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School Districts Have the Power to Change TFA

In the last few years, Teach For America (TFA), has seen a massive increase in critique levied at the organization. One of the most recent complaints about the organization is its terrible track record for dealing with critique and criticism.

by T. Jameson Brewer and David Greene

Late last year, the Nation reported on a leaked internal memo that outlined TFA’s obsession with covering up critique and marginalizing critics while simultaneously seeking to expand – a similar corporate disposition that recently put TFA in the crosshairs of NonProfit Quarterly where, when confronted with criticism, TFA is said to have a “self-protective reaction [that] can breed certainty and hubris.” Yet, while there is undoubtedly more than can be said from a critical perspective on TFA, here we outline a “wish list” for real changes that can be affected.

Instead of TFA’s hype we need solutions. And since TFA’s typical response to critique is hype, to us, the real power for change is in the hands of school districts that decide to hire TFA Corps Members (CMs).

Overall, districts should first hire credentialed new teachers who have had sufficient teacher training and student teaching internships. Districts should only use TFA staffing when there is both a shortage of qualified teachers and the only alternative is to hire uncertified and emergency teachers or substitutes. This, however, should never be the case when staffing teachers in special education. CMs are not skilled in general education, let alone, special education law and issues of remediation.

Moreover, districts should not request or require TFA’s to write grants, tutor kids after school, coach, sponsor clubs or assume “extra” duties during their first year. They are trying to figure out teaching and that alone consumes their time.

Again, since it is unlikely that TFA will enact meaningful change in the face of criticism, we contend that the school districts that have the power to decide to partner with TFA or not begin to set those changes into motion.

Here are a few things that districts can do now:

  • Tell TFA to provide you with people who see teaching as a career, not just a stepping stone or an altruistic act of community service.
  • Tell TFA you want a true financial partnership to develop career teachers where money is not flowing out of the district in the way of finder’s fees to TFA but where TFA is investing money directly into the districts – rather than bolster its marketing coffers.
  • Tell TFA you want the 5-week Summer Institute to become obsolete. TFA would instead partner with school districts and with universities in their regions. New CMs would live on campus (saving lots of money in places like NYC) and be enrolled in a special yearlong training program followed by the rest of a revamped two year, field-based MAT program to gain permanent state certification. No graduate classes should be taken the first year. First year teaching is far too rough as it is.
  • Tell TFA to require a longer commitment from its CMs that begins with the first year (while still Seniors in college) composed of valuable education courses, student teaching, and being paired up as an assistant to a veteran teacher who might be a more experienced CM. Additionally, require that CMs teach for more than two years, preferably five. TFA often suggests that such a requirement would decrease their application rate. That’s fine. We only want those who will commit. We want this to be a part of an overall commitment to developing career teachers as we do career lawyers. Check the Finnish model. It can be done.
  • Tell TFA you want a dedicated mentor program with veteran teachers or field specialists to mentor TFA CMs and have this duty as their full-time job. An hour daily can really save someone’s day when there is a venting opportunity with an action plan attached. Use the money and veterans in your own system or get them from university programs. These veteran educators have not lost their passion for teaching and were never dull, so they can model effective teaching practices in TFA classrooms, build trust, and support Corps members off hours.

TFA will never give in, you say? It will never give up a good thing. Exactly. This will be hard to do because TFA is extremely attached to its power, long-range plan to dominate and influence policy, and growing the organization to further achieve those ends. That is why the onus is on school districts to demand these changes.

And while these district-led changes will afford TFA the opportunity to discard its arrogance and facade of righteousness, more importantly, we believe that the changes will certainly have the capacity to improve and mend TFA’s impact on students.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of T. Jameson Brewer and David Greene.

T. Jameson Brewer is an advanced Ph.D. student of educational policy studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned a M.S. in social foundations of education from Georgia State University and a B.S.Ed. in secondary education from Valdosta State University. His research focuses on the impact(s) of privatization/marketization of public schools by way of charters, vouchers, and Teach For America. He is co-Editor of the recent book “Teach For America Counter-Narratives: Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out.” Follow him on Twitter @tjamesonbrewer

David Greene is a former 38-year Social Studies teacher and coach. He is also a program consultant for WISE Services, an organization that helps high schools create and run experiential learning programs for seniors. In addition, the author of “Doing the Right Thing: A Teacher Speaks,” is Treasurer of Save Our Schools, and an active blogger and speaker. His blogs have appeared in Diane Ravitch’s website, Education Weekly, U.S. News and World Report, and the Washington Post. You can visit David Greene’s blog at https://dcgmentor.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @dcgmentor 




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  • Best thing to do is not allow TFA recruits in classrooms. All kids deserve a highly qualified, licensed teacher with and education degree. Not an untrained recruit who most likely will do a poor job.

    August 19, 2015
  • CHANGE TFA? TFA should fold. In Newark, NJ, Cami Anderson has taken veteran certified teachers and assigned them to rubber rooms to make vacancies for TFA because she and her predecessor contracted with TFA for “X” amount of SCABS. These scab teachers come in at a novice salary, PLUS $9,000 per scab in finders fees to TFA. These TFA scabs are a burden to the remaining teachers. These TFA scabs are given every luxury, some of their debts are paid, they receive “gifts/awards” from their college alma mater (Princeton did this) and they get benefits not available to certified/trained novice teachers WHO ACTUALLY WANT TO BE TEACHERS. It sickens me how doors are opened for TFA and closed for certified/trained and even veteran teachers.

    Whatever Wendy’s idea was 25 years ago, she and TFA have long strayed away from that. The only thing TFA has enriched is Wendy’s bank account and her husband’s chain of charters, KIPP. Spin it however you like, it is time for TFA to just go away, and it should return all of the tax dollars it has collected and been granted by the US government to school districts across the nation.

    There is no defense for the disruption and destruction of what TFA has done to public schools, students, teachers and neighborhoods. When TFA is gone, I will say “good riddance.”

    August 22, 2015

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