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Committed To Fighting For Equity and Access in Public Education

Featuring interviews, testimony and analysis on issues facing public education in the U.S. through voices of teachers, parents, students, community members, education activists and education scholars. Education Radio is committed to exposing the profit driven interests fueling current education policies while addressing issues of true equity and access in public education.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Sham of Teach for America: Part One


Neha Singhal
You can download mp3's of the program here:
Audioport (mp3)
Internet Archive

This is part one of a two part expose. Click here to listen to part two, The Ongoing Sham of Teach for America

In this week's show, Education Radio continues to disrupt the dominant narrative of corporate education reform by investigating the organization Teach for America (TFA). TFA is one of many insidious examples of how the language of social justice and equity is hijacked and appropriated, and instead employed to further the goals of the neoliberal education reform agenda. This agenda includes a firm belief that education should primarily serve the interests of private profit and as with all neoliberal education reformers, TFA is actively intensifying racial and class inequality, and the destruction of education as an essential public good along with the continued decimation of unions - two institutions that are primary determinants of a democratic society.

Wendy Kopp
In this first part of our two-part series on TFA, we challenge the claims that TFA makes to support its mission by taking a closer look at TFA recruitment, training, its impact on teacher education, its approach to diversity, and the impossibility of the TFA model to create spaces for authentic teaching and learning.

We speak to a variety of people who have researched and experienced Teach for America, including Barbara Veltri, Assistant Professor of Education at Northern Arizona State university, TFA corps member mentor, and author of Learning on Other People's Kids: Becoming a Teach for America Teacher. We hear from University of Illinois Chicago Professor of Asian American Studies and Education Kevin Kumashiro on TFA's impact on teacher education, and Associate Professor of Education at the University of Alabama Philip Kovacs, who has investigated TFA's research, and from education historian Diane Ravitch. We also hear what TFA founder Wendy Kopp has to say about their mission and philosophy. We close the show by hearing from CUNY professor and leading proponent of critical pedagogy Ira Shor, who talks about the importance of creating spaces for authentic teaching and learning.

Throughout the show we also listen to the stories of two people who have had first-hand experience as TFA recruits and corps-members. Jameson Brewer is a traditionally certified teacher and now corps member in Atlanta who is currently finishing his second year. And, Neha Singhal, a former TFA recruit who left TFA after the training when she began to uncover its true agenda. Neha is also a guest host and producer of our program this week.

Ira Shor
In next week's continuation of our programming on TFA, we'll explore TFA’s connection to corporate education reform, its impact on professional teachers and their unions, and TFA's hijacking of a social justice discourse to promote policies that are, in actuality, upholding and furthering inequality rather than challenging it.





For additional information that expands this critique of TFA, see the following links:
A dialogue between two TFA corps members (one of which is Jameson Brewer, featured on this program)
Philip Kovacs on TFA research
Teach for America, The Hidden Curriculum of Liberal Do-Gooders by Andrew Hartman
Looking Past the Spin: Teach for America by Barbara Miner
Why I Did TFA and Why You Shouldn't by Gary Rubenstein
Why TFA is Not Welcome in My Classroom by Mark Naisson

32 comments:

  1. Part 1:

    Thank you Deborah for sharing this. I was really anticipating a reasoned critique here but I was shocked to hear many falsehoods, incongruities, and logical acrobatics.

    Firstly, as for my point of view, I was a corps member and now work on Teach for America staff as a Program Director.

    One of the most alarming points here is the way that Jameson, the interviewee, misrepresents and seems to misunderstand the purpose of the TAL impact model. The document is not to ascribe every failing of the classroom onto the teacher in the kind of indiscriminate way that he suggests. The impact model is predicated on a belief that our mindsets affect our actions, and those actions lead to classroom habits and behaviors. Those habits and behaviors are themselves requisites of student outcomes.

    For an example: I walk into a CM's classroom and I see that she is reprimanding her special education students at a higher rate than her general education students, even where behaviors are analogous. This then leads to her SPED students receiving a detention or having to be removed from the classroom. Thus, losing learning time. In a debrief conversation with her I may ask, "so describe to me why you reprimanded X, 3xs more than Y?" This may have been a revelation to this corps member, she may have been unaware of how this orientation towards her SPED students were playing out in the classroom. My next job would then be to peak underneath her action and ask, "does it bother you when your SPED students misbehave more than when your GEN ED students do?" The point of probing her on this , is to challenge a hidden mindset that may have been animating this teacher's action which then lead to a student being out of class, which is clearly not the outcome we seek for students.

    In Jameson's example, he rather crudely reduces this process to an example with pencils. While it may be absurdist, I admit, to yell at a teacher for her student not having a pencil--it's not absurdist to probe that teacher on what she could do to have writing utensils available. Simply making the retort-- "well this student is homeless and that's why he doesn't have a pencil"--doesn't exactly put the teacher in the position of influencing a better outcome for the student. And that's what we ultimately want--for teacher actions to be positively contributing to the outcomes we want for all of our students.

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  2. Part 2:


    Secondly, I was a little miffed by the fact that this article seems to suggest that TFA teachers don't understand the macroeconomic forces at work--but are somehow pawns in their bidding. As a teacher, I was readily aware of the challenges that my students faced. I worked in partnerships with my student's families and influencers to create a school-home nexus that was solid and held high expectations. At no point though did I see my student's families and their situations as detriments to their education. The undercurrent in this segment is that you all seem to think this is a 'first fix poverty and then kids will learn' approach. I don't dismiss the effects of poverty on my student's lives. But I also know that it isn't deterministic. I'd like to hear approaches that you all would offer that respect the potential of poor children, not relegate their futures as byproducts of income disparity.

    On a similar note, you had a commentator who dismissed the program for not teaching corps members about inclusiveness, racism, and privilege? That is an interesting claim to make being that we have a Diversity, Competencies and Awareness curriculum that is on going throughout a corps member's experience. I'm curious to know how that commentator engaged. So first, TFA discusses race, class and privilege. We begin by telling corps members this. What you commentator was probably trying to communicate was that we don't rest at exclusively discussing structural racism. We work to give corps members tools to confront the many ramifications of these structures as they will encounter in the classroom, and in their school environments. The basic premise of the program, is that racial prejudices are like smog in the air and that we all hold archetypes and biases that are informed by our class, our race, our privilege and only through awareness and deconstruction can we alter our actions to seek productive outcomes. The seminal text that is the cornerstone of our training is Dr. Tatum's "Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria." Borrowing from the premises put forward in this book, TFA works with corps members who are all on a continuum or racial identity development. We actively lean in, on this dimension of the work. To say otherwise may suggest a lack of deep attention.

    Next, I was rather unclear on the side comments that seemed to defile the fact that TFA corps members are paid employees. Are we making the argument that in order to be an advocate or have passion one has to forgo monetary sustenance? That's interesting. Yet not 10 minutes later you had a commentator speaking of the ills of "unpaid" Institute. I'm left uncertain of how money and compensation is being played with in your argument. It seems as though that last segment--the fears of not being paid through Institute--is more of a propagandist position to dissuade students from applying. Not a true critique of the program. It's fine to advocate a position, but parsing out your objectives would be more honest.

    I'm looking forward to the next post. Lively debate and commentary is, after all, a democratic feature and I applaud this blog for being a true representative of press.

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  3. Terrific program! I've been meaning to listen to your programming for a while and finally got around to it. I'm really impressed with how well the segment is put together. It deserves to be syndicated far and wide. This topic has particular appeal to me as I've been keeping tabs of TFA since our district contracted with them a little over a year ago. I started a blog to keep track of various critical views on TFA: http://reconsideringtfa.wordpress.com/.

    The allegation that TFA recruits have been fed interview questions ahead of time is a new one to me and seems quite serious. If this is more than a one-off incident, doesn't this raise serious legal questions?

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    1. In my experience as a TFA CM (Phoenix, '08) this did not happen. They told us questions to expect at an interview; they were not specific to that job or administrator, but to the profession of teaching. These are questions that I've been asked since during every interview I've ever done as a teaching applicant. They can be easily Googled.

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  4. Thank you for the program! I had a similar experience as you, Neha. I was at the Houston Institute in 2008 and decided to leave TFA before accepting a teaching position in the Rio Grande Valley. From everything to the politics to the impact model to the training to the stress, you got it right. I felt tremendous guilt for leaving TFA and was even told my supervisor that I would "quit every job I ever took" and would "never make a positive impact on kids." This statement was, of course, absurd, but I believed it all the way through grad school. It wasn't until I actually began student teaching that I realized leaving TFA was the best thing I could have possibly done for my career and for my future students.

    Yes, education in high poverty schools needs a lot of work in this country. And, yes, we need smart people to lead the charge. But TFA recruits with less than 20 hours of teaching experience and no support are not the people to do it. We need to put more energy into strengthening the profession through teacher preparation, professional development, and compensation.

    TFA is a "sham" and needs to be questioned at every turn. I just can't understand how we are still falling for the gimmick. Money and power and press go a long way apparently. Thanks for doing your part to shed light on the issue.

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    1. Sounds like Neha Singhal has a lot of strong opinions about what could or could not have been in her hypothetical classroom. Too bad she did not complete her commitment. And in regards to her comment about "predator" like recruitment of people of color - why would we not want our students of color (who are up against the achievement gap everyday) see teachers of color as models of inspiration? That does not seem predatory, it seems thoughtful.

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    2. Hi - Neha here. Thanks for your comment. I'm actually glad I did not start teaching with TFA because I was not qualified at the time to 1. Teach high school Algebra and 2. Teach high school students. I did not have the content specialization nor was I properly trained in the pedagogical tools needed to support students in their learning. I'm currently in a M.Ed. program to go about becoming a teacher in a way that's fair to my future students and their success. We certainly need more teachers of color, but not to serve the agenda of neoliberal education, privatization, high-stakes testing, etc that TFA perpetuates. Hope this clarifies.

      @KellyDillon1: Thanks so much for your comment. I'm also seeing so clearly now why it's so important that I left TFA to start a graduate program in education. I'd love to hear more about your experiences.

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  5. Dear J Henry,
    Thank you for clarifying how you support CM's.
    I would hope that we can find a way to not even get to that point where you and other PD's are intervening when CM's are reprimanding special education students.

    Unless you have special training for first year CM's teaching SPED, even in a gen edu classroom, this is one placement that should be assigned to those with experience in particular abilities. Some CM's do have personal experience with family members who have special needs, but these are the exception.

    BTV

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    1. Are you aware, with the inclusion laws, how impossible it is to NOT have SPED students in ANY gen. ed. classroom?

      As an FYI, all CMs attend several required sessions at institute and following (but before school kicks off) that target Special Education specifically.

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    2. those "several required sessions" equate to a two hour CS session discussing SPED inclusion. no where near the years of training prior to becoming certified to teach SPED classes or qualified to teach inclusion classes.

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  6. Dear J. Henry,

    In reference to your comments, I believe that it is important for teachers to examine any biases that they may have. In fact you are correct that corps members engage in DCA training sessions. However, these sessions are largely focused on helping mostly affluent and mostly white teachers grapple with the shock of teaching in mostly poor and mostly non-white schools. Ideas of "not casting judgement" are the central focus of these trainings. However, there are no conversations around the impact that socioeconomic factors have on student outcomes regardless of "teacher quality." This has been an overstated fact in the academic literature dating back to the 1960s. The unfortunate aspect of how TFA has chosen to directly ignore and dismiss this issue is evident in the Teaching as Leadership book by Steven Farr (2010). I have listed a few links to this issue and my work on the Academic Impact Model and a conversation that I've had with another corps member below as your support of the organization and its theoretical framework fit within the boilerplate version. Given your dedication to the issue, I trust you will read them.

    In reference to your CM "over disciplining" SPED students, it is obvious that the Academic Impact Model and TAL are so ingrained into your practices that your immediate presumption is that your CM has a negative bias against SPED students. Why is it that you completely disregard that it may be due to the only 18 hours of lead instruction time practice she received during Institute and the 2 hour SPED "training" session. Could it be that she is simply not qualified to teach SPED students? As seen, your first instinct with her and in defense of TFA was to put the focus and blame on her and not the system, not the training (or lack thereof), not the school, the IEP process, the home life, current SPED educational policy, etc. It is easier to propagate an organization that oversimplifies a seriously complex issue because oversimplified solutions make good for organizational fundraising that spends more money on recruiting than it does on training (link also included below).

    My motto?:
    One day all children....will be free from testing, behaviorist classrooms, a society that necessitates and creates a socially stratified economy, free from the chains of historic racism and classism, and those teachers who have less training than a waiter at Cracker Barrel.

    http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2012/02/hyper-accountability_burnout_a.html

    http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2012/02/teach_for_america_corps_member.html

    http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2012/02/teach_for_america_corps_member_1.html

    http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2012/04/deepening_the_debate_over_teac.html

    Jameson

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    1. It sounds like you have a mindset of blame and refuse to accept the idea that things CAN be changed by the proper a) mindset and b) commitment and diligent work ethic.

      To dispute the idea that you can't change things because "[t]his has been an overstated fact in the academic literature dating back to the 1960s" is the kind of thought that impedes success in any field - how much of science and law has been overturned in a few short years of new practice, even after it was previously decades deep in "academic literature?" Hasn't man been wrong before?

      A little bit of HONEST self-reflection for this CM about her attitude towards the SPED students (and maybe for you too) is healthy. It very well MIGHT be that she didn't know how to react to SPED students acting out but it may also have been her own deeply rooted assumptions that maybe she wasn't even aware of (Tatum's "smog," if you will) - all of the training in the world isn't going to help somebody with a deeply rooted mindset (which is obviously why the training might not have impacted you in the way that could have been productive).

      Every teacher has to start somewhere. Looking inside and figuring out what is within your control is not a bad place. I think this is the essence of the start of the TAL model.

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    2. it sounds a bit like you have this notion that happy thoughts are the solution to terrible systematic inequities within our society. in fact, that is the very culture of TFA....ignore the real foundations of inequity and focus on a scapegoat whereby you can market a "better" solution. that is, racism, classism, poverty, etc. aren't the problems....but hey, teachers are and we conveniently have the largest private (and privately funded) army of teachers. not the case? them i'm sure wendy kopp will be giving back 80% of the close to $750,000 she and her husband (the president of KIPP - corporatization of schools via militaristic culture) since it "isn't about the money." you say, "every teacher has to start somewhere." why not in an accredited teacher education program that has a curriculum of more than "big goals" and "happy mindsets" but rather training in pedagogical methods and the experience to understand the impact of the communities culture in the classroom.

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  7. J. Henry I'd say the most alarming point is the fact that you are dumping untrained kids into special education classrooms. The fact that your organization has not been sued for this shocks me, though I suspect if you were in white, middle to upper class schools that, in fact, would have already happened.

    To suggest that any of the commentators want to perpetuate the status quo by regulating poor children to poor education and a poor future misses the point of the program. We want the best education possible for these children (and all children a la John Dewey) so that we can all contribute to an America worthy of the term democracy. Your organization undermines this effort, hiding behind "research" that is dubious at best and sustained by massive federal and local tax revenue as well as huge donations by philanthropists, many of whom argue for market based reform models, models which can't be sustained without massive infusions of capital.

    Setting aside the second rate education TFA delivers, what is further alarming...actually disgusting...is the massive amount of money the people at the top of TFA are raking in, again, at the expense of poor, children of color.

    I'm looking forward to publishing our analysis of 10 years of TFA's tax returns, and I can't wait to see 2010 and 2011...where are those by the way?

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    1. Can you prove this "second rate" education? I think TFA has more numbers for their successes than against.

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    2. Central to your argument is the assumption that somehow traditional track teachers are much more prepared to teach their first year in a Special Education classroom. I believe the literature suggests that first year CMs are just as effective as first year traditional track teachers. Stop setting up TFA as the straw man in your criticism.

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  8. Back in 2008, I did an analysis of TFA in my book: White Chalk Crime: The REAL Reason Schools Fail, and finally others are discovering the hollow nature of this program. On p. 419 I wrote aware that Wendy Kopp had not reported White Chalk Crime despite her immersion in our schools: " There is only one way anyone could be immersed for eighteen years in this system of Education saturated with White Chalk Crime and not detect it in addition to not noticing the incongruity of many of the business practices within Education already cited herein: acceptance of White Chalk Crime. TFA’s failure to rebuke shameful practices or even to simply not discern them casts a shadow on its leadership’s credibility or competence. If Kopp really believes she can change Education by placing talented young graduates in classrooms, particularly in New York City where one must be brain challenged not to know what is going on, she has not done her homework as to who is leading our schools and how they are being led." (Note the picture of three NY teachers describing the atrocities going on in NYC with bags on their heads knowing the fate of anyone who reports White Chalk Crime.)

    I also pointed out: "Then, what attracts EducRAT$ is the two year stint. It is advertised as an opportunity to make a difference, or a stop along the way toward a career in law, medicine, or business. This means a superficial engagement with rootless workers who will not disturb their bountiful system of organized crime – a dream come true for EducRAT$. Since EducRAT$ hinder the rest of us from making a difference in so many schools, this come-on is clearly just that, and most of these people will be out of their hair before they realize they had been used in a GAME of pretense. It is understandable that many of the recruits might be clueless even after they put in their time, as it is easy to attribute limited results to the students’ families or causes beyond the system’s control, but anyone engaged in leading this effort has to have traded a passion for making a difference with a passion for making money or they would have either left this Sodom and Gomorrah system and not looked back, or would have written this book. It is absurd that they interacted with these EducRAT$ for any length of time and failed to see them as the unprincipled operators that they are.

    Glad to see others are finally catching on!

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  9. Thanks so much. There are some great TFA people and there are those that do it for the free masters, leave and act as if they were in the Peace Corps.

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  10. I am a former corps member. I taught in a charter in New Orleans. We never, ever would have dreamed of keeping out any child with special needs. This is a completely false claim and Education Radio should be ashamed of perpetuating it. I still harbor angry feelings TFA after leaving it, but for god's sake, do your research before you say something like that. It pretty much broke my heart to think of my former special education students and the hard work their teachers performed being undermined by your interviewee's falsehoods.

    If you had done your homework, you would know that there's better and more factual information to attack the organization with. Start with the organizations' internal culture, particularly in New Orleans. Note the amount of institutionalized, normalized alcohol use/abuse through TFA-sponsored partying. For example, most of my employee functions, including my initial TFA meet and greet after acceptance, were in bars that TFA paid to rent out. Note the stress load of the corps members, because everyone cracks at some point-- the training program and its structure makes it so they have literally zero time to themselves and it renders some of them ineffective teachers and some of them dependent on alcohol or drugs, some with serious health conditions as your interviewee said. Some are placed in impossible positions designed as a revolving door for special educators because their students are criminals with behavior disorders and ankle bracelets. None are prepared, and as you say, most are decieved during recruitment, but there is way more to this story. Specifically all recruits are guilted into the somewhat colonial fallacy that finishing their allotted time is their responsibility to the underprivileged children they teach, which is sometimes reiterated to them when they are prepared to quit.

    There are good people in this program. They support you as the program itself breaks you down. They serve as mentors, they hold it together for their students, they influence lives, and they stay put, impacting change in their communities. Without these people I would not have survived the experience I had. These people are unfortunately the pawns of the overall program, and we all struggle at the beginning. The organization knows what happened and supported me as I decided to leave the program for reasons involving my own safety. The whole experience was nothing short of life-ruining. But this is not a faithful portrayal of the entire story. I encourage you: Dig deeper.

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    1. This is the same poster as earlier this morning replying to my own post.

      I would like to clarify one point after submitting my first response: When I said employee functions I meant events designed to build the team mentality. And TFA did not always rent out the bar, sometimes it was my charter school. My school also had a small unofficial 'committee' of employees who were designated to determine where and when the teachers were partying one a specific weekend night.

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    2. A few remarks on your comments...their are mixed reports regarding TFA and special education students as well as charter schools and special education students. The treatment is not monolithic, and I do not believe it was the intention of the program to present it that way.

      Fact: Special eduction students should be with individuals certified to teach special education students. In my teacher education program, such certification requires extra hours. The fact that there are TFA member with special ed. students is a violation of IDEA and a lawsuit waiting to happen. Unfortunately, the parents of students in the schools served by TFA don't have the time or in many cases the agency to pursue legal action.

      Fact: Many charters, including KIPP, set expectations and requirements that special education students and often their parents simply cannot meet. They are therefore underrepresented in these and other charter schools.

      Your anger with the organization is quite clear, and the comment "do your homework" betrays/reveals the emotion. The station did their homework via interviews and research analysis. That they did not get to the absolute bottom of the story, as you imply, should not be an indictment but rather further evidence that there are too many problems with the organization to justify directing so many tax dollars towards it.

      The drug/alcohol abuse angle is one I would certainly be interested in learning more about, but I seriously doubt anyone is going to go on the record to discuss it...to whit...your post is anonymous, and I don't blame you for it.

      Help us dig deeper...bring us fellow participants who feel the same way.

      Finally, and sincerely, thank you for your service. I harbor no ill will towards any TFAer who went in to make a difference. Those biding time until grad school or those padding resumes however, are beyond reproach.

      Best,
      philip

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    3. I agree that there is so much to say about TFA that even two programs is not sufficient. The facts, as pointed out by Philip, surrounding special education cannot be ignored. Further, I was a traditionally trained history teacher. However, because I clicked yes to the “are you willing to teach special education” on my TFA application...that was the assignment I was given (originally until some agency on my part to have it switched). No consideration was given to my full licensing and preparation to teach history....just that I was “willing.” While those willing to help can be commended, it is dangerous to assume that a good will equals qualification. I may have the good nature to give aid to someone in need of CPR on the side of the road; but, I’m no expert. TFA presents itself as the expert. My fear is that as TFA is administering “aid,” to students in urban schools (including students with special needs), that they are, or will be, in the way of those truly qualified to help (e.g., fully trained special educators....or paramedics to continue the CPR analogy). How was I qualified to teach special education? During my undergraduate coursework, I was required to take a class on serving students with special needs. But, as Philip points out, those intentional about becoming special education teachers undergo more rigorous training (pedagogical and legal given the legal implications of properly serving students). It is a ludicrous claim to make, by TFA or others, that an individual with good intentions, 18 hours of lead teaching time, and a 2 hour Curriculum Specialist (CS) “session” on special education qualifies someone to teach students with special needs. I submit that if your child needed special attention you would not be comforted by the idea that a well intentioned Harvard grad was doing her best.

      On the note of alcoholism, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’ve spoken with many fellow corps members about their rampant drinking. I think that part of the issue is the stress of the job, the enormous stress added on by TFA’s theoretical framework (Academic Impact Model), and the fact that these corps members are less than a year out of a college life where drinking is mainstay for many. Few have spouses or other responsibilities...so, the method of decompressing, or coping, is sought at the bottom of a bottle. I am glad that you have noticed this problem and I hope you are as equally upset that TFA does not address it, and in your case, may intentionally foster the practice.

      I agree that the mentors (I assume you are referring to your Program Director...PD...or as they are now called, Manager of Teacher Leadership and Development...or MTLD) are pawns. These are individuals who typically just finished their two years as a corps member. Additionally, Corps Member Advisors (CMAs) during Institute carry the same characteristic. Indeed, they are pawns of the larger corporation that is TFA and it is the primal example of the blind leading the blind.

      Jameson

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  11. I feel compelled to respond to these podcasts because I believe it is unfair and unproductive to scapegoat Teach For America for the problems that plague our education system. Time spent berating the program could be used to effectively confront the larger issues that are barring children from receiving an equal education.

    After completing the Teach For America institute in Phoenix during the summer of 2010, I was placed in a multi-intensive, multi- grade high school special education classroom. As a recent political science college graduate, I had received no training which would help me to accommodate the needs and learning styles of these students. Scared, alone, and fearful of my impact on these students, I left the classroom early in the school year. Because my school had no intention of firing me, my resignation doubled as a dismissal from TFA. Not a day goes by that I do not think about those students. This experience led me to pursue a Masters in the Art of Teaching in Chicago.

    As one can see, my experience is very similar to that of Ms. Singhal. However, I am worried that she has simply traded one ideology for another. TFA will not single handedly save our education system and I believe they hold this view as well. It is fair to be critical of the resources they garner and subsequently take away from teacher development. It is fair to question their ability to place untrained individuals in special education classrooms. However, it is unfair, illogical, and meaningless to confront these issues in a way that lacks respect and true introspection. If we continue to throw daggers at one another, we will never move forward. I feel as though the common ground we share, equity for America’s children, was absent in this program. The scholarly contributions by Ira Shor and Barbara Miner were lost amongst the doctrinaire statements. This program was not a fair evaluation of Teach For America. As a pre-service teacher interested in educational policy, it saddens me to witness the reliance on bait and switch tactics.

    Over the past few days, I have received emails from friends and colleagues which contained the link to these podcasts. As an ex-TFA Corp Member, these individuals were curious to hear my opinion as I rarely divulge my past experiences with organization. Eager to listen to the views of a woman in a similar situation, I approached the program with an open mind. However, it took all of my will power to continue listening past the first five minutes due to the divisive nature of the discourse.

    As previous comments have noted, the facts and figures within this program are laced with inaccuracies. Citing the dismissal of DC’s mayor in attempt to prove the district’s distaste of Chancellor Michelle Rhee is an inappropriate use of correlated data to assume causality. Similarly, claiming that the Gates Foundation is a corporation seeking to increase its bottom line is nonsensical. Deciphering the intent of Ms. Singhal and Education Radio was irritating due to the unfair arguments presented.

    Education Radio had a great opportunity to engage in a conversation that critically weighed the pros and cons of Teach for America. Unfortunately, the attempt fell victim to the rhetoric which currently debilitates our political culture. To me, discourse of this nature is dangerous to the education reform movement as it only proliferates contentious and one-sided views. Once again, the social justice lens was manipulated in order to have a conversation at interested stakeholders instead of with them.

    I share the vision that one day all children will receive a fair education. However, I hope that the individuals involved are able to converse in proactive manner that is reflective of this dream.

    Caitlin R.
    Pre-Service Teacher
    University of Chicago, MAT'13
    Urban Teacher Education Program

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    1. Dear Caitlin,

      Thank you for your comments. You made a courageous decision to leave TFA and become traditionally certified to be the best teacher you can be – for you and for your students – and you should be commended for that.

      With regard to your critique – it is difficult to entertain the notion that someone who is sharing their personal experiences with TFA – and often these are incredibly frustrating and traumatic experiences – makes for “divisive” discourse. This is how they experienced TFA, they are merely sharing that, and those experiences need to be heard and honored.

      With regard to the overall show, TFA and other education reform organizations are the ones that are divisive – they are taking actions that require strong responses. There can be no laying out of the pros and cons to TFA. You are right that they will not single handedly impact our education system (and we use “impact” instead of “save” as we don’t believe that they are doing any degree of “saving”) – but they are intimately connected to a vast network of education reformers who collectively are trying their hardest to privatize education and impose increasing standardization which only serves to further inequity (this is a fact –and if you are interested in all of the research that backs that up, we’d be happy to share that). How can a competitive education system (which TFA supports and promotes), resulting in winners and losers, be equitable? We have no interest in trying to be neutral, supportive, or “fair” - in any way of/to the organization (although we are indeed empathetic to the young people who go into TFA not realizing the larger context/motives).


      All of the facts we presented in the show are backed up by research. Where would sugar coating get us? Those driving current education reform polices have absolutely no interest in having a conversation with us, or with anyone in the movement to fight for true equity and access in public education…and we have no interest in compromising our position by trying to maintain some sort of false neutrality in order to talk to them. You suggest that if we continue to throw daggers we will never move forward. Our position is that we are not moving forward in a constructive direction, nor have we been for quite some time and the forces that would keep us on the path we are on are not interested in what we have to say, no matter how nicely we say it. Like many in the growing resistance movement to so called education reform, we feel obligated and compelled to expose the incredibly powerful ideological and monied interests driving current education policies and to disrupt their insidiously deceptive use of social justice rhetoric, false and unfounded justifications, and the blatant exploitation of many peoples need - particularly the most marginalized - for a truly accessible, equitable and liberating education system.

      The powerful people and institutions that are imposing these policies and their resulting misery and reproduction of long-standing oppressions are not doing this to create an education system that will deconstruct the ever increasing plutocratic society we live in, when they are the very benefactors and managers of such a system. The social justice rhetoric they employ to justify their agenda is only intended to convince us of their benevolence and good will so that we will consent to maintaining an oppressive and undemocratic social order that does not serve the interests of most people, especially those they claim to want to "save."

      We recognize that there is no reasoning with tyrants and that begging the powerful to be more reasonable is not a viable pathway to liberation - a naive notion that history has shown does not bring about substantive social change. So, we are more interested in fighting back against these destructive approaches and policies which are doing nothing but furthering inequity and weakening any potential for democracy – that is our only option.

      Deborah Keisch Polin and Tim Scott, Ed Radio Producers

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  12. For more detailed information about the education reform agenda we speak of, check out an article authored by Education Radio producer Tim Scott titled:

    A Nation at Risk to Win the Future: The State of Public Education in the U.S.

    The article is linked here:
    http://www.jceps.com/index.php?pageID=article&articleID=216

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  13. I have been sending my university students to teach for America for many years, well before it became so competitive. I will say this. The university students bring with them energy and enthusiasm, which is important in a classroom. But, the program is really much more for them then it is for the underprivileged kids they serve. There is scant evidence to suggest that TFA makes a difference in teaching aptitudes to the kids. It is a typical "noblese oblige" sincerely well meaning, but flawed model. And it has become way too tied into corporate monies. Its become a Go-To Easy-Virtue clearinghouse for corporations and university students.

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  14. Here's a good idea for a drinking game:

    Have a bunch of peole sit around and listen to a Wendy Kopp speech:

    Every time she says a derivation the word "transform" (i.e. "transformational", "transform", etc.), you have to drink a shot of your favorite hard liquor (tequila, vodka, etc.)

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  15. I think having this critical review of a popular alternative teacher certification program is a absolutely an important conversation to have and necessary to ensure we are constantly doing what is right by students but there are some concerns with this segment.

    Hearing from individuals who are critical of the program and from an individual who decided to leave the program before completing her two year commitment because of her disagreement with the TFA philosophy is one very important part of the conversation. But without seeking out and also having conversation with individuals who completed their TFA commitment and remained in the classroom teaching or went on into careers where they are addressing other factors that contribute to the achievement gap (health care, poverty, social services) this segment looses its credibility, journalistic integrity and ability to provide its listeners will a well rounded collection of the facts and opinions available surrounding the issue.

    I can appreciate the commentators desire to contrast the mainstream and popular rhetoric around liberal education reform but believe in order to properly make a critic, this program must go further. This program must not only build its case using supporters of their perspective and viewpoint but also invite individuals with genuine and informed support for programs like TFA and allow them to be a part of the dialogue. To me this story is unfinished....perhaps there needs to be a part 3?

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  16. Thank you for listening and for your feedback. We believe that our journalistic integrity comes from being incredibly explicit about our critique and biases. We do not purport to be supposedly "netural" on TFA, nor do we want to. All of those we spoke with have incredibly valid concerns of TFA. Yes, we could have spoken with people who support TFA, or with former corps members who go on to do good work (and we are quite clear - in both Part One and Part Two - that we are critique is not focused on individuals who choose to do TFA but with the organization itself) - but as you allude to, these perspectives are quite popular and pervasive in the mainstream media and we were indeed trying to expose another side to this story. The idea of attempting some sort of neutrality is problematic, here, when we are dealing with an organization so enmeshed in corporate education reform and furthering education inequity. Certainly the story is unfinished in that there are many more voices we would like to hear from - and I think many of us at Ed Radio feel this is true of all of our shows - but not in the way you are suggesting, I am afraid!

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    1. I think it's laughable to put "journalistic integrity" in the same paragraph as lines basically admitting your bias. Such lines like "The idea of attempting some sort of neutrality is problematic, here, when we are dealing with an organization so enmeshed in corporate education reform and furthering education inequity" is so problematic because you claim neutrality is impossible based on the assumption that the other side is evil. Please don't besmirch the journalism in such a manner. This is an opinion piece and nothing more.

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  17. Michael, can you define and give examples of "journalistic integrity" according to you?

    Tim Scott

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  18. My granddaughter is going to TFA this year. Before she committed, I had her observe Special Ed, and all other gradesfor half a day. I told her to see how the teacher and the children act and to place herself in the teachers shoes. She been a student now she would be a teacher. She definatly said she would not be able to handle Special Ed. She is coming into TFA with a background of working with homeless children for years in a camp setting. She has also tutored for years and is bilinquel. She knows this will be a be grueling but she wants to do it. We will see.

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