An Open Letter to New Teach for America Recruits

Dear New TFA Recruits,

It is summertime, which for those of you newly accepted into Teach for America, means you are enduring the long hard days of Institute.  I congratulate you on being accepted into this prestigious program.  You clearly have demonstrated intelligence, passion, and leadership in order to make it this far.

And now I am asking you to quit.

Exacerbating Inequalities

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

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

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

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

A Broken Model

In places like my city of Chicago, TFA has come to represent a gross injustice from the very first day of training.  TFA places up to five trainees at a time in our summer school classrooms.  Please understand that in Chicago, summer school is for children who failed courses during the school year.  These are the children most in need of expert teaching and support, many may have or eventually may need special education services.  Instead, TFA partners with certain schools where students are used as practice tools the entire day as novices have their very first experiences working with a group of children.  Last year, a phenomenal teacher friend of mine described his experience of having TFA forced upon his classroom, “They are using my kids as guinea pigs,” he lamented.  This powerful, experienced teacher was told to sit silently in the back of his classroom, and watch-not allowed to even give feedback-as five novice TFAers fumbled their way through lessons for four whole weeks of a five week summer term.   Those kids will never get that time back.

The sad thing is that TFA will tell you over and over again that you will be offering something “better” than our traditionally-trained teachers can provide.  I want you all to understand what even first-year teachers from traditional teacher prep programs are offering.  Pre-service teachers are slowly introduced into teaching, beginning with hundreds of hours of observation in multiple settings, with much discussion, reflection, and study of pedagogy and child development along the way.  We slowly step up our practice to individual tutoring, small group instruction, and short whole group lesson plans before moving on to student teaching placements for many months.  This model of teacher prep minimizes the effect on children, and creates safe spaces for new teachers to practice under the watchful eye of a mentor.  Compare that to TFA’s model of novices taking turns teaching one single group of students for only four weeks then being placed in classrooms by themselves.  Where is the time for observation and practice in many different settings/age groups/subject matters/ability levels? How can anyone even argue that the two types of training are comparable? And, if TFA truly offered higher-quality prep, why aren’t schools serving upper-income students demanding first year TFA teachers?  The idea of course is preposterous.  Upper-income parents would never, ever, allow uncertified, unprepared novices teach their own children.  So why should Chicago’s low-income students endure this type of injustice?

Students Resist

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

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

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

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

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

Understand The Pushback

And fundamentally, this is what you must understand.  Most corps members are being thrown into highly contested, politically unstable education environments.  Here in Chicago, there is a massive grassroots battle underway led by parents, teachers, students, and community members to save public education.  This past year alone has seen mass protests, acts of civil disobedience, and a successful teachers’ strike all to protest devastating corporate education reforms being forced on our schools. Despite this mass movement, 50 schools were closed by our appointed Board of Education, hundreds of teachers laid off, and school budgets were slashed.  Tens of thousands of parents have come out to plead for the their neighborhood schools, to beg for more funding, to demand an end to excessive high-stakes testing, to speak out for their beloved teachers, and each time our Mayor’s Board of Education turned a deaf ear to the needs’ of the people.

As a result, we have thousands of displaced teachers looking for jobs, we have dozens of quality schools of education producing certified teacher candidates-many from the neighborhoods they hope to teach in-all looking for work in Chicago and other urban centers around the country.  Just yesterday, I spoke with a fully-qualified new teacher who reported that she will likely have to take substitute positions or do after-school tutoring as there are no full-time jobs being offered in the Chicago Public Schools.   Like so many other cities (New York City, Detroit, and Philadelphia to name a few) we have no teacher shortages.  We have teacher surpluses.  And yet, TFA is still placing first year novice corps members in places like Chicago. To put it bluntly, the last thing our students undergoing mass school closings, budget cuts, and chaotic school policy need is short-term, poorly-trained novices.  Teach for America is not needed in Chicago.  Teach for America is not needed in most places.

TFA Practices Disaster Capitalism

But, instead of responding to community need, TFA has instead decided to partner with the very people causing the destructive, divisive, cruel chaos of current education reform policy.  While school budgets are being slashed around the country, TFA has fundraisers raising millions of dollars in a single night, partners with corporate brands like J Crew or JC Penny to raise yet more money.  And sTeach for America T-shirttill TFA requires districts to hand over thousands of dollars per recruit and pay a full, first-year teacher salary.  TFA also lobbies state governments to give up millions in precious funding and convinced the Federal Department of Education to give up tens of millions to this organization.  With over 250 million dollars in reserves, TFA still never offers to pay CM salaries to help struggling districts or waive “finder’s fees” for a vast majority of placements.   Luckily, some states are finally pushing back.

In addition, TFA has developed a very cozy, very troubling relationship with the very people implementing these horrible policies.  Here in Chicago, TFA recently invited Chicago Board of Education member Andrea Zopp to speak at the Chicago Induction ceremonies. As far as I know, Zopp never bothered to come out to the hundreds of public hearings to listen to the thousands of parents who begged to save their schools before casting her vote to permanently shutter 50 schools, the largest single school-closing action in US history. The newest Mayor Emanuel-appointed Chicago board member is a woman named Deborah Quazzo, a millionaire business woman, who once sat on the Chicago Board of Teach for America.  These ties represent massive conflicts of interests as the policies being pasted by The Board are benefiting TFA directly or indirectly.  TFA has even pushed alums to get elected to Local School Councils (LSCs), democratic bodies designed to give voice to parents, teachers, and community members, and instead is using LSCs to promote their TFA-friendly corporate reform agenda. 

What’s even sicker is that TFA is poised to benefit greatly from the horrible policies happening to children and teachers here in Chicago.   As I describe in the post “Teach for America Has Gone Too Far”, TFA plans to expand into the very neighborhoods experiencing schools closings, the neighborhoods which by definition have more teachers than they do positions.  Teach for America has truly crossed a line when closing schools and slashing budgets-policies detrimental to children-become the avenue for expansion.  Also, the new “per-pupil budgeting” pushed by the BOE and Mayor Emanuel, means principals now must pay more for experienced teachers.  In the past, teacher positions were opened based on the number of students and principals were free to hire any qualified teacher, regardless of salary as that salary did not come out of the individual school budgets. Under this new formula, principals are given a lump sum for every student enrolled and therefore are incentivized to hire less-experienced, cheaper teachers in order to save money (all the more necessary as budgets are experiencing the largest cuts in living memory.)  I suspect that TFA quietly helped push this new budgeting policy into place.

Here in Chicago, as in many placement areas, TFA is closely tied to the charter school movement, as most CMs are placed in charters in this city.  Charter schools are highly controversial and have been proven to exclude students with disabilities, students who are still learning English, and students with behavior problems.  I have written extensively about how charters, along with the broader corporate education reform movement, are making educational opportunity worse for my high-needs students.  Charter schools also tend to be non-unionized which leads to teacher exploitation and arbitrary firings with no recourse for staff.  Charter schools have also come under fire for scandals involving misuse of public funds, nepotism, and corruption, such as the large, TFA-heavy, UNO Charter chain which experienced a massive scandal and has growing debt. However, due to political connections, UNO will suffer no long-term repercussions from their mismanagement.

Neighborhood and Charter Schools

Why You Must Say ‘No’

What I describe above is just the tip of the iceberg of the assault on teachers and public education and TFA’s role in it.   As people new to the world of education, you must understand the context that you are stepping into.  Read what other TFA alums have already written eloquently on describing why they no longer support the organization such as here or here.   Do research about the realities of Teach for America, its effect on education, and the shoddy research they use to support their practices.  Understand why a number of TFA alums and education activists are organizing against TFA this summer in Chicago.  Know why groups of educators and parents boo and hiss when the name “Teach for America” is spoken.  You must understand the pushback, and that it has nothing to do with you personally.  There have been multiple abuses already endured in the cities you are entering and which TFA exploits.   How else are stakeholders supposed to respond as TFA takes precious resources from districts and states in budgetary crisis?  Or watch as TFA steals jobs from beloved experienced teachers and qualified, fully-credentialed teacher candidates?  As TFA undermines a noble, and importantly female-dominated, profession with false claims that teachers need little preparation?  Or as TFA increases inequality by giving our neediest students–students living in poverty, students with disabilities, students still learning English–the least qualified teachers.  And what about when TFA partners with the very wealthy and politically-connected forces wreaking havoc on our schools against the will of communities?

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

A Chance to Do What’s Right

If you truly want to help children through teaching, give those future students the greatest chance possible by doing a full preparation program in advance of being left alone in that classroom.  Those of us in the teaching profession will welcome bright young beginning teachers with open arms. And if you are not sure teaching is for you, volunteer in a school, tutor, participate in after-school programs.  Whatever you do, do not allow TFA to let you learn how to teach on the backs of our neediest children, children living in poverty, children with disabilities, children who are still learning English, children living under oppression, racism, and savage inequalities.  All children deserve a fully-prepared teacher for every day of their educational careers.  Please do not participate in denying them that right.

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

You have a choice to make.  TFA may ultimately benefit you personally, it may open doors to lucrative careers, help you get into prestigious law and graduate degrees, even give you direct paths into high-paid jobs in the worlds of education, business, or politics.  It may even make you feel really good.  But are you willing to participate in the destruction of the common good of public education, destroy the teaching profession, and deny needy children experienced long-term educators who would gladly take jobs filled by these TFA novices? Are you willing to do great harm to children and communities for your own personal gain?

Please make the right choice. And then join those of us on the ground fighting for REAL reform.  We need your passion and drive.  But we absolutely do not need you, without proper preparation, in our neediest classrooms.


Katie Osgood

Special Education teacher in Chicago

**UPDATE**  Just read this article detailing how our appointed Board of Education in Chicago just renewed and EXPANDED Teach for America’s contract with CPS at last week’s Board meeting:  In the middle of a supposed “budget crisis” where 50 schools were viciously closed down and hundreds of teachers and staff laid off, CPS has increased the funding to TFA from $600,000 to $1,587,500.  In addition, the number of TFA first year novices went from 245 to 325 ( ).

Chicago TFA first year teachers, you MUST refuse these placements.


  1. Great post! We are linking to this particularly great article on our site.
    Keep up the great writing.

  2. Hello, My name is Bethany and I work for a non-profit organization that serves victims of domestic violence and/or homelessness. A lot of my role (besides primary caregiver) is serving as “teacher” and “parent” for the children who basically have support from neither due to their situation. My question is, how much of this backlash from students is fueled by teacher talk? I lead a lot of psychosocial and learning groups for my clients and I see progress in weeks. They don’t know my background or education (BA Political Science and Communication). To them, they just see someone who genuinely cares and has the skills to teach them. I’m not a teacher, as far as my educational background, but that is unknown and does not matter to them. Further, they are in a “high-needs” crisis situation. Basic necessities are their priority (and ours) but so is filling in the “gaps” of their development as best we can in the time we have. I understand the flaws in structure and etc. that you point out. I’m not trying to make a perfect parallel, but i do see similarities. I just wonder how the students can differentiate between a TFA teacher and a “regular” teacher unless pointed out by staff. Once again, I’m not a “regular teacher” or TFA, just stumbled across your blog and thought I’d ask.

    • Students I speak with have a pretty good grasp on which teachers have some experience/training working with students in classrooms and which do not. I definitely do not advocate pointing out to students who is certified or who is not. A school staff, whatever the composition, should be a united team working on behalf of students. But it’s important to note how having TFA in a building can be a divisive wedge in a staff, especially if the newcomer is indoctrinated into a certain framing of the problems in education (i.e. struggling schools are a result of bad teachers, anti-union sentiments, savior complexes, use of the limited “data-driven” instructional strategies which TFA promotes, “no excuses” philosophy). TFA’s framing is damaging and divisive by definition (and may I add…wrong.) In my experience, TFA novices who eventually become successful do so by abandoning the nonsense TFA pushes and instead partner with veteran, experienced teachers. This type of institutional memory is difficult to come by, unfortunately, in some schools, especially charter schools, where almost the entire staff is young, inexperienced, and equally as indoctrinated.

      At the end of the day, kids need all the love and support they can get in their lives. But in their classrooms, we need to work to endure that every child has access to the educational opportunities of fully-prepared teachers, especially for high-needs students, students with disabilities, and students still learning English. Working at a non-profit is important work, but it does negate the need for trained mental health professionals, medical professionals, and yes, education professionals.

  3. Sounds like there is a lot of pent up anger and racism (at least in the upper comments). Offering ways to improve schools is better than trying to cut down those seeking to put real time in towards helping them. Furthermore, discounting many of the TFA teachers because they are white and middle class is at a depth of ignorance and stupidity that I would hope not to see in this country’s teachers.

    • Well put Bli. this message board has become nothing more than another place to bash Teach for America. The organization should indeed be challenged and criticized but all too often the critiques here are just so narrow minded it seems that folks would rather just tear the organization down then have a real debate based on reason and facts.

      I am not sure what motivates folks to get into the teaching profession in 2013 but I do know TFA still knows how to convey a message of hope and understanding coupled with the ideas of determination, hard work and relentless pursuit of a common goal/vision. These are the things our kids needs and many TFA recruits day in and day out give 110% along with non TFA teachers and veterans in the classroom. Just a little understanding would go a long way in trying to critique a program that for almost 25 years has brought thoughtful folks into a profession they may not have thought about before.

    • We should therefore apply this same model to neurosurgery and airline piloting.

      BTW, are you a teacher?

    • I am conflicted about TFA in teacher recruitment. My school has employed many TFA teachers during my 8 years there. While my school has had excellent teachers from the program, the great majority of them leave after two years. The key to public education is having strong teachers. However, what impact is there on the school community if these solid teachers leave after two years in the profession? The kids are very affected if a favorite teacher of theirs leaves during their time during High School. So if two of their three favorite teachers are TFA and leave after two years, the students and ultimately, the school climate is affected. The retention of strong teachers is so key to the strength of my school.

  4. John Young says:

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  5. Aurelio Montemayor says:

    I’ve been involved with the broad spectrum of ‘volunteers’ that come to our barrios in south Texas since I was a high school English teacher in 1964, e.g., Vista, University Year for ACTION, AmeriCorps, CityYear, Public Allies, and of course, Teach For America. TFA is the most harmful of all to our neighborhood public schools. I’m tired of waves of middle-class-well-intentioned-young-adults who come to our barrios in some form of White Knight saviors. Our public schools do need much help, beginning with full and equitable funding. Instruction and curriculum must be improved. Our children must be seen as college material and graduate college ready. BUT Private Sector vampires lusting for public ed $$$ aren’t any help and TFA (many who are green-little-snobs-gifting-the-poor) is in league with them. So, either get into the teaching profession for the long haul through legitimate programs that prepare you to be an effective and culturally competent pedagogue or go improve yourselves and your Bio in some other profession. And I’m on my best language behavior. Understand? Teach this!

  6. Earlier today, I was telling a friend about a TFA fundraiser I went to a year ago at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. This seems like an opportunity to describe an evening that was borderline surreal. A bit of background: I am the director of a Bay Area non-profit that focuses on providing quality out-of-school learning opportunities for low-income students. We work with 1,500 students per year and hire over 300 teachers. Each year we hire several TFA corps members. They are mostly recovering from the experience. Over and over they tell me they were inadequately prepared for the challenge and mostly did a disservice to students.

    The 2012 gala event was a tremendous success for TFA and Meg Whitman was the keynote speaker. There were many corps and former corps members in the audience. I sat next to a young man who was wrapping up his two years in Oakland. He spoke candidly about his inadequate preparation. He planned to move to Washington to find an organization that would, “help districts work together” (whatever that means).

    The evening program began with the regional director telling her TFA journey. She had grown up in Palo Alto, unaware of the poverty and educational inequity that existed across the freeway in East Palo Alto (a neighborhood consumed by poverty and low-performing schools). According to her, now that TFA corps members were working in EPA schools, poverty was being eliminated. Really? She went on to introduce a former TFA corps member who is now in the Colorado state legislature. He was described in the intro as, “dreamy.”

    In his comments, he described what brought him to TFA. While attending Yale, he tutored a young African-American high school student. One day, he saw him being arrested. At that moment, comparing himself to Civil War general Robert Shaw (played by Matthew Broderick in the feature film, “Glory”), he decided to “pick up the flag” and join TFA. He taught in Mississippi for two years. Most of the audience loved his story. Knowledgeable educators were fuming.

    We then heard the stories of two local corps members. They told their life stories and how some of the hardships they faced prepared them for the challenges of teaching in extremely high-need schools. The young man had a father who was an alcoholic. The young woman navigated her way through a prestigious boarding school as a scholarship student and person of color. They both reported the great successes they were having with their students (“I know I am making a difference.”). The evening concluded with Wendy Kopp introducing Meg Whitman, Meg Whitman’s speech and a fundraising ask that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars being raised.

    I left the evening baffled and dazed by the success of TFA. I don’t get it. The model is perplexing to me. How does the teaching profession allow this? Would we even consider, “Doctors for America” or “Police for America?” Doubtful. The outcomes they claim are outrageous. Most of their data is about big numbers: How many people apply, how many schools have TFA corps members, how many corps members there are in a given year, how many former corps members there are (a limited number are still teaching or in education). TFA steers mostly clear of actual impact on classrooms, schools and most importantly, students. This is an organization that raises millions of dollars per year. Thousands of people and organizations invest in their mission. Again, I just don’t get it. Invest in an organization that often harms students and demeans the teaching profession? Invest in an organization with an alarmingly high dropout rate? I would have much rather attended an event for one of the outstanding schools of education in the Bay Area (Stanford, Mills, USF) where young people are making a serious, lifetime commitment to the craft and profession of teaching. Those future teachers are truly teaching for America

  7. Here it is in a nut shell, TFA is using well intentioned, altruistic young people as Scabs. Nothing more, nothing less. Query; if you are a TFA instructor ( don’t you DARE call yourself a Teacher) & CPSU teachers strike, again, would you honor or cross a picket line?? Your answer tells me what side you’re on . . .

    • Please remember that not all TFA instructors are people who have never studied education. I definitely understand the concerns with this particular program. However, please be mindful that some current TFA instrusctors come from a teaching background and already have a teaching degree before joining the program.

      • Yes, there are a small handful of fully certifed teachers who go into TFA. Many are like this account: people who are forced into TFA because TFA has cornered the job market in a specific area (that is, jobs are specially reserved for TFA, certified or not.) Also, TFA does a horrible job of placing fully trained teachers into classrooms they are actually trained for. In many cases, they take a secondary social studies teacher or elementary ed major and try to place them in a special education position-something they are NOT actually certified or prepared for.

  8. As a Teach for America Alum (class of 1993) I have watched the organization grow and evolve into a powerhouse with regards to Ed. Reform. Over the years the notion of Ed. Reform has changed and I do think it is healthy to debate the merits of a program like Teach for America. The 2 year commitment, their alliance with the charter movement, who gives money; those things can be debated. What we must remember or what fails to get mentioned is the idea behind why the organization came about. There was a serious teacher shortage in our inner city and rural schools. Folks who were coming out of ed. programs were not running to these areas to begin their careers. Teach for America sought to do two things; 1.) Bring in some of our most talented college graduates to teach for two years in the hopes of making significant gains for students. 2.) Expose these college graduates to what has been happening in public education in our inner city and rural areas.
    Yes times have changed. In some areas the shortage has been sewn up. TFA now charges districts for their teachers and more 1st year TFA corps members are now being placed in charter schools. The criticism has been fierce and in many instances justified. I feel however we have reached a tipping point. Why talk a would-be corps member out of the program if they have been touched by the mission and goals of the organization? If folks don’t like districts paying for corps members than why not take the district to task? If you do that I promise to take TFA task (and I have) for placing 1st year corps members in charter schools and fast tracking 2 year corps members into. Those of us who are alumni need to push, question and cajole the organization in these key areas:
    1.) No need to change the 2 –year commitment but let’s emphasize the idea that in order to be a highly effective teacher you may need to stay in the classroom for 5, 10, 15, 18 years and that’s a good thing.
    2.) In order to be a highly effective administrator you (again) may need to stay in the classroom for 5, 10, 15, 18 years and that’s a good thing.
    3.) Placement in charter schools? Depending on what’s happening in a particular area, I would love to see TFA return to the sense of urgency of placing folks in regular district schools.
    4.) Lest we forget the 2nd part of the mission. Many friends of mine did their 2 years, stayed on for a 3rd and then went into the private sector but they took with them the experiences they had as a teacher and they have been able to push for educational justice as doctors, lawyers, politicians, school board members, super intendants, and so on. We have a critical mass of Americans who are CONCERNED about public education but that is not enough. We need a majority of Americans committed to this idea of an excellent education for all students regardless of their profession.
    When we have these debates around Teach for America let’s not forget that this was (and still is) an organization that makes us all take a deeper look at ourselves and our nation. It asks our college graduates to take the knowledge and education they have gained and put it to use in the most important way possible. It asks them to step outside their own comfort zone and at times fail in order to succeed and have kids succeed. It asks these graduates to envision an American society where every single child regardless of race, income or national origin has an equal chance of an excellent education. It asks them to turn Martin Luther King’s dream of a just and fair society into a reality. These are the ideals that have inspired generations of young adults to join the organization and its why many of them, many of us, still Teach, for America.

    • Did you just invoke MLK? I think I’m going to be sick.

      • Pass the bucket.

        • wow I had no idea so many were not fans of MLK. too bad. he did some great stuff.

          • I actually love MLK. I don’t think he would endorse your comments or TFA if he were alive. He was an intelligent, well informed man who cared deeply about people.

          • Michael Fiorillo says:

            Yes, he certainly did, and he were alive today he’d be in Chicago come September, leading demonstrations against public school closings and TFA scabs.

      • tedfine says:

        ChalkFace: You know, your original essay has some great ideas and has been quite effective in making me (a non-educator, but concerned citizen) revise my thinking.. But, honestly, your pompous and condescending attitude gets in the way all through your original essay and your responses here. You clearly know a lot about education, but you need to take a refresher course on rhetoric and good manners. Sure, be mad. The sorry state of our educational system and country at large deserves our anger. Change the world. But don’t sabotage your work by alienating the very people you’re trying to convince. Your trashing of MLK confirms what many of us feel here: that you’re a good thinker, care about the issue, but, ironically, you “don’t play well with others” and have some maturing to do if you plan to be effective in your efforts. (I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve heard all that before … frequently) If your agenda is to simply inflame people, and in your revolutionary zeal burn down the whole political structure of our society, then just keep being offensive. But in doing so, realize that you’ll be harming your cause and alienating your potential compatriots.

        • dcarr70 says:

          Hmm…I’m a little confused by this comment. I never trashed MLK. I wrote a response. In said response I asked folks to simply think about or research why TFA came to be and in doing so invoked the spirit of Dr. King’s message. what I got back was “I want to throw up” and “pass the bucket”. I may be mistaken but these phrases don’t strike me as attempts for civil discourse or debate. I think my only crime was responding to a flippant comment with a flippant comment and I probably shouldn’t have. Sorry but you get what you give. now if you folks want to chat and have a civil discourse then let’s do it. I am all ears…um and fingers since I am typing

        • Oh no, I did not trash MLK at all. I just can’t stand when TFA folks, the vast majority of them being white and privileged, invoke his name and thoughts. And at this point, there is no time to be polite. The rapid pace at which TFA and its cohorts are dismantling the system cannot be thwarted with mere thought and ideas, but action, stimulated by anger and frustration.

    • Sarah G. says:

      I work in an inner-city major metropolis. There are five teaching credential programs that dump teachers into the approximately 60 school districts within a 100 mile radius of my house. There is NO teacher shortage here. Many of my colleagues from my credential program had great trouble finding placements. Some of my colleagues looked for jobs for as much as three years before finding a job as a teacher. So I have to laugh when you say “there is a teacher shortage in inner city schools” because that is not at all the truth where I am. We are so desperate for jobs that we will work ANYWHERE.

      We have TFA at my school. Because the Williams Act ( (same in every county in California) requires that every classroom have a credentialed teacher, and because TFA doesn’t do credentials, TFA doesn’t teach regular subjects at my school. I actually have no idea what they do during the daytime, but I see they help students after school. If TFA wants to help kids after school, more power to them. But if they want to teach during the daytime, regular hours, then they’re just taking a credentialed teacher’s job, one that a credentialed teacher is pretty desperate to get.

      Also, I’d like to point out to you that we ALL have college degrees. You talk about how TFA “asks our college graduates to take the knowledge and education they have gained and put it to use in the most important way possible.” Well, yes, we teachers do that. We believe that teaching is putting our experience and our educations to use in the most important way possible *for the rest of our work lives.* If you want to be a teacher, then by all means enter a credential program and go work as a teacher until you are 65. But what I see TFA people doing is going to be a “teacher” for two years, patting themselves on the back in a really horrendous, classist-and-racist kind of way, and then going off to do what I can only assume from your rhetoric are less important jobs probably because they pay better.

      If you want to teach, go get a credential (though for god’s sake don’t do it where I live because we have enough teachers, TYVM). If you want to make a lot of money while still feeling good that you helped “those poor little black and brown kids in the inner cities, bless their hearts” then don’t join TFA. Go get a job that pays well and build a community center or something. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Join CASA. But don’t destroy schools, communities, and kids by joining TFA.

      • You have stated what TFA SHOULD be doing…they should be paying these young idealistic adults to be ASSISTANTS in over-crowded classrooms…lower teacher:student ratios have definitely been shown to improve education for children in high poverty areas. If they were doing that, I would gladly support their cause!

  9. Walter White says:
  10. And now comes the announcement of yet another round of massive layoffs in my city of Chicago. Over 2,000 more employees to be laid off including over a THOUSAND more teachers. I am sorry, but there is simply no way-NONE-to justify TFA here. More friends displaced. More kids losing their mentors, their beloved teachers. This time, one of the very best teachers I know, and my very good friend, is losing his job. And still Teach for America is here! Get out of my city!! Get out NOW!! We all have been crying for months. Fighting and fighting, trying to create schools that work for our kids who have already gone through too much. And now this?? Are you kidding me??

    Even our reform-friendly newspaper, The Chicago Suntimes, questions TFA’s expansion here.
    “Some of the teachers could be replaced by Teach For America recruits, as the district has committed to more than doubling its investment in the TFA program that trains college graduates for five weeks then sends them into schools for two years at a time. The Board of Education voted to increase its payment to TFA from $600,000 to nearly $1.6 million, and to add up to 325 new TFA recruits to CPS classrooms, in addition to 270 second year ‘teacher interns’.

    TFA spokeswoman Becky O’Neill said about 200 of the new recruits are destined for charters, the rest to interview for openings in neighborhood schools.

    ‘We’re looking forward to getting more information and better understanding how all of this impacts the schools and principals with whom we partner,’ she said.

    Sharkey denounced CPS’ TFA placements ‘at the same time it’s laying off veterans. This is an organization who started out saying their mission was to serve underserved children with a teachers shortage. There’s no longer a teacher shortage.'”

    Teach for America has a moral obligation to leave this city. Leave NOW!!!!!!!!

  11. Mary - Teacher says:

    TFA teachers are not VOLUNTEERS. They are incredibly well paid from the moment they “go to institute” and “play school” for 5 weeks during the summer. The percs are amazing. So is the student debt forgiveness and the tuition reimbursement. Shame on TFA. All that fundraising put into Kopp’s pocket. It has to end.

    • False. TFAers are not paid at institute. So much misinformation being spread here. Are you all making it up or…what?

      • Well, Institute and all the TFA “training” is free, that is recruits do not have to pay for the service. In fact, it is cash-strapped districts and state education budgets that pay for a large chunk of that fee. And it is important to acknowledge the ways recruits do financially benefit from the program, i.e. loan forgiveness, Americorps grants, fees waived/tuition paid for post-TFA law/graduate degrees, in some cases subsidized housing, and the immeasurable network and leadership opportunity all in addition to a full teacher salary paid by the district.

        That being said, I do think it’s pretty crappy that TFA doesn’t help new recruits with moving costs or stipends for that time before beginning work. I heard that TFA let’s people take out loans, which must be paid back in full. All this points to TFA’s incredible mismanagement of its significant wealth. I’d love for TFA to change to a teacher assistant program where it uses it’s $300M in assets to fund extra positions in schools, rather than force districts to pay above and beyond what a first year traditionally trained teacher makes.

        • Blaquestarr says:

          Um… there is no “loan forgiveness”. Certain loans (like government loans and direct loans) can be put into FORBEARANCE during your 2 years teaching, but you still have to pay them back unless you invoke the loan forgiveness for teaching in a Title 1 school for 5 or 7 years I think (which is a government program, not an Americorps or TFA program). So, you could have your loans forgiven before mine.
          Second, (to Mary-Teacher), what do you mean “incredibly well paid”? I thought 1st year teachers made the bottom of the salary totem pole. Clearly, my salary as a teacher does not cover my loans and bills, so I have a 2nd job, on top of my crazy TFA 1st year in a low income school schedule. I day is so backed, I don’t have time for that tuition reimbursement everyone keeps talking about… Does TFA pay for the degree I already have or for a future degree? If its a future degree, can they pay for my masters in underwater basket-weaving?
          I do mean to be snarky, but not mean. I understand that there are some SERIOUS critiques of TFA, but the fact that corps members get some perks for joining to work in difficult situations is not one of them. Every job has a perk, it just depends on what type. And why would someone knowingly jump into such hard situations without some type of perk when they have other options. And yes, getting to help kids is a great perk, but even veteran teachers enjoy the retirement benefits, health insurance, union representation, and (in many cases) a good vacation schedule. But the tales of our wealth has been greatly exaggerated…

          • The issue is simply that TFA novices get EXTRA perks for coming into a job completely unprepared, perks which the fully-trained teacher next door doing the exact same extremely challenging job (plus often having to cover extra responsibililies since the TFA novice is so underprepared and overwhelmed) does not receive. TFAers need to understand that the animosity towards them, in part, stems from this ridiculous situation where the people who put the time, money, and sacrifice to become fully certified teachers BEFORE day one alone in that classroom receive fewer benefits that they do. (See some of the perks listed on TFA’s website: )

            What should be done? TFA should not receive any Americorps money. Not one dime of those taxpayer funds. Also, TFA should never “partner” with businesses, grad schools, or financial institutions to defer attendance thereby guranteeing teacher turnover. ( ) Welp, ultimately, TFA should not exist period, so I’ll stop there.

      • Institute isn’t unpaid. You get “trained” free of charge. The rest of us have student loans to pay back from our training that included four or six years of research, practicums, and coursework.

  12. Katie:
    Have you read the debate regarding TFA between Bruce Dixon at Black Agenda Report and Tim Wise, the noted anti-racism author/speaker? Very relevant to the discussion on this thread. Here are links:

    Dixon’s initial commentary:

    Wise’s response:

    Dixon’s follow-up comments to Wise:

    • Thank you for posting those links here, Monica. Bruce Dixon and the other members of the Black Agenda Report make some cricitically important comments including:

      “TFA is a key player in the bipartisan elite scam of corporate education reform aimed de-skilling and dispersing public school workforces to soften them up for eventual privatization. The mostly white TFA temps, who get only 5 weeks training to do 2 year terms as missionary ghetto teachers are NOT better than the educators they replace, and nobody ever does this kind of thing with white suburban schools. That’s not racist? ”

      And “By the time TFA changes from the inside there won’t be any public schools left.”

      Such an important discussion.

  13. You could definitely see your expertise in the work you write.
    The arena hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to mention how they believe.
    Always go after your heart.

  14. Katie, thank you for sharing your ideas and illuminating some major issues. You are absolutely on-point in many areas, but in others, there is considerably more nuance than you are leading readers to believe. I’ll be leaving my “more than two cents” and hopefully you’ll still be with me at the end.

    The best teachers?

    One of the main arguments of your article is directly on point: that there is a massive inequality going on in education and the poverty-stricken children (that are overwhelmingly students of color) need and deserve the best and brightest teachers possible. Yet for far too many of them, they are receiving novice teachers lacking the training and experience necessary to meet these students’ needs. This is a well-documented fact of the educational landscape and need not be further illuminated here. Implicit in your argument, is that Teach For America is greatly exacerbating, if not directly contributing to this problem. This deserves some unpacking.
    We need to examine whether TFA corps members are actually under- or out-performing their more traditionally trained colleagues in similar classrooms. This is an extraordinarily difficult question to answer and analysis of the handful of studies completed show very limited statistically significant results and some contradictory claims. Suffice it to say, there is little evidence demonstrating TFA members outperformance of non-TFA teachers, but also not much data supporting a claim that TFA teachers are causing significant harm to students relative to other teachers (this doesn’t mean that the TFA organization isn’t having other major impacts, positive or negative, in education).
    It’s also important to note that these studies base a large percentage of their results on standardized test scores. While these scores have some value, using only test scores to evaluate teacher effectiveness is an extremely crude measure that fails to encompass what makes up effective teaching. The very notion of how teachers should be evaluated, and to what extent test scores should be included, is a ‘third rail’ issue in education around which there is only minimal consensus.

    What are the ends?

    One thing that is extremely important to note about Teach For America, is that its primary goal, and entire organizational effort, is NOT to put highly effective teachers in the classroom, nor is it even to have these teachers be highly effective at the end of one, two, or five years. This is certainly an ancillary objective, but their overall mission is to end the disparity of educational outcomes between white students and students of color. Wendy Kopp (Founder and Chair of the Board of TFA) readily admits this distinction whenever she is pressed on the quality of TFA teachers.
    Teach For America is invested in the long term structure and outcomes of American education. They want their corps members to go into policy, law, remain in education and be excellent teachers or administrators, or enter any other area of society where they will be able to hold sway over the levers of education and fix the inequalities.
    Do the ends justify the means? This is a key question that nauseates many people. Your view will also be shaped by a number of factors: whether you agree with the studies on TFA teacher effectiveness, whether you believe the brief training period of corps members de-professionalizes education, whether corps members should receive jobs at the expense of local teachers, and so forth.
    It also shouldn’t go without notice that Teach For America will pursue its organizational end game (and can technically achieve it) even if studies reveals that TFA teachers are chronic under-performers and high-need students suffer in their classrooms. Teach For America can claim success (and it might be a major net societal benefit) if their corps members are ultimately able to put a dent in educational inequality. How long will this take, what will be the costs, and to what extent will the goals be accomplished? These are key questions that have yet to be answered, but which any critical analysis of TFA needs to consider.

    Who are TFA teachers replacing?

    This question is complex. There are certainly areas in the country with major teacher shortages, or at least shortages of competent and qualified teachers. This is true in countless rural areas across the country, including many Indian reservations, and also numerous inner cities. These are places where, frankly, many people do not want to teach because of the low-pay and extremely challenging classroom environments. In these areas, TFA teachers are taking over hard-to-fill positions and they are generally not pushing traditional teachers out of their jobs in any meaningful way. Nor is the data clear that in these poor districts, standard teachers would perform better than TFA teachers.
    In areas such as Detroit where enrollment is continually shrinking, one could make the opposite argument. Teachers are being laid off in massive numbers, yet TFA teacher enrollments have grown in recent years. This is an extremely volatile issue in a city that suffers from vast unemployment, one of the highest levels of racial segregation, and extreme distrust of outsiders and members of the privileged class. Even if TFA teaches are performing on par with the teachers they are replacing, it is certainly difficult to argue that they deserve the job over a local teacher, or even that the community as a whole wants them.

    Where do the best teachers come from?

    I need to burst a bubble that seemed present in the previous article. Traditional teacher education is NOT peaches-and-cream, heaven-on-earth or any other utopian metaphor you’d like to use. There is a huge range in the quality of traditional teacher education programs and unfortunately at many of these places, the bars for entry and for certification, are extremely low. These programs frequently have the time and resources to produce highly effective teachers, but the fact is that a high percentage of them do not.
    I’ve heard the argument countless times that TFA undermines the profession of teaching because schools are allowing individuals with only five weeks of training/experience to teach our children. And in no other profession would this be acceptable. This fact is certainly true, but it is no less true, that schools of education and teacher education have undermined their own credibility and that of the profession themselves.
    The fact is that a huge number of TFA teachers outperform their traditionally certified peers. While the data doesn’t confirm that this is happening across the aggregate, the fact that this is even a close race should scare the crap out of people.
    I myself was the product of one of the highest ranking master’s of education and teacher prep programs in the country. Unfortunately, I found this experience to be completely abominable. I was not placed with highly experienced teachers for my student teaching experience and I was not trained in a multitude of areas that are critical to effective teaching. And I’m not talking about advanced, esoteric practices. I didn’t receive any meaningful training in classroom management (there was a 2 hour seminar, which was only given by special request), nor was there training in areas of basic literacy instruction (such as phonics or balanced approaches). What benefits I could salvage out of my program, I had to scrape for at every step of the process. It wasn’t only that I didn’t walk out the door as the highly skilled professional I knew I was capable of being, I didn’t feel even modestly prepared to conquer the challenges that were in front of me.
    Katie, I know you make the argument that traditionally certified teachers are gradually released into full-scale teaching and learn all the fine nuances along the way from the sages of education. This is exactly the way the model is supposed to work, and probably the best model we have for putting out the best teachers possible, but it’s just not happening on a consistent basis in practice. It saddens my heart to write and share the previous four paragraphs because I came into education with high aspirations. I feel shame for many traditional teacher ed programs. We can do better.

    The desires of parents

    The fact that upper-income school districts and parents would not want TFA teachers in their classroom (even if they had access to them) is not a strong argument against TFA. These districts also generally don’t want teachers from low quality certification programs or a high percentage of any inexperienced teachers. They want the absolute best for their students and they generally have the resources to recruit them. The fact that affluent districts might not hire TFA teachers is more a statement of their economic, social, and political clout than anything else.

    Who’s funding what?

    Katie, you also raise the point that TFA might be, or is, complicit in a systematic effort to promote the interest of big business, the conservative movement, and the perpetuation of inequality through capitalist markets. When you examine the evidence, there is very little support for these arguments.
    The big businesses that are writing checks to TFA aren’t doing so because it supports their bottom line. They’re doing it because it’s good for their public relations and public perception (and perhaps a little bit out of their moral fiber). This is a business practice that major corporations have been conducting for decades. The civic education program I work for is even a recipient of major corporate dollars. Some of these funds come with constraints on how we need to conduct a given program, but many do not.
    Generally, the amount of money that corporations donate to nonprofits are drops in the bucket compared to what they spend on their own advertising campaigns and what they spend on Washington lobbyists to shape policies in favor of their own self-interests. Is it true that Teach For America may be potentially weakening teacher unions? Possibly. Can the Wal-Mart Foundation take a small swipe at unions by supporting TFA? Sure. However, big businesses have far more effective ways to go after unions than by supporting Teach For America.
    Katie, your argument implies that TFA is not actually trying to create educational equality. Then what is their actual agenda? Promoting the status quo? Furthering the interest of big business? There just isn’t evidence to substantiate this. ‘Following the money’ in this case doesn’t really prove anything. You don’t answer your own question on why TFA would partner with their major donors. TFA has had roughly the same preparation program and educational model since it began, and long before it attracted the contributions of major organizations.
    Everyone one I’ve met that is involved with Teach For America (from the dozens of teachers, a handful of regional directors, and even Steven Farr, one of their highest ranking officials), I firmly believe is committed to improving the lives of students, and ensuring an equality of opportunity for all students regardless of their racial background or class. Generally speaking, that IS a progressive idea.

    Some indisputable benefits of TFA.

    Whatever your perception is of Teach For America, there is no question that they have contributed in numerous ways to education. Many top level college graduates who may not have entered education are now extremely successful teachers. Some of them have gone on to start top-level charter schools. TFA has produced high quality documents and training materials on the practices of highly effective teaching. Steven Farr’s book Teaching As Leadership, and its accompanying rubric, have examined education the way Jim Collins’ landmark work Good to Great examined private sector corporations – by identifying core components that separate average teachers/businesses from the extremely effective ones. Because of the massive number of people applying to TFA, the organization has also been able to identify characteristics and performance factors in applicants that correlate highly with successful teachers. This has the potential for utility across all of education.

    What to make of everything?

    It is worth noting, that this entire comment thread has us all engaged in the wrong dialogue. The fact that we even need to have a debate about the merits or drawbacks of Teach For America, is extremely telling of just how broken the education system is. All of us who are passionate and knowledgeable about education know the answers to fix our problems. However, America’s economic, social, political, and cultural forces have created an educational problem that has us all at each other’s throats about how to solve this metaphorical Rubik’s cube that, in reality, is missing half the pieces and colors. Instead of demanding these pieces be fixed by our institutions of power, we’re transfixed by the debate over TFA.
    There is a no silver bullet, or even a small handful of bullets, that will fix education. Fixing education requires an array of approaches, but they are straightforward and obvious to those of us who work in education. It’s impossible to list them all in a paragraph, but to name just a few, we need to: attract the best college graduates to teach (instead of funneling them to finance, medicine, law, or engineering), reduce class size, pay teachers more, improve the quality of teacher education, create an attractive and healthy school/work-place environment so that teachers don’t leave the field, properly support teachers in their first years and don’t give them the hardest assignments, and create some real accountability by getting the lemons out of both the classroom and administration. We also need to simultaneously address the systemic problems of poverty and parenting because we’ll never have entire schools of teachers that can make like Jesus and get all their students reading at grade level when their kids are starving and go home to adults that beat them to within an inch of their life.
    I highly recommend reading John Merrow’s book: The Influence of Teachers. It is the most accurate and succinct work I have read on education and it addresses just about every meaningful and contentious issue in a critical and informed way.

    My own assumptions

    I don’t know all the answers and I’m sure that some of my conclusions can and will be challenged, as they should. If nothing else, hopefully this comment thread gets us a little bit closer to doing right by our students.

  15. Swerve

    The safest way to kick off my response to this article would be to quote Bahamadia who said, “Note the commentator when you’re at the podium and present us with some healthy options.”

    Let me continue by suspending judgment on this well-intentioned Special Education
    teacher from Chicago who wrote a scathing article about the ineffectiveness of Teach For America. She opens her little piece with a hyperbolic call for all TFA newbies to quit. Yes, naturally, the thousands of teachers in training who are willing to work extremely hard during long week and weekend hours in the under resourced schools across the country ought to quit to bridge the opportunity gap. Yep, that’s gonna help kids learn. Why didn’t we think of this sooner?

    Oh wait, my bad, obviously TFA trained teachers (and I mean TFA trained, since we are not employed by TFA) should stay out of the positions reserved for Veteran teachers. Veteran teachers are the ones most equipped to change the educational opportunities for youth in this country. I mean, the opportunity gap didn’t even exist until TFA was created to invent the gap, and then continuously widen it.

    Since the aforementioned articleauthoress lumped all TFAers into the same boat, let me do her a solid and do the same for my veteran educator pals. While I have had the distinct pleasure of working with “master” teachers who were definitely empowering their learners, I have also seen a great deal of veteran teachers who I would have fired had I been in charge. I saw teachers spend 150 days talking at their students, instead of with them, while kids were expected to sit in silence. I saw teachers with struggling students leave every day when the bell rang. I saw teachers not expose their students to grade-level literature because they were too “low” to read it (This same educator who was absent all the time, ironically wrote a similarly scathing article for the NY Times after she quit). I saw teachers not call home to celebrate students or push them to behave better. I saw teachers call their students thugs, sluts, bitches, and little fuckers. I saw teachers who had no vision for where their students could end up if given an empowered learning experience. I saw teachers give up. I saw teachers quit. Yes, those teachers are certainly more qualified than new teachers who believe that it’s crucial to lead students on a better life trajectory. The devil certainly IS a lie.

    I grew up in Berkeley, a city known for it’s progressiveness. I went to all public schools and had primarily veteran teachers, with the exception of a few new teachers. In all of my schooling, I was never pushed to think more critically than under the guidance of two high school teachers, one who was a student teacher, and the other who was in her first year of teaching, fresh out of the SF state teacher program. These teachers changed my life. What they lacked in “Veteraness” they made up for in grit, in transparency, and a deep belief in teaching the whole child. I hardly remember the names of all those veteran teachers, and yet these two “new teachers” motivated me to be the first person in my family to go to college, to graduate school and to become a teacher.

    With all this talk about how great veteran teachers are, don’t all Veteran teachers have to start somewhere? Were they never new at some point? Instead of just going through a teacher training program, which TFA teachers go through just like everyone else, TFA recruits get extra training and access to online materials that new teachers in certification programs don’t typically get. TFA trained teachers are just like every other alternative certification teacher across the country, the only difference is our intensive summer and school-year additional training.

    There is certainly a myth about all TFA teachers not having had previous teaching experience. I taught advanced courses in Portuguese for 4 years before joining TFA. I taught in Brazil, too. Many of my colleagues had spent semesters or years working in urban schools as assistants and tutors, which is what attracted them to this program in the first place. So when I read that all TFA teachers have only 5 weeks of summer teaching experience, I worry about the people who make these claims. Like Chimamanda Adichie says, “There is a danger in the single story.”

    There are plenty of people who rally together to intellectually trash talk the function of TFA. But guess what: all that speaking out the side of your neck isn’t getting our kiddos anywhere. What good does all this complaining do? What role do these complaints play in getting our kiddos to make it to and through college?

    We know that the opportunity gap is bigger than in-class instruction. We know that out kids need access to medical care so they can be healthy and focused in class. So is it wrong that some teachers go through two years in the classroom, then go to med school and try to change access to medical care for urban folk?

    What about my non-documented students who need access to legal support and can’t afford it? Is it wrong that some of my colleagues leave the class and go to law school to change their ability to provide them with equal legal representation?

    What about all my students who have been victims of sexual and physical violence who don’t get appropriate systemic assistance? Is it wrong that my colleagues leave the class to become social workers, to extend their reach in bridging the gap?

    What about my students who have severe emotional challenges? Should we talk mess about my colleagues who leave the class to provide access to psychological services for the youth we serve?

    We also know that when it comes to curriculum and educational struggles, the issues are bigger than the school level. So what then about our colleagues who go into politics to help make school-level change? Should we fault them for trying to extend their reach?

    The bottom line is that if this really is a movement, we cannot stand still. We cannot stand around and protest well-intentioned organizations for trying to do something to help the education system in this nation, if we are not going to offer a better solution. If someone has a better idea, then come on out with it. Otherwise, Swerve!

    • Amanda Jones says:

      Well said!

    • Well said. I am a 2011 Milwaukee Corps Member and I agree. Bashing TFA is not going to move our kids forward. If TFA is truly a problem, critics should try to reform the organization from within because it is not going anywhere soon.

    • Cassandra, thanks for illustrating my biggest complaint against people involved in TFA. Instead of at least acknowledging that:
      1. TFA goes to school districts without teaching shortages.
      2. Because of the slot system, TFAers take jobs away from newly QUALIFIED teachers, and are therefore competing against new teachers for jobs, but have an unfair advantage because the district has to hire them.
      3. Five weeks is not the same as the year to two years of formal training that most new teachers endure.
      4. The argument has never been that people in TFA should quit teaching, but should instead go to teaching school- like other people.
      5. The fact you have not been to teaching school does not make you the best person for the job, because you are not, as the federal government would mandate, “a highly qualified teacher” or NCLB compliant at the time that you start teaching.

      Instead of at least mulling around the idea that some of these complaints might be valid-you instead start attacking teachers that you believe are inferior to you in some way. Why is that? Are you better than them? Smarter than them? Do you care more about the children than they do? Are you morally superior to them? Does that the fact that you were accepted in to a “prestigious” program somehow illustrate that about you? That’s right, because you’re assuming that the people you work with are dumber than you because they didn’t go to your university or get accepted into TFA. You look at their experience in the classroom as detrimental to children. You see non TFA teachers as the main problem in education. That is exactly what I don’t like about TFA. Either you all lack an exceptional amount of humility or someone tells you that lazy teachers are the problem.

      Next, you talk about all of issues that children fact-and somehow, it’s wrong of us-to worry about what is happening to our profession-because us worrying about our profession is bad for the children. That’s simply not true, my work environment is my student’s learning environment. You obviously haven’t been teaching long enough to recognize this or the fact that change for change’s sake is just stupid. Do you realize that teacher you trashed for not teaching literature was probably strongly encouraged to teach her class that way by admin? That’s actually a movement in ELA-but you don’t know that because you haven’t attended the trainings. So a woman left after school-did you not consider that this doesn’t reflect her dedication to teaching, but that she had to pick her kids from daycare? In any case, you’re fraught “but it’s about the children” argument only serves to reinforce the fact that you believe that tfa teachers care more and are more dedicated than other people-which is just ridiculous. It’s a profession-you’re not a missionary-people should be allowed to have lives and a job. The fact that you don’t have any other outside responsibilities and don’t have to worry about burnout because you’re not planning on teaching five years from now does not make you a better teacher.

      All of the people you mentioned should get teaching credentials, should go and become licensed therapists and psychologists, nobody is doubting their good intentions-but like I said-why can’t they go and become qualified for the positions that they hold, then fairly compete with other qualified professionals for the positions? I don’t think it’s wrong that people want to go to Law school. But I became a teacher because I was in it for the long haul-I don’t see teaching as a volunteer experience where I learn more about myself and my career direction at the expense of some our nation’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. I don’t see teaching at risk kids as ” a life experience” that I will trot out at cocktail parties to show people how deeply I care about poverty, because I’m attorney. I don’t see it as a stepping stone to some future political career in which, like Michelle Rhee-who duct taped her students mouths shut- I will trash my profession, undercut my colleagues, and PRIVATIZE one of the pillars of a functional democracy. That’s the change you are a part of, I find it appalling.

      • Your response was spot on. I think more and more people are becoming aware of the false promises that TFA makes and are wising up to their manipulated data scams. I’ve yet to see an organization so full of themselves.

      • I know you mean well, but still I think you are spending all your time bashing TFA when you could be offering up some better solutions. Since you’re the expert, do tell us what it will take to bridge the gap.

        FYI – We all receive preliminary certification before entering the classroom with the same types of certifications that all new teachers get at my school. No one is in the class uncertified at the schools I’ve worked at, so I don’t know why people think otherwise. If some schools are breaking laws, that’s on them, not TFA. I don’t claim to be better than anyone, and I never said I was. I do claim that there are all kinds of teachers who should not be in front of kids. This is a fact, no matter the route they took before coming to the classroom. I studied teaching at UCLA and was certified prior to coming in the classroom, which isn’t to say that I was more qualified than any newbies that are in the process of obtaining training.

        I’m looking forward to your master plan on how to make things better. What is it?

        • First of all, TFA was instrumental in changing federal law so that “teachers in training” counted towards NCLB’s “highly qualified teacher” stipulation. Instead of changing the program to meet the law, they changed the law itself. That change is being challenged in the courts:

          The master plan to make things better is on multiple fronts including social welfare reforms, criminal justice reforms, housing reforms, living wage jobs, universal health care…basically combating poverty, racism, and inequality. And since these types of reforms are never just given, in the spirit of all the people who struggled before us, we fight. On the streets, in solidarity with our students and their families.

          Meanwhile, within schools we must first and foremost create more equitable funding systems, a change that is necessary to reform schools, but not sufficient. Then, we flood our schools with the types of services that matter, ie extra staff for struggling schools, lower class sizes, guaranteed libraries, books, nurses, social workers, counselors, special education services, art, music, world language, gym/sports. Redirect the money going to massive testing projects/data systems/teacher evals into the classrooms.

          Invest in the workers in the schools as they are they hands that do the good work of improving school cultures. Aim for stability by improving working conditions, lightening teachers’ loads to be able to better plan, collaborate, and lead. Vow to invest in current schools rather than the “market-based” free-for-all that is corporate education reform. Make your mantra “Every child gets a guarantee, not a choice.”

          And how could TFA support this vision? Use untrained CMs as assistants in overwhelmed classrooms to support stability and great teaching. TFA has over $300 million in reserves which it should use to fund salaries for CMs to become assistants, supporting veteran teachers, not undermining them. Those hard-working young people would be huge assets in any classroom, helping tutor, taking small groups, grading, helping with mountains of paperwork. Of course, TFA may lose some of its biggest funders, as the union-busting is what they really are funding, but let them go. Cut back on the number of CMs, get rid of Institute, and do a short, local prep for TAs. Give participants the option of taking Masters classes at night, if they choose a career in teaching. The CMs get the same exposure to our broken system, they can go on to become “leaders” in whatever respective field they choose, without doing damage to the teaching profession or contributing to the inequality of giving low-SES kids unprepared teachers.

          • Cassandra’ s naïveté coupled with arrogance is a bit much. How little she knows about the master planning that goes on in schools/counties/districts/states. And how dare that teacher leave and only work her contracted hours…little does Cassandra know that that teacher does 3 more hours of work at home. “Preliminary Certification”……hmmm. BTW I am a 40+ year veteran whose last 27 years was in a comprehensive HS. I was a special Ed dept chair and co-teacher in a number of disciplines. We dealt with large numbers of impoverished students and spent countless hours planning and devising strategies to get them to school and get them AND their families engaged in the educational process. To think that fairly recently teachers were supposed to be “highly qualified” under another fashion trend brought to us by NCLB……I could go on and on. RTtT…..I have never understood that terminology at all. This is not a race, as others have said, it is a marathon. Two years- not even long enough to get the toes wet. I once saw how expensive it was for teachers to leave after just a couple of years and I wonder how TFA figures in that expense. Oh forget it…just remembered that we no longer track information that might make corporate takeover of our schools look bad.

        • Cassandra-
          You simply cannot argue that TFA’s five weeks training is any comparable to actually attending teaching school. I mean, if I had choose a second career, I think it would be really interesting to be a midwife-would you argue that I should forgo nursing school and attend a five week crash course training? Maybe I’d know something about delivering babies-but would you trust me alone in a delivery room? To argue that you could pick up how to be a teacher in five weeks is ridiculous. I don’t even think you could become an official bartender in less time. The fact that you already had a teaching credential would make you the exception rather than the rule of TFA teachers. As I’ve stated before, it’s not a “route” that TFA teachers travel to the classroom that I take issue with, it’s the complete circumvention of established rules, educational requirements and time spent in the classroom learning how to be a teacher that I disagree with.
          I was not responding to a post about education reform, I responded to your comments about TFA. I feel compelled to mention this to you as you asserted in your last comment that I spend “all of my time” bashing TFA. Yet, I noticed that you didn’t acknowledge any of the concerns that I brought up, and instead asked why I didn’t have a solution to all of the problems in education today. It’s a useful tactic: if someone were to raise legitimate and reasonable concerns, rather than thinking about the concerns raised by someone who is “well meaning” , the person criticizing the is mistaken for part of the problem the reform is attempting to fix. Once again, you’re pitting TFA against teachers who might take issue with TFA- underlying this is the mistaken assumption that we have less interest in raising student achievement or that we care less about equitable opportunities in education(which Kate enumerated in her response). Not having a magic bullet to cure all of the problems in education does not make my critiques of TFA less valid.
          I will refer back to what I said in the original post about change for change sake being a waste of time. I have yet to be convinced that a way to best help under served students is by putting an inexperienced teacher volunteer in the classroom, who is removed from their community, has no interest in staying, and who really just wants to go to law school. How is that a reform? How is that good for kids?

    • Do you seriously believe that 5 weeks of intensive training can prepare one for entering a classroom?
      And by intensive, do you mean, sitting around for one week discussing “story of self”? And by intensive, do you also mean teaching for 1.5 hours to 9 kids?

    • I love how you would fire people for leaving every day when bell rings. That’s when I’m SUPPOSED to leave according to my contract. If management doesn’t like it, they can negotiate a new one. No one else works for free!

      If I wanted to put in long hours, I would have gone to law school!

    • bernie1815 says:

      Cassandra: It is always great to read a well-written counter-argument.

  16. Another Teacher says:

    I see your point and agree with some, but I want to push back. I’m certain I’ll be lost in the shuffle, but I’ll leave this here: Full disclosure, I’m a TFA alum who teaches Special Ed and has SIGNIFICANT issues with teacher preparation, but NOT only for TFA corps members and teachers.

    This is another alternative teaching program in Chicago. Chicago, like most states, has alternative credentialing routes. These are not unique to TFA partnerships, and were not written by TFA. Perhaps they were lobbied for by TFA, I can’t speak to that, but they don’t exist purely because TFA wanted them to. TFA is not this all powerful mogul of education. Yes, it is a big force in education reform and yes, there is a lot wrong with it, but I know for a FACT that the corps members at my school, myself included, were at least as qualified as the majority of teachers at my school.

    We do, in fact, meet state requirements. The requirements for programs like ours are different, but at institute they keep track of our attendance and teaching time because we’re required by law to meet certain requirements (generally between 100 and 150 hours) before we can get our “intern” credential and teach in our class.

    Over summer we are NOT the teacher of record, that’s what the faculty advisors are for, and we meet with them weekly, if not more often, to discuss our progress. We also have advisors who review our lesson plans and observe us constantly over summer to improve our practice. Our “institute” is no different from other intense, rigorous alternative preparation programs.

    Is TFA perfect? No. Should everyone join it? Definitely not. Is it okay that people use it as a stepping stone to “something better”? No way, I hate that. But when you work in an underserved district that has been failing for years, new energy and bright faces can bring change. My union is NOT working for kids, it is working for maintaining the status quo.

    I was by no means a master teacher during my first two years. I have met no one who is. I just finished my “clear” credential program with people who were traditionally credentialed and I’m confident that my students made gains that were equal, if not greater, to the gains made by students in my peers’ classrooms.

    When asked by our city council – because my union was trying to get TFA expelled from the district – if TFA teachers were less effective than 1st and 2nd year traditionally prepared teachers, they had no response, because at least in my district, we’re not.

    I’m not a phenomenal educator, and I know plenty of traditionally credentialed teachers who ARE. I feel confident that TFA is NOT a silver bullet, as mentioned before, but only one part in a larger movement to fix the broken system that fails our poorest students, our students of color, and our students with special needs. Can TFA do it on their own? No. Definitely not.

    I love my kids and I love this work. I don’t know if I’ll teach forever, but I know I’ll be in this for life, moving into administration after appropriate training and experience, or joining other advocacy groups. I didn’t come in to TFA wanting to teach. I was looking for a way to give back to communities like mine after graduating from a high performing school. My fire has been lit, as I’m sure the fires of thousands of new CMs will be lit/have been lit this summer.

    I agree that TFA is not perfect, but to suggest that it is out to hurt kids and maintain the status quo, implicitly or explicitly, is false.

    • Just got your clear ticket and already looking to move into administration. Guess you got that whole savior gig wrapped up. Ever stop to think how the system got to be the way it is? The reason why the teacher’s union looks after teachers is that they are the constant. The kids move through. But teachers have to pull it off 180 days a year plus in-service and planning days year in and year out. Through boom and bust, bull and bear. They don’t get to pick new administrators or politicians when they bring in new policies with little evidence that they will be successful. They just have to hold the line and bear it. So you put in your mandatory three or five or whatever it is where you are and get that shiny administrators ticket. And then when you start hammering on that teacher with 25 or 30 years under their belt and you wonder why they don’t have much to say to you maybe you’ll realize it’s because they are a soldier and they have seen your kind before. You are but an annoying fly buzzing about their head. They will smile and not and pretend like they are listening. Then they will turn and go into their classroom and close the door and set about the business of educating. That is when you should shut up and observe and listen and learn.

  17. i am the product of the public school system in Hartford, CT and having been in classrooms headed by both TFA alum and these “certified”/”qualified”/”experienced” teachers that are being “pushed out” and i cannot say one benefited me more than the other. while the new TFA recruits would come in bright eyed and excited to teach, nothing was accomplished because they simply could not handle the classroom (with a few exceptions, mostly from teachers who shared similar backgrounds with the students and had attended schools like ours) and as a result not much knowledge transferred. As mush as i would love to say the teachers who were being protected by the union were great educators, they were even worse than the TFA teachers. Coming to class each day uninterested in teaching and even more uninterested in their students (again, of course there were a few exceptions who i continue to thank for guiding me to higher education and a higher probability of lifelong success). Fortunately the arguments presented in the letter are backed up by hard numbers and evidence, otherwise i would not believe a word mrs osgood has written. traditionally certified teachers with experience do not necessarily make good teachers and in my experience the certification process had little to do with a teachers classroom success. the teachers who cared, who put work into their lesson plans, who actually read the assignments that were turned in, TFA or no TFA, were the best teachers.

    again this comes from my own personal experience and nothing else. it is hard to argue against the data that this article and those linked to in the comments above have brought to my attention and i am not biased enough to ignore reality. but as many above have already said we must address the larger issue of education directly instead of arguing small points because our feelings got hurt.

    lastly, i am no expert and do not claim to be one

  18. Robyn C says:

    While I can see some great points in this letter, I want to address something that was said that was unfair and untrue. JP Morgan Chase gets a bad rap for being a “big bank” but what people DONT know is that they NEVER needed a bailout. Our government actually FORCED them to take the bailout! And they were the FIRST to pay it back with interest of any financial institution. JP Morgan Chase gives back to the community in so many ways, including education. Way more than any small town credit union would or could. So I resent when people speak poorly about Chase Bank without any knowledge about the company or the amazing things they do. At the end of the day, yes they are a FOR PROFIT company, but I’d be surprised if you find many other institutions that do as much as they do for their employees and the community.

    • Karl Hungus says:

      Robyn, I hope (and assume) Chase is paying you well for your transparent sock-puppet PR work. You’re pathetic, though, either way.

      (Cue vehement yet ambiguous denial in 3…2…1…)

  19. I am an alum and I have remained and will remain a teacher. While a lot of your criticisms are valid (and I can’t speak to the charter issues in Chicago at all), I think that this article, like many criticisms of TFA, is purposefully failing to see any of the positives about TFA.

    A few things:

    1. Every teacher was a first year teacher at some point. The fact that TFA CM’s are green is simply part of the lifecycle of a teacher. TFA has considered upping the commitment time, but has found that they couldn’t get the same quality of grad that way. Think about being asked to move from your family, your friends, your city of choice, your life for five years? But from day one, they make it incredibly clear–their goal is to light your hair on fire with a passion for teaching, not to be a stepping stone on the way to law school. And it happens. Not everyone one is going to find their true calling with TFA, but many do. I love teaching. It’s my life. I could make more money doing something else. I might have gone after a law degree before, but this experience changed who I am.

    2. Traditional teachers aren’t always good and they don’t always stick around. And not all districts can handle that. My school loses a ton of people every year. Teachers walk out in the middle of the day. One classroom had four different teachers this year. Another teacher quit after a student made her cry (man, if we all did that, there wouldn’t be many teachers left). Permanent subs who sit on their cell phones all day are put in the classroom because there aren’t enough teachers here to have someone actually teach. My students had three permanent subs on their schedule this year. Many didn’t graduate on time because of receiving incompletes in classes because the permanent sub, who doesn’t ever teach, gave them a failing conduct score. If you took TFA out of my school, there aren’t any teachers to replace them. We have about 65 teachers at my school. 10 quit before the last year started. 7 quit during the school year. So far 8 quit over this summer. We will see come August who else leaves us. But of the five TFA alum in the building, all of us are returning.

    3. My training was actually pretty close to what the teachers in my district received. It was shorter, for sure, and that is a valid point. But I was taught to be a reflective teacher, to use data to understand how I am doing and how I can improve, to engage students in higher order thinking, etc. All of these TFA approaches are what I see my principal constantly advocating in each PD session. When I used my Americorps grant to obtain a masters in education, the classes went over the same things that were drilled into us in Institute. (I use ACT information for my data point as I do not–thank God–have a tested subject. My students are seniors and the came into my classroom with just above a 12 point average on the reading portion of the ACT. We got that up to just under a 17. Not amazing and not where I want them to be, but the growth is not a joke.)

    • The author specifically said that TFA is going to places with a surplus of teachers. Clearly that isn’t the case at your school, and so the program will, in that sense benefit you. However, in places where teachers who have established their careers in teaching can’t get a job because novices are walking in to take their spots, it’s a problem.

  20. Liz Brown says:

    I have first hand experience with TFAs’ impact on a school’s culture and student learning as a Chicago (Aspira) charter school teacher and department chair. In my last 2 years, 80% of the new hires were TFAs. I personally “mentored” 3. What TFA instructed them to do was, by and large, antithetical to our school culture. 2 of 3 TFAs I worked with closely basically quit TFA their 2nd year and were much more effective for it. They realized that TFA did not have the answer for our inner city kids. One quit teaching after 2 years, the other after 3 years.
    But the one who survived was by far the least capable and committed and, when he taught Juniors his 3rd year (previously my schedule), our ACT English scores dropped 4 full points after steadily rising by 1.5+ points for 4 years, each year.
    But the school, seeing the profit of hiring TFAs, continued to hire TFAs, And the school’s scores and enrollment continued to plummet.
    Last year they removed the CEO.
    This year they closed the school.
    The school had promise, but was undercut by cheap labor and high turnover, caused by top level corruption that funneled resources away from the classroom and into the pockets of individuals.
    No benefit accrued to my students or my school by hiring TFAs.
    The only benefit was gained by those who profited financially.
    I believe to think otherwise is simply foolhardy.
    TFA is without a doubt a central reason that school failed and our children suffered the consequence.

    • My school took on 5 TFA’s 2 years ago and all 5 quit after their 2 year term. For went into other career fields: 1 to Google, 1 to law school, 1 to a fast track exec program and 1 to rescue a bunch of children in Brooklyn from the horrors of their PS with a shiny new charter. The 5th I forgot what they were going to do but it wasn’t anything in education. Way to go TFA!!!

  21. I am first going to speak to Teach For America’s impact in native communities. TFA places in 4 native regions with incredibly high teacher shortages. Through Teach For America’s Native Alliance Initiative, the organization has dramatically increased the number of native leaders going back to New Mexico, Hawaii, Oklahoma and South Dakota. In New Mexico, In 2011, a Public Education Department analysis showed that Navajo Middle School made the highest gains in the state in all three subject areas tested in 2009-2010. These math, science, and English classrooms were all taught by Teach For America teachers. Overall, the analysis showed that four Teach For America corps members led their students to the most growth in the state in their respective subjects and content areas. I think of Robert Kelty (New Mexico Corps ’01) who is now superintendent of Coconino County, the second largest public reservation school district in the country, and was Arizona’s Teacher of the
    Year in 2008. I think of Shayla Cooke (New Mexico Corps ’07) grew up in Arizona and joined the New Mexico corps in 2007. She teaches special education at Navajo Middle School, her original placement school. Finally, I think of Stephen Schatz (Los Angeles Corps ’94) who is now the Assistant Superintendent for the Office of Strategic Reform for the Hawai’i Department of Education. Previous to this post, he served as a teacher, vice principal, and principal in California’s Compton Unified School District and a vice principal, principal,and complex area superintendent on the island of O’ahu. I think of the 550 principals and thousands of teachers who are STILL in the classroom because of their deep belief in their students. Many of these individuals were not “traditionally” certified but have remained in the classroom for 15+ years. Do I think the organization is perfect? No, in fact, no organization is. But I deeply believe they are passionate about providing an effective education for ALL students. I sat at a round table on Indian Education today one tribal leaders stated they want effective teachers and did not care if they were traditionally certified. They spoke of Jamie Gua, a South Dakota corps member and native american who led her high school students to win the Design for Change competition which was the FIRST time a native school has ever won. As TFA’s most diverse corps enters into the classroom this Fall, I am proud to call myself an alumni of the organization. The article above merely states this person’s opinion and here is mine: we should all be working together to find a solution. TFA or not TFA, this is about our students and not this persistent calumny.

    Finally, I was also a faculty advisor on the district side at Teach For America’s institute. The author referenced her friend was also a Faculty Advisor. I was never told to “sit in the back of the classroom and not say a thing.” In fact, I was told to speak up, to read over corps members lesson plans, to make sure they were setting high standards, to make sure they were introducing the material, having guided practice, allowing students to practice and assessing student success. I am saddened that this “friend” sat silently watching his or her students lamenting, ““They are using my kids as guinea pigs,” It seems odd to me that a passionate educator wouldn’t speak up.

    • There has been some serious misuse of funds and corruption in Teach for America’s work with Native American communities:

    • And my friend was instructed to watch during the lesson and absolutely not to interfere and then give feedback after it was complete. TFA was very clear about that point. I think the idea was to let the novices learn from their mistakes. On kids. On our most fragile kids. Five of them in one room “practicing” all day.

      My friend signed up to teach summer school, instead he was forced to supervise TFAers against his will. TFA can’t seem to get much of anything right.

      • abmilwaukee says:

        Is it possible for this friend to speak out about the experience? I feel like that relationship is somewhat integral to the training that if this is beginning to happen, then this person, if possible, should come forward. Of course, I understand if they don’t, but it’s a shame for corps members if their Institute faculty advisers are being silenced.

      • Mark Stulberg says:

        Katie, I am a former TFA Corps member and current school principal, and believe me, over the years I have had some gripes with TFA, but if you genuinely believe that “The actual process of TFA does the exact opposite of its mission” or “TFA can’t seem to get much of anything right”, you should email me. I’d love to take you on some tours of schools being led by former Corp members that have many current Corps members on staff that are closing and reversing the achievement gap.

  22. notafan says:


    • notafan says:

      Wow, I have so much to say about this issue. I hope my outrage does not hinder my ability to articulate my thoughts clearly.
      In 2010 my large urban school district welcomed 75 TFA corps members. At the time I was unfamiliar with the organization and did not have any concerns regarding the placement of corps members in my district. I read in the newspaper that local philanthropists were responsible for bringing TFA to my city. It wasn’t until much later that I questioned why these philanthropists valued inexperienced, recent grads over passionate, effective, knowledgeable educators. I still haven’t solved this riddle, but it is evident in their generous loan forgiveness incentives, Ipad donations, and Donorschoose contributions that they are more highly regarded.
      In 2010 3 CMs were placed at my school. I remember thinking how their presence would provide “outsiders” a unique opportunity to see how broken/corrupt/ineffective the system can be. I considered this a good thing. As the year progressed I worked closely with two of the CMs and did not have much contact with the 3rd. What I began to realize during that first year is that TFA is all about presentation. The CMs would come dressed in high heels, manicured nails, and designer suits talking about how their students would increase their reading levels by two grade levels at the end of the year. Great! I’m all for having high expectations for students, but… it takes a lot more than expectations. I was disappointed that the CMs were not committed enough to their students to try to reach the goals they made when they were naïve and did not realize the challenges that high poverty students present. Both CMs were frequently absent from school. It was not uncommon for one of them to be gone for days while she travelled with her family to other states. Those three CMs fulfilled their commitments and left.
      I never witnessed anything physically harmful until last year (enter 4 new CMs, minus one who did not return after Christmas Break). A CM became frustrated because a student refused to remove his hood from his head after repeatedly telling him to do so. She warned him that if he put it back on, she would cut it off. Well he put it on his head again, and she actually cut it off. She suffered no repercussions because the incident was disguised when she stole a hoodie from the lost and found and gave it to him. Later, after discussing this incident with another teacher, she realized the student was covering his head out of embarrassment from a new haircut.
      For many summers I taught summer school to earn extra income for my family. It was very satisfying to be a part of the growth students were able to make during the summer months. Smaller class sizes, and fewer interruptions made it easier to give the struggling students the time they needed to move forward academically. Last year, my district became a Summer Institute Site for TFA. Sadly, that means students in my district are no longer getting the help they need during summer school. Instead, they are guinea pigs for recent graduates who want to learn how to teach. Just as sad, CMs are not learning to teach. How could they? 4 weeks of instructing students for 2 hours each day with very little feedback? Seriously? My previous role as a summer school teacher has morphed into my new role as Faculty Advisor. Sometimes, I’m hard on myself because I feel that somehow the future students of my 4 CMs are going to suffer terribly and it will be my fault for not better preparing them for this field. Then I realize what an enormous and almost impossible task this is- to expect someone to learn how to be an effective teacher in 4 measly weeks! I have done the math- 4 teachers X 2 years X 23 students = 184 students. I can’t help but to feel guilty and responsible for those 184 students that will enter those classrooms with teachers decked out in Chanel and Jimmy Choos with no concept of how to teach, deescalate behaviors, inspire, problem solve, asses or interpret RELIABLE data.
      I really could go on and on, but I will end with my final conclusion. I have not seen positive change with TFA. Instead of increasing public awareness to some of the problems that exist in public education, TFA has definitely increased the problems. I don’t want to say that every corps member is ineffective, but speaking from personal work experience with CMs, the majority is definitely more harmful than helpful. People who disagree with the fact that TFA CMs are placed in districts where there are no teacher shortages are misinformed. My district now receives 225 TFA CMs each year, even during the years that we have experienced a teacher hiring freeze and have had to lay off teachers.
      I think someday people are going to be outraged when they see past the glitter and realize how harmful TFA is.

      • abmilwaukee says:

        I understand if you don’t want to, but I’m really curious to hear where you teach and hear more about your experience as a Faculty Adviser. I’m a TFA alumnus in Milwaukee entering my third year and I frequently blog about my experience and TFA at Right now I’m starting to look at districts with hiring freezes, school closings, etc, that are hiring TFA teachers. Could you email me your district or TFA region? My email is

  23. Jim Horn says:
    • abmilwaukee says:

      I saw this, and if it didn’t cost more than $100 to register for the conference I would be down with attending, learning more, and even organizing on some points. Hopefully they release information on their meeting and as they move forward. If they are TFA, I’d encourage them to come to the upcoming alumni conference, too.

  24. My school has FOURTEEN TFA corps members. Some of them are great teachers. All of them like to think very highly of themselves. The injustice of TFA is that it likes to state that its members do as well or better than experienced teahers on state assessments. At my school at least, the corps members are often given “the easiest” group of kids to teach, because they aren’t certified to have the ELL or special Ed students. So the experienced teachers, year after year, have the lowest groups of kids who are often performing 3, sometimes 4 levels below average. The admin then looks at the experienced teacher and days, “well why can’t you get the same results as this first year corps member?”

    For once, I’d like to see a corps member be assigned the bottom group of students. Of course, that wil never happen, since they aren’t qualified to do so.

    • abmilwaukee says:

      While we’re on opposite sides of this debate, @librarianlynne, I think you have a valid point about how Teach For America prefers to “cluster” corps members at schools. I was on my own at my school, and while I would have liked the camaraderie of another corps member, I also grew tremendously by being forced to meet and work with new people.

    • Let’s put egos aside for a moment and think about this in terms of what’s best for kids. Wouldn’t you want the most experienced teachers to have the most challenging classes? And the least experienced teachers to teach the easiest classes? I actually think that is the best possible situation (I’m forgetting for a moment that fact that your school needs 14 corps members in the first place- there must have been a ton of teacher turnover).

      In terms of comparing results, most people realize that when looking at standardized test results, we should look at growth rather than absolute scores (i.e. John got a 95 last year and a 92 this year, while Sally got an 85 last year and a 90 this year. Although Sally’s score is lower than John’s, she made growth while John’s score declined). If your administration is in fact ONLY talking about absolute scores (which I imagine they’re not, but I could be wrong), then I totally understand your frustration. Even so, it’s sad that you want to set classes of kids up in a sub optimal situation learning situation (putting a really inexperienced teacher in a really hard class) just to prove a point.

      • abmilwaukee says:

        This sounds like a really poor argument, Josh. The fact is that there are plenty of charter schools that do aim to hire TFA before they look for anyone else. They’re often the schools that helped bring TFA to their region or currently support TFA. You used to be able to go on TFA’s website and find the affiliations. So if there are 14 corps members at a school it wouldn’t surprise me if this is a school that has a TFA preference, hires TFA teachers, and has many vacancies every few years because of TFA. It’s why I dislike the “cluster” model. These things start to happen. It’s a TFA teacher shortage, only the shortage is on commitment/time instead of qualifications.

        Again, I support TFA, but I don’t think the info on her school, if it does have 14 corps members, is going to support you.

        • You have a good point, but my comment about teacher turnover (which I think is what you were responding to) was not my main argument in this post. My main points were about having the more experienced teachers teach the harder classes and about comparing growth in test scores rather than absolute scores. But I definite hear you about the drawbacks of “clustering” corps members (especially when it’s to such an extreme as 14 corps members at the same school).

          • abmilwaukee says:

            Oh definitely. I think everyone is with you there. But doesn’t that feed into the main argument of this thread that we shouldn’t have TFA teachers? People who didn’t specifically train in school to be teachers? I think anyone can be up to the challenge of any classroom with the right mindset.

            • Yes, it does, if there are committed, effective, and experienced teachers available for all positions, which there are not. That is why TFA was founded in the first place. I definitely agree that mindset is extremely important. I was one of those TFA corps members that got one of the classes that no one else wanted. Fortunately, I had a veteran teacher mentor who helped me that year. Was I the MOST EFFECTIVE person that could have possibly have been in that position? Absolutely not. But I did work my a** off to make sure my kids were getting what they deserved in terms of math instruction.

      • experienced teacher says:

        Yes there was a lot of turn over. I was one of those “turned over” teachers. I have over 20 years experience with one of the lower classes (some kids were functioning 5 years below grade level). I was told I would not be receiving a contract this coming school year and was replaced with a TFA member.

        • You don’t have tenure?

          • Tenure does not guarantee your job…..can we stop that myth?
            Tenure provides “due process” for teachers/ something that many TFAers will understand better when they go to law school.

  25. I seriously love you :)

  26. I’m a TFA alumni. While I don’t think TFA is the complete answer, nor would I necessarily tell every person considering to join TFA to join…I would like to say….

    1.) Please come strip TFA from my district and find enough of these qualified teachers without jobs to replace them. We couldn’t even find people to sub in our buildings this year. Literally. I cannot tell you how many times teachers in my building and district had to take off and no subs showed up. But like I said…find ’em and bring ’em. Seriously.

    2.) Please bring these funds you speak of to help maintain the well-being of buildings and all the resources needed.

    I’m pretty sure any negative opinions I had of TFA, which I did have some, were reversed after reading your comments on this blog. You don’t seem passionate to me about changing the education system for the better, but rather hard-headed and refusing to discuss ANY types of positives that could possibly challenge your thoughts. My thoughts were challenged because I was willing to see both sides. And I am convinced that unless we’re all willing to LISTEN and not HEAR, then we’re really not going to get anywhere. Your mind is made up so all you do is hear.

    I’m thankful that in my continuous reflection of my TFA experience and I how I feel about it moving forward, that I am at least willing to sit down with someone and LISTEN to why they think the way they do.

    Whether my mind continues to change on TFA or not, I know for sure I never want to side with you or your team.

    Good day.

    • 1) “Like so many other cities (New York City, Detroit, and Philadelphia to name a few) we have no teacher shortages. We have teacher surpluses… Teach for America is not needed in Chicago. Teach for America is not needed in MOST places.”

      MOST =/= ALL, so your single anecdote doesn’t disprove her wider observation. If that level of logic is beyond your comprehension, then you have no business trying to “educate” children. Step aside.

      2) “TFA has fundraisers raising millions of dollars in a single night… TFA requires districts to hand over thousands of dollars per recruit and pay a full, first-year teacher salary. TFA also lobbies state governments to give up millions in precious funding and convinced the Federal Department of Education to give up tens of millions to this organization. With over 250 million dollars in reserves, TFA still never offers to pay CM salaries to help struggling districts or waive “finder’s fees” for a vast majority of placements.”

      Looks like the author already located those funds you are looking for.

      You say you are willing to listen, yet the things you type make it seem like you didn’t even read the article. If thats your idea of “listening”… Please step aside and let better-informed people decide how to educate America’s children. Your vague feelings don’t outweigh the authors well-researched facts

      • LOL Okay.

      • Ben,
        Not my area of expertise, but some of the cities you list are identified by the Dept of Education as having a shortage of teachers. Furthermore, your statement is just as much as an antidote as the former. Listing several cities and that declaring them as having a surplus also does not mean it is true and also has no impact past this few cities.

        • Sarah G. says:

          Many cities have a shortage of math, science, or Special Education teachers. Rural areas have a shortage of those three, plus agriculture teachers. A lot of people think that that means they have a shortage of ALL teachers. Let me tell you – it’s almost impossible to get a job in a major city if you teach elementary school, secondary English, secondary Social Studies, music, art, or foreign language.

          Most TFA people are not qualified to teach math, science, SpEd, or agriculture.

      • Also Ben, how do you define “well researched”? I dont see any section on research methods. How do you base this statement? If your idea of proof is taking the word of anyone who you agree with ideologically you too should step aside.

  27. Amanda Jones says:

    I was a TFA teacher, a long time ago, in NYC. I had to interview for the job I was given, in person, with a principal of the school. She was under no obligation to hire me, and if any fully certified teacher had applied for that job, she would *not* have hired me. You may be right that big cities like NYC and Chicago have teacher surpluses overall, but the specific schools and subject areas where TFA teachers are placed do NOT have surpluses; they have shortages. I was absolutely the only math teacher that this school could find. If they could have hired one from within the traditional system, they would have. This is not only my experience; this is universally true of TFA job placements.

    TFA teachers are given the least desired positions within school districts, in the most difficult-to-staff subject areas (frequently upper-level math and science, bilingual, special ed). I have never heard of a certified teacher being passed over for a particular job that went to a TFA teacher; in fact, I believe that all of the localities that use TFA have rules preventing this from ever happening.

    Your piece mentions a certified teacher unable to find a job in Chicago. I don’t know for certain, but I would bet that this teacher is certified for an academic area that has a surplus (such as maybe elementary ed), whereas the TFA teachers are being brought in to fill areas that have shortages.

    This may seem like a small point, but it’s the single biggest fallacy that I see repeated about TFA. TFA teachers do not take jobs away from certified teachers. Never, not ever. It’s really a shame that this gets repeated so often, because many of the other criticisms of TFA are perfectly valid and worthy of real debate. But this one is not.

    • “This may seem like a small point, but it’s the single biggest fallacy that I see repeated about TFA. TFA teachers do not take jobs away from certified teachers. Never, not ever. It’s really a shame that this gets repeated so often, because many of the other criticisms of TFA are perfectly valid and worthy of real debate. But this one is not.”
      I can you that this isn’t a fallacy, it’s true. TFA teachers have protected slots in districts- districts with a surplus of teachers. I don’t work in Chicago. I think you are underestimating how many teachers are without jobs.

    • Jeff Smithpeters says:

      I am a professor of English in the Mississippi Delta. I can assure you absolutely that our brightest certified English teachers, often spellbinding professionals by the time of their senior years, are regularly turned down in favor of TFA novices.

  28. dferyuppie says:

    Or notice the many partnerships with JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America. . . . These organizations choose to donate to TFA because TFA supports their agendas. If TFA was truly pushing back on the status quo of educational inequality, these types of donors would not only refuse financial support, they would be attacking a group which threatens their earning potential.

    This is one of the most ridiculous arguments I’ve ever heard. First of all, large banks and corps (and their officers and employees) donate to a wide variety of charitable causes, largely for reasons of PR but also genuine ideaology/altruism. For example, even the most reputedly-“evil” donor on your list — Goldman — also donates to LGBT rights, the Humane Society, Doctors Without Borders, etc. To suggest that their support reflects some sort of conspiracy against educational equality is absurd.

    Look at how banks like Goldman hire their own. There’s no standardized certification or training program for investment bankers — they look for the brightest, most energetic ivy grads, throw them into entry-level positions and expect most learning to take place on-the-fly. They are true believers in meritocracy and “smarts” above all else, and are utterly impatient with systems perceived to be freighted with inefficiency and stagnation. For the most part, these instincts have served banks extraordinarily well. I don’t think it’s with bad faith that they bring the same perspective to bear on education.

    There are certain kids at the bottom of the societal barrel whom Goldman et al. probably don’t care about helping — kids with learning disabilities and socioeconomic disadvantages and indifferent parents, etc. They’d reason these kids are beyond help. But I don’t think that means their entire agenda is subversive. In their ideal world, we’d probably have an education system more adept at skimming the “cream” of the socioeconomically-disadvantaged crop — e.g., kids with parents dedicated enough to run the gauntlet laid down by a school like Harlem Success — and integrating those kids into the middle class mainstream. Another prong of the DFER-et-al agenda would probably involve elevating said mainstream so that in the end, if you are looking to hire an assistant or back-office analyst for ~$60k and interview at middling undergrads, you can still be confident you’ll net people with basic general knowledge and critical thinking skills. (Anecdotally, that’s not the case today).

    Reformers’ vision isn’t perfect, but I find it more compelling than a policy package that warehouses underperforming teachers in “rubber rooms” and clings to blatantly unmeritocratic policies — like seniority-based hiring/firing/pay and “due process” protections that make tenured teachers virtually un-fireable. I’ve seen critics argue that reformers want to de-professionalize teaching, but if you look at other professions (e.g. medicine, engineering, law), you won’t find policies like those. To make partner at a law firm, for example (the analogue of getting tenure), a young attorney slaves away for 8-10 years as an at-will employee who can be fired at any time for any reason. The vast majority of attorneys never cross the finish line; similarly, most professors are not granted tenure at most universities.

    • I actually wrote up a whole post about our so-called “meritocracy” (which is actually based on privilege) and how “the best and the brightest” are doing great damage to our schools: Here is what I wrote:

      These elites-the wealthy, the powerful, the Wall Street tycoons, the members of the “educational industrial complex”-are the very same people pushing corporate education reform. It is Wall Street and its hedge fund managers, the billionaires, the socialites, the wealthy politicians (for only truly wealthy individuals can afford to run for top offices anymore), and students and graduates from elite universities which make up the EdReform crowd. I want to make this very clear, the same people who callously crashed the economy with little personal consequence while sending millions into poverty and distress, the people who ignorantly and wantonly left thousands to suffer in the flood waters of Katrina, the people who call for tax breaks and corporates subsidies for themselves and their friends while social programs and education are gutted, the people who remorselessly sent young Americans into battle, trauma, and death on foreign soils, taking thousands of in-country civilian lives along the way, are the same people who are telling us how to reform education.

      The reformers, these elites, are so deep into their “meritocratic feedback loop,” so very sure of themselves and their ideas, that they simply cannot hear dissent. When teachers and parents tell heart-wrenching stories of the cruel consequences of Ed Reform, telling about beloved schools being shuttered, children treated like lifeless commodities, growing segregation, the spikes in youth violence in the midst of the chaos of opening and closing schools, Ed Reformers literally cannot accept that their actions might be wrong. After all, the people in the trenches, families from low-income areas, teachers, communities groups all have not proved their worth by entering the elite upper-echelons. Parents and teachers do not have “merit” in the EdReformer eyes. Only the “Masters of the Universe”, as demonstrated by accumulation of money and power, could possibly be smart enough to fix a problem as complicated and convoluted as education. The Billionaire Board of Education in Chicago is a prime example of the disconnected coldness of the elites and why the fight for an elected representative school board is so important to the parents and teachers of Chicago Public Schools. The board does not just seem distant, they actually are living on an entirely different social plane of existence.

      It is no accident that organizations like Teach for America have become so very popular in Education Reform circles. TFA takes the “best and brightest”, the top of the meritocracy, and puts them in the middle of the problem. According to the elite, how could they NOT work miracles? Never mind that they have no degrees in education, no experience working with children, and only five measly weeks of training, the hubris of the elite claims these novices know better than the seasoned professionals they are displacing. And throughout the TFA experience, TFA is careful to keep a clear social distance between members of their organization from traditional teachers and the communities where they serve. They see themselves as TFA first, and part of a teaching community second, if at all. And once members have put in their time with the ordinary, UN-meritorious masses, many TFAers jump quickly back into the far removed world of corporations, non-profits, high-profile education jobs, or political life–straight back into the safe space of the elites.

      It is this social distance, which has grown exponentially in just the past few years, which allowed the space for the growth of horrible ideas being promoted by the elites: merit pay (naturally in a meritocracy), evaluations based on test scores (show your merit through bubble tests–getting ranked and sorted is oh so very meritorious), charters (the wealthy and elite can certainly figure out a better way to run a school than those working-class union thugs), and the end of tenure and LIFO (if you are still teaching after 20 years, you are clearly not competing hard enough), and of course Race to the Top (we’ll give you money, but only if you prove your worth.) Social distance allows reformers to make edicts from on high without ever having to hear the consequences of excessive testings, or school closures, or ruined careers, or lifeless, dull curriculum. Neither they, nor their children, nor-importantly-their circle of friends will ever have first-hand knowledge of the bad policies being put in place.

      To real educators, corporate education reform ideas are simply insane. They don’t work and we have research to prove they don’t work. But there was plenty of evidence that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that sub-prime mortgages were dangerously precarious long before the housing bubble burst, and that the levees were not going to hold as Katrina rolled in. But the “best and the brightest” refused to listen to anyone but themselves. And the results were disastrous, just like we are seeing in education.

      • tedfine says:

        Katie: You have identified the root cause of the problem as big business and politics. Why would you focus on one of many side-effects rather than the root cause. Wouldn’t working for campaign finance reform be more likely to reform the system?

        • Education is one piece of the greater neoliberal restructuring of our cities and society. I partner with advocates working on afforable housing/evictions, the criminal justice system, police brutality, mental health, anti-austerity, anti-racism, pro-true respresentative democratic voice, social justice unionism and worker rights. These issues are complex and connected and it will ultimately take a massive people’s movement as we are seeing in countries around the world to force change. I believe that our youth are a critical piece of that pushback so I have found my place as a teacher working for social justice, partnering with my students and their communities, in the effort to change the status quo of inequality and oppression. I work both inside my classroom-encouraging kids to question, to think outside the box, never focusing on meaningless test scores, but rather relevant lessons directly tied to experiences and questions, restorative (not punitive) discipline,–but also outside the classroom marching, rallying, practicing civil disobedience, giving speeches, making as many realtionships across issues as possible.

      • dferyuppie says:

        You’re arguing that the elites are wrong to doubt the “seasoned professionals,” but let’s talk about professionalism. I cannot think of any profession where retention, pay and advancement are entirely lockstep and seniority-based, with concepts of merit and meritocracy so disdained.

        There are powerful interests in this country that exist totally outside the education system and are advocating for education reform. So what? Education is vitally important and affects us all. Likewise, I wouldn’t scoff at the fact that “non-professionals” outside the financial services industry express views, and push agendas, aimed at Wall Street reform.

        In one corner of these ed reform debates, you have many of America’s “best and brightest” achievers; they want our schools to turn out graduates who are valuable, capable employees. In the other corner you have teachers’ unions; they want teachers to be retained, protected and paid. I would say it’s debatable which agenda more closely aligns with the public interest.

    • “They are true believers in meritocracy and “smarts” above all else, and are utterly impatient with systems perceived to be freighted with inefficiency and stagnation. For the most part, these instincts have served banks extraordinarily well. I don’t think it’s with bad faith that they bring the same perspective to bear on education.”
      Setting aside the stunningly inaccurate argument that banks have done “extraordinarily well” (2008 anyone?), you’re not talking about a meritocracy- you’re talking about nepotism and elitism which can hardly be made the basis of a public education system. Public education’s mission is to educate everyone regardless of how dedicated their parent’s are, or how motivated the student is. Teachers cannot value “smarts” above all else- because they’d be teaching to the top 5-15% of their classes-what about the others? Not even addressing the fact that you believe that a ten year old is “beyond help” -one of your underlying arguments seems to be that you believe public education is somehow less efficient than private education. Yet, you don’t consider the fact that private schools get to decide who they educate-charter schools get to decide who’s a good fit and who isn’t. Public schools educate everyone. Not only do public schools educate everyone-we educate the majority of them well. The main issue in education is the achievement gap between poor students(of any race or ethnicity) and more well off students. Why throw out the baby with the bathwater and declare the entire system is a failure? Why is the national discussion about how bad teachers are rather than creating programs that actually support and help students who are struggling in school? Now, while I admire the civic spirit of TFA participants, I happen to think that they are not the answer. From my experience working with struggling students, a more humane, less institutionalized approach is needed-which would include smaller class sizes(35 is too many), continuity in teachers, collaborative curriculum, art classes, shop classes, and partnerships with businesses outside of school.

      Finally, the reason why fewer professors are getting tenure is because Universities, much like secondary schools, are offering fewer tenure track positions and more temporary adjunct positions.

    • Wait… I saw this movie. It was called “Waiting for Superman.” Thanks for the recap. Now, do you have any of your own thoughts to share?

  29. Amandaamand says:

    I would like to share that I officially resigned from my institute today. I arrived back in my hometown where my family showed me this post. Upon reading it, I felt somewhat guilty. I am a certified teacher. I am licensed in the state of Kansas and was placed in the South for region and institute. I have spent the past five weeks in unbearable conditions working with a team of teachers who have never taught before. I went into the movement feeling that I could make a difference. I am certified. I have always wanted to teach. Today I left Mississippi because I myself felt that I was still unprepared to help the students of my region. I have high standards for myself and I saw that throughout institute I was not meeting them and I saw my students were suffering. My CMA and all other observers informed me I was one of the best at Institute. Hearing that disappointed me greatly. I felt that every day I walked into that room I struggled more and more. With very little beneficial support and reinforcement I knew I was not making the impact the kids needed. Knowing I was not able to give them what thy needed I chose to leave and maybe return to the area later in my career when I am better prepared to work with kids who have such high needs. I love my students with all my heart, but they deserve the best. I am not that at this point in my career. Which makes me wonder, how are all the others so seemingly confident walking into a room in the Fall after the brief institute. I applaud you for raising awareness of the situation that is being perpetuated through TFA’s approach. I love the concept. I love the cause. The execution of acquiring soldiers for the war is not adequate, though. I made the difficult decision of leaving because I felt that I was not yet adequately prepared. I hope that those who feel the same, regardless of your other previous preparation, (maybe a degree in education like myself) truly consider the situation you are entering into. These kids need the best. If you can be that for them, go for it! If you feel that you are still not yet prepared, do NOT be afraid to step up and say so. It is difficult, but it is the best for the students.

    It saddens me to know that others remain at the institute I left who outright told me that they do not want to work with kids. I hope that they consider the ramifictions of their choices and the lies they will be impacting.

    Thank you for sharing this an I hope more individuals heed this information.

    • Thank you for that powerful response. I am sorry to hear about your negative experience in the program, but I applaud you for doing what you feel is right. My sense is that many entering TFA, understandly, do not know that they do not know enough. Without a full sense of the complexities of teaching, especially teaching students from underserved populations, it’s easy to believe all it takes is “high expectations.” Good luck to you and whatever your next step in your career is and thank you for sharing.

      • Katie,
        Do you realize that you just applauded a traditionally certified teacher for quitting the profession?


        • Josh, i have not quit the profession. I have removed myself from the grips of TFA. I made an educated choice to leave a situation I knew I was not truly prepared for and I hope that others in training with TFA are able to do the same if they feel they are not ready. It is humbling to admit, but it is better for the kids in the end. It truly is.

        • I applauded someone who knew they were not ready for the situation they were being placed in. And if someone already certified, being called “one of the best in her Institute”, recognizes that the students need so much more, imagine what the those kids are getting from the UNcertified novices. As I have maintained, our classrooms are broken by savage inequalities, by the ravages of unabated poverty, by top-down, technocratic, corporate edreform. Novice teachers are not going to help, and we need to stop selling programs like TFA as a solution. TFA compounds existing problems.

          • But from her comment and experience, it seems as if TFA had nothing to do with this girl not being ready. She was already traditionally trained. If I had to guess, she’ll probably go apply for a job at a higher income school. Sad.

          • Also, are you saying that no novice teachers should be allowed to teach? You’ve lauded traditional ed schools in past posts. Now you’re applauding someone from one of these schools for realizing she’s not “ready”. If anything, with so much training and preparation, she should have known what she was getting herself into by signing up to teach in a low income school. This supports my point that traditional ed schools don’t prepare people to teach in the kinds of schools where TFA usually places corps members. That is a big problem.

            • Josh, you simplify the complex nature of our unequal school system. It is clear that due to inequities in funding coupled with concentrations of children suffering from the worst effects of poverty make some teaching environments extremely challenging, that some schools/classrooms are truly set up to fail. At the very least, we should be placing our most experienced teachers in these difficult settings (but instead districts push them out of the classroom), and if they are not truly available, then new fully-qualified teachers. In my opinion, there should never be the OPTION of someone so ridiculously underprepared that they have not even completed their training program especially for kids most in need.

              Imagine if instead of relying on TFA and other Alt Certs year after year, districts had been held accountable for the teaching conditions in their schools. What if our massive accountability systems measured something more meaningful than test scores and instead looked at class sizes, resources, sufficient support systems? Schools that struggle should be targeted for EXTRA resources, staff, mental health services, clinics, etc to create teaching environments that work. Instead, districts bring in TFA and claim they have done something, which covers the dirty truth that the status quo of gross inequality has remained firmly in place.

              And for many placement areas, including Chicago, the novice TFAer is being hired instead of a fully-certified teacher. If every single TFA Chicago CM quit today, there would be plenty of fully-certified, experienced teachers desperately looking for work to fill those spaces.

            • I mentioned on the radio program last evening that in my program, student teachers log roughly 1500 hours of observation and teaching in school settings before their first position. The same cannot be said of a TFA teacher, who is supervised and mentored only in their first year of teaching because institutes take place over the summer. Yes, you read that right, 1500 hours. That’s a lot.

              Would it be possible for the TFA teacher to be a full-time assistant their first year rather than lead teacher of record? That would be one good step towards legitimacy in my imagination. But I doubt that would be possible because the central mission of TFA is not necessarily to help children and communities, but to provide the credibility of a legion of future leaders, lobbyists, and like-minded administrators. That objective is very clear considering where former TFA corps members end up. For instance, a former corps member succeeded to become the head of teacher evaluation for the entire state of LA at a mere 27 years of age.

              One other important concern that I have with teacher preparation are the restrictive rules that I am subject to but TFA is not. For example, why were they not evaluated by the NCTQ study so that we could all judge the merits of our various forms of preparation and make informed decisions?

              Additionally, in my state, my program was prohibited from placing student teachers in schools that did not make AYP. Thus, for no fault of our own, we were systematically cut off from placing new teachers where they were needed the most. Yet, TFA was perfectly able to place fresh corps members in these schools. This to me does not speak of any demand, but a cordoning off of inner city communities as zones of experimentation in the latest reform techniques.

          • Though I respect you opinion and thought process in this, I have to disagree with the comments you have made about me and my education, as well as my future. I went to an amazing school with a top of the line education program. All of my observations and student teaching experiences were in low income schools because I was in a low income city. I intend to teach in a low income school back here at home. The purpose behind my leaving TFA was primarily based on the fact that, yes, I did not feel ready there, but that feeling stemmed from a lack of support in terms of other teachers who love kids and want the best for them. If I am going to work with children, I want to work with others who love children and WANT to be there for the children. That was not evident during my time in Institute. I came home to teach in a low income school where I know there will be others who love and want the best for all our kids.

          • Amanda,

            Could you please be more specific about your claim about the “lack of support in terms of other teachers who love kids and want the best for them”? As someone who completed TFA institute, I am extremely skeptical that that was the case. It’s fine if you disagree with the preparation length/style, but I am really curious to know why you question the intentions of TFA corps members. I think even Katie, who clearly hates the idea of TFA and wishes that it would cease to exist, would not accuse new TFA corps members of not WANTING the best for kids. But Katie can speak for herself.

            Also, if you continued with TFA, you would have been placed in a school with a few TFA corps members along with many other teachers. So EVEN if you really believed that TFA corps members hate kids, it’s not like they were going to be the only people you worked with at your school.


            • Josh,

              Please let me be clear in saying that I in no way, shape, or form think that the new corps members hate kids. Never have I considered that or claimed it. I am however saying that while at institute I had many colleagues say, and I quote, “I don’t want to teach kids! I don’t even want to be around them. I am just doing this so I can get my loans paid off (or into a grad school.)” That is all I am saying, Josh. I have no doubt that some are there for the right reasons, and they may do wonders for their classrooms. However, the individuals I was placed with and those nearby had the aforementioned mentality. In fact one of the teachers in my Collab informed me that one of our kids was a lost cause and there was no way he would learn a thing. That is not the environment I want to be around in my first year of teaching. I need people who will encourage, not be hopeless or discouraging.

              • Amanda,
                I sincerely hope that you never ever again encounter an educator that has given up on a child. I do think you are slightly naive that think that those types pf attitudes are confined to TFA institute. Although I never heard someone at TFA express those sentiments, I don’t doubt that you’re telling the truth. But I’m also fairly sure that most schools you go to will have some people that feel the same way. Best of luck!

          • ChalkFace,

            I think your suggestion that TFA corps members act as an assistant teacher for their first year is a good idea whenever possible. For example, at my current school, we take on 1-2 first year TFA corps members each year, and when possible try to place them in a less demanding teaching role. One girl last year taught one section of math on her own, she was an assistant in a class with a veteran teacher, and did some small group tutoring. She had no major lesson planning duties at the beginning (in the class that she taught on her own, she used lesson plans of her veteran colleague who was teaching the same grade level), and was able to gradually start lesson planning on her own as the year went on. However, I don’t think this is a possibility at many of the schools where TFA places corps members (due to budgetary constraints, etc.).


        • Katie,
          I am in complete agreement with you that the most experienced and talented teachers should be placed in the most challenging classrooms. In my experience in NYC, that was not possible due to the teachers union. At my TFA placement school, the most experienced teachers had “seniority” and therefore basically got to choose their classes. This was a clause in the union contract. Therefore, they tended to end up with the “honors” sections that were typically easier to teach. Who was left to teach the most challenging classes? First and second year teachers. Was this true 100% of the time? No, of course not. Some of the veteran teachers did choose the harder classes. But it was definitely the trend (at my school at least).

          Second, you suggest that schools are held accountable based on input measures such as class size. Yes, I agree that smaller classes sizes are favorable. But no, smaller class sizes (and the other measures you suggest, such as “sufficient support systems”) are not enough. There has to be some way to measure OUTCOMES. Otherwise schools could easily say: “We lowered class sizes. We must be a high performing school now”. I agree that standardized test scores are alone not an adequate measure of student performance, but they are a start. There are also other ways that some innovative schools are using to measure quality of instruction/student learning (for example: classroom observations aligned to a rubric, student surveys, parent surveys, peer surveys, performance assessments).


          • Josh, we are arguing in circles here. You blame unions and bad teachers for failing schools. But you see, you have been immersed in that discourse from participationg in TFA. And despite the overwhelming evidence that unionized states are the highest performing states, despite the fact that our highly-successful affluent districts are unionized, despite the fact that the highest performing countries in the world such as Finland are overwhelmingly unionized, nothing will disuade you. Nevermind that the Chicago Teachers Union is one of the strongest advocates for children and education in my city. Nevermind that paricipation in unions represents an important path to the middle class especially for American-American colleagues (and consequently the attack on teachers in urban districts-and public employees on the whole-has contributed to a shrinking of Black middle class workers.) As unions have declined, thanks to neoliberal attacks, so too has the middle class. Union-busting has a direct impact on our students living in poverty and the ability for their families to work living-wage jobs. And yet you participate in it.

            The problem in our schools has always been and will always be inequality, segregation, racism, and the effects of poverty on children. False, Anglo-middle class-normative, ever-changing metrics for outcomes try to cover up this truth. Focusing on outcomes is like the cartoon showing the elephant, the seal, the dog, the fish in a fish bowl, and a monkey and then saying “For a fair selection everyone must take the same exam. Now go climb that tree.” We have never tried true equity in this country, and I do not understand why are you so hell-bent on protecting the status-quo of inequality? Why can’t we fight for the resources to lower-class sizes and increase staff, provide more books and technology, give all kids rich and diverse subject offerings, to bring mental health, dentistry, health clinics into schools? By doing so, we would likely alleviate the problem of staff turnover. Equitable resources, including access to fully-ceritifed teachers, is necessary, but not sufficient to ending educational inequality. It is where we start.

            And your responses point to the power of TFA and its indoctrination. TFAers end up becoming the true believers of corporate education reform, despite overwhelming and growing evidence that EdReform not only is not helping kids, but is actually hurting them.

            We are talking in circles. A circle that TFA has contructed and from which few escape.

            • Tom Field says:

              “Why can’t we fight for the resources to lower-class sizes and increase staff, provide more books and technology, give all kids rich and diverse subject offerings, to bring mental health, dentistry, health clinics into schools? By doing so, we would likely alleviate the problem of staff turnover.”

              Please! That seems like such a simplistic analysis. You of all people (being an educator and a socially aware person) can’t really believe that a good school can make up for the inequities that exist outside the wall of the building to the extent that staff turn-over disappears.

              Consider me: I’m not an educator. Not even a parent. I’m totally outside the educational world. So I’m part of the masses you aim to convince. Yet, I am so astonished that you assert this that, honestly, it challenges my acceptance of your bona fides and credentials.

              • Confused as to what you’re arguing…we shouldn’t fight for equitable schools? I think equitably funded schools are vital, although this goal alone will not alleviate poverty. It would help create more stability, and yes, help in staff retention. Of course, we’ll also need to battle the war on educators being waged by corporate reform. We’ve always had uphill battles to fight for better schools, only now, we must battle destructive “reforms” on top of everything else.

                • Tom Field says:

                  Sorry for my ambiguity.

                  I agree wholeheartedly that we should carry on the good fight for equitable schools. But I don’t believe your assertion is correct that that alone will “likely alleviate the problem of staff turnover.”

                  By the way, if you’re not aware, Andrew Sullivan blogged about this thread, which will probably have generated a boatload of traffic by now.

                  • I believe fully and equitably funding schools would absolutely help alleviate staff turnover, but you’re right, I should have been clearer that that would not be a panacea. And thanks for the heads up about Andrew Sullivan :)

  30. I think your post does one thing beautifully, it highlights why it is so hard to make lasting change in education. As a profession and field we spend so much time fighting each other, labeling, yelling, acting on “suspicions” we fail to do what is best for kids. Stop the infighting and get back to work.

    To say that all is well with education in America other than TFA completely undermines your thesis here. TFA is not a silver bullet, no one ever claimed it was. Your preference for traditionally trained teachers seems to be a hollow solution to the additional challenges my students in Memphis face on a daily basis. I think we need a real discussion about strategies for tackling the challenges my kids face on a daily basis. Simply arguing that everyone should go through a traditional pathway to becoming a teacher seems to suggest that these alternative certification pathways somehow caused the gaps my students struggle to overcome everyday.

    Lets stop fighting each other and get back to work. I was a 2011 Memphis CM and I will be teaching next year as well. You have a whole lot of passionate dedicated folks who got into education because of TFA and stay because of the amazing students we get to work with. Don’t waste us.


    • Ryan, I see on your twitter feed that you retweeted Michelle Rhee saying: “When it comes to #education, EVERY decision we make must be about the kids. @RahmEmanuel isn’t “murdering” schools, he’s helping students.” Let me use this as an example, pointing to a broader worldview. (Correct me if I am wrong, but by retweeting I am assuming that you support Rhee’s point of view.) Meanwhile, those of us on the ground in Chicago are experiencing a mass injustice being forced upon our communities, our students, the children of Chicago by people like Rahm Emanuel. You show solidarity with the very people destroying everything I hold dear, that thousands of us fill the street to stop, the people who stand in the way of implementing real lasting reform of the status quo of inequality.

      I invite you to come join me and the thousands of other parents, students, teachers, and community members fighting for educational justice. We fight for equity in funding, for democratic control of schools, for improved working/learning conditions, for smaller classes, for relevant and anti-racist curriculum, for restorative justice discipline practices, for student, parent, and teacher voice. But right now, you side with my enemies. TFA is not the only problem out there, but the narrow, incomplete worldview it spreads is actively damaging the real fight. And the “leaders” it spawns too often become more elites that working class communities must resist. People who truly want to help kids must distance themselves from this organization.

      • Katie,

        Thanks for the quick reply. I think my I agree with Rhee’s sentiment that all too often kids seem to get lost in the shuffle of the debate over education. I think you’ll find if you keep reading my tweets there are few things I agree with Mayor Emanuel on. I notice in your response it was less about student outcomes and opportunity and the things that you “hold dear.”

        I still think my primary point stands though. We have a ton of engaged, dedicated, and hard working people (both traditionally trained and through alternative certification) who are all about the business of student achievement. I don’t see this as a bad thing. Is any one organization perfect or capable of doing this on it’s own, absolutely not. Instead of bemoaning the changing face of education I think it would be wiser to look at the assets on the table. People from all backgrounds have something to offer here and I think it is short sighted and territorial to alienate a growing percentage of the teaching workforce based on how they were certified. Further if teachers of any training program aren’t making the cut for kids we need to evaluate how we are supporting those individuals, whether they are they leaders their kids need and deserve, and how we can put an effective teacher in front of every classroom. I think you will agree that ensuring our students have lives of choice is the most important thing, regardless of the additional challenges they face on a daily basis.


        • Ryan, I have no doubt you are hard-working, but are working in the opposition direction of where we need to go. I teach at a psychiatric hospital and the education reforms being spouted by many in TFA, Rhee, and Emanuel are all actively hurting my students, my teacher colleagues, the communities I work with and ally myself with: These reforms have nothing to do with children and everything to do with ideology, profit, and agenda.

          If you are sincere about partnering, then join in the fight. Otherwise, calls to “get along” ring insincere, a way to silence voices, not join them. If I don’t speak up for my kids getting lost in the shuffle of callous school closings, budget cuts, cruel “no excuses” discipline, and being given the least prepared, least-experienced teachers as a conscious choice, then who will?

    • Jeff Smithpeters says:

      I’d add to what Katie said by noting that decrying “finger pointing” is a tried and true Right-wing tactic. In fact, it got George W. Bush into the White House. Debate is the way problems are solved. It allows us to sketch the contours of the compromise to which all disputes about policy must aspire. It also smacks of the father who tells his children, “Shut up or I’ll give you something to cry about!”

      Ryan, pray you avoid it.

  31. If anyone in this comment strand would like to put their money where their mouths are, then I suggest you join us At the Chalk Face with the author, Sunday July 7th, at 6PM EST.

  32. Reblogged this on kristaruggles.

  33. Amazing work, Katie. I hope these new TFA recruits will take your words to heart and do the right thing.

    I am a college student who dreamed of joining TFA her first year of college, thinking it would be a way for me to do the education system a favor. Since then, I have learned to look at ALL parts of the big picture and I have definitely undergone a transformation. I realized I couldn’t support TFA with a clear conscience; they went against almost everything I felt so passionately about education and the teaching profession. For one thing, how can anyone with 5 weeks of preparation call themselves a teacher? Other countries with far advanced education systems would laugh in our face. In those countries, the teaching profession is highly respected and professionalized. Only the most trained and prepared teachers are allowed to teach.

    I can kind of understand why some people are taking this open letter personally (but I don’t understand their impetuous and hostile reactions…seriously people, learn some respect). If I came across this letter when I was still under the influence of TFA’s doctrines, I might have felt some personal offense. I probably would have thought something along the lines of, “Hey! Are you saying I won’t be a good enough teacher for my students?”

    But what I have come to understand, and what your opponents need to understand that this is not a personal attack. It’s a cry for help from students and teachers and parents who have watched their schools and communities crumble from the corporate reform attack on public education. There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes, that is shrouded behind fancy infographics and rhetoric, and we need to open our minds and take everything into account. TFA contributes to a STRUCTURE of oppression, inequality, and parasitic corporate greed that needs to be stopped.

    I would suggest further reading, but most of it is linked in this wonderful letter. For starters though, you all can check out this beautifully written blog post about the respect teachers deserve, and hopefully it will inspire you (if you really do want to become a teacher and you aren’t just doing this to build your resume and get into a fancy law school) to pursue a graduate education degree instead of a credential through TFA.

  34. Many people have sufficiently covered most of what I’d like to say about your post: that you are utterly wrong, poorly informed, and clearly biased. I was a 2007 Teach For America corps member, and not only are the majority of my friends from the corps still in the classroom, but they are making major changes in the New York City public school system, both inside the classroom during the day, and through the creation of non-profit tutoring, teacher financial support,etc. organizations. Teach For America provides the support and resources that are often needed in lower-income communities’ schools; while my “traditionally” certified colleagues struggled with classroom management and unit planning, I had professionals aiding me on a daily basis. Ultimately, my classroom became a lab site for the school, and by my second year of teaching, I was coaching others simply because there were not many qualified, dedicated teachers in my part of the Bronx.

    This spring, my first students (7th graders in the 2007-2008 school year) graduated from high school. Four of my kids are going to Ithaca College, my alma mater. Several of them are going to high-performing SUNY schools, and a handful are off to Ivys. I can’t claim that I alone pushed them to get there… that would be ludicrous. But the fact that several of them reached out to me, their 7th grade English teacher, to help edit and revise their college admissions essays, and the reality that several of them invited me to attend their high school graduations says something about my ability to inculcate a love of learning and passion for education in them, even in my first year in the classroom. TFA did something right there.

    Now, I need to ask, as a teacher that has THREE master’s degrees, one of which is in childhood education, am I a “REAL” teacher now? Or does the fact that I obtained my initial certification through a transitional-B in New York State as part of the TFA corps mean I’m still “fake”? Just because I didn’t learn lesson planning techniques in an undergraduate classroom surrounded by a bunch of hungover traditional ed majors, are my ten-page, arduously crafted lessons insufficient? That’d be a really silly presumption on your part.

    • abmilwaukee says:

      I don’t like your first sentence, but I’m with you that I’m tired of people suspiciously asking whether or not I’m TFA (I am) before an exchange as though that does or does not validate me as an individual. I’m not against labels, but I think to dismiss someone for their label (admin, TFA, union, etc) doesn’t do any of us any good.

  35. So I’m a first year TFA teacher. I had the highest test scores in my school this year. I had the greatest increase in student content knowledge in years in my school. So should I quit? Am I really doing a disservice to my students? Should I leave so my students can have a long term substitute like the last 2 years and not learn ANYTHING??? Sorry, I think I’ll continue to work as hard as I possibly can to try and give my students the best education they can get.

    • The fact that you are describing your accomplishments in terms of test scores is troubling. And I don’t know how you can possibly know that your students “had the greatest increase in student content knowledge in years in my school” (by what measure? Your own? TFA’s?) I am sure you are working very hard, and yes, you are there now. The current group of TFA novices has not started yet, and I don’t want them trained to think of success in terms of test scores or to use TFA’s flawed measures of “student growth.” In most places, the alternative to TFA is not a string of substitutes, but a qualified teacher. And if schools were not allowed to use cheap/alternative labor, they might just be forced to invest in fully-certified, experienced teachers, instead of unequal education on the cheap for low-income children of color.

      • The fact of the matter is that my students did not learn math content the last two years and had long term substitutes instead of teachers. Many teachers don’t want to come into my school and teach in the worst neighborhood of the city and deal with gang problems, lack of parental involvement, a strong number of special education students, etc. I (along with a couple of other TFA colleagues), came into my school this year, gave the children a quality education that they deserve, and their test results showed that they gained academic knowledge. I can also guarantee you that EVERY single one of my children know how much I care about them and appreciate the extra work that I put in that most teachers do not do. My school did a complete 180 this year and the students in my school finally started to take an interest in their education and hopes for college and beyond. You don’t know the work my colleagues and I put in every day and night and you don’t know the success my children have had. It’s not right to generalize these sort of things and frankly, I don’t even feel like it’s right for me to take time out of my planning for next year to “argue” these things either. You make great points, but I also have seen success in my classroom and other TFA classrooms. And I know the detrimental effects that would have happened if I was not there this year and if I had “quit” like you are telling these novices to do.

        And the “increase in student knowledge” statistics come from the state test scores. Not mine. Not TFA.

        • Test scores are an inaccurate measure and without knowing more about your school, its history, the changes being put in place, I cannot really comment on whether your description is accurate.

          What I have found, is that anytime there are claims of miraculous success, there are always other factors at play (a change in demographics, pushing out lower performing students, not offering special education services for students who typically do not score well on standardized tests, purposefully not reaching out to ELL populations, new resources, etc) There is always something else going on behind the hype.

          And what I feel most new TFAers simply do not understand is the nasty realities behind the reasons for the problems you describe, such as sabotaging and starving certain schools, beating down on veteran teachers until they leave, disinvesting, destabalizing and ultimately destroying community schools in order to push their own privatization agenda. Here is an example put together by a community group on the South Side of Chicago (KOCO), which highlights how one school was set up for failure: and here is the longer document:

          There may well have been a string of subs in your school, but too often that type of destabilization is being done intentionally. And when you come in and see the chaos without understanding the why and the how, it’s easy to completely misinterpret the reasons, especially if you have already been primed to believe a certain narrative/explanation as TFA does.

          TFA enables and participates in this destruction.

          • I won’t let you take away from my successes. I know how my colleagues and I achieved the results that we did. I know the hard work we had to put in. I know that we did an amazing job. I know all of these things. My principal knows these things. And my district knows these things. You’re just wrong on this one. Unfortunately, I can’t put more time into this circular argument. Thank you for spurring a great discussion.

            • I just ask that you stay open to hearing and understanding the greater context, a different possible narrative. It’s not actually about you and what you did or did not achieve. I still have so much to learn myself. And I see my younger self in so many TFAers, knowing that could have been me. But I also feel angry because I was able to realize there was so much more to the story in education, and as adults, I expect others to be able to see it too. But I suppose we are wherever we are in our own personal journeys.

            • You are an American hero. Now, come back in five years and we will see your dedication to education. For now, you’re a tourist.

          • abmilwaukee says:

            Thank you for posting these links about the movement to divest, destabilize, and ultimately privatize Chicago schools. As a TFA alumnus, I suggest TFA teachers (new and old) read these documents and get to know the forces working against our students. Chicago isn’t the only city seeing this problem.

            While I don’t appreciate the dismissive tone by some of the “traditional” teacher crowd, this is something we all need to understand.

        • So, your method of comparison is long term subs and you? That’s it?

        • @Mr.S. – Where did you teach?

      • ChalkFace: that implies that traditionally certified teachers stay in the profession forever. Or at the very least, longer than TFA recruits. Where’s the literature to support this claim? It’s my understanding that teacher retention is absolutely abysmal, especially in the first 5 years. And TFA comprises such a small percentage of teachers, that it can’t solely be attributed to TFA.

        • The fact that TFA is even remotely necessary underscores a larger problem, that under resourced schools must rely on this kind of workforce. No other profession permits this.

        • Also keep in mind that high teacher turnover has been a persistent problem in under-resourced low-income schools for decades. The problem in many urban districts is not that there is a dearth of qualified candidates, but that teachers are more likely to leave given the horrible working/learning conditions (although many do want to stay, but are pushed out as they become more expensive/speak out.) The solution to this problem is not to enable districts to burn through a constant supply of unprepared, uncertified novices, but to improve the working conditions to be conducive to long-term teaching careers thereby giving school communities stability and children more access to experienced teachers. Now you see the importance of teachers unions. Fighting for working conditions=better learning conditions=better educational opportunity for children. The fight for educational equality, by definitely, must include better learning conditions (accomplished by equitable funding) and the fight for stable schools environments.

          Teachers unions are our best option to fight, with the power of numbers, in solidarity with our students, their families, and their communities, for better schools. The Chicago Teachers Union’s current leadership-CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators)-is a powerful testament to that type of social justice unionism. It is a shame that TFA undermines their efforts by siding with the people protecting the status quo of inequality and racist school policy.

          • Your response was a non-sequitur. No one (well, not I, at least) said that unions weren’t necessary.

            Can I ask for clarification, though? You say that there isn’t a dearth of qualified candidates to teach at urban schools but that there’s high turn-over. Fine. But if the turnover is high, doesn’t that mean that teachers–traditionally certified teachers, mind you–are coming in and out, much like…TFA’ers? And yet, instead of calling for those teachers to quit, you’re blaming their decision to leave on the work conditions?

            I think there’s a word to describe this double standard. Oh yea: hypocritical.

            Or are you claiming that the vast majority of teachers at urban schools are TFA? If so, where’s the documentation to support that claim?

    • Mr. S,
      Congrats on finishing your first year! Sounds like you had a great year, and I’m sure you’ll continue to improve in the years to come. Don’t let people like Katie get you down. From what I can gather, she’s more interested at maintaining the status quo (insanely strong unions that protect the jobs of adults) than improving outcomes for kids.

      Keep fighting the good fight!


      • There is a reason I chose to write this letter to new TFA recruits, not those already teaching. Namely, TFA’s process of indoctrination and isolation from alternative viewpoints unfortunately makes it very difficult to expose TFAers to information outside the bad teacher/bad unions narrative. Josh, you have already exposed pretty significant biases in previous comments. You both are perhaps too sheltered and naive to see the damage you and your colleagues are doing through buying in to the anti-public education, anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric of TFA. Nothing I say or do will change that.

        • Call me what you like: sheltered, naive, racist, oppressive, etc. But before anything, I’m a teacher, and I (along with thousands of other TFA corps members, alumni, and traditional route teachers) will continue to work my a** off to do my part in closing the achievement gap. What don’t you get about that?

          • Working hard for kids is great, but the narrative you espouse hurts kids, hurts my profession, hurts the fight for equality. And as Dr. Royal writes, “Please Stop Using the Phrase ‘Achievement Gap'”

          • Katie,
            Dr. Royal makes a lot of great points, but I’m surprised you would quote her. Last night you said that you are interested in comparing the education of poor minority kids to that of wealthy kids. Isn’t that exactly what Dr. Royal is arguing against?

            • Not at all. In my reading of her work (and that of her mentor, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings,) I believe she does argue for equity of opportunity, but not the expectation of the Anglo-normative “same” outputs. The fact that there is a difference in test scores (which are Anglo-normative measures) is not the issue we should be addressing in reforming schools. Plus, the Black community has a long history of struggle fighting for equitable resources, art, music, foreign language, small classes, etc.

          • Josh, if you are really dedicated to working with students and closing the achievement gap, then go back to school and get a teaching degree?

          • Jim Horn says:

            Sadly, the gaps you are busting your hump to close can never pay off the “education debt” (Gloria Ladson-Billings) that your bosses at TFA/KIPP would rather ignore for another century. To use another analogy, you are focused on applying tourniquets to wounds while the cutting continues. Such interventions are endless, exhausting, unsustainable, and diversionary. When Gates and Broad and the Walton clan who have poured hundreds of millions into TFA get interested in ECPFA (End Child Poverty for America), and when our federal government gets interested in addressing apartheid, classism, and racism, that’s when we can start paying down the education debt.

          • Jeff Smithpeters says:

            I am very glad not to have had many teachers like Josh who would counsel me to just avoid any evidence or commentary that did not conform to my own idea of reality.

          • I would simply say that your ignorance is truly impressive!

      • Thanks Josh! Appreciate the support!

      • This is in response to Josh S and his comment about unions. To Mr. S: congrats on your first year and your achievements. But please understand that the situation for teachers in the public schools for large cities is horrible right now. As of today, Phila public schools will start the school year without assistant principals or guidance counselors. NONE. All because Gov. Corbett refuses to fund education correctly and is using this situation to privatize education in Phila.

        If it weren’t for teacher unions, I would not be able to support my family of 5 on a teacher’s salary. Sure, let’s go back to the old days when teachers couldn’t make a decent salary. Or let’s look at the non-union early childhood teachers who routinely make low salaries while their C.E.O.s rake in the money. There’s a lot that’s broken in education but blaming unions is a stale argument. If an administrator wants to get rid of a teacher, it will happen.

        I work at a technical high school in the suburbs of Phila. We draw from 15 different school districts and I work with and visit teachers at every high school in the county. We have both high income and low income school districts. The teachers I work with are all hard working, but the buildings and equipment that they have access to vary greatly. Interestingly, the higher income school districts have higher standardized test scores and a higher percentage of kids who get into college. All of the high schools have unions and some are the highest scoring districts in our state. So, how does having a union contribute to bad teaching?

    • Thank you for the commitment and effort — a failed school system managed by teachers unable to achieve the results required to move our country forward does not have to be the status quo — no matter what the teacher unions say.

    • Test preparation is not teaching.

    • Mr. S: I think you are not telling the truth, or you are skewing it to fit an imaginary narrative, or you are simply not aware of the old Latin adage “post hoc ergo prompter hoc.” The fact that your students had high scores on a standardized test most likely has nothing to do with your performance in the classroom: for example, perhaps you were given a class of children who were pre-sorted, in that they already came into your classroom with high test scores. Perhaps there was an intervening variable, like the fact that many members of your class were less transient, more focused, etc. The important thing to look at is not their test scores in isolation, but whether being in your class improved their test scores. If a student who came into your class was already scoring at 75%, and this year her scores rose to 76%, she might still be one of the highest scoring students in your school, but you’ve only changed her score by an absolute amount of 1% or an actual rise of 1.3%. One of your colleagues may have started out with a student who scored at the 5% level last year, and brought her up to 10%, effectively doubling her score (yet still leaving her far below a level that would be considered “proficient.” You’re claim that you had the highest test scores in the school ring hollow for that reason. All I can say is that I hope you are teaching language arts, because you’re understanding of statistics is lacking.

  36. ssvenkata says:

    as a former high school special education teacher in one of those schools (in baltimore, from 2005-2007), i feel the need to respond. simply put: i agree with many of your arguments and complaints (and specifically the ones regarding TFA), but i think you generalizes your unique situation to one that covers most, if not all, teachers. the solution to public education in america is not — cannot — be a one-size-fits-all solution, having worked in classrooms that necessitate diversification techniques at all levels of learning.

    i found your call for new teachers to quit on the first day of institute is more than a little bizarre. is your call for teachers in the TFA institute supposed to a form of protest? protest against what exactly? that TFA in praxis/practice exacerbates poverty or inequality by filling the classroom with inexperienced teachers? everyone’s inexperienced on the first day. i argue that notion is half-true. let’s phrase it this way: better an inexperienced teacher than no teacher at all, right? walk into any public school classroom and you’ll notice that they’re underqualified: teachers aren’t certified in the right areas (there’s a vast shortage of prepared or qualified teachers); classrooms in cities like chicago, baltimore, philadelphia, new york, los angeles, san francisco, oakland routinely are in the 40s and 50s in the number of students (i.e., they’re overpopulated and understaffed), and that’s not fair to students or teachers.

    you criticize TFA for being sponsored by multinational corporate entities. i don’t think this is much of an issue; while these corporations do donate to TFA, generally as a tax write-off, large school systems generally have pre-negotiated contracts with their own unions, which in turn are affiliated with the american federation of teachers (AFT). this is much more of a party politics issue than a TFA issue, but the argument that multinationals are somehow in a union-busting conspiracy with TFA isn’t there. i’m not on the side of TFA at all (i hate the fake optimism that TFA gives to starting teachers and especially the general lack of support TFA gives starting teachers in their first two years, and i have my own axe to grind with the organization), i think the argument you make against TFA that the organization somehow doesn’t support teachers’ placement in unions or union rights is at best absurd and at worst disingenuous. i think TFA takes a hands-off approach to teachers being involved or not involved with teachers’ unions — which is really problematic, for a number of reasons. my own personal experience while teaching in baltimore, for instance, involved 7 different occasions that i was assaulted by students i never met or taught. while i was a novice teacher, i was not the only teacher being assaulted in my school; moreover, there were other teachers being assaulted at different schools in the baltimore city public school system, including one who had to leave for several months after a video of her assault surfaced on youtube and aired on CNN. after reporting my assaults to my principal and the area superintendent, who dismissed my complaints. TFA actually encouraged me to go to the union; a union-affiliated lawyer allowed me break my contract on workers comp grounds, which was the only way i could address grievances for getting through a lack of a school-wide discipline policy. that said, it was a year and a half before TFA did anything to help me, not anytime sooner.

    that said, i agree with your point that for education to be truly equitable it should not discriminate; for charter schools to work they should be open to all students, including but not limited to students with disabilities (especially such that they are accommodating their IEPs — disabled does not and should never mean unintelligent, and to shut disabled children out of such schools is to ghettoize them); and i’ve always been a little skeptical of the efficacy of the charter school model. moreover, inductees to TFA should have a longer practicum before they become teachers; like most teachers who come without the backing of TFA, perhaps they should arrive with a credential prior to their arrival in the classroom.

    but there’s a reason why i left high school special ed, for the time being. i might come back (and to the chicago area, too, where i went to undergrad). cheers for staying in it.

  37. I remember 20 odd years ago I was going to school for my teaching credential. I was also thinking about getting my Masters in Education as well. All my co-workers and fellow students told me not to do it because then it would be too expensive to hire me. I was naïve enough to think that districts would want the best qualified teachers (I also had a few years as a T.A. under my belt). So I earned a Masters, it took me years to get hired. So ridiculous.

  38. Jim Horn says:

    This book has not been mentioned yet in this discussion. It should be read by anyone contemplating applying for TFA, as well as those who want to understand this phenomenon: See Barbara Veltri’s LEARNING ON OTHER PEOPLE’S KIDS: BECOMING A TEACH FOR AMERICA TEACHER. 2010. Information Age.

  39. excellent post, thank you. i work in the food justice movement, where we are also wary of people dropping in to save the day (and adding to their resumes on the way to a more lucrative job).

    my brother, father, and mother are all high-achieving, NYC/LI public school teachers and proud of it. and they have all experienced attempts to rewrite the curriculum from inexperienced, top-down educators from places like– ahem– Columbia U. no one asks for the opinions of experienced, successful educators. this is a top-down, charity mentality instead of a transformative, justice based perspective.

    read _toxic charity_ for an example of the role of charity. it’s important to understand how we got here in order to understand why. as it plays out in the food movement, here’s a timeline that explains how we came to the present moment: perhaps you should create a similar presentation for educators.

  40. So you’re saying that someone like me, with a bachelors degree but no K-12 educational experience or teacher training classes can take a five-week crash course and become a teacher under TFA? That IS sick! How much could anybody possibly learn enough about classroom management and effective lesson plans in five weeks? Sounds like a program for well-intentioned but naive young college grads who are desperate for a job. No shortage of those around here unfortunately.

    I work with a former teacher who has 20+ years experience teaching in the Chicago area, thankfully before all the deep budget cuts we’re seeing now. Once, I asked her what she liked best about the teacher’s college she went to. “They had us in the classroom from freshman year” she said. She needed that all practice, because her first teaching job involved a class of 30+ kindergarteners in a single classroom. That was a poor district too. I guess they have always put new teachers in the poor or minority school districts, but yes – there’s a world of difference between a four- to six-year novice and a five-week novice.

    • They are “in classrooms from freshman year,” but they are not lead teachers until the end of college, and even then, they do not have much actual time as leaders of their own classrooms. For many “traditional” teachers that I know, my TFA summer institute teaching gave me more hours of lead instructional time than they had in four years as an undergraduate education major. Additionally, my humanities content knowledge is vastly more in depth than an education major’s.

    • abmilwaukee says:

      TFA teachers need to pursue the same certification as regular teachers — they just do it while teaching in a classroom. So, for example, during my two year commitment I went to grad classes every Tuesday and Thursday up through this past April. I’ll write my thesis this fall.

      I think @booksandkittens is right when she says ed students are not lead teachers. I hosted three University of Wisconsin Milwaukee undergrads in my classroom as field students my second year. They were sophomores getting their first glimpse of a classroom. While they did teach as lesson each by the end of the semester, they were there more to experience a classroom environment than they were to teach. They do that during their senior year student teaching.

      At the same time, I’ll argue again that I don’t think student teaching fully prepares you to take on a classroom. That first day of the first day anyone is nervous. If they aren’t, I don’t think they understand the weight of their role!

      • No one should be perusing certification as teacher of record. Student teachers in traditional prep programs spend roughly 1500 hours in the classroom before becoming teacher of record.

        • abmilwaukee says:

          I see your point. I was addressing the idea that TFA teachers only complete the five-week institute in order to be a teacher. That’s not true. TFA teachers pursue certification at the same basic levels as all teachers. Basic, of course, being the key word.

          • The inequality is that TFAers are the teacher of record while still in training (and often go through watered-down, fast-track partner programs specially designed for TFA, not true prep programs.) I’m not sure that everyone knows this, but TFA actually lobbied Congress in December 2010 to change NCLB so that “teachers in training” counted as “highly qualified.” Instead of adjusting their inadequate training to meet the law, TFA changed the law (although it has been overturned by the 9th Circuit Court on the grounds that it is clearly unequal to give low-income kids unqualified novice teachers. TFA is in the process of appealing that decision. TFA is fighting to keep that inequality in place.)

          • But they are the teachers of record after their workshop, are they not?

          • Before TFA changed the “highly qualified” teacher stipulation in NCLB, schools had to notify parents in writing if their child was being taught by someone who had not yet completed their training program. Now, many parents may not even be aware that their child’s teacher is unqualified. TFA actively tried to hide the status of their recruits from parents. I’m sorry, but that is unacceptable.

  41. Thank you for saying what needed to be said. I appreciate it.

  42. I am absolutely shocked by some of the comments on this post. There are some ridiculously racist assumptions being made and some absolutely horrendous teacher-bashing happening. I am floored. And people wonder why TFA gets a bad name among educators?

    • Mr. Wardwell says:

      Ms. Osgood, forgive me if this is rude, but some people advocating your point of view have made equally egregious comments. Grouping TFAers and “their colleagues” together is no more honest or useful than grouping all teachers together, either. There are some productive conversations happening here, as well as the inevitable internet trolling. I think it’d serve everybody best to drop the blame and shocked outrage approach, and actually deal with the issues.

    • Let me get this straight: you bashing TFA’ers is perfectly okay because they’re not certified (which is not even true, by the way). Others bashing veteran teachers is despicable because…those teachers are certified?

    • I’d like to second Mr. Wardwell’s comment–let’s focus on the issues (the worst of which cannot possibly be the existence of TFA) and see where we can find common ground for progress rather than marking out with ever fiercer rhetoric our divisions. Mr. Horn, I will definitely check out LEARNING ON OTHER PEOPLE’S KIDS.

      At some point, however, we have to realize that we are all always learning WITH other people’s kids; that is what teaching is–or should be. Teachers who have declared themselves already expert (good enough)–whether among TFA corps members or school of ed grads–are missing a crucial dimension of what it means to be an educator. We have to all continue to be educated BY our students and the experiences we share with them, and that requires humility, curiosity, and engagement whatever a teacher’s background or training.

  43. Anthony says:

    Yeah im gonna call a little bit of bullshit on this one.

    You keep ranting about Chicago because it’s a very visible TFA in conflict with the community scenario, but there are a lot more stages around the countr where TFA is quite useful and welcomed. All the urban areas you mention with teacher surplusses actually see the least amount of TFA placements, and I’m pretty sure the majority of placements are in rural areas that are quite undesireable. I don’t see many newly minted masters holders rushing to the outskirts of Baton Rouge, Louisiana… You know why? Because you wouldn’t have gone for that Masters to work there. TFA sends pretty qualified people to go for the most part where there are no teachers.. They send participants most often to schools where teachers are not only ineffective, but refuse to leave!! TFAers are really there to recycle the teaching pool where old and out of touch teachers essentially prey on school districts for their undeserved pay and remain “checked-out” so to speak until they choose to retire. I really have no pity for you if you decided to get Masters in education and can’t get your dream job in New York. Try moving a little. You can’t though tell me that there are just too few teaching positions in the entire US that TFAers are sucking the schools dry and taking our impoverished children with them. For the most part TFA teachers do care and do the best they can. I think this article has portrayed a very one sided view of this debate, and conveniently ignores the shit job many “qualified” teachers do and the reluctance of these people to ply their trade where people really need it. probs cuz teacher’s are lazy. OOPS!!!

    • I fail to see how a TFA temp is more qualified to teach than students of mine who’ve spent roughly 1500 hours in clinical fieldwork before their first position. Can anyone explain that? Additionally, is there an explanation why in the charter school I’ve taught the last three summers that relied on innumerable TFAers, that I’ve not worked with the same person ever? Not once. Some grit. Please.

  44. fsefewfwef says:

    If only you were that harsh and critical of your embarrassment of a union and the mouth breather that is Karen Lewis.

  45. Check out for more critical commentary on TFA.

  46. Jim Horn says:

    If you are new to the subject of TFA and KIPP (Wendy Kopp, CEO of TFA is literally married to Richard Barth, CEO of KIPP), see these two pieces for an intro:

    And this link contains pages of news and commentary on TFA, newest to oldest:

  47. Check out for more critical commentary on TFA

  48. DebbieMoore says:

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been interacting with TFA since almost the beginning and it has always been troubling. I am not a teacher nor a TFA alumni. I am a White and Latina social worker who has worked in public school systems for 20 years. My first encounter with TFA was when college classmates joined it when it first started. The same issues that happened then are still happening – TFA not picking the best candidates that have teaching skills, giving them little to no training and forcing them on school districts that need and deserve far better teachers. I say this having liked personally many of the TFA “teachers” that have come through my school district. I say this having to take time out of doing my job with my student clients to deal with so many TFA “teachers” who had not the emotional maturity, mental development or education to handle even the easiest classroom let alone ones where the students are dealing with multiple disadvantages. Doing a paid teaching position should not be the time to find out whether you are capable of being a teacher and that is exactly what is happening with TFA. A good half of the CM’s we’ve had have mentally checked out by the end of the first year and that effect their students. Most of the CM I’ve met have been well-intentioned but being well-intentioned doesn’t make one a good surgeon nor a good teacher. The worst actively looked down on their students, other teachers and the community and it shows in their teaching. The level of racist and classist comments has always been much high with the CMs than with teachers that were from the community or had previous experiences with communities of poverty or communities with diversity. I’ve also seen the district be forced to accept TFA because of political pressure. If the program is so effective and good there would be no need to have use political influence to get it into districts. Our district has improve greatly over the last 20 years and it has had almost nothing to do with TFA. Our partnerships with local colleges and educational training institutes and most importantly community based organizations has what improved the school, not a well-intentioned children taking a break before graduate school to play savior. Maybe it’s a crazy idea but if we are going to be paying people a teacher’s salary and expecting them to teach shouldn’t they actually be trained and educated to be a teacher?

  49. alliewall says:

    Amongst the various commenters, can you spot the shills paid by TFA to gum up the conversation with lies and disinformation in defense of TFA?

    I can.

    Does TFA have a boiler room or Rapid Response Team who are highly-compensated to do damage control in defense of TFA—saying and doing whatever is necessary in the process—-when someone writes an article like Katie’s?

    It sure looks like it.

    • i left a comment that i thought was observational/neutral but you may have perceived as a “shill” comment. it’s further down the bottom.

      you guys lose credibility with how fantastically ideological you sound. i am a recent TFA alum, and highly critical of TFA’s corporate sponsorship and its terrible training program (which, honestly, wasn’t much better than the ones provided by my district). overall i disagree with the closing of public schools and believe schools should serve as community anchors. there are many other Corps Members who share these views. but i do recognize some of the good TFA does, too.

      for one, TFA is focusing attention on the professional standards of teaching. THEY ARE LOW. IT SHOULD BE HARDER TO BECOME A TEACHER. period. another good thing about TFA is that the organization is pushing hard to become more racially and socioeconomically diverse. i grew up going to subpar schools in a poor community, and have had the opportunity to teach in a very similar area to where i grew up. this has become more common among TFAers, fortunately.

      teachers do a lot of good work. they can also be grandiosely self-righteous. whether or not you deserve to be, that image doesn’t bode well when you’re trying to convince others of why you should be taken seriously.

      • Tiffany says:

        I would like to know in what states is it so easy to become a teacher? Because I think many teacher preparation programs are quite rigorous. However, I am going to speak of the program in which I was enrolled.

        I wanted to become an Early Childhood major, which I did. But with the EC major at the school in which I was enrolled, you MUST have a 2nd major. My other major was Psychology (with an emphasis on Child Development). The Education department breaks down the coursework for Education majors in to four phases. In the college I attended, before you can even enroll in the Phase 3 classes of ECE (Junior Practicum), you MUST pass a writing exam. If you do not pass, you are NOT allowed to go forward (and you only have a certain number of times that you are allowed to take the exam).

        During Phase 3, the student spends one day a week for 15-16 weeks working with the college supervisor and cooperating teacher (I have been a cooperating teacher several times so I am speaking from experience). Both the supervisor and the cooperating teacher observe the student, offer suggestions and advice to strengthen lesson plans, model sound educational practices, and gives the student multiple opportunities to plan engaging activities that reach across multiple disciplines. You are also required to keep a journal to reflect upon your time in the classroom. The anecdotes in the journal are discussed and “evaluated” to have the student become a reflective practitioner. During Phase 3 you must also pass the Praxis exam. If you do not pass the Praxis during Phase 3, you are NOT ALLOWED to go forward with your studies. If I remember correctly, the passing score for the ECE Praxis is 141.

        During Phase 4 (IF you have passed the exam), you spend EVERY DAY for 15-16 weeks working closely with the cooperating teacher and the college supervisor in the classroom. You are expected to plan lessons and execute those plans for every part of the day over the period of time you are in the classroom. You are “evaluated” every other week by the college supervisor and five or six times by the cooperating teacher. You are constantly given feedback to hone and improve your skills.

        If at any point during your academic career the college supervisor or the cooperating teacher feels that the particular grade level you are in is not the best for you, you can be recommended for another grade level (within the certification for which you are applying). If you are in another grade and is deemed that you are still struggling, you are not recommended to go further with your studies. This usually happens sometime between phase 2 and phase 3.

        I completed my double major and graduated with honors with a 3.75 GPA. I attended and completed graduate school with a 3.97 GPA. Additionally, I attend many professional development seminars and workshops through out the school year to help me continue to be an effective teacher. I have been teaching for nine years. I love it and I wouldn’t change it for anything!!!

    • Alliewall, I don’t think TFA needs “shills” to comment here. Those of us who have had past ties with TFA are engaging in the debate because we care about education and the issues that effect students and communities.

      For the record–I’ve commented here (and below) because the issues–including problematic dimensions of TFA’s partnerships and funding–matter to me just as they do to the many posters who have “amened” Ms. Osgood’s perspective.

  50. smoothhandle says:

    I read this passage with interest: “Last year, a phenomenal teacher friend of mine described his experience of having TFA forced upon his classroom, “They are using my kids as guinea pigs,” he lamented. This powerful, experienced teacher was told to sit silently in the back of his classroom, and watch-not allowed to even give feedback-as five novice TFAers fumbled their way through lessons for four whole weeks of a five week summer term. Those kids will never get that time back.”

    If indeed those kids had a “phenomenal”, “powerful, experienced” teacher, who wanted to teach them, then yes its an injustice. My experience, via my stepdaughter who taught with TFA in a dismal North Carolina school, was that NO ONE in that school gave a flying f about those special ed students she was teaching. She at least cared. She was surrounded by underpaid, overworked, disinterested and tenured teachers who just wanted these kids out of their regular classes. She brought a caring and enthusiasm that was otherwise unknown to them. I visited there as a speaker for career week… I was utterly shocked at the atrocious conditions.

    She was also plunged — sink or swim — into an extremely difficult and sometimes dangerous situation with these kids, with precious little support. I admire her and many other TFAers for their courage and perseverance, and my complaint with TFA isn’t that the kids were “cheated” but that TFA failed to adequately support their teachers.

    • smoothhandle says:

      Sorry for the double posting. I couldn’t see how to delete the original I wanted to edit.

    • Chris M says:

      “…my complaint with TFA isn’t that the kids were “cheated” but that TFA failed to adequately support their teachers.”

      And that is the problem. TFA does NOT properly train or support their teachers because they know those ‘teachers’ are no more then long-term substitutes who will move on to another career as soon as their residency is over. If TFA were really developing teachers for America, they would be people who actually want to be career teachers. Instead, they are developing a temporary work force so that the teachers in places like North Carolina can continue to be, as you mentioned, “underpaid and overworked”, as TFA provides the cheap labor. It’s easy to be 22 years old and full of energy to help disadvantaged children for very little money when one knows it is only a temporary hurdle to pad one’s resume when the time comes to begin one’s real career.

      It’s nice you admire your stepdaughter and “many other TFAers for their courage and perseverance”. So, does your stepdaughter still teach? Or did she move on, leaving the the very children to whom she brought “caring and enthusiasm [previously] unknown to them”? If she did, it would seem that she is the one “disinterested” in their long term success, and not the tenured teachers who are still trying to work in a system that overworks and undervalues them.

      • Chris,
        I take issue with several of your claims and assumptions. I did TFA in 2007 and am still teaching.

        1) In my experience, TFA did its best to train/support me. Although I was not amazing my first year, who is? At my placement school (a traditional district middle school in the Bronx), I was one of the most respected math teachers IN MY FIRST YEAR. I am not saying this to brag; but I am saying it to emphasize that there were NOT experienced/effective teachers in line for my job. I was provided with tons of lessons plans/resources from veteran teachers and TFA alumni, I was observed several times by my TFA program director (much more than I was ever observed by the administration at my school), I attended grad school/certification classes throughout the year, eventually leading to a Masters Degree, and I attended a monthly “learning team” with other middle school math teachers, led by a veteran middle school math teacher.

        2) Around 65% of alumni continue to work full time in education. I am NOT saying this is an ideal statistic; I wish this percentage was much higher. But it is far from the picture you paint that EVERYONE leaves field after two years. Additionally, TFA brings many people into the teaching profession that otherwise would not teach. If it were not for TFA, I would not have become a teacher. Countless other alumni would say the same thing. My current principal is a TFA alumni, along with 570 other alumni who currently serve as school leaders or superintendents.


  51. jill o. says:

    I read this passage with interest:”Last year, a phenomenal teacher friend of mine described his experience of having TFA forced upon his classroom, “They are using my kids as guinea pigs,” he lamented. This powerful, experienced teacher was told to sit silently in the back of his classroom, and watch-not allowed to even give feedback-as five novice TFAers fumbled their way through lessons for four whole weeks of a five week summer term. Those kids will never get that time back.”

    If indeed those kids had a “powerful, experienced” teacher, who wanted to teach them, then yes its an injustice. My experience, via my stepdaughter who taught with TFA in a dismal North Carolina school, was that NO ONE in that school gave a flying f about those special ed students she was teaching. She at least cared. She was surrounded by underpaid, overworked, disinterested and tenured teachers who just wanted these kids out of their regular classes. She brought a caring and enthusiasm that was otherwise unknown to those kids. I visited there as a speaker for career week… I was utterly shocked at the atrocious conditions.

    • smoothhandle says:

      Sorry for the double post; apparently you cannot delete or edit comments here so be careful. Also don’t allow popups from this terrible site. It started up the nasty fake antivirus scam on my pc.

  52. Finland has one of the best educational systems on the planet. BTW, there is no “Teach for Finland” program there. Hmmmm…..

    • Probably because they don’t need a “Teach for Finland” program because they have ‘one of the best educational systems on the planet.’

  53. Reblogged this on Dont Ask Me I’m No Expert and commented:
    I know NOTHING about Teach For America, but I found this blog article interesting………(some cool comments also).

  54. What’s a “CM”?

  55. s kanter says:

    From a parent of a TFA……………this was a HORRIBLE HORRIBLE EXPERIENCE for our daughter. She was NOT placed until WEEKS after the school year began. NO SUPPORT from her Principal which was HORRIBLE! The worst of the worst children, no support from the administration at her school and TFA. DO NOT DO THIS PROGRAM!!! Also it was horrific with doing Homework and goin to student teach during the five week program…………….these TFA students only had four to five hours of sleep every night of the five weeks. Worse than BOOT CAMP in the ARMY
    Our daughter along with many others who are “chosen” to be a TFA are very successful students, who

    • Yes, teaching in a low income school is hard. Your daughter should have known this going into the program. And PLEASE don’t characterize our kids as “the worst of the worst children”. Very offensive for the people who are doing this work everyday.

  56. Wow this was an interesting read. A lot of info i had never know about.

  57. TFA in LA says:

    I just completed my first year of TFA. I think you made some excellent points in the first three paragraphs of your post, but in the next couple paragraphs, you lost me. I am not a “traditional” TFA corps member — I worked elsewhere in education and studied education policy before deciding to join TFA. So I’m not particularly naive about the world I entered. I definitely wrestle with the worry that we are harming our students more than helping them, especially when corps members receive special ed placements. Based on the empirical evidence on TFA, I think we are on average helping our students. Based on my experience and the experience of others, I’m not so sure that’s true, particularly in our first year.

    I think there are some things TFA does well, and I think there are some big issues with TFA. But I disagree that TFA is “very conservative,” and I think it’s narrow-minded to paint all of these funders as evil, wealthy corporate interests. Sure, there are self-interested, manipulative people in the corporate and education reform world, just like there are self-interested, manipulative people who work in other parts of the education sector and who work for unions. But there are also well-intentioned people who do care very much about low-income children who work for these “corporate” reformers, just like there are well-intentioned people who care very much about low-income children in the rest of the education sector and in unions.

    I appreciate that you assume best intentions of the new TFA recruits. I think our education system would be better served if all sides of the education reform debate assumed best intentions of each other, at least until proven otherwise.

    • Very well said! I agree whole-headtedly. As someone who has just finished her second year in TFA in Colorado Springs, I struggle often with the disconnect between what I’m doing personally with my students and what TFA has done to my school district as a whole (rampant teacher overturn, TFAs taking the place of traditionally-educated teachers, and a system which abuses cheap labor in the form of TFAs). Yet, I think what’s important to examine is what systematic failure allows TFA to be such a strong force. I was hired by my school district, not by TFA. My principal hired me, not TFA. Why do schools prefer to hire TFAs instead of supposedly better qualified and traditionally-educated teachers? There is something wrong with the educational system if I, a novice teacher who volunteered extensively in education but majored in International Relations, am a more attractive applicant to a teaching job than others who have studied education in the long term.

      • Callie: To answer your question: Why do schools prefer to hire TFAs instead of supposedly better qualified and traditionally-educated teachers?
        I’m sure you’re a fine teacher and really involved with your kids, but your question seems sort of naive to me.
        First of all, it’s not really a matter of being “supposedly better qualified”- Certificated Teachers are, in fact, better qualified, because they have met rigorous state requirements to become a teacher-which involves hundreds of hours of training, and a full course load. The fact that TFA teachers have not met state requirements makes them, by definition, less qualified.
        Also, most secondary teachers did not major in “Education” because they have to be competent to teach a subject area.
        As to why Principals would want to hire TFA teachers over say, a certificated teacher, it comes down to a number of factors:
        1. Districts agree to take on so many TFA teachers. For example, I went to the TFA presentation to my school board, which incidentally, was the same year the school board pink slipped 700 teachers due to budget cuts(yes, I was one of them). In order to bring TFA into the district, the district would have to agree to find placements for 50 TFA teachers for as long as TFA was in the district. I have to say, the TFA presentation was really compelling, outlining the screening process and the academic achievements of its members. However, with 700 pink slips, and three nearby universities with teaching schools, it was hard to justify any sort of teaching shortage. The point is, TFA doesn’t come on a “as needed basis” they need a certain number of slots.
        2. TFA teachers are cheaper in the long term. While some TFA teachers stay in teaching, from what I’ve read about TFA, most do not. They don’t have to worry about granting TFA teachers tenure. More importantly, because most serve for two years, there is only a nominal move on the pay scale. So, you have fifty teachers, and you will never have to pay them more than second to the lowest rung on the pay scale. That’s extremely cost effective. What if those same fifty teachers stayed in the district for thirty years? They’d be making a lot more money.
        3. TFA undermines the teachers union. Again, most are in it for a couple years, so TFA won’t worry about tenure or contract negotiations or job protection or God forbid, a pension. It’s basically a temporary workforce. Temporary workforces are not invested in a union. That’s really attractive to districts.
        4. The Principal does not have make serious decisions about TFA teachers. Understand, I do not intend this statement as any way critical of your teaching. However, if you were a new teacher in my state, the Principal would have to decide whether or not they were going to keep you on-it’s a much bigger time investment on their part, with consequences that simply do not exist with a TFA teacher.

        I’ve been teaching for six years, and have been fortunate enough to be able to find a job every year. That being said, I have been pink slipped every year. Even though I attended a highly regarded teaching school, some of my cohort have never found jobs as teachers, or haven’t been able to find a full time job every year. These are extremely dedicated and smart people whose goal was to turn the education system around. They went to teaching school, and took on a crap load of debt, because that is what you have to do to become a teacher. The thing that I don’t think TFA people understand is that you’re not fighting against old teachers who you feel don’t give a crap about their job anymore, you’re pitted against new teachers-the difference being, these new teachers are interested in a profession, not in a volunteer experience.

        • Most likely, one of two things is true:
          1) The school district is in fact just looking for cheap labor, and is unfortunately not concerned with its kids getting the best possible education.
          2) TFA teachers are a better alternative the the teachers they’re replacing, and the district is choosing to hire them regardless of financial implications.

          Either way, principals must choose to hire each individual TFA corps member. At least in NYC (where I teach), each principal can choose to hire TFA teachers or not. The reason TFA is able to exist here is because enough principals like TFA corps members and want to hire them.

          • Wow. Principals prefer to hire them? How lucky! My last job interview was before a panel of ten-including admin, department chairs, a school counselor, teachers and a parent of a student-you know, because they value their staff and the input of the community. One person making all hiring decisions seems like a top down approach. But you must be right-the fact that tfa teachers are hired has nothing at all to do with the slots the district promised them, and everything to do with their five weeks of training.

    • While it’s great that you’re teaching, you’re also taking jobs away from people who are equally interested in helping kids learn, who also attended top universities, but who took the time to attend teaching school. Why do people go through teaching school? Because they see teaching as a lifelong profession and not as stepping stone to Law School or an MBA program. They are willing to make a commitment to work and live in a community. These new teachers also “on average” help students. My problem with TFA is not that bright people want to teach in areas where there are actual teaching shortages, but that TFAs are placed in districts where there are teacher surpluses of highly qualified teachers. I do not doubt that you have good intentions, but the presence of TFA in these areas is detrimental to the careers of qualified new teachers.

      • Maybe the people who attended top universities, etc. need to step up their game. If they are so qualified and awesome, they would win out over the TFA corps members…

        • This is incredibly naive. TFA makes contracts with district higher-up, using their elite connections, and then the district makes sure those people get hired, somewhere. Who knows what kind of backroom deals are being done, but many principals probably have little choice, as with most things in a top-down, compliance-based urban district. In Chicago, most TFAers go into charters anyway where the charters are built on the corporate EdReform model. Half the time the principal is a TFA-alum themselves. The heavy use of TFA and other inexperienced teachers in these schools is just one more injustice of the charter movement: Giving low-income kids less than affluent kids receive.

        • And they do, everywhere, except when school systems reserve slots. Why would they do that?

          • Sounds like you’re a little bitter that your students aren’t always stacking up to TFA corps members…At my school slots were not reserved. I would like to believe that most schools would hire the most qualified applicants they can find. If that’s not true, there’s a bigger problem that is unrelated to TFA.

            • You work at a charter school, part of an ideology where TFA and inexperienced teachers are considered better. To many charters, the data-driven, rule-following, person willing to take on long hours and participate in “no excuses” discipline is the “best candidate”. This is the ideology of technocratic, paternalistic, exploitative corporate education reform. In my worldview, based on Freire and social justice-oriented pedagogy, that type of teacher is complicit in oppression. This is all ideology, not evidence. The only evidence I look for, is what type of teachers and schools do the children of the wealthy receive?

              • Katie,
                Your mistake is that you equate educational excellence to what the “wealthy” receive. I attended an upper middle class suburban school district. I had some great teachers and many sub par or averages ones. I was also fortunate enough that my parents could send me to pre-school, they themselves were college educated and taught me a lot of things at home that put me at an advantage before I set foot in a classroom. Low income kids need more than that.


                • You just wrote “95% of traditional route teachers in low income schools would also not be hired at a “well funded prep school”. That is why TFA exists – the best teachers don’t want to work in low income schools! That’s one of the biggest reasons we have an achievement gap.” Now you are saying that you had “many sub par or averages ones” How ever did you and your classmates succeed with all those low-expectations and lazy teachers around?

                • This teacher quality myth is absurd. Schools don’t succeed or fail because of bad teachers. Teachers make a difference, and as research and experience shows, experience is highly correlated with better teaching as is having effective, well-supported teaching environments, but that will never overcome the effects of poverty alone. Plus, I would argue that the kind of teaching TFA trains its recruits to perform is the lowest form of teaching, rooted in corporate, technocratic models, NOT in best practice, or progressive education.

                  So here is what we can do to fight for educational equality inside the classroom: Guarantee equitable opportunity including access to libraries, books/supplies/technology/, counselors/social workers, small class sizes, well-kept buildings, a wide range of course offerings including arts, music, sports, drama, foreign language, etc, build democratic voice into our schools for all stakeholders, teach culturally-relevant curriculum, and offer the same kinds of teachers in terms of experience and training (which would by necessity include improving teaching/learning conditions). This is what you got in your upper-middle class school. We have never tried true equity in this country. Never. THAT is what we fight for.

  58. I am a TFA alumnus here. I taught high school English in Brooklyn for four years. I watched some 75% of my 9th graders (those who entered when I started my tenure at the school) go on to higher education. I taught an additional two years in Newark (at KIPP) and Los Angeles (as a founding teacher at KIPP) before deciding that I needed a break. In Brooklyn, I was a veteran teacher in my placement school by my third year and led both the English Dept and the 9th Grade Team. That, I think, speaks volumes about our “experienced” teachers. I ad colleagues who taught from a text book or handed out packets with readings and multiple choice questions. They were tenured and “experienced” which made it very difficult to teach. I knew an innovative, fun teacher who couldn’t deliver the content in her science lessons, but boy had she been an enthusiastic teacher for some 23 years by the time I left the school. I watched some of my own students run over her and I watched her cry every single day during and after class. Additionally, over the course of four years, I worked under three different principals and another four assistant principals, two of the principals being first-year school leaders themselves. I cried one night at the end of my third year when I turned down a teaching job in a more stable school environment because I felt an obligation to make it one more year for my students.

    I wasn’t the best. I wasn’t the most caring. I didn’t get the best test results. But I cared and I constantly improved my practice as I watched “experienced/veteran” teachers walk in and out to the sound of the bells. I was often the last to leave. If this was not the norm, where did I learn this then?

    I learned it from years of being supported by program directors at Teach For America. No one ever encouraged me to leave after two years. Many do and will continue to. However, if every teacher stays as life-long teachers, TFA’s mission of “One Day…” will be a pipe dream. TFA needs leaders in policy, education, business, and law to do the work that they aim to do. The vision isn’t that “One day, every child will have an excellent teacher,” but that they will “have an opportunity to attain an excellent education.” How does this happen? We need leaders and decision-makers who have been on the front lines to start making decisions in the best interest of our students instead of those who make them in their own interest. And if TFA needs to stand on the bank accounts of corporate America to get the funding lacking from federal and state governments necessary to realize that vision, well ten I ask you, how are they any different than every other major reform movement in our nation’s history? Why are we holding TFA to a “higher standard.”

    Teach For America is a Band-Aid for a problem that has existed since the founding of our country. TFA is the pressure we apply to the bullet wound to stall the bleeding as we wait for the ambulance. What TFA does do is give our future business/law/health/policy leaders an experience that they will never forget, so that they can not pretend to not know and turn their backs in ignorance. After the Corps, you are a lifelong advocate and proponent of education reform no matter where you go. That’s just the kind of impact the Corps has on folks.

    How do we really fix the problem? The difference is in how we view public education vs. how other, more successful, school systems view education. 1) One model does not work. How to educate people is not universal. 2) Other countries nurture a culture of education in which it is a right and held to high esteem. Education is literally freedom in many other countries. Teachers and educators are held to a high standard, yes, but they are also well-respected and compensated for their service. They are supported, thanked, and admired. Education is a profession that many aspire to, not fall back on. 3) In America, when there is a crisis, we cut from education. When test scores are not increasing, we blame instead of investigate. 4) America is a melting pot of cultural diversity that is not the case in many of the world’s top education systems (Finland, South Korea, and Singapore being consistently ranked in the Top 5). There are so many variables and factors (from language and experience, to economics) that contribute to the challenges that teachers face. The type of homogeneity that exists in many other countries is seriously lacking here. So challenges arise in ways that, when ignored (as they have been over the decades), can be debilitating to the system.

    We won’t reform our school system by advocating for folks to do “traditional certification programs” or for folks to wrk just a little harder in the classroom. We won’t reform our system by throwing more money at our schools or by pointing fingers. We will only reform our schools when we realize that America lacks a culture of education and that we need to make policies that ensure that students are thought of first and that we hold education, the IMPETUS of our society’s vibrant future, in the highest regard. In the short, let’s offer teachers more money, merit pay, and incentives for growing and improving. And in the long run, let’s push our nation towards one that values learning and personal growth.

    • art ruehls says:

      You up the standards for teachers entering teacher education programs and the teachers being granted licenses, and you end social promotion. Those would be excellent starts.

    • “Teach For America is a Band-Aid for a problem that has existed since the founding of our country.”
      What exactly is the “problem?”

      • Educational inequity of course! Sorry if that isn’t abundantly clear from this discussion… Black, brown, and poor children aren’t getting the educational experience equal to that of their white/affluent peers. That’s the problem…

        • But TFA teachers are not welcome in some of the most affluent schools.

          • Stephanie says:

            At those schools, there are 20 applicants for one position, at least. At the school where I taught in Houston, there are vacancies at the beginning of every year because it is known as an extremely challenging school. Long-term subs are often used until positions can be filled.

          • “Chalk Face”… You are right. You don’t join TFA to teach in an affluent community. That would be antithetical to TFA’s mission of serving our disadvantaged populations. But I know some TFA alums, A SMALL NUMBER, who went on to teach at more well-off schools like their former highs school or a prep school. But this is extremely rare.

            • Would it not still be a part of the mission to volunteer as instructional assistants or aides? Why, after only a summer workshop, would they claim the mantle of teacher when my students spend roughly 1500 hours in classrooms before their first day?

            • No elite prep school worth their salt would want a TFAer. Those schools have teachers with actual graduate degrees. Too bad that’s not good enough for the poor kids.

          • You’re insulting me… I am just as intelligent as (if not more than) some of the folks teaching in private schools! I grew up poor (inner-city Detroit), had a great teacher (could have been TFA for all I know!) who believed in me, received a scholarship to a prestigious boarding high school, went to a Top 5 school for undergrad, and graduated with honors. However, my grad education was sub-par! And that had nothing to do with TFA! Again, there is a teacher shortage in our low-income neighborhoods… That explains the need for more TFA full-time teachers, who I might add, are doing some damn good work! The majority of TFA teachers are doing work that is as good as, if not better than, their successful traditional colleagues. The data doesn’t lie. There are bad TFA teachers, just like there are bad traditional teachers. Difference is that TFA gives a ton of support before asking folks to leave (not to mention they won’t get tenure until 3 years of satisfactory teaching–whatever that means). But make no mistake, unlike traditional district teachers, TFA WILL ask you to leave and will work to replace you quickly in that classroom. Why is it so hard to fire a bad teacher in the district (not from TFA)? Ask Michelle Rhee… It’s the unions!

    • Yes. Thanks for writing this response. I have a friend who teaches (not a TFA member) in an city school. I’ve watched her battle “experienced” teachers who can’t even sit quietly in a staff meeting, teachers who don’t do any outside work for their children and teachers who pretty clearly just don’t care. TFA members may not be the best educated or most prepared, but they’re excited to be in the classroom. Which is a heck of a lot more than I can say for 80% of my friend’s coworkers.

      • I definitely know a ton of educators whom I’ve learned from over the years–many of whom have a number of years of experience, from 1 to 25+. Time is not really the issue. I think it’s realizing that even within a broken system, teachers can effect change with their students. I’ve seen teachers turn classrooms around. I’ve seen teachers help students gain 2+ years of reading comprehension growth in six months time. I’ve seen kids want to drop out and end up staying because they have teachers that invest in them and care for them as best they can. And many of those teachers have under 5 years of experience. Others have more of course. The only formula is wanting to do the work. That’s what makes a teacher able to be great. You have to want it like anything else. And it takes work and humbling yourself and watching good and bad teachers do their thing. I also think the system tends to break folks down and make them think they don’t have much authority or much of a voice. And in that case, those people aren’t really cut out to be working in the system I suppose. Lots of people think that it will be easy. Our teacher training orgs don’t do the best job of helping individuals understand that teaching is one of the toughest jobs in our country. But the probably is that it’s also one of the least respected professions as well. TFA has begun to do a much better job of weeding out those who can’t cut it and they are doing a better job of messaging that it’s hard and will require a ton of perseverance and humility.

      • TFA Corps Members are actually some of the best educated in our country (TFA recruits top grads from our nations best programs and the admissions bar is very high), but I agree that the experience may not be there. If folks investigate the changes that TFA has been making in the past 5 years, they’ll know that there is now even more of an emphasis on recruiting (and retaining) a more diverse group of corps members, both racially/ethnically and socioeconomically, while also realizing that impact can be had from a number of angles (i.e. you don’t have to look like the kids you teach and be from their neighborhood, but there can be advantages to having “lived it”).

        • …and yet, where does TFA recruit? Ivy League schools, top private universities. Seems to me if they were interested in attracting more low SES applicants, by and large you’re not going to find them in these places…Hm, I went to a rather gritty city college with a high population of working class and minority students. Interestingly enough, I never heard of TFA until years after graduating…
          No- they are too “elite” to recruit at State University. That would tarnish their image of recruiting the best and the brightest.
          Part of the appeal of TFA is this “we know best” attitude. Let our Stanford scholars come into your downtrodden little community and show you how it’s done. The elitism and arrogance of some of the TFA posters on this blog only serve to prove the point.
          I’m sorry, I’m working class, and neither you nor Goldman Sachs needs to be determining what is best for the students in my demographic.

        • Best educated?

          Who would you hire for a programming job – someone with a PHD in history or a bachelor’s in Computer science?

          Who would you hire for a nursing job – someone with a PHD in astrophysics or someone with a RN certificate?

          Who would you hire for as a police officer? Et cetera.

          TFA teachers are educated. But their education is not always relevant to teaching.

    • Catharine White says:

      Ah, but Finland DOES have poverty and an increasing number of folks from other countries, and their educational system snuggles those folks right in, to make sure they succeed just like the rest of the students.

      Notice the small print that makes a large difference: free education (pre-K through college), free meals, free transportation, free materials, free health care, free dental care, free counseling. These filled needs provide students the basis from which they can succeed academically.

      There is no competition, even among teachers. Work is based on cooperation. Even their doctoral engineering programs are taught as problem-based learning, with students working in groups to find info they need, then solve the problem corporately. (That engineering bit isn’t in the article; I got it from a professor I talked to during an airplane ride.)

  59. And, more evidence:

    Why Are So Many People Resisting Teach for America?

    a snippet:

    “Teach for America’s corporate roots give us some clue. The program’s corporate sponsors directly benefit from the existing economic structure, and have no interest in radically altering that system . The links between TFA and the banking sector offer a particularly cynical picture.

    “Wells Fargo is a core sponsor of Teach for America, an organization which purportedly seeks to uplift poor people of color. Wells Fargo is the same bank that just paid $175 million dollars to settle allegations of racial discrimination in its mortgage lending. Do you really think that Wells Fargo, one of TFA’s biggest financial backers, is interested in the empowerment of poor people of color?”

    • Nonprofits need money. Banks have the money. So, what should an organization that wants to do good do then? Nothing better than taking the enemy’s money and using it to affect change against the enemy… What irony.

      • What enemy? Who talks like that?

        • “Chalk Face”…

          I’m speaking in terms of what folks say. That’s not my view, obviously (if you’ve read my posts). I mean to say that if Big Business is part of the problem, it is a bit of irony to see TFA milking them for much of their philanthropy budgets! The fact is that it takes money to do this work. So, if the federal and local governments can’t provide enough of it, where does an organization go? To the bank of course… Nothing new. It’s called living in a capitalist society, my friend…

  60. This is such a well written piece! I have though about how TFA imposes inexperienced teachers on low-income schools. However, I have also seen it do some good in some cases. I think it is a program in need of serious reform. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank You! I am very passionate… :) I think that it’s important to be critical of the work that we invest ourselves in. However, my experience has been that folks who are the biggest critics are those who really don’t know the story and furthermore have no interest in being a part of the solution. I recognize that my experience is not everyone else’s. I just want the conversation to be about our kids. Adults get too much air time. Our kids are the priority. If you’ve ever witnessed a look on the face of a high schooler barely able to pronounce words from an elementary text, there’s no way you’d be able to turn your back. You can’t ignore that. That’s injustice at work…

      • I was on a panel with Wendy Kopp. She’s a detached and underwhelming diva.

        • She had a vision for helping kids. Today, tens of thousands of people share that same vision and are doing this tough work in a plethora of ways. I’ll take Wendy Kopp as a diva. TFA is no longer within her primary influence. Many other folks have stepped in to do the work… so your comment is pretty irrelevant.

          • You’re kidding. She still has tremendous influence in their fundraising. Silly boy.

          • Are you a former corps member? Have you worked with TFA before? Because I have. And I am very aware of what is going on internally. Of course she has tremendous influence because she created the idea! She is no longer the CEO though. She is now CEO of Teach For All, which is helping other organizations do the same type of good work that TFA has done. So she’s working in many different areas. TFA is one of those areas.

          • tedfine says:

            JD: Thank you for your posts here. They bring some balance to the discussion. I read your posts and sigh in relief.

            I’m not in the field of education, nor do I have kids. So I’m just a “concerned citizen.”

            I’m sure Chalk Face means well. And many of her arguments ring true to this naive reader. But, this argument that if the “big bad corporations” give money to a charity, the charity must be destructive is so specious that it makes me wonder about the correctness of the other points being made by the writer.

            No, I’m not flame baiting. I just posting my honest response.


            A sympathetic progressive

      • I completely agree! I work at a Title I school and observed exactly what you are talking about. Thank you for raising your voice and being a part of the solution.

    • Stephanie says:

      I’m not sure how TFA imposes anything on anyone. School districts partner with TFA. TFA does not swoop in and take over. As a former corps member, I do not believe that TFA is the answer to all the world’s problems and welcome a reasonable and measured critique of the work being done. But so much of the conversation happening here, and initiated by the open letter, is extremely hostile and full of rancor that seems overblown and directly at individuals with good intentions.

      • Stephanie, You are right to critique my word choice here. Impose is definitely too strong and not representative of what occurs. While I have not read all of the comments, I do not believe this letter is facilitating hostility, but critiques a program that from what I have seen working as a teacher’s aid is too often praised and not evaluated for actual results. I have no doubt that participants have good intentions, yet I think it is important to look at how many are simply not qualified to be teaching at a really well-funded prep school, so why place them in underfunded schools in the name of closing the achievement gap?

  61. Stephanie says:

    Although I graduated college with a BS in secondary English ed and a PA teaching certificate, I chose to join the 1998 Teach for America corps and was placed in one of the worst high schools in Houston. As a young teacher, I knew I wanted to teach in an urban environment and saw TFA as a way to do so while receiving extensive support. My school always hired several corps members, and most of us stayed long past our 2-year commitment. I can assure you that my undergrad courses did little to prepare me for the challenges that I faced in the classroom, and, like most first-year teachers, I struggled. However, I showed up every day to TEACH, unlike my neighbor, a veteran teacher who locked his door and covered its windows so no one could see that he was reading the paper while his students listened to music and talked on the phone. I sought out resources–from TFA and non-TFA colleagues who were doing good things–so I wouldn’t resort to daily ice cream parties, which is what the woman across the hall (another veteran teacher) used to “keep her students in line.” I stayed at my placement school for four years, choosing to leave (like many teachers at my school, TFA and non-TFA) because of administrative changes and increased gang activity. I now teach a pedagogy class at a university that is well-respected for its teacher prep program, and I mentor student teachers. My students, by and large, are looking to teaching AP classes that they can run like a college seminar and are not interested or well-prepared for the jobs that are most plentiful–those in schools like the one where I taught.

    As a former corps member, I find TFA problematic as well–my institute experience was lacking, and I felt like I was being asked to take on a Herculean task, and any complaints or concerns were viewed negatively, to say the least. However, to suggest that TFA is exacerbating the problem of education inequality ignores the systemic challenges and misguided policies that TFA has no control over. The problems of the Chicago Public School system will not disappear if TFA ceases to exist.

    • Why wasn’t an administrator all over them for being so lazy and ineffective? I would guess because the administrators were overextended and could not possibly administer an effective teacher evaluation system because of a lack of time and resources.

      When school teachers are treated like a dime a dozen, then the people going into the profession are more likely to be a dime a dozen. Pay teachers fairly, keep class sizes reasonable, allow for creativity and autonomy (as opposed to a curriculum hastily aligned to a poorly designed and implemented standardized test), maintain important essentials like libraries and art and physical education, maintain sound disciplinary policies so an atmosphere conducive to learning is maintained; do things like that and more and more people will want to become teachers, which will result in a wider pool of applicants and better instruction for everyone. These are all elements that unionized teachers are begging for, but they cost money. TFA is a cheap shortcut that subverts true improvement in public schools.

      • TFA brings folks into the education discussion who otherwise probably would never enter it. And the vast majority are smart, highly educated folks who have a desire (usually BECAUSE of their corps experience) to now dedicate some aspect of their lives to education reform. That is powerful. No other organization has been able to invest and mobilize such a large group of people around this issue of ed reform and educational inequity.

        Furthermore, this issue of unions advocating for a better system is problematic. Unions advocated for (and still refuse to negotiate) the issue of teacher tenure! Name on other employment sector of our country that guarantees folks employment for life after three years of service…NONE. That’s an injustice and unions are at the heart of that. We should: 1) Yes, offer more pay and incentives (make teaching an attractive, respected profession!), but also 2) Fire bad teachers. Simple as that. There are teachers making significant growth gains with severely disabled and severely behind students every single day. And many of those teachers are in some of the worst schools in the country. If a teacher in a “better” school is still not performing up to par, get rid of him/her. And I think if you do the first thing, you’ll have more qualified applicants to fill those roles when that bad teacher is booted. The problem now is there’s not even a pool of great teachers in the wings because no one wants to be a teacher, really.

    • Stephanie: thank you for clarifying that point regarding teacher education programs. It is assumed that teacher education programs actually do a good job of preparing new teachers, when by and large, that is just not the case.

      Like you also point out, there is not a supply of well-trained, experienced teachers who want to teach in our nation’s failing schools. To say that there are many teachers without a job assumes that those teachers want to work at the hardest to work settings, and that is just not the case.

      TFA has many, many shortcomings. I left the organization after a year for a reason (though I’m still teaching). But Katie’s hyperbolic examples actually undermine her main point: teachers need to be respected, and it starts with how we are trained. That applies not only to programs like TFA, but also to traditional and less traditional training programs.

      • It is simply not true that there is no supply of well-trained, experienced teachers. As I pointed out in my piece, experienced teachers in Chicago are being laid off in large numbers and there are dozens of quality teacher prep programs preparing teachers to work in Chicago’s schools. Those well-prepared, experienced teachers cannot find jobs, but the number of uncertified TFA novices has increased from 245 to 325 at the same time as these layoffs, mass school closures, and budget cuts. TFA has gone too far, it is operating in areas that do not need its novices.

        • So you’re claiming that those laid off, well-prepared, and experienced teachers are just dying to teach at failing schools but their applications were rejected by principals? I don’t believe that for a second. Please cite real evidence for that.

          Or are you telling me that there are only 325 positions open at high-needs schools in CPS?

          I also find it curious you have yet to respond to my–and others’–claim about the complete inefficacy of traditional training programs. Hate TFA all you want, but it won’t change the fact this country does not know how to train its teachers to work in the “toughest” schools.

          One last thing: please cite evidence for your claim that mentor teachers aren’t allowed to give feedback during summer institute. That is patently false. And given your disdain for mere anecdotes, it’s only fair that you substantiate such a statement with evidence.

          Again, hate TFA all you want. But even if TFA were to go away right now, our nation’s schools wouldn’t be any better off.

          • I disgree with the idea that traditional prep programs are broken. Not that there isn’t room for improvement (any program can be improved,) but the real problem lies in the broken US classrooms, not the prep programs. First year teachers going into functional school systems (and in our unequal system in the US, that means schools serving higher-income communities)do much better. The problem in our US system is and has always been inequality. Schools serving kids with more needs due to poverty, oppression, trauma, etc receive fewer resources. And teachers suffer under that model just as much as the students and families.

            I think Chicago would be better off without TFA. We have far more teachers looking for work than positions, despite the fact that CPS does nothing to improve working conditions to keep teachers around. The political climate in this city is one that despises experienced teachers, and many principals are pressured to use various administrator tricks to remove those experienced teachers. Learing conditions in our schools are at the breaking point, completely unmanageable, and this is for a variety of reasons. The US does not have a shortage of new teachers, it has a retention problem. That is the problem we need to address, that the problem TFA makes worse. In fact, having TFA around allows districts to keep this status quo in place. Those in power will not fix this problem without a mass people’s movement, which is what we are working on in Chi-town.

          • You think that the relative success of first year teachers going into functional school systems (read: suburbs) compared to the abysmal failure of most first year teachers going into failing schools proves that there’s nothing inherently wrong with teacher preparation in this country? Wow.

            That’s some fallacious logic right there.

            I can’t speak to the situation in Chicago, but I will say that one of the biggest urban districts in the nation (where I may or may not work) has a “teacher surplus” at the good schools and a complete dearth of teachers willing (or able) to teach at its failing schools.

        • Stephanie says:

          Katie, I don’t know that TFA would have ever been launched if there were 20 applicants for one position at the school where I taught, or scores of schools across the country. I can’t speak to the situation in Chicago either–but perhaps your arguments should be made to those running Chicago Public Schools rather than targeting TFA.

          • And TFA’s existence allows districts to continue to ignore and disinvest in these struggling schools. Why improve working conditions to keep teachers when you have an endless supply of TFAers? Heck, its a money saver, so just keep renewing. Plus, many parents aren’t even aware their child’s teacher is not certified. Many arent aware that people can be hired as a teacher without qualifications. It was TFA that lobbied Congress to change “highly-qualified” teacher requirements so parents are not even informed that their child’s teacher is not certified. And with all the marketing and propaganda, districts can claim TFA just as good when it clearly is not.

            What’s happening in Chicago is extreme, but TFA is doing serious damage to public education and the teaching profession everywhere.

        • Experienced does not necessarily equal effective/dedicated. Until you admit that, your argument means nothing.
          And your last line is pretty bold…

      • What the hell is a “well trained teacher” anyway? Compliant rule follower right?

      • “Investigating Ed (@EdPractices)”…
        You are absolutely correct in saying that we have to make teaching a more respected, valued profession in our society. TFA isn’t the problem. Actually, I think TFA attracts individuals who otherwise wouldn’t invest themselves in education and makes most of them life-long advocates in the best ways they know how. I can’t tell you the number of folks I’ve met (now doctors and lawyers) who were TFA Corps Members and are now volunteering time and money to this movement and their own local efforts as well. It’s actually revolutionary… TFA is starting to bridge a gap and work WITH the private sector to fix this problem since working against it hasn’t been much help to public education in the past. We need business leaders and smart folks in the private sector to care about education. A partnership with TFA is usually a catalyst for folks to get involved when they probably wouldn’t have in the past. More good than harm…

  62. If TFA and KIPP were truly excellent, they’d be sought out by affluent parents; they aren’t.

    TFA is a mass experiment with “other people’s children,” and thus, is inexcusable.

    Evidence, you say?

    • Jennie H says:

      I think you have a point regarding TFA. However, I teach at a KIPP school, and we actually do have a couple upper income, white students. I am white and grew up in a relatively affluent suburb, and if I had children, I would absolutely send them to my school. My school is located in a highly segregated part of the city, and there are very few affluent people for many many miles. So it’s not exactly conveniently located for affluent families. Of course that’s a whole ‘nother issue…

    • “plthomasedd”….

      You fail to realize that affluent communities are not the one in need of KIPP schools and other innovative charter/public schools. Those communities aren’t struggling with high drop out rates, teen pregnancies, unemployment, and violence nearly as much as our poor communities. No way! Why would a KIPP school in inner-city south Los Angeles offer up a valuable seat in its school to Privileges Johnny from the San Fernando Valley over Low-income, disadvantaged Eduardo from Watts? That’d be antithetical to the mission. KIPP wouldn’t be meeting a need. KIPP and other charter organizations do fill seats with affluent kids from time to time, but the overwhelming majority of kids are required to be poor because they are in need the most!

  63. Michelle H. says:

    It truly breaks my heart to see the blatant ignorance from a fellow educator, who wrote purely on emotion and relied heavily on logical fallacies. Not once did she used concrete data to prove her point. She hyperlinked these so called proof that are just opinions of a few people. And maybe she never learned about school financing but it’s not cheaper to hire a first year teacher vs a veteran teacher. All benefits included, it cost almost the same. From someone who opposes “elitism” , she is so eager to share her resume with readers. If she would like to remove TFA corps members from the school system because she deems them as less worthy of the position , then I suggest that she obtain higher education and become a policy maker. If we wish to do any good for our children, we should just roll up our sleeves and get to work instead of sitting around pointing fingers at TFA and dream up of what our students “deserve”.

    • art ruehls says:

      but it’s not cheaper to hire a first year teacher vs a veteran teacher. All benefits included, it cost almost the same


      • True true, new teachers are cheaper. But why are schools favoring these new teachers? Schools have no money! We cut from our education budgets ALL THE TIME, IN EVERY CRISIS! Our federal and state governments as a whole (NOT talking about Obama so please don’t change the subject!) don’t show enough investment in our poor and minority kids! The very FUTURE we talk about in terms of our place as a country in a globalized, technological world!!!

  64. hope that the similar program in Indonesia-called Indonesia Mengajar-will not have such a hidden agenda.

  65. TFA alum here.

    the worst first year TFA teachers usually get booted or quit. the adaptable ones flourish.

    also, “experienced long term teachers” can either mean a lot, or nothing at all. plenty of teachers at my placement school were teaching for 20+ years. tenured, guaranteed job ’til they couldn’t walk anymore (and some were close) and mostly couldn’t give a shit less about teaching the kids anything or appreciating their culture. they were worthless, and the worst one of all (kids took pictures of her playing solitaire during instruction time) was the union rep at our school. Go. Figure.

    then again, there were also incredible veteran teachers who were light years beyond my ability. i admired them and tried to emulate their style.

    but please, stop pretending that there aren’t PLENTY of terrible teachers around who contribute to the problem. we need the professional standards to be raised. if they were where they should be, TFA would never have existed.

  66. Leo Angulo says:

    The TFA model was far better than any teacher preparation model that the Los Angeles Unified School District had back in 2001 when I was hired. I have to say that the TFA teachers did bring a breath of fresh air to our worksite and truly did impact teaching. This article is trying imply that all seasoned teachers are better than new teachers, but as a “seasoned” public school teacher I have to say that in my experience that is NOT the truth. In fact many of my colleagues have become complacent with their teaching and are not very effective (I had the opportunity to observe their instruction while I served as the instructional coach for 2 years). I learned that the colleague who you love and sounds great in the lunchroom is not always the same colleague that is teaching our youth. In fact, you may have taught 10, 12, 18 years, but if you were never trained properly and are not reflecting on your teaching practice, you may be making the same mistakes as you did in your first year.

  67. A. Johnson says:

    I find this “open letter” very interesting. As a former elementary teacher, principal, and university professor who taught required pre-service courses, my own experience with TFA interns has been mostly positive. Some of my best new teachers came through the program. Conversely, some were
    not as well prepared. However, the vast majority of the TFA Recruits that I have hired, were better trained than the other new teachers who had not been given the kind of training and monitoring available to TFA recruits. In California, teacher training programs have been sorely inadequate for decades. This is not a new phenomenon.

  68. Hey, interesting post, though when you write that TFA teachers are building their experience on the backs of underprivileged youths, you are perhaps unaware that the average classroom experience for U.S. teachers is 1 year–as per Diane Ravitch, who is no TFA fan. The larger point is that teachers all over the country, regardless of region, are leaving the profession almost immediately after entering it. Partly, they’re leaving because of the lack of union support. But they’re also leaving because schools are, by and large, not supportive environments, either intellectually or professionally or financially. Low-income schools are, of course, hit hardest by this trend. TFA may have imperfect means, but the intentions, I believe, are pure. If teachers leave after two years, that means they spend one more year in the schools than the average U.S. teacher.

    • The change from an experienced teacher workforce to a younger and inexperienced workforce is a symptom of a broader neoliberal global trend. And we can either sit back, allow TFA and other similar groups to exacerbate and profit off this problem, or we can push back. This article provides a strong overview of the new “lean production” in schools: which states, “The goal of lean education isn’t teaching or learning; it’s creating lean workplaces where teachers are stretched to their limits so that students can receive the minimum support necessary to produce satisfactory test scores.” This is not the kind of teaching environment I want for myself or my colleagues and certainly not the kind of learning environment I wish for my students. Here’s a little chant we like in Chicago: “When public education is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

    • Michael,

      The road to hell is paved with good intentions:

      Ghengis Khan had good intentions.

      Cristobal Colon had good intentions.

      Augusto Pinochet had good intentions.

      George Custer had good intentions.

      Andrew Jackson had good intentions.

      Pol Pot had good intentions.

      Stalin had good intentions.

      Hitler had good intentions.

    • Jim Horn says:

      Your info on teachers leaving is wrong. About 1 in 3 teachers leave teaching within the first five years, unless we are talking schools with lots of poor kids. In those, 1 in 2 leaves within the first 5 years. You must have gotten your info from some TFA teacher training materials.

      • Jim, here is my source:
        “20 years ago, most teachers had an average of 15 years of experience. Today, the modal year of experience is one year.”
        The quote’s from Diane Ravitch’s recent appearance on The Takeway. Here’s the link:

        Diane Ravitch is a well-known educational historian and writer. Here’s her website:

        • Exactly, more evidence that we do not need TFA’s fast-track, short-term model. These numbers represent a major injustice as so many of those new teachers are concentrated in schools serving low-income communities. TFA exacerbates that inequality.

          • Stephanie says:

            What you are suggesting is that most of the first-year teachers that Ravitch is talking about are TFA. The numbers don’t add up.

            • Nope, not saying that at all. TFA claims to be fighting education inequality, but all it actually accomplishes is to recreate and double down on the already existing problem of high teacher turnover and disproportionate number of uncertified, inexperienced teachers in our neediest classrooms. That alone is not why I fight the organization, though. It is how TFA contributes to deprofessionalizing teaching (Claiming it is OK, no BETTER, to have practically no training and to not stick around long-term), and acts as a union-busting, pro-corporate force (yes it’s OK to downsize a workforce, layoff older, higher-paid workers-in fact these unprepared, short-term workers are BETTER), and to churn out a major source of the Corporate Education Reformers that are actively destroying public education (leadership pipeline: teach your 2-3 years then lead a district, charter franchise, state education system, join the DOE, get elected to office and push corporate reform, etc.) TFA is small, but its impact on the narrative, the education propaganda machine, the leadership is enormous. And so I fight it.

          • I don’t understand why you call TFA a fast-track, short-term model. It asks for a two-year commitment from its teachers, which is more than is asked of a teacher entering a school through the normal route. Many TFA teachers stay beyond their commitment. Others leave after two years, and some leave early. In other words, they behave just like every other teacher. Does this mean that TFA is not a solution to the problem of the lack of quality teachers in classrooms? Sure. But it also means that the problem is much larger than TFA. The problem is that people who have chosen teaching as a profession–chosen it over other professions, knowing in advance that it involves low pay and long hours–face challenges that are so overwhelming that they leave the profession they chose. TFA teachers and non-TFA teachers are on the same side. They’re pushed out by the same problems. As I wrote earlier, TFA isn’t perfect, but any organization whose goal is to encourage smart, talented people to enter the teaching profession in underserved schools should be encouraged. And, then, once those teachers are in those schools, they should be supported adequately so that they’ll stay.

            • When a traditionally-trained teacher invests tens of thousands of dollars and years of their lives in preparation for a career, they are much more likely to stick around long-term, or take a real hit if they decide to leave. Right now, instead of investing in schools to create the types of learning climates where teachers would gladly stay long-term, our schools are seeing massive DISinvestment,authortitarian leadership,micro-management, the destruction of all that made teaching worthwhile (thus the decline in teachers sticking around long-term.) This crushing of the teaching profession is being done on purpose, due to ideology, vested interests, and neoliberal agendas, and TFA has galdly jumped on board the teacher-bashing train.

              I also think it is disingenous to say that “TFA and non-TFA teachers are on the same side.” When you see the comments of so many TFAers describing “lazy and stupid” veterans, that does not make me want to partner with them. TFA frames the education debate as an idividualistic endeavor, completely divorced from context (“Poverty is not Destiny!”), and refuse to understand the real problems (oppressive, under-resourced, overwhelmed schools, the so-called “burnt-out teacher” is merely a symptom of the disgustingly inequitable/cruel workplaces for teachers with concentrations of students who face very real, very serious repercussions of living in poverty and the behaviors that come with them.)

              Like Gary Rubinstein, TFA alum, says in his famous blog post ( ), TFA used to be a band-aid, but has morphed into something darker and more dangerous-a flagship organization of the corporate education reform movement.

          • “Katie Osgood”…

            As a TFA alum who has taught for my entire post-college career of six years, I have to say that the support I received from Teach For America was extremely beneficial throughout my first two years. I didn’t just go through five weeks of summer training and get left at the front door of my classroom. No, I was coached, supported, observed by a Teach For America Program Director far more often than my actual “veteran” principal. My PD was available by phone, email, and in the TFA office to meet with me and help me through a tough problem. Additionally, I attended graduate school in-person on select Saturdays (BY THE WAY, CRAPPY SCHOOL!) and found troubleshooting with other corps members helpful and inspiring. I was invited to attend events to meet with educational leaders and better understand our nation’s biggest injustice. I attended Learning Teams several times a month where my group of TFA corps members would meet with our Leader and workshop problems and materials that we were using in the classroom. Not only that, but as a corps member, I had access to a plethora of instructional materials (videos, units/lessons/long-term plans, data, people) that helped to develop me throughout my entire career. Additionally, in NYC, I was given a “veteran teacher mentor” who observed me every week and provided feedback. Her feedback was not helpful and she had taught for 25+ years. She said nothing but good things and praised me when I used a PowerPoint or a projector to show a video clip. She was impressed by the things she didn’t know how to use because they were shiny and sparkly, NOT because they were effective. My peers who came through traditional means of certification did not have these supports. They had 1-2 years of in-class graduate “training” that, if anything like the graduate program I was in, did little to prepare them for their job experience. If you go to Harvard or Teachers College or Peabody, well, you might gain something. Otherwise, you’re screwed when it comes to traditional means of certification.

            At the end of my first year of teaching, my students, on average, gained 2.2 years of reading comprehension growth (a few 1+ years). It took me a couple of months to get the hang of things and make gains, but guess what, they made growth! Did I do this alone. Hell no! I had my own determination and drive. I had some amazing colleagues. But most importantly, I had TFA’s support. In my sixth year of teaching, I walked into the first day of our charter school’s founding year and met, in person, four other TFA alums that had succeeded because of a very similar support system. Many expressed that they never considered teaching until TFA came along. I couldn’t imagine our nation’s school system without these amazing folks. WHat a loss that would have been. And again, in year six, I called up my former Program Director who has since returned back to the classroom, and asked him to help me troubleshoot a problem I was having helping my kids access some important information. We chatted, he gave advice, and a day later I was able to move forward with my plans because my kids had gotten it.

            My experience has not been that of everyone else’s. But it has definitely been similar to that of so many. TFA changed my life. I wouldn’t be here if TFA hadn’t convinced me that I have the power to help change the trajectory of students whose faces look just like mine own and whose homes are as broken as mine was. I wouldn’t be here if TFA didn’t help me believe that I could contribute.

            That is why I continue to do this tough, exhausting, thankless work. I do it because the kids DESERVE it and have a right to it. Whether they come from my family or not. They are MY CHILDREN because they are human beings with all the potential to be great and influential in their own ways. Let’s take a moment and just talk about the KIDS for a second…

            Thank you, Teach For America, for making me a lifelong proponent of fixing our nation’s biggest injustice.

  69. I applied for TFA this past year and was determined to make an impression of my own. My interviewer neglected to talk to me about my 6 years of outdoor education experience and ability to work with and teach children aged 8-18. Instead, I was repeatedly asked about my recruiting activity for a small club I participated in during college. I’m a biologist and passionate about teaching, but I was ultimately rejected (and on the other hand, my friend, a political science major with less than a semester of science lab experience, had been selected to teach high school biology in Chicago!).
    I don’t think enough people speak up about TFA’s misguided efforts and deceiving aims. Thanks for writing this!!!

    • stephaniemjennings says:

      I had a similar experience when I interviewed for the corps. The interviewer was really interested in some minor leadership roles I had in college, yet wasn’t super interested in my volunteer work with an inner city HS robotics team.

      And then I heard from various friends who did TFA that they got placed in areas they felt unprepared for, content-wise.

    • There’s a bar “C”…sorry that you didn’t meet it. :-/

      This calls into question all of the other factors they go into deciding who is offered a position in the Corps. Six years of outdoor education experience doesn’t automatically make you qualified to be an inner-city or rural public school teacher, I’m sorry. Could it be how you handled answering the questions in the interview? Your grades? Performance in school? Expression of passion for the work? History of perseverance and problem-solving at high levels?

      Reflect on what factors may have made you less qualified than your classmate. This sounds like a blame game and remnants of years of bitterness…

      It looks as though you were committed to education (although I can’t really tell since again, there are so many factors that determine true commitment), so I imagine that you buckled down and went to graduate school for education and are now teaching in the very schools that TFA apparently denied you access to during the application process. is that true?

      If not, well, maybe you didn’t come off as passionate enough. Maybe you didn’t exhibit the innate qualities that TFA has identified over the past 20+ years as being characteristic of those able to persevere and problem-solve in the face of adversity…

      Just something to think about my friend…

  70. Ken McFarlane says:

    @Katie Osgood Just a thought. I think you are dead on and have shared this piece, but there is a time when on-line discussions lose their value and become repetitive or personal attacks. Then it is time to stop responding. You have to decide when that time is for your piece, but I just wanted to mention the possibility. Thank you again for such a well thought out criticism.

  71. Daniel Ueda says:

    This article is full of conclusions that are drawn from shaky evidence. This is written by someone who doesn’t fully grasp the problems that urban schools face. I am not a TFA person at all, but I am a former NYC Teaching Fellow, now in my 10th year of teaching in public schools in Brooklyn and in Philadelphia. Yes, TFA and Teaching Fellows fill a gap in not the best way as some commenters stated, a band-aid on an open wound, but there are currently no other solutions. I began with 3 weeks of training and was thrown into a classroom in November that had been vacated by 2 other teachers, one with 8 years of experience and the other a new normal grad school teacher. They ran screaming from the class and went to greener pastures. The dean of discipline was teaching the class when I got there. What solutions are in place for this? I would have benefited from more education, but I also wouldn’t be a teacher right now if it hadn’t been for the Teaching Fellows program.

    • And those horrible teaching/learning conditions are absolutely on purpose in order to justify the neoliberal agenda. Schools MUST fail in order to turn them over to private hands and squeeze a profit out of them. Schools are being starved of resources to the point that even experienced teachers are suffering. The solution is a mass people’s movement demanding equity, sufficient and equitable funding, democracy in schools, student/parent/and teacher voice, relevant curriculum, humane discipline, and working conditions that don’t send teachers running! Now if only there were a official groups of teachers organized around these social justice issues, with infrastructure and ability to reach out into schools and communities…Hmmm….

  72. I saw this and wanted to tell you how grateful I am for your work. I grew up poor but went to Stanford undergrad and decided to go into teaching and because I believe that my students, and neighbors and friends deserve the same education white kids get, I also went to ed school. I hated the concept of TFA as an undergrad and I hate it even more now.I worked at a couple of charters, really the most progressive in the bunch and then accidentally ended up at a no excuses charter when I tried to return to my home town and serve the kids I grew up with and there were no openings even though they had just signed a contract with TFA after laying off 300 teachers. In all cases I saw kids counseled out, so I decided that I can’t work at charters anymore. At first, I was giving them the benefit of the doubt but over time I’ve become deeply cynical about what is happening here. I wish more people said this at the elite institutions, and I try to do what I can to use my Stanford degree to be that voice. I hope this doesn’t look like shameless self promotion, but I thought the folks reading this might also like to see this:

    I also worked as a special needs para and have a little sister with special needs and a step-dad who works as a para and I wanted to tell you how grateful I am for the work you do. Special Education teachers and counselors are the unsung heroes and I always try to remind my fellow classroom teachers how important the work you do is.

  73. While some might not like your message, everything you say is true. Low income children suffer so many inequities, and inexperienced, poor quality teachers are among them. Instead of trying to find a solution to this problem, we useTFA as a bandaid for a gaping head wound.

  74. Thanks for this article.

  75. I feel deelply for all those angry enough to continue this discussion. Whether you are pro or anti TFA, the time spent here is proof of your own ineffectiveness to say something impactful and evidence of your great ability to waste energy in furthering what really matters–figuring out how to close the educations gap located throughout our nation. My students would be ashamed of your close minded and thinly veiled arguments against TFA, as almost each one of my students has had life altering encounters with a current and/or former TFA teacher. Shame on each one of you who cast stones with logic rooted in misunderstandings, feable connections, and anger. Shame on each one of you who call on others to “not become a foot solider for the Education Reform movement”, yet transform into martyrs at the very chance to be those same foot soldiers “saving” our children from the meance of TFA. Shame on each one of you who continue to make me ashamed to have to call you a fellow “educator”.

    • I’m pretty damned sure that individual TFA teachers are not necessarily at object here. I do, however, object to the system of alternative preparation. As a teacher educator, I object to my former students, who’ve worked very hard to get as close to mastering a very complicated profession after a yearlong extensive clinical internship, to find that positions have been SAVED for temporary recruits that, if I were a betting person, won’t be sitting in those classrooms longer than 24 months. This is not how you build a profession, this is how you destroy it. So, spare us all the self-righteousness and attempts to shame alternative perspectives because we are not enamored with the magical pixie dust that you apparently sprinkle on the heads of poor students everywhere. We are not impressed.

    • To: DC
      When TFA mandates the same set of standards as the schools that service middle-class and above students then you have educational reform. Until then what you have is an educational scam supported by private and civic institutions with an agenda that smacks of classism at its best and elitism at its worst. Shame on YOU who continue to look at the needs of our disenfranchised and disadvantaged youth through eyes that are foreign to their plight. Should “we let them eat cake” or should we provide equal educational opportunities for ALL of our youth…

    • Jim Horn says:

      Hey, DC–

      You may be ashamed of educators, but you certainly are not ashamed of your fellow educators. You have to be one before you can ashamed of your fellows.

      As Kevin Welner has said about the TFA’s husband, KIPP, it’s not about education–it’s about a business model in pursuit of expanding that model.

      In order to expand that model, TFA/KIPP has to pacify the brown and black savages and make them assets, rather than liabilities.

      I suggest what you are feeling “deeply,” DC, is a rising up of that rigorous righteousness, unique to the zealot, that must prevail in order for self-delusion to become a lasting asset.

    • Margaret says:

      I would not want you as an educator for my children, your spelling and your grammar are atrocious….

    • Core member?

  76. The focus of your article seems to be on what TFA can or cannot do for students and unionized teachers. What can students and teachers do to make TFA a great experience for the the TFAers? How can you motivate these well-intentioned, well-educated youth to become career teachers? Open your arms and give them some hugs. It’ll all get better.

    • Poor kids don’t need their good intentions. TFAs would make great IA’s, but should not be classified as teachers. That seems like a good compromise. They can come into classrooms, volunteer their time, help tutor, lead small groups, work after or before school. Provide instructional support. But let’s not pretend for a moment that, in the time of this program’s existence, they have done any good. All the standard metrics that are used by outcomes based reformers, NAEP results, graduation rates, all of it, no good has come of the tremendous disarray they have caused. Nothing that justifies the massive disruptions.

      • You’ve certainly resisted answering my question. What can you do to make the TFAs’ teaching experiences better? Being bitter and exclusive hardens battle lines. They are there to help. How can you help them help?

        • How TFA’s teaching experiences can be better: Leave TFA and get an actual degree in education.

          TFA is not sancrosanct. Don’t act like we need TFA to improve American education. We don’t.

    • So… these schools… that have kiddos that need good teachers… no, *they* are supposed to stop, and see what *they* can do [in their spare time?] to make things better for the TFA people?
      Who’s supposed to be helping whom?
      How about sending the TFA folks to schools that have extra resources, so that these folks can be inspired by the plethora of folks with expertise (from having education and experience, as opposed to a crash course and good intentions)?

      • If a trained teacher cannot help defuse a hostile environment, that teacher’s training is not all it should be. Even worse, if a trained teacher contributes to a hostile environment, then that teacher’s professionalism is questionable.

        • Not sure what that has to do with my reply (but navigating the reply thing is a bit of a challenge, so maybe you’re not trying to reply to me?). I’m not saying teachers *can’t* do those things. I’m asking why they should be stretched even further to accommodate the TFA newbies, when ostensibly these folks are supposed to be the ones making things better for the students. THe post I’m replying to is saying that hey, teachers should step up and go yet one more extra mile.

    • Anna Markopoulos (Rotenberg) says:

      There is no way around the imperative that teachers be adequately certified, hugs or no hugs. Incumbent teachers who lack academic credentials need to upgrade their human capital or get out of the profession, just as newbies ought be fully credentialed before they enter the class. Short of this, opportunism will reign and students most in need of equalized opportunity will continue to suffer.

      • Anna Markopoulos (Rotenberg) says:

        An alternative is to model TFA on the DC Teaching Fellows program, which requires candidates to first pass the Praxis exams, and then complete full alternative certification courses in tandem with teaching. This is clearly not an easy feat, but raising the bar assures that only the most qualified and passionate enter the mission. Hgh-poverty districts deserve effective teaching, which is both a calling and higher-order work.

        • Most Teaching Fellows programs are pretty similar to the TFA model. It’s great to have a calling, just please do the prep work up front, even if it’s a sacrifice. (I put myself through a full ed program at night while working full time, including evenings and nights in order to get in all my observation hours. Then lived real lean during student teaching, because my future students are worth that.) Education courses should be completed, along with a full student teaching placement before stepping foot in the classroom as the teacher of record. Kids from higher-income communities aren’t being given teachers-in-training. Why should low income kids?

  77. If only the American people would take their children out of the public school system and home school them in the truth, not in the propaganda of lies being taught today!!! Connie

  78. Thank you so much for your long, thoughtful meditation on an important issue, and the plea for all the Ivy-League TFA teachers to re-think their priorities.

    My attempt to raise this issue in 2008 was met with much debate and scorn (, but I think it’s a discussion we must continue to pursue for the sake of public education in this country.

    • Not all of us Ivy League TFAers are misguided in our priorities.

      I am one of ‘those people’ and I am totally nodding my head with most of the positions espoused above.

      One of the worst days of my life was when my students applauded me and told me I was the best teacher they’d ever had — I knew it was not true or that even if it was, that statement the VASTNESS of this inequity. I do not think proudly about that, rather am ashamed that that could possibly be the case as I know deeply and painfully how inadequate I was in my first two years of teaching.

      I am still working as a teacher today to improve my practice and have worked in school/district finance to understand that side of the issue.

      I decided to reply to your post because I don’t feel that I should be labeled as part of the problem when I am devoted to spend my lifetime working to find solutions that work for children — namely, community-based schools with experienced, passionate teachers and, when needed, wraparound services. I’d like to join you in working towards these goals, not be left out because of where I went to school or how I got into this world of education.

      • Thank you, Kate. I agree, and I too get defensive when I am blamed for the hard work I’m doing to try to educate the students in my classes. Too often TFAers get accused of being part of the problem when we are trying to help.

  79. I think you make a lot of good points and dating a current TFA corps member in institute and a friend to many others, I have the exact same feeling that these neediest kids are being used as guinea pigs and that’s not right. I don’t think we should dismantle TFA but certainly change some things about it. What I do love about TFA is that although many Corps member do go on to different careers outside of education, many of them do stay in education. And even those who don’t, now have a broader perspective and understand the inequalities of our education system. Even if they go to into Law, they might continue to give to education related projects and endeavors.

    Its really hard to get into TFA. Only about 12% of candidates. SO what TFA is doing is recruiting some of the smartest college students into education. Teaching does not always attract the highest quality talent because the pay is low, but TFA gets students who wouldn’t have thought about education, to go into education, and often stay in education. that’s huge!

    • If TFA recruits were so fantastic, which they’re not, then why do they not submit themselves to the marketplace when it comes to teaching positions? That is, go through the program, get their certification or whatever you want to call it, and then interview for open positions? Why the reservation of slots in high-needs schools? Why sites like EdMatch that play to TFA folks? Why charter chains that open to entirely serve as job placement services for TFA? Why the extra donations and gobs of money donated to TFA? Why the exceptions granted to TFA in terms of certification?

      As a teacher educator, make no mistake, I do not guarantee students and former students jobs. I prepare them as best as I can in the time available and their landing a classroom is entirely on them. I may write a positive reference letter, but that’s it. They have to take the Praxis tests, they have to interview and do teaching demos. No slots are saved for them. No one’s holding their hands.

      So, I say again, if TFA is so fabulous, then why all of the exceptions? Let the market sort it all out.

      • I’m not disagreeing with your general points, but isn’t the conclusion of your comment here a bit disingenuous? It’s not as if TFA is outside the market–TFA is playing a market role. These schools have simply delegated their market hiring to TFA. They’re not being “cheated” out of the ability to participate in the market differently, and could do this same sort of hiring themselves. Arguably, they are simply ratifying the “market” by which TFA chooses its teachers, and then using them as a facilitator.

        There are plenty of arguments against TFA, but this does not seem like a good one.

      • abmilwaukee says:

        While I won’t disagree that some slots at some schools are reserved for TFA, I and the vast majority of my Milwaukee corps had to interview for jobs at our schools the same way our traditionally trained colleagues interviewed for the jobs. In fact, I did ten interviews before I was offered a job. Probably because I was up front about the fact that I had received minimal training!

        • i can assure you that in some major inner city school systems, hundreds of slots are reserved. Why?

        • While I am not an expert at how this all works (TFA is purposefully very quiet about the hiring process), what I do know is that here in Chicago, TFA recruits start interviewing for jobs well before most teachers in the system even know if they will have a position in a school the next year. Also, TFA has relationships with many principals/schools/charter systems to ensure the agreed upon number of recruits is hired. I imagine that there is a lot of backroom dealing in getting some TFAers hired.

          Meanwhile, all other teachers are out of luck. This is part of the reason that a handful of fully certified teachers are now applying to TFA, TFA gurantees a position in districts where it is extrememly hard to find a job. What a twisted, perverse system.

          Whatever happened to TFA filling actual teacher shortages?

        • I mean really, what does it mean to have a contract for a certain number of positions, er I mean “delieverables” (REALLY!?!) ( if principals won’t hire? Clearly, TFA is a top-down directive being forced upon schools and it’s not the kind of system where administrators have the freedom to refuse the BOE.

      • tedfine says:

        “Let the market all sort it all out” Yet, you consider donations from corporate market leaders as evidence of that TFA is bad. Which is it? I think you need to be consistent. Do you think that the markets work or not? And if not, then why would you assert “let the market sort it all out”??? I’m sympathetic to your argument here, really I am. But, frankly, you might want to tone down your attitude a bit – it can be a real turn-off to an interested by-stander like me. Sure, be angry; raise your voice. You have a right to be and the current state of our educational system deserves it. But simplistic thinking, accusations, and the inconsistency of sometimes wanting to burn the system down, and other times preserve it don’t help your argument.

        • I do not intend to agree with the marketplace in this instance. However, it is the system that encourages TFA that invests heavily in neoliberal thinking. So they are the ones that should be comfortable with a free market for human capital, rather than lobbying for state and local laws that except TFA teachers from the marketplace.

  80. abmilwaukee says:

    I didn’t mean to post twice, so feel free to delete one of those. Also, I just read a piece about how CPS is going to extend its contract with TFA. This means that they will be spending more on TFA. Why would they do this during a budget crisis? What’s the real reason? It’s pensions, it’s long-term cost. I don’t understand why this isn’t a bigger part of this discussion.

    TFA is not the bad guy here. CPS is focused on hiring young people who they believe will quit after a year or two or three. This relieves them of long-term costs associated with a “normal” employee. When you work to organize your teachers, use that as a talking point. When you talk to TFA teachers, tell them that. We’re not here to demean the profession, we want to help lift it up. So engage us! That’s what I’m trying to do.

    • Pensions are not the problem, other than representing disgusting mismanagement. I recommend the book The Shock Doctrine and to connect that central thesis to the manufactured crisis here in Chicago (and around the globe.) Chicago has seen a massive disinvestment in public education, along with many public goods, especially in already historically underserved neighborhoods. Scratching the surface reveals a massive development/business plan which is directly tied to our current school plan. It was not educators that brought the Renaissance 2010 program (the start of school closures/charter expansion of Arne Duncan’s reign), but the Commerical Club of Chicago. This is about reorganizing our city around neoliberal, business interests and TFA is a central part of that attempt. Breaking of the teachers union and purposeful deprofessionalization of teachings are avenues to do education for Chicago’s low-income students on the cheap. Privatization and charters are another piece of the puzzle. Starving and closings schools is being done on purpose here to create a “market” for the services that charters and TFA offer. For further reading on this idea I would recommend Dr. Pauline Lipman’s book The New Political Economy of Urban Education:
      TFA is not the only bad guy, and the people naively in the program are certainly not, but TFA is one of the major players in something dark and wrong. If TFA is not about hurting kids and communities, why is it letting itself be used to provide cheap (not better) labor? TFA should refuse to work in any area abusing its services this way, but unfortunately, TFA seems to search out these disaster capitalism opportunities.

    • Also, could you please link the article about CPS extending its contract with Teach for America? Thanks.

      • abmilwaukee says:

        Thank you for the suggested reading and links. I have often argued that what I dislike most about TFA is that it allows itself to be co-opted by right-wing Republicans like our own Governor Walker. I can’t stand to see him talk about my program and have nobody but me say something back…albeit only on the web.

        Here’s the link to the CPS news:

        I don’t think it’s official yet, but very much moving in that direction.

        • Thanks. Just found that article myself and added it to the end of this piece. The CPS appointed Board of Ed apparently voted to EXPAND TFA at last week’s board meeting. It’s a done deal. (Didn’t I mention that “cozy” relationship with the board?) TFA is getting nearly 3X the funding and increasing the number of 1st yrs from 245 to 325…in the middle of a “budget crisis” so terrible that the board just HAD to close 50 beautiful, historical schools and layoff 850 teachers and staff just last week. As a TFA alum, I hope this makes you furious! Maybe you can see why I fight this organization.

          • abmilwaukee says:

            I stand 100 percent against public school closings and have on more than one occasion gone down to Chicago to march with Chicago teachers. I blog about it, I post about it. This is a manufactured crisis and we need to stop it.

  81. abmilwaukee says:

    While I really agree with you on your Education Week blog post from February 2012, I have some problems with this post.

    The problem in our school systems right now is the corporatization of our schools. Districts are being dismantled in the name of “high expectations,” “no excuses” charter schools that aren’t serving all of our students and definitely aren’t serving our communities. Teachers need to continue organizing against these “reform” schools. Yes, CTU is doing a good job on talking points, but who’s going to run against Rahm? How can CTU and it’s teachers shape the Chicago Board of Ed for the better? Those are the real issues.

    Teach For America brings more passionate, young people to our classrooms. This is not a bad thing. For the most part they start the year rough, but put in extreme hours (even for a teacher) to make up for the learning curve. Some people call it “Teach For Awhile” because half the participants leave after two years, but that number is the same for traditionally trained teachers.

    Finally, looking back on my own first day as a TFA teacher, I was alongside a traditionally trained new teacher who didn’t know what she was doing, either. She was taught how to lesson plan. She wasn’t taught how to teach kids to read or how to manage challenging behaviors in her classroom. We took what we learned from our different teacher training backgrounds and put it all together to create two successful classrooms.

    I think we need to work together to stop the corporate takeover of our schools. Whether or not TFA has anything to do with that, blindly urging new corps members to quit and thus angering and encouraging them to hate the union they should join only creates a division that will hurt us.

    • First of all, I am not in a union (unfortunately!) although I fully support the social justice unionism of the CTU. Second, I think you underestimate TFA’s ties with corporate education reform. Far too often, TFA alums are the very people we must fight here in Chicago. Look at any of the non-profits, top education officials, politicians pushing horrible corporate reforms and I gurantee you will find some TFA alums in their ranks. TFA is creating the wrong kind of leader. Third, TFA cheapens my profession. The TFA model is unacceptable. All these alternative models are unacceptable. I will stand up for quality teacher preparation. Lastly, as I stated in my piece, we welcome young passionate people into the fight for education justice, but TFA is a barrier to our fight. There are clear sides in this battle, one sided with the powerful, the elite, the corporate world, and one sided with working class parents, teachers, students, and community members. What saddens me is how well corporate-backed propaganda machines have divided us. Don’t let them! Reject TFA and the neoliberal corporate reform ties it represents and come and fight for equality!

      • abmilwaukee says:

        Plenty of people have given me reasons to dislike plenty of TFA alumni, but I also meet plenty who are fighting for strong community schools. I don’t know, I find myself in the same vein as Camika Royal, I’m a TFA alumnus who wants to encourage people to join the fight for equality, regardless of their background. The main critique I have of TFA is the minimal commitment. Here in Milwaukee, especially in our public, special education classrooms, teachers move in and out. To hear that a class had three or four teachers in a year is not an uncommon story. Now, I’m sure the district has plenty of the blame there, but our TFA teachers have stuck it out and been strong advocates for their students.

      • yeah but really? says:

        @Katie Osgood – share more about where you work. It seems interesting upon a Google search.

    • maestran says:

      If your inexperienced coworker didn’t have a theoretical framework and practical tools to teach reading and “manage” behaviors, it would seem her/him teacher preparation program is to blame.

      • abmilwaukee says:

        Agree, but that’s the alternative to TFA, and I don’t think her experience is unique. In fact, the other teachers in our building agree that while they enjoyed their undergraduate training, nothing compares to actually teaching in the classroom.

  82. While I really agree with you on your Education Week blog post from February 2012, I have some problems with this post.

    The problem in our school systems right now is the corporatization of our schools. Districts are being dismantled in the name of “high expectations,” “no excuses” charter schools that aren’t serving all of our students and definitely aren’t serving our communities. Teachers need to continue organizing against these “reform” schools. Yes, CTU is doing a good job on talking points, but who’s going to run against Rahm? How can CTU and it’s teachers shape the Chicago Board of Ed for the better? Those are the real issues.

    Teach For America brings more passionate, young people to our classrooms. This is not a bad thing. For the most part they start the year rough, but put in extreme hours (even for a teacher) to make up for the learning curve. Some people call it “Teach For Awhile” because half the participants leave after two years, but that number is the same for traditionally trained teachers.

    Finally, looking back on my own first day as a TFA teacher, I was alongside a traditionally trained new teacher who didn’t know what she was doing, either. She was taught how to lesson plan. She wasn’t taught how to teach kids to read or how to manage challenging behaviors in her classroom. We took what we learned from our different teacher training backgrounds and put it all together to create two successful classrooms.

    I think we need to work together to stop the corporate takeover of our schools. Whether or not TFA has anything to do with that, blindly urging new corps members to quit and thus angering and encouraging them to hate the union they should join only creates a division that will hurt us.

  83. evalangston says:

    Some TFA teachers are (or soon become) brilliant, amazing, world-class educators. Some are terrible. Some are in between. The same goes for regularly-trained teachers. It’s not about TFA versus non-TFA. It’s about finding good teachers and getting them to stay in needy schools (and about getting rid of the ineffective teachers.) You’re obviously a teacher who cares. Thanks! Stay put!

    • What I like about your comment, Eva, is that it stresses the challenge we share. I think this is where the conversation might need to go. Because one problem with the tenor of Ms. Osborn’s letter is that it runs the risk of alienating many hardworking, compassionate, and humble teachers who got their first (but by no means last) training in TFA. All teachers start out as novices, and we see an incredible range of performance levels within teacher training programs; from my observations, I’ve seen some pre-service teachers in their final year of training with severely limited levels of content knowledge, pedagogical skill, and sensitivity to student needs. That is to say, whatever the limitations of TFA training, we can hardly pretend that our schools of ed are turning out teachers who are all perfectly prepared to take on the challenges and needs of students–much less students in areas of even greater need.

      There’s work to do on all sides of this issue, but I do appreciate the opportunity to take a closer look at TFA’s current practices and partnership, something that I believe other TFA alums are concerned about as well.

    • I wish it were that simple. TFA is not a neutral supplier of teachers, some good and some bad. If that’s all they were, I would not be pushing back so hard (although I would continue to object to the criminally insufficient training). It has chosen to ally itself with the broader education movement including charter schools (KIPP, Rocketship, etc), Students For Education Reform/Democrats For Education Reform, NCTQ, NSVF, Stand for Children. etc. TFA purposefully is creating “leaders” for this twisted neoliberal reform movement. And that is why I do not want young people to be indoctrinated into this oppressive way of viewing education, teaching, and our students.

      • Katie,
        As a TFA alumni, I need to take issue with a couple of your points. I started teaching in 2007 and am still teaching. My school (although not the same school I started at) serves mostly low income students in Brooklyn, NY. About 75% of the teachers are TFA corps members or alumni, and most of those plan on teaching for a while. We have achieved some pretty impressive results in the past couple years. The biggest point I need to make is that principals (at least in NYC) choose to hire TFA corps members. At my placement school, the principal did not like that TFA corps members tended to leave her school after their two year commitment. She subsequently decided not to hire more TFA corps members. (Side note- My opinion is that the teachers left because of poor leadership, evidenced by the fact that in my corps year, 90% of us continued teaching at other similar schools). Although my former principal was dissatisfied, she was in the minority. A 2010-2011 independent study of principals who employ TFA teachers found that 92% rated corps members as effective as or more effective than other beginning teachers. Although I agree that the TFA training experience is way too short to be ideal, I think this statistic says more about what is happening at traditional education schools. One of my colleagues majored in education, but then still did TFA. Her reasoning was that her education school (an Ivy League school) prepared students to teach in a upper middle class suburb, not for the unique challenges of teaching in a low income school. I’m not sure if this is the norm for education schools, but definitely something to consider.


        • Josh, you provide anecdotes and skewed surveys. The principals who “like” TFA tend to be the ones who reply. Plus, I have known many principals who like TFA more because of the compliance, the voluntary exploitation, and that they are less likely to fight for better working conditions and therefore “cause trouble.” Not very impressive evidence. The way top-down accountability works is that compliance and obedience tend to be rewarded more than other traits. And when there are gross injustices occurring in schools, it is a teacher’s responsibility to speak up for their students, which authoritarian leaders despise. This is another great fault in TFA and what they encourage in their recruits.

          I also think that the best urban education programs tend to be not at the Ivy League schools–in fact some of the Harvard course offerings are frighteningly corporate reform minded–but rather at our public universities serving a more diverse teacher force. Traditionally, given the history of the marginalization of this female-dominated profession, our best education colleges have always been at the “lower-tiered” state schools.

          If you work at a school that is almost 75% TFA, you probably work at a charter/turnaround and are likely not exposed to the realities devastating so much of our education system, but I may be wrong. I have met TFAers who have only worked at “no excuses” charters and literally believe they are phenomenal teachers compared to traditional teachers with absolutely no understanding of how different the population of kids is. I teach at a psychiatric hospital in Chicago and I’m sorry, charter teachers haven’t seen half of the kinds of devastating problems associated with poverty that the neighborhood teachers have to deal with, often with fewer resources. Also, I have yet to be impressed with the kind of teaching I’ve seen and read about in the charters. It tends to be oppressive, paternalistic, and teacher-centric. I’m hoping there are exceptions to that trend.

          Lastly, I have noticed that TFAers tend to be isolated from people with differing viewpoints and also tend to be primed to believe corporate reform. TFA rooms TFAers together, sends them to schools with other members, and works them so hard that they literally don’t have time to reach out. There is a TFA groupthink that is frankly terrifying. This is why I reach out to new recruits, not the alums (although, thankfully, there are exceptions!)

          • Katie,
            Do you have any evidence about the response rate of principals in the TFA survey? You said that those who reply tend to be the ones that like TFA. Is that just your hypothesis?

            I’m troubled by the divisions you’re trying to make: that between teachers who started with TFA and those who took a traditional route, that between traditional district schools and charter schools. Aren’t we all working to close the achievement gap? At my TFA placement school, it was at times hard to distinguish between TFA corps members and others; we were all working alongside each other for the kids! You say that since I work at a charter school that I haven’t seen half the problems that you’ve seen at your school. Maybe this is true, but I don’t know since I don’t work at your school. And I’m not going to make assumptions about your kids and their neighborhoods. Regardless of which of our students have more severe issues, my kids are for the most part low income and if they didn’t go to my school, they’d most likely be attending a failing school in their neighborhood. My school is a 5-8 middle school, and kids come in 2-4 grade levels behind in math and reading since they attended a sub par elementary school.

            You accuse TFA of “union busting”. This is not true, but your statement comes off as an adult first, kid second mindset. The New York City teachers union protects countless awful teachers. At my TFA placement school, although as I noted above there were plenty of great, committed traditional route teachers, there were also many who shut the door and gave kids free time on a regular basis. Even if the principal walked in, nothing could have happened to this teacher since they had tenure and union protection. I won’t be so bold to say we should do away with teachers unions altogether (however, it wouldn’t be the worst idea- most professions don’t have even close to the job security that unionized teachers do), until some of the power of the strongest unions is taken away, our neediest kids will be left with some of the worst teachers.


            • First, my comment about principals was made after reading TFA-alum Gary Rubinstein’s blog post on the subject: The thing about TFA is they are master manipulators. All their incredible claims can be completely debunked or at least highly called into question given incomplete information. And TFA is never transparent with their marketing.

              Just so you know, I currently teach at a psychiatric hospital in Chicago (taught in a CPS school before that), where I meet students from all over Chicagoland including dozens, perhaps hundred of charter students. Without exception, the charter kids are more academically successful (from long before they ever stepped foot in a charter), tend to be higher up in the income scale of relative poverty (more from the ‘reduced lunch’ less from the ‘free’ ), and never ever have the debilitating highly disruptive kinds of disabilities you see in low-income neighborhood schools. Charter kids most often come into the hospital because of depression, anxiety, or some other form of inward, non-disruptive mental health issue. Charters serve very different kids. I am also meeting more and more kids being hospitalized as a direct result of the abusive “zero tolerance” policies in charters, when they rebel, or refuse to go to school, or get into massive fights at home due to trying to tell their parent how bad things are at the school, but the parent insisting that the child keep going because they believe the hype. The kids are telling the truth, I’ve heard it too many times.

              And as for the “union-busting”, this IS the experience of so many teachers in so many cities. You minimize other people’s point of view, which honestly, is so very TFA. There is a stink of condescension that can be smelled a mile away (and I don’t mean you personally, TFA purposefully seeps its members in this worldview of exceptionality from the very beginning. You all are the fish who do no know they are in water.) But I will let another TFA alum, Dr. Camika Royal explain: “In New Mexico, Teach For America affiliates are called colonizers. In New Orleans, some refer to them and other reformers as carpetbaggers. In Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and other places around the nation where massive layoffs of veteran educators have occurred—only to have these same municipalities welcome Teach For America teachers shortly thereafter—corps members have been called scabs. Similar sentiments, different memory, different language.” TFA has no respect for the people it works with and their experience. It’s always all about TFA.

              When you use the language of the reformers: “failing schools,” “adult first,” “unions protects countless awful teachers,” I hear the same, tired lies that are being used to destroy neighborhood schools, public education, and public services and unions in general. The same distortions I fight everyday! It’s nonsense that as usual takes the spotlight off of the real and pressing problems in our schools, like poverty, inequality, and racism. But you don’t even know that you don’t know! TFA indoctrination is so very thorough.

              There is plenty of evidence that TFA is involved with even more blatant union-busting in my city, but it would no doubt take an investigative reporter to dig up the behind-closed doors dirt. I am hopeful that after this attention to this piece we can get some reporters to do that digging. It needs to be done, as TFA has become very rotten indeed in Chicago (tripling their funding from the district during a “budget crisis” resulting in mass school closures and layoffs right after the most significant teachers strike of living memory? Stinking and rotten!)

              Lastly, I just got home from attending yet another rally against the budget cuts and school closings which we held in front of Mayor Emanuel’s home. We are up against money and power and media control trying desperately to get justice for our students, but it is an uphill battle. Where does TFA sit in all this? Squarely and comfortably with those in power we are fighting. They are friends with this horrible school board, they have connections to the mayor, they hobnob with the rich elites at fundraisers. If you truly want to partner WITH us, you must leave behind this organization and join us in the fight for justice on the streets. You are always welcome there, but not as TFA. TFA represents oppression, colonialism, union-busting, and carpet-baggers. That is how communities experiences TFA. And that matters.

  84. Reblogged this on Diary of a Temporary Full Time Foreign EFL Instructor and commented:
    A trenchant look at a well meaning, but ill considered, ineffective program. Teach for America is a 21st White Man’s Burden project with spurious results.

  85. I have one small problem with this letter, namely that it leaves out a third group of people who might like to become teachers: career changers.

    Many people gain skills and expertise outside of formal teacher training programs that would serve them well in the classroom. (Don’t even get me started on the army of graduate students who teach so many college courses…) However, a person is considered less qualified if they lack a piece of paper.

    Any decent teacher should know that learning also takes place outside of the classroom. However, that kind of learning is not credited when it comes to hiring teachers.

    With TFA, I wonder if they only take people who have some sort of relevant experience under their belt.

    • Many colleges offer graduate level course for career changers or those will college degrees in something other than education to get teacher certification and start their masters degree in education at the same time. I did this after getting a History BA. Good training and experience, with quick turnaround.

      • Graduate level programs don’t help.

        If you want to get hired (unless you’re in a shortage field like math or science), schools are generally going to hire the less expensive teacher who only has a bachelors. This is even true in the wealthier districts and private schools.

  86. M. Faleyimu says:

    NCLB requires that parents are informed when students have teachers who are teaching “out of certification” or had not yet achieved permanent certification. I stuffed my students folders with that notice myself as a first year teacher for TFA. While I agree with many of the points that you make about the organization and our country’s approach to education as a whole, several of your points about TFA, or about traditional-education programs vs. TFA, are untrue or skewed. For example, I have worked at two different Institute sites over the past two years, and Faculty Advisor feedback is a key part of feedback model used at Institute. My CMs received feedback daily (verbal, writtten, or by email from their FAs), which far outpaced the quantity of feedback that I was able to give them as a Corps Member Advisor. It is highly unlikely that the teacher friend was “forced” to sit in the classroom (FAs apply for the position and all are compensated in some way), but he may have felt that he was “forced” to watch the admittedly low quality teaching of a novice teacher. If he was truly “unable” to give feedback to his Corps Members, with your permission, I would like a little more information about his issue so that I could contact the School Director for his site and pass it along to the Chicago Institute.

    Several commentators have noted that TFA is really symptomatic of a larger approach to education reform in the United States. They’ve also noted, rightly, that many districts have contracts with TFA that require them to hire a certain amount of TFA teachers – it is not merely a matter of principals saying, “No” or “Yes” to TFA. And yes, I did and do find it problematic that I, a novice teacher, was struggling to find my footing in a classroom of low-income children. These students are indeed the ones who need veteran, experienced teachers, but I am sure that you are already aware of many incentive programs (increased pay for veteran teachers to teach in LIC communities, etc) and how these have done little to attract these teachers to move to/stay in LIC schools. I am sure that you’re also aware that a common school practice is to move less successful teachers (TFA or non) into K-2 classrooms and concentrate the more effective teachers in tested grades. This is not a reaction to TFA, but rather an attempt to escape the punitive consequences of low scores on state tests.

    Now I’m rambling all over the place, but my main point is this: there is a problem greater than TFA in American education. We operate under the assumption that education is not a necessity for everyone, and it all falls apart from there.

    (I have taught for four years in both charter and district schools. I don’t consider myself a master teacher; I have so much more to learn about education. And I don’t believe that TFA is an answer to education inequality, but I don’t think that its presence strengthens the existing inequalities).

    Also, congratulations on your acceptance to your doctoral program. May you enjoy it.

    • John Hoover says:

      Please use “numbers of teachers”, not “amount.” Amount is typically utilized to indicate groupings of inseperable (or difficult to separate) entities. An amount of grain in a grain bin, for example, is reasonable usage, whereas an amount of teachers clangs and seems to depersonalize the individuals involved.

  87. Are you out of your mind? I have about 10 friends doing TFA. I have actually gone into their classrooms and watched my brave and hardworking friends teach 4 year olds to READ when that same school district with teachers at the NEIGHBORING school, the “long term teachers” you just love to talk about, are non-existent. They are sitting around on tenure waiting for the clock to run-out so they can pick up their union-certified check for the rest of their life. My friends aren’t in it for the cash payout at the end of the 25 year-stint as an “ok teacher who showed up to work” but to actually make a difference in a place where LONG TERM TEACHERS HAVE NO INTEREST IN BEING. So I ask you again… you woke up this morning and actually said to yourself: “I’m going to write about how these smart ass kids who are going to not sleep and give up their LAST SUMMER after college to learn to teach youngsters in underprivileged areas that they are a waste of time.” Maybe TFA teams with Walmart, maybe they use the big honchos of cash-driven success to pump money for the kids. Guess what. WELCOME. TO. THE. REAL. WORLD.

    Now do me a favor.

    Go out. Take a poll. Go find some long-term teachers. Ya know… the ones you love so much who probably would tell you that Hawaii is a country (this is a true example from a TFA friend who taught with a long-term non-TFA old bat waiting to get retirement teacher)… find out how they’re doing. Find out what a difference their making. Find out if they want to work in the South Bronx. Let me ask you a question – if you’re waiting out your retirement and being a deadbeat at work… would you rather be waiting on a tropical island or the South Bronx? What’s that? Oh right. NOT the Bronx.

    After you take your poll, I’ll show you mine. I’ll tell you some stories. Like the one where a friend fought for a young boy who was being abused at home who had some natural gifts… he’s at a magnet school now. Or the friend that raised money for a little boy in her school to go away to sleepover MATH camp. Or the friend who had the HIGHEST TEST SCORES in her classroom in the district.

    But you know what… it probably doesn’t count. They should’ve all quit. They’re too young after all.

    I’m not saying I support Mr. JP Morgan in his life choices, but I will say that writing such a black and white piece about telling all TFA kids to quit is so unlike a teacher… I am ashamed for you. Until you visit every classroom and every life touched by a dedicated TFA or young teacher in training, I urge you to stop blogging.

    Shame on you Katie.

    • TFA folks need to quit. Right now.

    • although I don’t agree with the central point of the authors point, as I do see good in TFA, albeit flawed, I also have to say SHAME ON YOU for throwing all ‘long term teachers’ under the bus. My mom worked as a teacher for 30 years and worked with ESL kids until she retired. Her work and care for her kids inspired me. What she and many long term teachers continue to do despite lack of just pay and incentives to work as hard as they do is unfair. Shame on you.

      • Calm down. I was simply giving the alternative juxtaposed view to the “young adults aren’t fit to be teachers” argument. Judging by how upset you are, I take it you understand how ridiculous this is.

    • Noespndx you did not address Katie’s point, which is that in spite of the hard work of individual TFA corp members, the organization is exacerbating the very problems of inequity that the organization claims to be trying to eradicate.

    • Grow up? You are the one who thinks adults working diligently during their last summer of freedom (freedom? Where I’m from, college students actually WORK in the summer…but I digress…) should be celebrated as martyrs. Take your own advice…

  88. Michael says:

    I think it would be fun to play lawyer for a couple years. How about a “Litigate for America” program where I take an intensive summer training and then go serve as legal counsel for those who cannot afford an attorney. No passing the bar or pesky law school to prevent me from helping out those most needy of quality legal advice. Or would that be injustice?

    • How about “Operate for a America”? Enthusiastic kids with BAs in any discipline can give surgery a whirl?

    • abmilwaukee says:

      I’m pretty sure those people are paralegals. They exist.

      • The equivalent to paralegals in teaching would be teaching assistants/classroom aides, not the teacher of record. Last I checked, paralegals are not allowed to defend clients in trials, rather they support the work of the professional lawyer. If TFA was about supporting professional teachers through a supply of hard-working teaching assistants, we would not be having this discussion.

        • I have to say I don’t really follow this analogy. TFA teachers have to pass certification exams just as lawyers must pass the bar. The difference is that after just a few hours of studying during the week leading up to the exam I was able to pass both certification tests that I took easily. If I sought to become a lawyer, I think I’d have a pretty hard time passing the bar without either going to law school or studying intensively for a long, long, time. If teacher prep programs were as indispensable to good teaching as you say they are, then it should be much harder for someone like me to pass the certification exams. Maybe the tests are too easy, but I am not sure that making them more difficult would add at all to their predictive validity–though I doubt they have much of that now.

          Also, just out of curiosity, about how many hours do those who take the traditional route spend leading classrooms prior to their graduation?

          • I would not classify it as leading classrooms, per se. However, over the course of their senior year, which is where I’ve focused most of my attentions, students will spend roughly, between the fall and spring semesters, 250 hours in the fall and about 600 hours in the spring. This does not include the additional time student teachers spend during evening events and other volunteer activities. This does not also include the observational activities they conduct their junior year.

            So, I would not be out of line to state that our student teachers spent close to 1000 hours in classrooms before their first day.

          • Katie Osgood says:

            This is pure and utter nonsense. I actually believe we should get rid of certification exams as they are more of gatekeepers screening for class more than teaching ability. I want my profession to be open to people from diverse backgrounds. Plus being able to pass those exams tells us nothing at all about the kinds of qualities and abilities that make a good teacher.

            For my prep program, which was shortened as I was a career changer, it lasted for 2 years of evening coursework, 200+ hours of field work (observation, working with small groups, leading short lessons in multiple classrooms, grade-levels and subject matters) leading into a quarter-long student teaching placement: (My cohort was 5 days a week for 10 weeks, but the year after us began having 16 weeks of student teaching.) So I suppose I taught for around 300 hours or so under the supervision of Master teachers plus that 200 hours in various classrooms with various responsibilities. Today’s cohorts get closer to 480 hours of student teaching. I believe the undergraduate programs get even more time in the classroom.

            The average TFAers gets no observation hours and actually teaches lessons in front of a summer school class for maybe 15-20 hours (1 hour a day for 4 weeks, the other hours are spent watching the other TFA novices, not master teachers). One subject, one group of kids, no going in to multiple schools. 15 hours compared to 500+ hours? Not even comparable.

            Just so you know, in the state of Illinois, to practice cosmetology you must have 1500 hours of practicum. But teach in a special education classroom guiding our neediest students? 15 hours.

        • abmilwaukee says:

          The paralegals I know do most of the work and the boss puts a stamp on it. Also, fewer and fewer lawyers see courtrooms these days.

        • abmilwaukee says:

          But I’ll add that I find these analogies to be pretty ridiculous.

  89. If you’re going to rail against the evils of TFA partnering with corporate sponsors you might want to find a way to remove that Coca Cola ad from the bottom of your blog post.

  90. Luke Johnson says:
      • Luke Johnson says:

        Attack student voice in favor of protecting outdated policies that protect the status quo + only help adults. Seems like a winning strategy!

        • Sigh…TFA has been actively denying my students with special needs qualified teachers for decades. TFA is the status quo. Here in Chicago, literally tens of thousands of parents, students, and teachers crowded the streets, public hearings, and board meetings to demand their neighborhood schools stay open and to end charter expansion (the very schools filled with TFA.) Students are practicing civil disobedience and speaking out against these horrific corporate reforms (See this action here: ) Come to Chicago and hear what our students think of TFA.

          • Luke, I ask that you check youself. Your anti-teacher rant is indicative of much that is wrong with TFA. We are in the middle of a mass movement here in Chicago against this type of teacher-bashing and misinformation/lies. Our students are beautiful people who long to connect with adults in their lives. Please keep in mind that long after most TFAers have come and gone, many Chicago teachers will still be here, inspiring young people. These teachers are heroes. All I want is to ensure the people teaching Chicago’s kids have the proper training to do so and then keep fighting for the type of teaching/learning conditions to keep those teachers around. That is the kind of reform I seek. The TFA bandaid has become a new open wound increasing the instability, chaos, and inequality in our schools.

        • Spare us all the adults versus kids talking points. That’s a relatively new one that’s complete and utter bullsh*t.

          • Luke Johnson says:

            Profound comment there. Also, the student who wrote that article is actually from Chicago and explains that he wouldn’t have been able to compete at his college without the diligence and extra work that his TFA teachers put in. It’s just a shame that not all teachers are able to, “go the extra mile” for the sake of kids. I think teachers unions should realize they have lost this new generation and begin to partner with organizations like TFA instead of attacking them and students.

        • Luke,
          In the 1960’s in China there was what was called the Cultural Revolution. Students were encouraged to attack their teachers and schools were turned into to indoctrination centers. Hundreds of thousands of teachers were sent to peasant communes for “reeducation” and many lost their lives.

          This encouragement of young people to attack older teachers for their experience and insight is a similar “cultural revolution” being promoted by corporate education. (Eli Broad has a chapter in his book “The Art of Being Unreasonable” titled “Bright and Young Is a Winning Combination”. This from an 80 year old man who is trying to bring business methods to public education!)

          The truth is that both youth and experience are needed. Youth bring a freshness and energy to education and experience of older teachers brings institutional memory and skills honed over many years. Both are needed. If organizations like TFA are successful in destroying public education we will have a lost generation as they have in China with the generation which grew up in the Cultural Revolution.

          • Luke Johnson says:

            All that I am saying is that TFA and other alternative programs are inevitable – especially given their success in classrooms + political acceptance amongst Democrats and Republicans. It just makes zero sense to attack organizations that are here to stay as opposed to partnering with them before you become obsolete.

            • You have no idea about the amount of resistance and anger that is building against these corporate reform groups like TFA. TFA absolutely has acceptance among the elites-afterall it doesn’t affect their children. But not among the people. For a long time now, TFA has operated somewhat under the radar, but as their hubris grows and they expand into places that obviously do not need short-term, unprepared novices, expect the pushback to strengthen. In fact, my guess is that Chicago may be the place that defeats the insatiable beast that is TFA, once and for all.

          • Luke Johnson says:

            And yet you just said above that TFA is expanding in Chicago. Your argument makes no sense when compared to the current reality (TFA/alternative certification programs growing/becoming inevitable). If bloggers like you could stop being so divisive and everyone who wants wants best for kids came together in partnership, we could actually solve problems instead of being so stuck in our ways.

          • Right, we have an appointed (non-elected) school board in Chicago made up of millionaires and business elites. And the more our 1% Mayor and his wealthy school board pass policy after policy that devastates public education, the more the people push back. I don’t know if you noticed all the photos of Chicago resistance coming out of this city, but that anger is growing. We are mobilizing voters, working towards getting an elected representative school board, and practicing civil disobedience. When faced with injustice, you don’t throw your hands up and agree to collaborate with wrong, you fight it. And that is what we will do.

          • Luke Johnson says:

            Unfortunately, the words, “students” or “children” were’t mentioned once in your comment, which I think speaks to what you really care about, but I hope that’s not the case. I just think that what’s best for students should be the driver of the conversation instead of what’s best for adults and their jobs/pensions/etc. And unfortunately, the current system isn’t working for students in the communities that need it the most and the more you try to defend the system that has caused these poor student outcomes, you are complicit in it.

            • Huh? The adults in this scenario are the wealthy elites profiting off the privatization of education and the deprofessionalization of teaching, TFA is complicit in this mess. And it’s the kids who lose.

  91. It still comes down to would you want your child to be taught by someone who is just thrown into your child’s classroom without training and experience. Even with traditionally trained teachers I would take a veteran over a rookie for my kids.

    With all the budget cuts I would think there are fewer and fewer places in desperate need of educators. If there are we have to ask why there is a shortage.. Salaries, working conditions, etc.

  92. unplugme says:

    Fascinating. Obviously TFA is lauded in NV since we are always short teachers. And I like the last comment by @alexwilgus about diploma mill teaching schools. Again, maybe just because in NV most TFA take advantage of the alliance with UNLV and are getting their Master’s…

    I think the complaint is specific to Chicago and general to the union/reform. But I would have written the exact same thing about City Year/AmeriCorps/NCCC a few years ago. Now I like to think that as pissed off as I was about CY charging schools for our services in classrooms and after school programs, we did great things WITH the kids, WITH the communities we worked and lived in. And we did it with enthusiasm and patience certain tenured / indentured (17 years til I retire) typed couldn’t provide to a free doughnut.

    All I know for sure is that I would rather homeschool my kids off netflix than put them in a public school so I agree something needs to be done. I’m pro-union and as creeped out by certain reform PACS/groups as anyone but this articles seems to realize TFA is endemic and every CM dropping out is not a solution to anything.

    And just btw we have a charter school in Vegas for autistic kids that’s kicking ass. No one would say special needs and ESL kids get the attention they deserve in a Nevada public school.

    • We are letting public education wither away in this country. It is being starved, the workers in it beaten, demoralized, the kids oppressed. As a public good, we must make a stand to strengthen public ed, not give up on it. The public schools in our wealthy communities are some of the best in the world. We know how to build great schools (and they are not using Teach for America, “no excuses” charter models, or high-stakes testing/accountability). What we do not know how to do, or more accurately refuse to do, is divide resources equitably and to tackle poverty. That is the shame of America.

    • And as for charter schools, I love the idea of charters serving students with special needs such as Autism. However, as Chicago is a little farther down the charter school road than most of America, we have already seen the future of the charter movement. And in a competitive marketplace where low test scores become liabilities, the small, single-campus schools for kids “at risk” are soon pushed out of business by the mass “no excuses” charter chains that see kids with disabilities as little more than liabilities and extra expense.

  93. As a continuing Master’s student at UIC, I can say plainly that Miss Osgood’s ideas about the teacher education programs and their “hundreds of hours of observation” and “small group discussions” being the best alternative to TFA and Charter expansion are serving new teacher candidates about as well as a round of Kumbayah. My program, the MAT History program is salutary and successful precisely because it limits our interactions with the Education department to the barest minimum. Much of the same is true of the surrounding universities–Northwestern, DePaul–they all have a reputation as being cash cow programs that teach you little that is useful and don’t take intellectual work seriously and demand only the bare minimum before throwing their students into a semester of Student Teaching where they actually begin to learn (which is what TFA does from the get-go). For more on this, see this recent study on the state of our nation’s education programs:

    I never did TFA, but my friends that did WERE double-majors and were pursuing their Masters degrees whilst teaching, so the spoken-word poem makes little sense to me (though it does rhyme.) The reason many of them did not go on to teach was because of the endemic and nearly universal disfunction of the administrations of our urban schools. That they are often antagonistic toward their own teachers only worsens the problem: incompetence vs. intransigence.

    While it is true that the money trail is often pernicious and the Teacher’s Union is indeed embattled my hundreds of observation hours are showing me firsthand that it is much more common to find schools on the closing list to employ poor teachers and even poorer administrators. While I am sympathetic to attending to policies that redress rather than perpetuate inequalities, so much of it is simply posturing, defending compromised territory instead of being sensible and innovative, and being open to developing ways to address reformers’ complaints of the Teachers Union’s one great Achilles Heel: that it often employs poor teachers and defends them (I’ve heard this most frequently from sensible CTU members themselves).

    I want a middle way between data-driven reformism and public-sector negligence. All the grass-roots activism in the world is no good unless it acts creatively to treat basic administrative neuroses that are crippling our schools, protecting bad teachers and stifling good ones. Cries of racism and injustice are just so much blather when it comes to our ailing schools, hobbled as much by bureaucratic nonsense as by poverty.

    • It saddens me that so many cannot distinguish between dysfunctional systems and dysfunctional people. Teaching, especially in urban or other high-poverty schools, is becoming more and more unbearable. Budget cuts and ideology are starving many schools all while poverty and its devastating effects on learning are exploding. And reforms constantly go after the individuals within these broken systems instead of dealing with the system itself. The problem is not traditional teacher prep or bad teachers, it is oppressive top-down schools overwhelmed with students suffering from the worst effects of poverty. It is the starving of resources to education as we wage multiple expensive wars overseas. It is having the largest, often for-profit, prison system on the planet and the impact of mass incarceration on communities where our students come from. It is cutting all kinds of social services from mental health to public housing to food support leaving our kids less ready to learn than ever. And then to complain about “bad teachers” who are stuck in the sick, twisted middle of this political mess? No. No.

    • And please tell me you did not just link the most-ridiculously biased NCTQ study (directly affiliated with TFA!!) to your argument. Please go over to the School of Ed and let them educate you on the realities of education today. Starting in the fall, I will be a PhD student at UIC’s School of Education, where I have already met some of the most amazing educators on the planet. Why is it that people who have not studied education always think they know education the best?

      • I’m sorry, I hope my comment didn’t come off as too prickly. I realize that we’re talking about people’s jobs, futures and, yes, children. I really only wanted to draw attention to two inconvenient truths for the beleaguered defenders of public sector unions and opponents of data-driven reformism.

        1. Teachers Unions continue to protect bad teachers . This is why a documentary as manipulative and ham-handed as “Waiting for Superman” could strike such a chord with the nation. Again, this is not something I’ve gathered by drinking the Michelle Rhee (or pre-conversion Diane Ravitch) Kool-Aid, but a legitimate concern I’ve heard from several staunchly loyal, but nonetheless sensible CTU members. These folks deserve better. The battle over schools including the recent CTU strike is indeed part of a larger confrontation between city governments and public-sector unions, but because it is over something as elusive and hard to define as education, it is one in which both sides will likely have to bend. The UNOs and Bill Gateses of the world will have to learn that education is not the same thing as a corporation, and a citizenry does not neatly break down into employees and consumers, but the unions will need to learn that the public will not remain loyal to an intransigent organization that likes to pretend that its troubles come exclusively from without. Demanding air-conditioning and smaller class sizes is all well and good, but if those reasonable demands do not come with a well-publicized plan for dealing with educational malpractice. A picket line needs a groundswell of public sympathy in order to be successful, and there is a good deal more the CTU could be doing to win it back.

        2. Our education programs are severely impoverished. The NCTQ study, though bankrolled by your enemies (in our polarized political climate, everything you don’t like is bankrolled by your enemies) is not wrong, and my own experience corroborates it. I’m happy you’ve enrolled in the PhD program–I look forward to rubbing shoulders–and that you’ve met some great professors, but to take your own line of reasoning, remember that good people cannot make up for a bad system (i.e. one that asks for your money in exchange for a class period in which a full hour-and-a-half is taken up making a collage). If the UIC Ed dept. in fact reads my class evaluations, then they will not be surprised by my opinions, and I’m unashamed to print them here.

        This is not to say that the current wave of Charter expansion which lamentably resulted in the closing of a record 50 schools this summer has no objectionable agenda, but it is a movement that is given a lot of momentum by some serious deficiencies on the other side, and it is not solely the result of a distortion by a business-friendly media that the broader public is looking to Charters with more hope than concern. I think that the CTU could stand to be a good deal more friendly toward programs like TFA that attempt, often successfully, to acquaint some of the country’s best and brightest with the classroom environment, increasing their empathy for the importance of public education and the intense difficulty and nobility of being a lifetime teacher. The TFA testimonials in this article surprised me, as all the TFAers I know–including one of the higher-ups–had remarkably positive experiences and whose students benefited greatly, and most of these alumni have continued to teach at their school or have gone into other support programs for low income students.

        • Wow, I don’t even know where to begin, so much educating to do! First, you must understand that there is a massive propaganda machine that has informed all your comments and that most of what you wrote is pure and utterly false. Citing Waiting for Superman as a credible source? I just…I can’t….I mean…wow. NCTQ? The study was not peer-reviewed, had blatant mistakes (i.e. rating programs that do not exist), and was based on incomplete data (many schools of ed refused to hand over information because NCTQ is not a valid, professional organization). They never even visited a single ed school before rating it! Ridiculous. We can’t even have a credible conversation while you are filled with misinformation. I will try to come back later to decontruct some of this nonsense, but for now must get back to work at the psych hospital where I teach, trying to heal kids who have been broken by disinvestment, racism, oppression, and corporate education reform.

          • If you read carefully, you will see that I described Waiting for Superman as “manipulative” and by all counts an incredible source. What I mean to say was that it was still largely well-received, and there’s a reason for that. Yes, there is a propaganda machine, but one that happens to be in touch with a pretty fundamental reality that a lot of parents and other citizens are familiar with: that the Unions continue to make it difficult to treat educational malpractice. This is why the documentary struck a chord with a huge chunk of the urban public. Propaganda is not all misinformation, it’s actually most effective when it over-dramatizes a fundamental truth. The film’s panacea is, of course, charter expansion, which is where things really get manipulative. Yes, public schools and public school teachers need to be supported, but the CTU can take some dramatic first steps in that direction if they would only address their internal personnel. First, they could ratchet up their professional expectations alongside their well-guarded legal protections, next they could be more welcoming of peripheral school reform movements like TFA, and actually court those students to see membership in the union as an exciting professional option where their talents and skill (if extant) are valued.

            I’m not trying to tear down your arguments–which are the same ones I’ve been hearing over and over in class–but rather show two major weak spots in them that, if addressed, will actually make it a lot easier to fight the callous corporate reformism that’s making waste of neighborhood schools. After studying it in a few policy studies courses and being out in it as much as a young Master’s student possibly can, (since it’s about to become my whole life) I’m absolutely convinced that this is a battle that cannot be won by toeing the party line. The CTU needs to out-reform the reformers, put together a plan and address people’s concerns, even concerns they presume are spread by misinformation. The truth is that public-sector employees and unions are under serious scrutiny right now because of Illinois’s debt crisis, which has done more than anything to make privatization and deregulation efforts look peachy. The wind is against them and it’s time for the CTU to start rethinking its own structure.

            As to the NCTQ study, your point is well taken, I’ll look closer at the methodology. I took it mostly at face value since it corroborated my own experience with poor ed programs, but of course there are more perspectives to consider. Better close off these comments now. If my coming time as a teacher is going to educate me to think differently about these issues, then I welcome the refinement.

          • Katie: you are quite possibly the most condescending human being on this planet. To think that I actually used to admire your work.

            • I have met quite a few TFAers who react personally and visciously to the very real concerns about this program. I get that these are your friends and colleagues that make up this program. I ask that you step away from your personal feelings, and look at TFA critically and in the light of what is truly best for children.

          • Are the kids you love and teach every day not also broken down by incompetent parenting? Oh wait. Parents can do no harm when everyone is a victim of the neoliberal agenda.

            This thread is reminding me of all the reasons I joined TFA.

            • And your flawed reasoning reminds me of why I must fight TFA. This is a typical “otherizing” view of our students and their communities that I find throughout the TFA narrative, “the pull yourselves up by your bootstraps narrative” which completely ignores systemic oppression (the stepping on the bootstraps or even stealing of the boots.) TFA’s way of contextualizing the education debate is, in my opininon, narrow and deeply flawed with classist and racist threads throughout. Focusing on “locus of control” while discussing shallow mantras of “poverty is not destiny” or “all kids can learn” really minimizes real problems and therefore prevents real solutions. We cannot move forward until we accurately describe what is happening.

      • Welcome to my world – where the client always thinks they can design an ad better than me; the designer with a bachelor’s degree!

        • You’re too smart to be telling me that incompetent parenting doesn’t negatively impact a child’s life. Especially when incompetent parenting is coupled with poverty. Or drug and substance abuse.

          So, I have to ask you again: what are you saying?

          Your comment suggests that you think it’s racist to point out that some parents can’t/don’t know how to parent. The implication, of course, being that there is “nothing wrong” with parents who can’t parent. I actually find that mentality to be even more racist; it assumes that some parents will just do what they do, regardless of how their behavior affects the children.

          The alternative, of course, is to assume that these parents want to parent but that they have not been taught how to, for a myriad of legitimate and illegitimate reasons.

          In summary: to expect people to want to do better? Racist. To expect people to continue doing whatever they’re doing, regardless of the outcome? Tolerant, progressive, and good. Got it.

          I’m being a tool, of course, as I know that you don’t believe that. But that is exactly how toolish you sound yourself. The reality is that children need to work hard to succeed. Harder than rich kids. Is that fair? Of course not. But while you go off and fight this war with an invisible nemesis hoping to change the world’s power structure, my kids are working their little butts off learning.

          These children will be far, far more likely to succeed than a child who has been told that he is a victim and that the world owes him a different fate.

          I don’t dislike you anymore, Katie. We just have fundamentally different views. But I am glad you won’t be teaching my children.

          Take care and good luck.

          • There a place for personal responsbility. But we are not talking about individuals in this conversation, we are talking about systems. Children from low-income backgrounds do not struggle in school, on a systemwide basis, because of “poor parenting.” The achievement gap in this country is about poverty and inequality. Parents unable to parent the best they can due to working 2-3 jobs, substance abuse, mental illness, abuse/trauma, etc are simply symptoms of that reality. You can support individuals-encourage, push,teach, reprimand-while fighting for systemic change.

            Lastly, it doesn’t matter whether or not you like me. But please do listen to what I am saying.

          • Say what? Poor children struggle in school for many, many reasons. You say it’s the White Man. I say it’s: poor parenting, poor healthcare, poor nutrition, poor teachers, and a slew of other things.

            But can we please empower people by actually educating them instead of teaching them that the White Man is responsible for all their woes?

            Talk about systems all you want, but on a day to day basis, we deal with individuals. Individuals working within a system, sure, but individuals nevertheless. And these individuals still need to be empowered. Your post–and comments–do not suggest that is what you are doing.

            And for the record, I really, really dislike TFA. That I’m quasi-defending them now is a testament to how poorly conceived this thread is than it is to my allegiance to that organization.

            • Tinkdnuos says:

              Your response indicates that while you may know a great deal about education, you actually don’t know much at all about racism or anti-racism.

              Ms. Osgood’s comments have NOTHING to do with “blaming the white man.” They’re about how every suggestion you have to offer is naively based on the falsehood that the symptoms are the disease.

              Reducing a fever (e.g. parenting instruction) doesn’t kill an infection (e.g. wage deflation and lack of health benefits meaning those parents have to choose between paying for rent and food, or spending more time with their kids). When Katie talks about racism, she’s talking about the well-documented history of decades of legal and institutional racism that removed or denied those parents and their parents before them any real opportunity to escape those conditions.

              So unless somehow you think you can teach “poor parents” to increase the length of the day by a few hours, you’re spinning in clueless circles.

          • While your response indicates you may know a great deal about race theory, you actually don’t know much about…anything else.

            Parents choosing between paying rent or spending time with their kids? Not the parents I’m talking about.

            I’m talking about parents who are choosing the BOTTLE (and not of water) over their kids. I’m talking about parents who are choosing SEX over their kids. Who’s responsible for that? The wage deflation that in turn made them depressed that in turn made them drink?

            Walk into any classroom at a failing school. Then go into the homes of those same children. What percentage do you think actually have parents who work 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet? What percentage do you think even live with parents, and not aunts, uncles, or grandparents?

            I guess they didn’t cover that in your race theory class.

            Poor kids have it hard. And all your enabling of the adults around them doesn’t help.

            • Tinkdnuos says:

              Nice, keep moving your goalposts.

              Whatever response I offer, your follow-up will no doubt argue that you obviously meant something else.

              FWIW, there were plenty of “drunk slut” parents (since you chose those obnoxious notions, I’ll run with them) in the rich suburban schools I attended. Maybe more so than in the poor urban districts where my friends and I have taught. Luckily their kids had a school with money for counseling, extracurricular and enrichment programs for at-risk and high achieving kids alike, and a low enough student to teacher ratio that their teachers were able to give them extra attention sometimes.

              Anyway, go ahead and respond with more oblivious racism, you brilliant educator, you.

          • Oh, tink. Please enlighten me: which part of my comment is racist? I’m all ears.

            And you’re saying that all the school interventions made up for the drunk slut parents? Then we need to talk to that school ASAP because research has yet to support such a finding.

            • Tinkdnuos says:

              You mean…racism BEYOND how you presume the problem with urban schools is that single minority parents are mostly drunk sluts?

              Could we talk about your latent misogyny, while we’re at it, monsieur mansplainer?

              Oh, and yes, CLEARLY I meant that the children in question suffered NO ill effects, and that school programs completely erased the problems in having such a parent. I certainly didn’t mean that the presence of that support network clearly and obviously mitigated the harm to those kids. Because suffering with help and support, and suffering alone with none, ALWAYS lead to nearly identical outcomes. Your logic, sir, is unassailable.

              Remember when I said you clearly knew a great deal about education? I retract that generous statement. Based on your misinterpretations of my comments you’re either an unabashed liar or functionally illiterate.

              Come to think of it…you sound almost like the typical career-minded administrator. With your bona fides you’ll be a principal some day, if you’re not already.

          • Oh, tink. How you have disappointed me. I will let our comments speak for themselves and leave it at that. Take care and good luck!

            • Tinkdnuos says:

              I can think of few possible outcomes to this exchange more satisfying than knowing I have disappointed you.

              Good luck with your continued dehumanization of your students.

              • Silly.

                • Tinkdnuos says:

                  …you realize I meant the last comment, about disappointment and dehumanization, for investigating ed, right?

                  I didn’t think it was “silly” so much as “obnoxiously derisive,” but then I think that’s exactly what his words and beliefs merit.

    • I shouldn’t be surprised, after this comment, that you cited the horrifically flawed NCTQ report. Like your observations about teacher prep programs you aren’t enrolled in, NCTQ used flawed qualitative methods that basically came down to fourth-hand reporting. Nothing is to be learned from what amounts to little more than rumor mongering, either here on in a think-tanky policy brief.

      TFA does not throw its charges into student teaching – it throws them into TEACHING.

      I know young people like you have been trained to look with disdain on suburban public schools as well; however, you might take a moment to consider why these schools – which have unionized teachers, step guides, no merit pay, no charters, local governance, etc. – do so much “better” than urban schools.

      Are you really prepared to say “bureaucratic nonsense” is just as pernicious as poverty? Really?

    • Oh, good god, where to begin addressing this young person’s misguided comments? Since UIC doesn’t appear to teach (or teach well) the vetting of sources, maybe keeping things at the level of the anecdotal is best. I could share, for example, that went through Connecticut’s Alternative Route to Certification, a program comparable to, but more extensive than, the TFA “prep” program. Though I entered this program after completing course work for a PhD in Cultural Studies, teaching seven years at a state university as a freshman writing instructor, and serving five years as special education paraprofessional then two more as a reading tutor/ instructor in local high schools, it did not prepare me to walk into a classroom in a distressed school district and teach effectively. I want to believe by year three I was a good teacher. I’m pretty certain I was by year five. There may be recent graduates who can walk in and perform right away, but these are rare, rare people.
      I know this because in my current role as instructional coach, I have worked with numerous TFAers. All of them have been great kids: motivated, smart, hard-working, compassionate. They each have the capacity to be good teachers- in a minimum of three years. This past year, each has come to me eager for support and decried the lack of it from TFA; each has broken down at least one from stress borne of frustration; none have been more effective than their traditionally-trained peers, and certainly not more than the majority of veteran teachers on staff; and only one has expressed any interest in remaining in teaching past the two year commitment.
      The notion that TFA is an efficient mechanism for closing some mythical “talent gap” in the profession is risible. Look to politics, not pedagogy, to understand its function.
      Ms. Osgood, there’s not a false note in your piece. The central issue regarding TFA is the negative systematic effect of the program on urban education, not the relative success of any individual TFA grad who proves an exception to the undeniable rule that these kids are unprepared for their “mission” [I use mission deliberately in its colonial-era sense, with all that that entails- the idealism, the latent chauvinism, the naiveté, etc.].
      Thanks for articulating what is so obvious to us working every day in schools.

      • Scienceteacher says:

        I find these replies incredibly disheartening. While in general I think TFA has a lookout of changes to make before it’s a truly helpful organization, I have to disagree with your outrageous generalizations due to my own personal experience. The unions are truly harming the system, especially when it comes to special needs students. I worked with several absolutely incredible sped teachers (and will continue to next year in my third year, and after that in my fourth), half of whom were traditional and half alt cert. Meanwhile I also saw a veteran tenured teacher miss weeks of work at a time (his class was more often educated by a city year corps member) with no repercussions. Another veteran, union protected teacher (a sped teacher this time) stay in his room at his desk without ever getting up, letting worksheets teach his students, some of whom begged to get into my gen ed class so that they would actually learn something (which they all did) .In fact, most of the poor teachers at my school were the regional path veteran teachers you defend so staunchly (this is not to say they were all bad, in fact I learned the most from one of the vets). On top of that, I regularly had some of the highest gains in the network (and while test scores are an imperfect metric, to say they mean nothing is beyond foolish). I will be moving to a new school next year (due to a promotion… To say I’ll miss my kids is an incredible understatement), and there are students and parents trying to transfer with me. I have seen the same from almost all of my TFA friends. So to say that we all are doing a terrible disservice to the system, that veteran teachers are always better, and to ignore the harm caused by the unions, is ridiculous.

        I apologize for any spelling errors… I’m on my busted up phone… And for my relative inelloquence. I’m a science teacher and major, writing has never been my thing. Also for the parentheticals. I just like them a bit too much.

        • Alright, this is probably the twentieth comment on this thread whose primary arguments center around “personal experience” and anecdotes.

          Regardless of your point, can we PLEASE all agree that anecdotal “evidence” is not really evidence? OK, you personally know some amazing / bad teachers, some capable / intransigent administrators, or every single TFA person you know is doing a wonderful / terrible job. I don’t want to hear about it.

          Let’s talk about whether systems are working, what sorts of agendas they promote. Let’s cite reliable studies, and not get lost in discussing individuals that we happen to know.

          • Scienceteacher says:

            I was just pointing out that the generalizations were not accurate. And what I’ve experienced is actual evidence of that. But ok… what systems are/aren’t working:

            Teach for America. It’s expanding too fast and is doing nothing to create life-long educators. It needs to scale back and focus on quality over quantity. However, it has gotten some people into education who otherwise wouldn’t and is trying to increase awareness of educational issues in the general population.

            Teachers unions. They’re functioning as Industrial unions when they should be more like professional organizations. They protect the rights of teachers, which is good, but they also protect really poor teachers without trying to improve them, which is bad. Often they’re more obsessed with their own financial gain than educating anyone.

            The Charter system. It’s just simply destroying neighborhood schools and privatizing what should be a public venture.

        • Kimberly Bowsky says:

          I’m giving you a pass and assuming the SpEd teachers you mention didn’t to what they were supposed to. Did the union hire those teachers? Did the administrator go into the rooms, guide them, and then when they still didn’t do right by the children, take the steps to remove them? So, we’re back to the corporations being at fault: their administrators refuse to do their jobs and use the union as an excuse for not being instructional leaders.

          • Scienceteacher says:

            Yes, she did try to remove them, and was finally able to by the end of the year, but that’s still an entire year that the kids went without learning anything, setting them even farther back. And it was factually union protection that prevented them from getting removed. Everyone tried to help them improve, but they didn’t want to hear it. The SpEd teacher especially would just complain about how much he hated the kids and go on doing nothing. So yes, I do blame the union for that one. I just think the union should function more as a professional organization dedicated to improving its members (think APA or AMA) and less like an industrial workers’ union.

    • I’ll say one thing: I think it is incredibly linear and limited logic to think that racism, poverty and injustice are not at all connected to the bureaucratic nonsense you argue actually derails public education.

      • Your comment makes no sense.

        • burcubozkurt says:

          Then let me put it in simpler terms for you – racism, poverty and injustice go hand in hand with bureaucratic nonsense, that you can’t hope to fix the latter without fixing the former and that there are very political reasons why some districts are burdened by bureaucratic nonsense and others aren’t. Alex Wiglus suggests above both are debilitating, but that we’re focusing our energy on the wrong thing (racism, poverty, etc) rather than explicitly trying to fix the bureaucratic nonsense found in our education system.

    • I’m thinking history here… and what happens when somebody addresses a group of good folks with the notion that they are following the wrong path. Regardless of the evidence, what is likely to happen is that they will turn to each other … for solidarity. They will look for — and be shown! Enthusiastically! by the folks in whose best interest it is to keep them enthusiastic — reasons that you *must* be wrong. Emotions will be fueled (because that is a highly effective way of defeating that nasty, nasty cold logic) … and factions are hardened. Sigh. That said, I’m one of those people who tends to wish logic would just **** win and we could just tell the truth and people would listen…. and if they had facts to refute it, provide them.
      Yes, lots of those TFA folks are enthusiastic and caring… and perhchance intellectually outstanding… that doesn’t qualify them as teachers.
      Sadly, neither does going through our schools of education.
      per alexwilgus “While I am sympathetic to attending to policies that redress rather than perpetuate inequalities, so much of it is simply posturing, defending compromised territory instead of being sensible and innovative, and being open to developing ways to address reformers’ complaints of the Teachers Union’s one great Achilles Heel: that it often employs poor teachers and defends them (I’ve heard this most frequently from sensible CTU members themselves).”
      In my 25+ years in teaching, this “posturing” has been the most consistent source of sadness. A law is passed that says we have to meet the needs of special needs kiddos (I was a teacher of students with learning disabilities labels)… the schools with resources could do that. That other school in the armpits? We had to do whatever was necessary to *look* legal. Anything else was summarily dismissed by the admins. Student records “disappeared,” and we were spared the year of educating that kiddo because gosh, they weren’t in special ed, were they?
      So often, I’d seen things that look *great* on paper… and then they’d get into the hands of administrators who weren’t in the classrooms at all, who’d do amazing things either out of ignorance or to meet their own agendae. There’s a lot of good information about teaching in that Common Core thing… but forcing schools to use Brand X materials to pass Brand X test (owned by that nice company giving all kinds of money to the campaigns of Candidate Y) is a flavor of algebra that makes me ill.

  94. Great article! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  95. This attack on teachers and the once noble and highly respected profession, has reached epidemic proportions in this country! I’m living this attack here in Michigan, where our governor and legislature have done everything and more to undermine public K-12 education.

    I was laid off on the last school day of the year by the Supt., after 13 years on the job. The irony is that I just paid off the $22,000 it cost me to return to university to become a state certified teacher – a requirement of the state to teach in public schools.

    What’s the corporate favor? Charters, of course. Especially sickening is the for-profit charter school. What the ???? There’s no money in the coffer for traditional school expenditures but it’s OK to pay a profit above cost for the so called same instruction?

    Oh, yeah, that’s right – staff won’t be paid a living wage according to experience and performance. Tenure has been outlawed in MI as the determining factor in who gets an open teaching job in district, all other factors being equal. So, I’m not real positive about getting a job come fall.

    It has become so depressing and taxing trying to educate ignorant, vitriolic teacher and union haters.

    Thanks for trying to educate others on just how scary the world has become for teachers. This will affect everyone as this generation becomes the next leaders of the world.

  96. I am a TFA alum (Mississippi Delta ’04) and I want to thank you for writing this. It is absolutely and entirely accurate, and I hope it reaches would-be corps members in time to prevent them from being complicit or, at least, to fully recognize the deeply problematic nature of the organization they are going to be a part of.

  97. While I understand where you are coming from Ms. Osgood, I must explain why I don’t fully agree. I am African American/ Hispanic and I was educated in the same Inner city that I was born in. While I desired to be a teacher within my community, I was often told of the teacher surplus and the need not apply situation. Therefore, I went the route of Teach for America. I encountered those who thought they were going to come to my city on their white horse and save the Negroes! When I encountered them, I made it my business to inform them that they were not wanted or needed in my city. I currently teach in my city in the toughest school in the district…and I love it!!! I denied the opportunity to teach in a TFA run charter school because I knew that many of the charters hand pick their students. If it had not been for TFA I would have never been given the chance to give to my students what great public school teachers gave to me. Just because I started out as a TFA teacher doesn’t mean that I allowed my inexperience to fail my babies my first year…on the contrary, I made significant gains, and it wasn’t because I was a TFA robot, it was because I came there to help my people…and I did just that. In addition, during my first year, I saw educational malpractice at its best by many veteran teachers. If I judged all experienced teachers by the misconduct of those of whom I saw, I’d have become TFA’s biggest supporter. However, I have a big problem not with the idea of TFA, but of whom they recruit. If they recruited at more colleges tied to our communities then we would all see a change in what happens in our inner city classrooms staffed by TFA corps members. While I do not believe in MANY TFA practices, I do believe that had it not been for TFA, I either would have never been given the opportunity to teach or I would have still been caught up in bureaucratic district red tape instead of giving my all to make sure my surrogate sons and daughters have an opportunity to make it!

    • Thank you for your perspective, Jeanette. I also served in TFA (Houston ’04) and continued teaching for four years before going to graduate school. While I now teach university students instead of high school, I am always watching out for students who have skill gaps and seeking to connect them to resources and support their success at the university level.

      Also, to add to your point re. veteran teachers who have ceased to fulfill an educational mission: Educational malpractice exists in disturbing proportions even in areas (like Texas) without union protection. Unmotivated, uninventive teachers handing out worksheets in Houston were able to keep their jobs because the admin could not attract highly skilled teachers to our school in sufficient numbers. Of course, there were and are still many passionate teachers outside of TFA. (My husband is one of them, and he guided more than 70% of his students to pass the AP Calc exam in a school where no student had EVER passed the test.) It’s true that we need to fight the message that TFA’s short-term teaching commitments are a “solution” to the US’s education problems; I believe this is a triage measure at best. But TFA acknowledges that and stresses that the teaching is in part a way of developing and informing stakeholders who continue to advocate for equity in education. And that does not mean simply parroting the TFA line.

      As to the content of the article, I do find some of TFA’s funding practices and deep investment in charter schools distressing, but I don’t think the fact that TFA has got big financial backing demonstrates that it is playing out the agenda of big business; I think it’s a product of the degree to which TFA has always had a business model (it was started by an MBA student, after all).

      Perhaps this letter should be revised to encourage TFA teachers to consider their work carefully in the context of the national education crisis (one that has been going on for more than half a century); to ask questions about TFA’s practices and the degree to which its partnerships are fair; to seek as mentors all kinds of teachers and to find resources beyond TFA; to win the trust of students through humility and a shared commitment to the learning process (which shouldn’t stop even for ‘veterans’); and, finally, to do what every teacher ought to do each day: build bridges between where students are and where they need to be in their learning.

      I look forward to continuing the conversation–let’s really listen to each other.

  98. I never knew that TFA was so bad for education. From now on I will ignore their advances and spread the word about them. No one deserves to get rich at the expense of our kids!

  99. I had opportunity to talk to TFA working in Detroit and she knew how poorly prepared she was. She will be going into education but she wants to be able to do a good job for kids. She was also unprepared for the problems faced by inner city populations.

  100. Ken McFarlane says:

    Excellent! I will spread this around in my small way.

  101. You make some excellent points, and I especially like how you relate what’s going on with TFA to problems in other parts of society. Thanks for a really thoughtful post – I learned a lot from reading this.

  102. I really wouldn’t worry about TFA. My daughter was totally qualified for TFA and they did not give her the position. I don’t think TFA kows what they are doing.

    • nothing truer has ever been said.

    • I interviewed for the corps a couple of years ago and made it to the final round (but ultimately was not chosen). I was a career changer who applied three years after I graduated undergrad. I definitely got the sense they were looking for corps members who fit a specific narrative, versus those who wanted to stay in teaching.

      They claimed they desperately needed STEM teachers, especially at the high school level. I said throughout all my application material I wanted to do this (and even have an engineering background), so it seemed a bit odd that they would reject me when they said they couldn’t find people. I have heard there is a bias against those who want to do teaching as a career in the program.

      Anyway, this comes across as a bit more bitter than I intended. There were many factors at play during the interview, so who knows what was the final “no” for me. I still have managed to stay involved by volunteering at local schools.

  103. Jennifer says:

    Amen! As an experienced (7 years), credentialed inner-city teacher, currently unemployed due to budget cuts, it was a slap in the face that the very district that laid me off hired my cousin, an unemployed law school grad with no desire to teach who is taking part in TFA just to make a living while she looks for a job as an attorney. Disgusting.

    • Maricela Reyes says:

      Disgusting is right! Jennifer I am sad to hear that you are unemployed while someone who is taking up oxygen at a school where children who will only loose out is employed! Unfortunately because it is other peoples children it does not matter?! Disgusting!

  104. Administrators do NOT keep on hiring TFA teachers by choice. They are forced on them by school districts that have contracts with TFA stating that the district is required to hire and pay for X number of TFA teachers.

  105. JoJoFox says:

    Great letter….telling the truth as plainly as it can be told. TFA contributes to the de-professionalization of all of Education. Would they do the same to lawyers or physicians, engineers or architects…train for 5 weeks and assume a professional position believing they are making a valuable contribution? I think not. HA! They would shudder at the thought. Then why are they so naïve about doing so in education? Is it a lack of common sense, arrogance or disregard for the They are being duped as pawns in the well designed attack on public education by corporate elites. Knowledge of that fact should be sufficient reason for quitting alone! One would hope this letter would bring them to their senses and encourage them to our profession as seriously as we do. There are real young lives at stake here and a year’s learning loss is a terrible waste of irreplaceable time. being placed in the charge of an untrained, untested unschooled pitying novice is just one more social-economic slap in the face for these children already damaged by self indulgent capitalist ruling elite. Do they realize that “all in all, they’re just another brick in the wall” and doing so by choice? Well done, Katie…from a fellow special educator.

  106. Great work, KT!

    I find it interesting that the only detractor pushes the myth that TFA teachers “outperform” counterparts.

    A lot of that is based on how TFA recruits are taught to assess what “performing” as a teacher means. If you concentrate on student test performance over everything else, it’s possible to get a score bump, but it hurts kids.

  107. maxlikesgreen says:

    Another question is: What can ed schools do to attract those same recruits? Or put another way, can teacher ed programs also do things differently to make clear the benefit (and political importance) of going through a “traditional” program? By no means do I want to put all the responsibility on schools and unions, but I’d love to see them do more to counter TFA’s prevailing narrative of “ed school is a waste of time” and “unions are the problem with schools, not funding inequities”.

    Having just finished an urban-focused teacher edu program, I was attracted to it (as opposed to TFA) because I knew I had a lot to learn and I wanted to take time to do so. On the other hand, I’m also now $40,000 more in debt.It was worth it to me, but it’s definitely not the easiest sell.

    • I think we need more scholarships and loan forgiveness for teachers. The current loan forgiveness formulas are insufficient and allow too many loop holes and exceptions. I believe there does need to be some regulation of programs, but that regulation should focus on shutting down these low-quality, fast-track alternative programs like Teach for America. Putting unprepared teachers in classrooms should not be an option for districts, administrators, or entire charter franchisees.

      Imagine if over the past 20 years when TFA and similar programs have exploded in size, we instead had been investing in scholarships and grow-your-own programs enticing quality candidates (and by “quality” I do not mean candidates with higher SATs or from more prestigious colleges, rather people who exhibit compassion, dedication, ability to work with children/youth, creativity, empathy, knowledge of specific communities/cultures/languages, etc) into the profession? We must very careful in how we describe great teaching, understanding that it has no particular formula. That being said, I also think the kind of recruit TFA screens for is not ideal. The “superteacher” is narcissistic and arrogant (watch the youtube videos of Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion series-the kids are incidental, it’s all about the teacher) qualities I believe hinder learning in classrooms.

      Having fast-track options for teaching is unacceptable. It is not accepted in other professions. It is not accepted in high-performing nations like Finland or Japan. It should not be tolerated here, especially for our neediest students. When we start fixing teaching/learning conditions in our neediest classrooms, offering more scholarships/grants/internships/loan forgiveness, and showing teachers some respect, then I will believe people who claim they want to improve teaching quality.

      • Ms. Osgood,

        Having attended a very prestigious boarding school in New England, a child of the “upper-income parents [who] would never, ever, allow uncertified, unprepared novices teach their own children,” I can say with absolute certainty that this is not true. I had several teachers would were just out of college, with no education degree AND no TFA-style preparation, and I believe they taught me just fine. I graduated magna cum laude from an Ivy League college. Was I “underserved” because my biology teacher did not have experience in education? Absolutely not. In fact, I was greatly benefitted by the fact that my teacher did NOT fit the profile of the typical teacher. In other words, she had graduated from a top-tier college in the top 10% of her class.

        The biggest thing that we need to come to grips with in this country is the fact that the teaching profession is one that is looked down upon. It’s hard to say which came first, but this is both because of the terrible treatment that teachers are subjected to by the government, AND because of the fact that in the United States, the vast majority of traditional teachers come from the bottom 20-30% of their graduating class. If you can think of other ways to enhance the prestige of the teaching profession and thereby attract more high-achieving and educated workers, by all means, let me know. In my opinion, at least TFA has accomplished that.

        Now, I can be fully truthful and admit that the reason that my teachers without education experienced worked so well in my school setting is because there were no behavioral problems in my classrooms. Everyone at my school came in already knowing how to act in a classroom and knew what respect to a teacher looks like. I do agree with you fully that TFA teachers are not equipped to deal with the behaviors that children in low-income schools exhibit. However, I think that anyone who has studied a subject at the collegiate level is fully equipped to teach the material to someone else, provided that the students are ready willing and able to learn.

        The biggest problem with putting TFA teachers in these communities is not that they don’t know how to teach content. It’s that they are either unused to or incapable of handling the challenge of teaching children how or why to learn.

        • Melissa says:

          What L.A.M is not understanding is that knowing the content and knowing how to TEACH the content are two VERY VERY different ideas. Just because someone knows their stuff doesn’t not give them the skills to know how to teach every single learner in their classroom. You can not compare yourself (as an upper crust student) to low-income urban learners (who start off years behind you simply because of their upbringing). That’s not even close to the same playing field. You were successful because you WANTED to be successful and your parents wanted you to be successful. That is NOT the same as the kid who comes in with no food on the weekend, parents who can’t read, and no motivation to put any effort in. One of the single most powerful predictors on a students’ success is their socio-economic status, and clearly you were already ahead of the pack before you entered Kindergarten. You can NOT compare your experience to the typical experience of students who are forced into TFA classrooms.

          While I agree that the teaching profession is horribly looked down upon (and that’s a HUGE piece of the problem), your “stats” about the majority of Teacher Education candidates being in the bottom 20-30% of their class is horribly incorrect. While this was a problem in the past, Teacher Ed programs have made many significant changes over the last decade and that is no longer the case. Yes, different programs still need to raise their standards, but when you pay teachers like shit those people in the upper quarter of their “field” would rather go make double elsewhere.

        • LAM–as a former teacher in very prestigious day schools on the east coast and in the midwest, we did indeed have interns in those schools, who had reduced teaching loads. Some of them turned out to be decent teachers, but they got a LOT of support in the first year or two (and again, reduced teaching loads. Usually 2 classes with 12-15 students in each one). As to content knowledge, in the private prestigious (running $30K tuition per year this year according to their websites) K-12 schools where I taught, NONE of these interns were placed in the elementary grades. Who has “content knowledge” in how to teach a room full of 5 year-olds how to read other than an education major or someone with a master’s degree in reading? Being an English major would be absolutely no help in that situation. Being a biology major from an Ivy League school would mean that you spent a lot of time in a research lab with expensive equipment. That would be very poor preparation for doing 3rd grade science labs. Maybe teaching high school with a only content degree has some merit, but working with little kids, who need to learn to read before they can do anything else well, is what TFA advocates and “prepares” recruits to do. It’s wrong.

        • Fellow upper-class person here, attended one of the three fanciest private high schools in Chicago and went on to an Ivy League college. No idea what kind of “prestigious” boarding school you attended, but at my high school, our most treasured and best-performing teachers were decades-long veterans with advanced degrees. When they led a class, you could absolutely tell that they knew what they were doing. When we got teachers fresh outta school, they were fresh outta grad school, where they had experience teaching college undergrads (which made sense, since my school aspired to offer college-level courses). I can think of two exceptions- both were alumns of the school who taught a STEM class for a year in their mid-twenties. That was a combo of STEM shortage, and sheer nepotism. Oh, and we also had a science teacher who was a “career changer.” She’d been a chemist, so I’m sure she knew her science, but she was terrible, and quit after a year.

          TLDR: Teachers at MY private school were qualified to teach at the college level, sorry about yours.

        • L.A.M-
          Seriously? The bottom 20%? I have no idea who you are talking about. I went to a very good public university where I graduated in the top 5% of my class-I also graduated in the top ten of my major. I am public school teacher. I don’t work with slack jawed stupid people who barely managed to graduate from college. That statistic is not only inaccurate, but it is insulting.
          I also have to point out that being successful in University and understanding content does not make anyone a good teacher. Content knowledge, while important, is just one piece of effective teaching

  108. Max (in Philly) says:

    Another question is: What can ed schools do to attract those same recruits? Or put another way, can teacher ed programs also do things differently to make clear the benefit (and political importance) of going through a “traditional” program? By no means do I want to put all the responsibility on schools and unions, but I’d love to see them do more to counter TFA’s prevailing narrative of “ed school is a waste of time” and “unions are the problem with schools, not funding inequities”.

    Having just finished an urban-focused teacher edu program, I was attracted to it (as opposed to TFA) because I knew I had a lot to learn and I wanted to take time to do so. On the other hand, I’m also now $40,000 more in debt.It was worth it to me, but it’s definitely not the easiest sell.

  109. Luke Johnson says:

    Amusing that this blogger failed to even mention teacher performance and the fact that Teach For America teachers consistently outperform their counterparts. If that wasn’t the case, principals wouldn’t keep hiring Teach For America teachers. Seems like all this blogger cares about is adults and not the future of children. Very sad and troubling.

    • Let me be more clear. First year, uncertifed TFA novices are not as effective as fully-certified teachers. And it is a gross injustice to disproportionately give low-income children of color uncertifed, poorly-trained teachers.

    • Mr. Johnson, please provide data supporting your claim.

    • Show me proof that TFA people outperform REAL teachers…I might believe you if you do that but I seriously doubt you can find national stats to back it up.

      • Mr. Wardwell says:

        Hi folks,

        National data re: teacher effectiveness will be impossible to find because most tests are run at the state level, though this will change in coming years as the Common Core Standards are adopted.

        That said, their is no shortage of peer-reviewed, statistically sound research on TFA teacher performance as compared to other teachers. The results from these studies vary based on locality, which makes sense– teaching standards and education schools vary from state to state. Overall, though, Mr. Johnson is right– at the very least, TFA teachers tend to perform as well as their peers, if not better.

        Some studies to get started with:
        -Decker, Mayer, and Glazeman (2004) compare teaching across Baltimore, Chicago, LA, Houston, New Orleans, and Mississippi Delta. They find that on average,TFA teachers are better at improving math scores than local peers, and are not statistically different than their peers at changing reading scores
        -Kane, Rockoff, and Staiger (2006) analyzed TFA teachers, NY Teaching Fellows, and other teachers in NYC. Their results were mixed, but TFA teachers were definitively stronger than university trained teachers at improving middle school math performance. Ultimately, they advocated for a mixed-hiring stream to fill in NYC’s teaching gaps.

        There is a lot of research out there on TFA, so let’s use it to ground actually productive conversations.

        For what it’s worth, our education system is definitively inequitable and struggling on the international stage. TFA, while in many ways problematic, is not the right beast to tackle. TFA accounts for about 5% of our incoming teaching force each year. The other 95%, on average, are being recruited from the bottom 1/3 of our high school graduates. There ARE amazing teachers out there, and there ARE strong teaching schools, but on the whole our system of teacher preparation is failing. We need to improve this system, raise our standards, and treat teaching like the profession it should be (re: higher pay but weakened tenure, etc.) so that teachers who pay for 4 years of college education ARE better than those with 5 weeks of training. Until we do this, it’s our job to get the best possible teachers in the classroom for the kids who need it most. If those teachers are from TFA, so be it.

        Blaming TFA for perpetuating educational inequity and the demonization of the teaching profession is like blaming a band-aid for drawing attention to a gaping wound.

        Full source citations:
        Reference to Decker, Mayer, and Glazeman taken from Boyd, Donald, Pamela Grossman, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff. “How changes in entry requirements alter the teacher workforce and affect student achievement.” National Bureau of Economic Research. December 2005. (accessed March 10, 2013).

        Kane, Thomas J., Jonah E. Rockoff, and Douglas O. Staiger. “What does certification tell us about teacher effectiveness? Evidence from New York city.” National Bureau of Economic Research. April 2006. (accessed March 10, 2013).

        • Tinkdnuos says:

          …all of which demonstrate merely that TFAers are more pliable, don’t question authority, and more eagerly teach to the test.

          That is probably because most of them can’t imagine what a real, teaching curriculum, centered around something besides worthless standardized tests, would even look like.

          • Mr. Wardwell says:

            The only real data we can collect on teacher effectiveness is based on value-added scores from standardized tests. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s not useless either. Assuming that a teacher who helps their student learn more and perform better on tests is just “teaching to the test” and “avoiding a real curriculum” is insulting to the capabilities of teachers. Testing is an entirely separate and controversial issue of its own, but the only data we can collect shows TFA’s strengths. I’d encourage you to read through the rest of my points above, as well, about the scale of TFA relative to other teachers. We’re dealing with the wrong, smaller issue in teacher preparation here; targeting TFA is a misguided effort.

        • Melissa says:

          You’re missing some important aspects regarding these studies. Often TFA “teachers” are placed in Charter schools. If you remember Charter schools don’t have to follow the same “rules” as regular public schools. You will very easily find uncertified, (and possibly uneducated) people hired as teachers in these same schools. So if you are comparing TFA teachers to these other uncertified teachers, then yes I’d think that TFA would out perform simply because of the support they get that these other “teachers” don’t. I spent a lot of time this last year working on a project in a Charter school here in DC. DC has an extremely high percentage of charter schools, so that means there are a lot of TFA teachers here, as well as a lot of uncertified teachers. If you are comparing DC as a whole then those comparisons don’t really say the whole picture. Put those TFA teachers up against CERTIFIED EDUCATED teachers and I’m pretty sure we all know what the outcome of that would be.

          • Mr. Wardwell says:

            The Kane, Rockoff, and Staiger (2006) study I cited does compare TFA teachers to uncertified teachers, NYC Teaching Fellows, and traditionally certified teachers. TFA teachers matched or outperformed traditionally certified teachers there. Sorry, but you’re point above is simply wrong, from a factual standpoint.

            Your points about charter schools and uncertified teachers are oftentimes true, and you’re right, many studies do make errors by only comparing TFA teachers to the total teaching pool in a city. In some states, traditionally certified teachers do, in fact, outperform TFA teachers. Texas, for example, seems to have relatively effective teacher education: Darling Hammond et. al. (2005), for example, found that in Houston TFA teachers were not as effective at improving student outcomes as traditionally certified teachers until two or three years into their service in the classroom. Even still, that TFA teachers were able to close the gap of 4 years of education in such a short time demonstrates that we have a ways to go in strongly educating traditionally certified teachers. Furthermore, at the time of this study, 50% of all new teacher hires in Houston were completely uncertified; Raymond and Flethcer (2005) found that TFA teachers in Houston WERE outperforming their uncertified peers, and were still performing better than average hires in Houston. In short, TFA was plugging a needed gap in Houston, taking jobs not from certified teachers (who they’d be on par with within a year or two, anyways), but from highly ineffective uncertified teachers.

            Again, TFA’s relative performance to certified teachers will vary by location, as teacher training varies by location. In NYC, TFA teachers were better than traditionally certified teachers, while in Houston they were on par within a year or two. I’m not denying the problematic aspects of TFA, but the REAL PROBLEM we’re dealing with here is ineffective teacher recruitment and education programs which can’t outperform TFA. We have real, systematic changes we need to make. This attack on TFA is a distraction from the big challenges we face now.

            Darling-Hammond, Linda, Deborah J. Holtzman, Su Jin Gatlin, & Julian Vasquez Heilig. “Does Teacher Preparation Matter? Evidence about Teacher Certification, Teach for America, and Teacher Effectiveness..” education policy analysis archives [Online], 13 (2005): 42. Web. 15 Mar. 2013

            Raymond, Marget, and Stephen Fletcher. “The Teach for America Evaluation.” Education Next. Education Next, n.d. Web. 15 Mar 2013. .

          • Thanks for the excellent references, Mr. Wardwell. I was one of those TFA Houston teachers (see post above), and all the public high schools where TFA teachers were teaching were also hiring large numbers of teachers from alternative certification programs that did not have the additional support of TFA training. Which is to say, whatever TFA’s limitations, it gave us more–and put us in a better position to serve students–than what the ACP courses offered (we had to attend those, too, and I could store up what I learned there in a couple of thimbles–certification was a money maker in Houston, not true teacher training).

            One thing that hasn’t been discussed in these comparisons–and no doubt something that is difficult to measure–is a sense of urgency when it comes to helping students achieve better outcomes, a value that most TFA teachers eat for breakfast. My husband is completing a PhD program in math education at an excellent midwestern university with a reputation for its good school of education. He works hard to impress upon his undergrads the stakes of education, especially for students who are already behind, but the general tenor of the school of ed does not necessarily set traditionally trained novice teachers up to focus on how to maximize outcomes for their students, nor does it gear them towards the reality of service in Title I schools. That is not to say that TFA “does it better” but that there are some things that could be learned from TFA’s training programs that would benefit novice teachers in traditional programs.

            Again, thanks for reminding us that TFA’s weaknesses (and its strengths) need to be considered in the context of a highly problematic, fractured system.

    • Maricela Reyes says:

      In Chicago it seems like one the one term mayor is the one who is pushing TFA on to principals. I don’t think you need data to show that these people do not care to be teachers! There was only one miracle worker and her name was Helen Keller!

    • exactly

  110. twinkie1cat says:

    How do we get this out to both TFAs so they will realize that they need to go back to school and earn an education degree if they really want to teach, and to the people in charge of the schools so they will hear the message and not hire TFA?

    • I think it’s important to inform parents of the fact their child’s teacher is uncertified. In times of budget cuts, principals have a perverse incentive to hire the TFAer, even when not in the best interest of children. Ever since TFA lobbied Congress to count teachers “in training” as “highly qualified” (ridiculous as it sounds), many parents may not even know their child’s teacher is unqualified. I’d like to start an information campaign for all parents, especially in charters, to demand the right of having a fully qualified teacher, especially for students with disabilities or English language learners.