The article below highlights concerns with Teach For America (TFA) and speaks to many of the concerns regarding Teach First NZ:
“Have you ever found yourself trapped in the insufferable position of having to tolerate a Teach For America true believer relentlessly bombarding you with justifications for Teach For America’s placement atop the corporate org chart of educational excellence?
Teach For America is a $300 million “non-profit” organization that executes a highly sophisticated integrated marketing communications strategy that includes traditional and digital advertising, a wide range of experiential and special event initiatives, and plenty of public and media relations.
With millions spent on corporate communications, it’s to be expected that Teach For America has crafted a concise list of focus-group tested talking points. With discipline matched only by GOP pundits, Teach For America’s “brand evangelists” (from the corporate communications team all the way down to the on-campus recruitment interns) stay “on message” by relentlessly repeating the same lines. The only problem? Many are deceptive at best, while others are downright false.
Here are some suggested replies for eight of Teach For America’s most tried arguments.
1. When a Teach For America supporter says: ”Teach For America might not be the answer, but it’s a part of the solution.”
This is how you might respond: To overcome the challenges associated with educational inequity, Teach For America’s standard of training would require it to be vastly superior to any school of education or alternative route – not less. Corps members would need the ability to deconstruct their own privilege, fully understand their own role in historically oppressed communities, and develop strong relationships with true veteran teachers (not Teach For America corps members who only taught 2 or 3 years). Unfortunately, with only a few weeks of training, and often zero student-teaching hours within the placement community or assigned grade, Teach For America corps members receive nothing close to the unparalleled training that would be required to systemically reduce educational inequity. In all likelihood, by providing the least prepared teachers to the students with the greatest needs, Teach For America corps members may be doing more harm than good.
2. When a Teach For America supporter says: “Teach For America corps members are more effective teachers. The Mathematica study shows that Teach For America corps members produce gains equal to 2.6 extra months of learning.”
This is how you might respond: This is how you might respond: First, there is no such thing as a test that measures months of learning. That would mean all students learn at the same pace. As any parent or teacher knows, that’s not true. In fact, the “gain” was just .07 standard deviations (miniscule in statistics). By comparison, reducing class size can increase learning by .20 standard deviations (3x more effective). Second, the study only included Teach For America secondary math teachers (136 of them), but claims that this is true for all Teach For America corps members regardless of whether they teach secondary math or not. In most communities, the majority of Teach For America corps members teach elementary, not secondary. Therefore, the miniscule test score gains in this study do not apply to the vast majority of Teach For America corps members. Using the Mathematica study to imply that all Teach For America corps members are more effective than other teachers is patently deceptive. (This entry was edited on 3/19/2014 to make a correction in response to a critiqued levied by Teach For America)
For more information on the Mathematica study check out:
This is how you might respond: School districts run by politicians who are pushing for the corporate takeover of public education sign contracts with Teach For America to hire Teach For America corps members each year regardless of whether there is a qualified teacher shortage in the region or not. Chicago is a perfect example. In 2013, after closing 49 schools and laying off 850 teachers and staff because of “budget concerns”, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s hand-picked school board authorized an increase of 325 new Teach For America corps members at a cost to Chicago taxpayers of $1.6 million in addition to the salaries that the schools will pay Teach For America corps members. Teach For America corps members are now in direct competition with displaced teachers for available jobs at district schools and charter schools. Similar situations have occurred across the country includingBoston, New Orleans, and Newark.
4. When a Teach For America supporter says: “Teach For America doesn’t take jobs from other teachers. Teach For America just provides teachers for subject areas that have teacher shortages.”
This is how you might respond: Teach For America’s school district contracts make clear that Teach For America teachers are to be considered for all open teaching positions in a district, not just hard to staff subject areas. Teach For America’s contract with Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Public School System explicitly states, “Teach For America Teachers will be hired by School District for vacancies across the full range of grades and subject matters and not restricted or limited to so-called ‘critical’ or ‘shortage’ subjects or grade level vacancies.”
5. When a Teach For America supporter says: “One third (33%) of Teach For America corps member alumni are still teaching.”
This is how you might respond: Teach For America’s data comes from their annual alumni survey. Unfortunately, Teach For America won’t provide that survey data to outside researchers to verify their claims. However, peer-reviewed research studies show that roughly only 20% of Teach For America corps members are still teaching anywhere after five years (the national average is approximately 50%).
6. When a Teach For America supporter says: “Two-thirds of Teach For America alumni remain in education”
This is how you might respond: Teach For America’s data comes from their annual alumni survey. Unfortunately, Teach For America won’t provide that survey data to outside researchers to verify their claims. However, it is widely accepted that many Teach For America alumni, including those who only taught for two or three years, go on to become principals at privately managed charter schools and run school districts. This begs the question, “Are novice teachers with 2-3 years experience really qualified to be running schools and districts?”
This is how you might respond: In districts across the country, pro-business politicians are closing down public schools and replacing them with privately managed charter schools. Many recent court decisions have concluded that charter schools are not public schools even though they receive public money. A public entity is accountable to the public. A private enterprise is accountable to its board of directors and shareholders. Therefore, as public schools are closed and replaced by privately managed charter schools, the public school system is becoming privatized.
Teach For America’s role in this privatization agenda is by providing corps members to teach at the newly opened charter schools for wages that are often well below the first-year salary of local public school teachers. Recent documents revealed that many charter school management organizations are so dependent on Teach For America to provide them cheap labor that charter managers are reluctant to open new schools without Teach For America.
For more information on Teach For America’s connections to other agents in the privatization and corporate takeover of public education, read the report Mapping the Terrain: Teach For America, Charter School Reform, and Corporate Sponsorship by Teach For America alums, Kerry Ketchmar and Beth Sondel.
8. When a Teach For America supporter says: “Teach For America corps members will now have one year of training.”
This is how you might respond: This is a step in the right direction, but no details have emerged. Furthermore, it is being launched as a pilot program and will most likely not include all corps members. Therefore, Teach For America will still send thousands of the least prepared teachers into classrooms with children who have the greatest needs.
For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on Teach For America click here.
NZ and England have Teach First. The USA has Teach For America (TFA). There are Teach For All schemes worldwide. So are the schemes any good for the trainees and, more importantly, for the students they teach?
A little background: The schemes give recruits little to no training and then put them into schools to teach. The recruits are mentored in the job and agree to stay for 2 years. They are usually put into low income area schools and they are there, according to TFA literature, to address inequality and improve the lot of poorer students.
There is a mountain of literature out there from Teach For All explaining why they believe the scheme to be a good thing. But since many are opposed to TFA, I want to consider instead, the arguments against the programmes.
There is an argument that the scheme is there only to feed cheap labour into schools. The low starting wages due to the teachers being unqualified during their 2 year initial training allows schools to reduce their costs by employing teaching staff at unqualified teacher pay scales. As a result, the scheme makes the untrained more financially attractive compared with the more expensive but trained teacher. This can be particularly attractive to schools that are run as businesses, such as charter schools.
Another issue that has been raised in the high turnover of trainees, with a much lower proportion staying in the profession than those who are trained via a traditional university course and school placements. For the Teach First proponents the high turnover is not an issue, since the scheme actively promotes itself as a stepping stone for graduates into other fields rather than a way to enter a life-long job in teaching, and gaining long-term experience and a deeper knowledge of pedagogy does not seem to be a focus. However, the high turnover and low retention of these trainees means students in the target schools (poorer districts) are more likely to have a succession of new and untrained teachers.
Former TFA recruit, Chad Sommer, highlights the issue of job security:
“A fellow TFA corps member in Chicago who worked at a charter school told me that she met with her principal each Friday to find out if she should bother coming back to work the following Monday. Another told me that his principal explicitly told him that she knew he would only be with her school for two years, so she was going to work him to death. And when he left after his TFA commitment, she would just replace him with a new TFA recruit. Churn and burn is the business model for these schools, and TFA provides a continuous supply of naively idealistic workers who have no choice but to accept their lot…
By driving down teacher salaries and weakening workplace protections, TFA has a corrosive effect on the teaching profession. But behind TFA’s role as a feeder system for charter schools is a hypocrisy that’s especially galling. Source.
Chad Sommer goes on to say:
Considering the domineering corporate influence on TFA, I would suggest that TFA has become an inverted labor union. Traditional labor unions work to promote the interests of the working people who comprise them by collectively bargaining for higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions. Through its partnerships with charter schools and its mandate that corps members take the first job they’re offered, TFA is lowering wages, reducing benefits and worsening the working conditions of teachers. It is increasingly clear that the mission of the corporate class is to destroy teachers unions and remake the teaching profession into a temporary, low paying job. Source.
Not all students are happy with untrained teachers and the high turnover, and some find it patronising that poorer and mainly non-white students are deemed to need ‘rescuing’ by predominantly white, middle and upper class graduates.
That’s not to say the recruits’ intentions are not well meant, but Rachael Smith puts it very eloquently here where she condemns those that come into “the ghetto” as would-be saviours of the poor yet are “only seen for two years because we are a stepping stone.”
Interestingly, it has been incredibly tricky to find out what the students themselves think. Thier voices, online at least, are drowned out by the adult voices for and against the scheme, and maybe that in itself is rather worrying.
If you are a student who has had a TFA teacher, I would love to hear from you (both positive and negative experiences).
What do traditionally trained teachers think?
Kate Osgood caused quite a stir when she wrote her open letter to TFA recruits and followed up with further questions on the effectiveness (and motives) of TFA, noting that
“Teach for America is not about creating and supplying the teachers my students need. When an organization spends more on recruitment, PR, and lobbying than it does on training recruits, you know that the kids are not the focus.”
She concludes that:
“My students need so much more than what Teach for America can provide. The injustice of placing poorly-trained, uncertified novices in our neediest classrooms is frankly, unacceptable. “
This blogger explains why he feels TFA is the wrong route to teaching, saying he is “not here to destroy or take down TFA. I simply do not support their approach.” He believes that in ignoring the root of the issues – namely poverty – TFA and the like are just papering over the cracks and allowing the status quo to continue.
What do the TF/TFA recruits themselves think?
Some former TFA recruits have struggled with their place in the scheme of things. One notes:
“The educational and cultural imperialism that my fellow Corps Members and I were perpetrating was not lost on me nor on many of my peers. It was an inconvenient truth that we talked about over drinks and dinner when we returned to our neighborhoods at night. We maintained a belief, however, that despite our temporary teacher status and (in my case) my permanent Northern whiteness, the good that we did for our students outweighed the harm.” Source.
Another recruit, who left the scheme, says:
“I sat through a workshop at a TFA Professional Development Saturday last November designed to help solve management issues, and I was stunned by the sense of despair that permeated the room. In a group of perhaps twenty corps members, everyone was on the verge of giving up. And everyone gave the same reasons: “I stand there, and I talk, and then I yell, and then I beg, and then I threaten, and still no one has heard a word I’ve said. It’s like I’m invisible. I might as well not be there.” Source
The first batch of Kiwi TF recruits is still going through the training, and so there is no post-experience reflection out there yet, but it will be interesting to follow developments over the coming years and see whether the scheme fares any better here, on reflection, than it has elsewhere.
I would love to hear from anyone who has been through TFA in any country, so that I can better understand the pros and cons of this scheme.
As it stands, I don’t see that it’s a valid way to improve the education system and lift it to a higher, better-trained status with very knowledgeable and dedicated staff. Quite the opposite, in fact.
4% of Chicago’s teachers sent packing just like that.
Why? Budget cuts, they said. They can’t afford to pay the teachers.
Swap experience out for cheap labour
At the same time as this happened, Chicago’s Board of Education voted to increase its payment to Teach For America (TFA) from $600,000 to nearly $1.6 million, and to add up to 325 new TFA recruits…
So let’s get this right. They lay off over 2000 qualified teachers and aim to replace them with guys who had 6 weeks’ training and then are sent into the classroom full time. These ‘teachers’ commit only to 1 or 2 years in the classroom and almost universally leave the classroom after that and go on to more highly paid work. Indeed TFA promotes itself as a stepping stone to other, far grander careers.
Nice to know they respect the job of teaching so much.
Lifelong teachers, people committed to honing and improving their teaching skills mean nothing to reformers like this. The kids mean nothing, either. Teaching is simply a way for new grads to improve their CVs and for reformers to make $$$$$.
How does the impact Aotearoa New Zealand?
Kiwis beware – we have Teach First NZ, a similar programme.
New grads get a 6 week programme and then are sent into schools to start work. And note they are only sent into low decile schools, not into schools where children of those promoting the programme are studying. Funny that.
The argument that TFA, TFNZ and other incarnations worldwide are needed to fill gaps where there are not enough teachers doesn’t wash. In NZ we have trained teachers searching for non-existent jobs. In Chicago and elsewhere they are laying of veteran teachers to take on TFAers.
It’s not about filling a gap. It’s about undermining teaching as a profession and crippling the unions so there is no collective voice.
A long and winding but well-planned path…
Kiwi education is similarly at the hands of those determined to undermine our schools and teachers at every turn.
It’s only a matter of time until this is happening here, too. Indeed we are on track already.
Kiwis need to be aware that this is the goal of reforms that start slowly and creep, creep, creep until before you know it the unions are smashed, teachers are being laid off and replaced with short-term, expendable staff, and the reformers move in with their testing and money-making and our children have ceased to be students but have become a commodity.
It sounds dramatic, even fanciful, but if you spend even an hour looking at what is happening in the USA and England, you will see, this is a well trodden and well-planned path.
We must be committed to stopping it in its tracks before it’s too late.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/oct/29/social-mobility-teach-first-programme (read the comments below, too)
And the students are not always impressed, either…
Poet Rachel Smith, 18, is a senior and a member of Epic Sound, the Kenwood Academy Slam Poetry Team. This is her second year participating in Louder Than a Bomb.
Hallelujah the Saviors are Here is a condemnation of teachers who come to “the inner city” without becoming a true member of the community.
You can hear it here, performed by Rachel, herself.
And for more on ‘saviour teachers’ in the USA, read here: Why Teach For America can’t recruit in my classroom.
Or if you would like something more local, this is the Kiwi version, teachers trained in 6 weeks and then sent into schools in poorer areas: Teach First NZ
Are they better for the recruit than for the students?
Or are they a good idea?