perhaps most importantly: "Why not invest in keeping experienced teachers in the classroom with real money rather than just rhetoric? It seems that what TFA is really about is providing networking opportunities and certain privileged individuals to relieve their sense of white guilt, or, more appropriately, privileged guilt." This I must, in my case, disagree with wholeheartedly. While there may be TFAs out there who only want to use the experience to bolster their resumes, any of you who have taught in a Title 1 school as a first year teacher might be able to attest to the fact that that motivation might get you through a week, a month at most. Every corps member I know cared deeply and passionately about his/her students, school, community, and the deeper issue of educational inequity. What became clear to me during my two years as a corps member was that teaching my students at my school and in my community was an important piece--but still only a piece--of what needs to happen at a deeper, societal level, to be able to end educational inequity. Change needs to happen in the classroom. But it also needs to happen outside--in community centers, in Congress, in law, in advocacy, in post-grad education, in business...name your field. Until we create a society that values education and creation more than goods and consumption, this inequity will remain a problem. And the only was to create that society is to do it on a plethora of fronts. I would bet that most of you who posted above who teach strive to instill these kind of values in your students. That is vitally important. I have had many teachers like you, and that is why I am involved here today. But having teachers like you is only one weapon in this fight. This fight is not easy--and it is not education's fight alone, and certainly not TFAs! Expecting TFA to modify its policies to change this is equivalent to expecting it to single-handedly solve the problem--which is not something it was created for, and not something any one program could ever do.

    You see, while TFA could expand its training or commitment time frame, that would defeat half of its purpose. TFA's purpose is two-fold--to have an impact on the classroom, but also--and perhaps more importantly--to use that impact to spread the gravity and urgency of this mission to people in all sectors and of all backgrounds. If education remains relegated only to schools, is it really enough of an education?

  23. Is TFA perfect? Of course not. Is it better to have it than not? I leave you to decide.

    1. Thanks for your rebuttal.

      Regarding the first point: TFA can SAY as much as it would like about what makes a great teacher. Until they extend the commitment to five years and provide way more than five weeks of training, it will have a long way to go in convincing me that it doesn't believe quality teaching is a result of innate ability. It's either that OR they will have to admit they're not really about putting quality teachers in classrooms.

      Point 2: I know of no certification program that puts teachers in the classroom with only five weeks of training besides TFA. My masters program had me teaching in a classroom with various mentor teachers for over a year. It was about as good as certificate programs get, and there are plenty like it. That should be our model. Additionally, you fail to note that there are not many training programs out there like TFA that intentionally put their recruits in front of poor and minority children. Talk about an equity issue.

      Point 3: My response would be similar to point 1. TFA can say what it would like about standardized test scores. Until it stops measuring its effectiveness by the way its recruits increase scores - and then using them to compare its recruits against traditionally trained teachers - then how can you expect me to believe that TFA doesn't have a laser focus on standardized test scores. Moreover, your testimony goes in the face of many TFAers I've spoken with. Many of them have told me that institute was mostly about keeping the data in mind - by which they say meant test scores. Please - I'll need more convincing.

      Point 4: Not sure what their salary has to do with it, although I would point out that most teachers work 60 hours a week... In any case, my point is that TFA is expanded every year - claiming in front of Congress that their model has conclusively proven to raise poor and minority achievement (see their testimony before the FY 2011 Labor Appropriations Bill). They claim they want to double in size within the next few years. Certificated teachers with experience are being put out by TFAs - maybe a good thing in a few cases, but certainly a bad thing in others.

      Point 5: I agree that point about Kopp won't convince anyone who likes TFA. She never taught, but she decided she would create an organization of great teachers to fix public schools. It at least suggests she had no idea what she was doing - which corresponds with what I think about TFA overall. I suppose it just feeds into my bias and you can feel free to ignore it.

      Point 6: Yea - that was vitriolic. Probably shouldn't have put it in those words. I would never say TFAs don't care about kids, but I do think a number of them I've met clearly care more about their careers. Too many of them land on my blog by googling "How will TFA get me into law school." Barbara Miner writes extensively on internal communications and actions at TFA that suggest strongly that TFA's mission is mostly about providing great experiences for their candidates - which is in opposition to the notion that this is really about the kids. You can't really doubt that TFA is a huge boost for many people. JP Morgan provides candidates, once out of TFA, opportunities to go work on Wall Street. While we certainly can't generalize the people who go into it - it is clear (and makes total sense) that many of them lack cultural competence and work with a deficit perspective.

      On your last question: I'll concede TFA's value in places where teachers can really not be found. Mississippi Delta - go to work. Thank you TFA for being there. But when it comes to taking the jobs from what would otherwise be filled by certified, experienced teachers - MAJOR problem. And I don't mean to say that every certified, experienced teacher is going to be a better opportunity for children than a TFA, but I would say that it is mostly true.

  24. I do think TFA has some value for the light that it's shed on educational equity and investing young people in it. I think many of these criticisms have some strong emotions behind them and they are in many ways valid.

    I did TFA, but I didn't fulfill my 2 year commitment. Although I hate to admit it, I know I really wasn't what my students needed. I stood in line at a job fair with at least 100 other people. Despite, I had no experience TFA gave me priority over them. Bottomline I had a terrible TFA experience and I think my students deserved a better teacher than I was capable of being. I also watched several no-close friends suffer through intense stress while wondering if they were really making a difference anyways.

    I think one of the best things TFA could do for Education Reform is reform some of it's own policies and practices. Here are my policy recommendations:

    1) The AmeriCorps Education Award (about $5,000 each year) should not be given to TFAs. That money can be better spent at local non-profits. It's an unnecessary incentive that encourages people to use the program as a stepping stone for Graduate School rather than a long-term commitment to teaching. The average AmeriCorps member is making about $12,000 a year or less vs. the $38,000 teacher's salary. They should not be given the same incentive as their peers who are agreeing to a term of service that makes them eligible for food stamps. If you want a compromise here... the education award is only applicable for a Master's in Teaching.

    2) Extend the program to a 3 - 5 year commitment or create campaigns/ incentives encouraging TFA CMs to teach for a 3rd or 4th year.

    3) Stop recruiting TFA Corp Members in areas that don't have a real teacher shortage. (I.E. Florida where they laid off teachers in 2011) Their money and efforts should be focused on providing training to the teachers hired by the school district or enriching colleges of education

    4) Increase the support for TFA CM's during their term.

    5) Make sure people have more than 1 or 2 students at institute. I was one of probably 100 - 150 CMs that didn't have a full class of students during 2 of the 5 weeks of institute. Needless to say, it didn't help prepare me for a class of 20+ students.

    Also as for the argument that TFA's mission is to create a movement across all sectors and not just within education, I think there's a way of doing that without putting inexperienced teachers in the classroom. I really like how City-Year allows young people to provide additional support in schools (support which wouldn't already be there) without giving recent graduates the full responsibility of being a teacher.

  25. I am not a TFA member, but, I do have a daughter that is! This is her first year and she thought she was ready but after 1 month in the classroom,she is rethinking her decision. My daughter has worked most of her college days, along with school and has never had a privileged life style. The problem she has, is that there are over 30+ children in her classrooms and she has 4 classes a day. Most of the children come from under privileged homes and they are suffering from hunger, ADD, ADHD, etc... The teachers in this particular school can not even eat their lunch because they are so busy trying to keep students from fighting and stealing each others food. This is really a sad situation. My daughter has some students that are controlable and want to learn. They are in fact doing very well in her class. But, there are so many that are out of control! With no help from the parents which she has tried contacting, what do you do?? First of all, in my opinion, there are too many students in a classroom! But, no one wants to teach these children as they have such a lack of disicpline! Not only do these TFA people work in the classroom from 7:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. but then they return to their homes to work another 4 hours grading papers and planning for the next day! So, yes, in the begining it sounds wonderful, the perfect job for a college graduate that needs the income to go to grad school. But, there is no way they will be able to do what is expected of them in this type setting and attend to their own educations. This is a mentally challenging position and it is very hard on these new comers. Would I want the Job? Heck NO!!! Education starts at home and Teachers are not babysitters! They are well educated, giving, loving adults that are so underpaid! It is such a shame!!! This is what our future is, Kids having Kids and not doing their job of a parent at home and expecting the teachers to do it for them!!! We all need to be grateful that there are people that teach because they LOVE it but if you had to work in an educational system like this, would you love it? I expect this is the reason for most of the TFA teachers leaving when or before their time is up! They need HELP in the classroom!!!

  26. ?! Your diatribe may be one of the most naive, self-righteous, and completely misplace commentaries that I have ever read on this topic...and I'm speaking to you as a proponent of education reform who is well-versed in politics, policy, and pragmatic interventions at the intersection of home and school. I can't address points #3 and #4 as they are subjective and the reality is that any non-profit that grows will inevitably run into the problem of becoming caught in the PR cycle that goes hand-in-hand with securing and sustaining government funding. However, I can speak to points 1) and 2) with no stake in this argument (I'm very active in education both from a research and applied perspective but not part of TFA).

    Point #1: A horribly articulated and gross oversimplification of the TFA model. Not a single person at TFA or any Department of Education across the country believes that innate ability and passion trump experience. Quite the opposite. The problem is that some of our most talented professionals (from all backgrounds and walks of life) due not pursue teaching or broader positions in public education. So the question that organizations like TFA need to answer is how can we attract, develop, and retain and/or influence a future generation of professionals to both value and take action upon one of the greatest travesties this country has ever faced: educational inequity. Investment banks and management consulting firms utilize a two year model where they kick you out into the real world to work for companies in line management or attend business school before returning. These models have merit. The medical school model sends doctors out in the real work after 4 years and little to no exposure to the multitude of problems they need to see (particularly need to see in patterns) before they can be effective doctors. Your response to your doctor belies the truth that doctors need to gain first-hand experience somehow...and guess where...in places where poor people can't truly buy the experience and thus must be helped by freshly minted and admittedly very "green" doctors. How else can they learn the craft other than being thrown to the wolves?

    2) TFA and the educational institutions associated with masters degrees in education (e.g. Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Penn, Columbia, etc.) do not associate success solely with test scores. That's ridiculous. All of these organizations take a humanistic and multidimensional approach to learning, support, and motivation. Objective criteria, including scores, are essential to measure performance in combination with a number of other quantitative and qualitative factors. Furthermore, these "scores" are what local, state, and federal governing bodies require. It only makes common sense that progressive organizations and teachers find a way to accomplish a balance scorecard.

  27. TFA's appear to be a little robotic. They seem to have a script they are following. When you go into a classroom you need to be compassionate. When a TFA or regular classroom teacher does not have an understanding that what may come easy for one child is difficult for another. If you are in that classroom the child should be the first priority.

    1. All children may not be able to comprehend as well another child.

    2. You should not want to see any child left behind. If they see a child stuggling since they are coming from these prestige universities and college, why can't be told to sometimes use your common sense, and it is okay to deviate from the script.

    3. I really dislike the TFA'a that are in this small rural community of Louisiana I live in. These TFA's are arrogant, I do not work with the parent who are willing to work them to improve their skills.

    The TFA's are so busy using a script rather than common sense to improve the students skills. They have little respect for the parent. I thought they were educators, now it is clearer to me why my child's teachets can not relate. One of my son's TFA grabbed him in the colllar, but quickly denied it.

    A rural poverty striken area needs caring teachers to be compassionate. And I heard one say to the class, I have mine. They pict on the students they do not like or a little slow in their classroom.

  28. This is entirely wrong... Have you been a part of TFA? The mission behind TFA is not that teachers are the only blame for education dwindling in poverty stricken areas. TFA teaches that in order to help our children learn we have to get parents involved, and the student themselves interested in what they are learning. Sometimes it takes inexperience minds to be creative. TFA is a beautiful program. It is by now means simple or easy it is intense and grueling and it creates a lot of wonderful teachers. There seems to be a lot of hate aimed at something that is positive. This makes no sense!
    The teacher is only one part of the equation. It is the job of the teacher to make learning enriching and interactive. If we take time to get the community involved as in parents/ guardians then we can continue to educate our children on a level that is effective and efficient. The program brings in smart and driven young adults who want to work not people that have become complacent and lax because they are angry they aren't making enough money. If education is improving and inequity is diminishing than I see no problem with a program that produces results!

  29. As a first year TFA corps member, I am completely aware of the flaws the organization-- like you hinted, experience is the most important teacher teacher, and the TFA teachers "training" us during induction were not experienced enough for us to really learn from. Tangentially, the entire use of summer school to train new teachers displays a staggering lack of integrity-- putting brand new, not-yet teachers in front of students who are preparing, for example, to attempt high stakes tests like the Regents, and may not graduate as a result, is extremely unfair. I still cannot stand the guilt from realizing I was complicit in the final steps of the educational system's ultimate failure to prepare these students for life or even to graduate from high school.

    However, Institute aside, Teach for America, through the help of blog posts and media attention such as this, has developed into a far more self-aware and self-reflective organization. As a result, recruiters and interviewers are cautioned to turn down the arrogant White Savior types that have given TFA such a bad name (or try to- the ones that pass through are the ones that quit and give the organization an even worse name), and the leadership has placed humility as one of its core values. While TFA itself is an inadequate teacher training program, which is openly acknowledged by its leaders, it serves its mission when its members are recruited and trained to develop the interpersonal skills and have the humility to observe experienced teachers, adopt best practices, and do anything to help our students (who, I've found, do appreciate the energy and commitment of a first-year teacher).

    My final conclusion: TFA would not function without the experienced professional teachers that help develop us (For example, the failing schools in Connecticut that have chosen to hire primarily TFA corps members have produced disastrous results). In order to grow, develop, and even survive as a TFA teacher, you deeply need the support and collaboration of experienced mentor teachers. My peers in TFA that have the humility and ability to work within their schools, instead of against them as the media and educator-bashing politicians might present, have had fantastic successes both quantitatively (sorry, but reading and math tests do prove something), and qualitatively (with gains in writing and mindsets toward social justice and a re-dedication to their own education).

    I believe that I am not a great teacher yet, but I have worked extremely hard for my students this year and done everything in my power to observe and develop best practices from the amazing educational professionals around me. Those that would pit TFA corps members and experienced teachers against each other are committing a great disservice to underprivileged students- together, energy and dedication of new teachers informed by the experience and wisdom of great experienced teachers, can hardly be accused of ruining an already-broken education system.


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