Like so much else in education and beyond, we are seeing the familiar pattern of defunding, claiming crisis, and then calling for privatization in special education. This past week in Chicago, our unelected Board of Education recently voted to expand contracts with private, for-profit organizations to meet the growing needs of our children with special needs as […]
This week, NPR has (once again) jumped onto the “gritty” bandwagon by playing a number of pieces related to the corporate education reform favorite of “grit.” On my way to work one morning, I heard an NPR reporter share in a perky voice, “Experts define grit as persistence, determination and resilience; it’s that je ne sais […]
As the controversy around Teach For America grows, it is incredibly important to understand the role of venture philanthropy in education reform. This video provides powerful context in regards to how many nonprofits are used to maintain and exacerbate the injustices and inequalities in our world. Perhaps one of the most ad vanced mechanisms […]
I’m pretty angry. Yesterday, I was on a panel discussing Teach For America with, among others, Josh Anderson- head of TFA Chicago. Overall, I thought the panel went well. Debate was passionate (mostly on my part) but civil. Still, at the very end, when Josh gave the final remarks of the event, he said something […]
This past Monday, the group Students United for Public Education (aka SUPE)–led by two amazing college students, Stephanie Rivera and Hannah Nguyen–organized a highly successful twitter storm using the hashtag #ResistTFA. For a few hours, #ResistTFA became one of the top trending hashtags in the nation.
Now, TFA’s response to the outpouring of rage at Teach For America and its role in the privatization of public education was nothing if not predictable. (Albeit incredibily disappointing and frustrating.) TFA promptly posted two response pieces on their blog, Pass the Chalk, one basically saying “We’re listening” (but we don’t agree with you) and the other a weak rebuttal of the themes brought up in the tweets. Defenders of the TFA status quo seemed to vacillate from a haughty, (and I paraphrase…) “you pathetic underlings cannot possibly have anything to add to the conversation” to a seemingly more humble, but confused, “but we want to do what’s right, and we can change.”
And to me, that is the fundamental issue why we must continue to resist TFA. Teach For America CANNOT change. I don’t mean that members within the group do not want change; I believe there are many current members and alums who are quietly and internally trying to work within the organization towards more just and equitable goals. I mean the organization itself literally can never change in the fundamental ways that will address the issues around poor preparation, its central role in charter expansion and privatization, its place as a union-busting entity creating a short-term, cheap labor force, and TFA’s overall place in the neoliberal agenda.
To put it plainly, if TFA truly changed its position, it would lose its funding, political power, and growing influence among rich and powerful backers. It TFA were to actually address the needs of schools and communities in a way that genuinely improved educational opportunity within existing neighborhood schools, that strengthened teaching, and that encouraged grassroots democratic progress in our neediest schools, its current donors and supporters would stop funding this program immediately.
Let me give an example. I have often advocated that TFA switch from placing poorly-prepared novices as the teacher of record in some of our neediest classrooms, to giving struggling schools the gift of hard-working young people to be assistants in those classrooms. TFA is flush with cash, having amassed over 1 billion dollars over the past 5 years. TFA could shift its focus from running the insufficient Institute summer boot-camp training and low-quality mentoring by under-qualified alums to fully-funding EXTRA teaching assistant positions in needy schools. (I do not want privileged outsiders to take existing teaching assistant jobs often filled by members of the community.)
Think of the advantages of this approach. Their TFA recruits could get that first-hand knowledge of our education system and go on after their two years to whatever field they chose without denying fragile students a fully-prepared teacher. Those TFAers that decided teaching was for them could do their certification at night and by the end of their two years in TFA would be fully prepared to take on a classroom of their own. To me, this is a beautiful mission. I imagine many of those critical to the current program would welcome this version of TFA with open arms. What a support an extra, hard-working adult in the classroom would be! This change would help retain the current fully-certified teachers by lessening their ridiculous workloads, TFA members would have the time and energy to get involved with their unions and social justice fights happening in the communities where they were placed, and TFA would not serve any of the nefarious purposes it is so often accused of including union-busting, deprofessionalizing teaching, or exacerbating the inequality of giving our neediest kids the least prepared teachers.
But how would TFA’s funders and loudest supporters including those with extensive ties to the corporate education reform movement view these changes? Would the Walton Foundation of Walmart Fortune give hundreds of millions of dollars to an organization that was supporting unionized workers? Would Wall St donate to a group that supported teachers, giving true help to struggling schools that the 1% would rather see fail and closed to make way for the profitable private, non-union operators? Would Goldman-Sachs make partnership with true social justice advocates working towards ending the inequality these wealthy folks are profitting off of? Would the many anti-teacher think thanks, education reform groups like TNTP or NCTQ, or charter operators support a group that was helping traditionally-trained teachers succeed in traditional neighborhoods-their “competition”? Would the Department of Education under the corporate-reform rule of Arne Duncan OK the many tens of millions allocated to this program if it wasn’t advancing their pro-charter, pro-business model style of “reform”?
The answer to all these questions is “no”.
But TFA will not acknowledge these truths, at least not openly. As usual, TFA members are caught up on the individual level ignoring and deflecting from systemic issues. Are some within the TFA organization open to change? Yes, those people exist, although there are plenty who see TFA’s ties to the above-mentioned corporate reform groups as nothing but good.
At the end of the day, TFA cannot and will not veer from its present course down the corporate reform path. No amount of reflection, “listening”, or “internal dialogue” will change that. This is about money and power. And the only thing that has ever stopped moneyed powerful interests is mass, sustained resistance.
Which is why we must continue to #ResistTFA.