The Harm Done by TFA – According to its own Alumni

Here is an article which points out the negative impact of Teach for America, as described by two of its own former members. It’s in a magazine called Jacobin. I recommend it highly.

Here are a few quotes:

In stark contrast to the harsh and constant criticism that TFA doles out to its corps members and staff members, much of what the organization has been doing in recent years — creating its own public relations machine — suggests a desire to be above criticism itself. During my tenure on staff, the organization created a national communications team whose job was to get positive press out about TFA and to swiftly address any negative press. My sense was, and still is, that TFA cares more about the public perception of what it is doing than about what it is actually doing to improve educational outcomes and opportunities for low-income students throughout the United States.

For an organization that describes itself as “data-driven,” it is interesting that TFA does not collect data on how their corps members are impacted by their TFA commitments. While working in racially segregated and under-resourced schools, 35 percent of the corps members in this study began professional counseling; 27 percent began taking prescription medications to address depression, anxiety, and trauma; 38 percent experienced increased alcohol consumption and dependency; 42 percent experienced major weight changes; 46 percent experienced strained relationships; and 73 percent experienced physical fatigue, some to the point of requiring medical attention.

After years of uncritical praise, TFA has started receiving less favorable media coverage and more public discontent from alumni. One corps member in your book, Jameson, writes about viewing her time in TFA as “almost a guilty secret.” Why has there been this sort of shift in how TFA is viewed by corps members and the broader public, and how has TFA as an organization handled this uptick in public criticism?

JB

TFA controlled the rhetoric about TFA for the first twenty-three of its twenty-five years. Critique has always been there but only in the last two years has that critique started to come together and find outlets. That was a fundamental aim of our book: providing an outlet for discussion where it was historically absent.

TFA has been forced to include defensive measures to combat negative press. And while any company would likely engage in a public relations campaign, TFA is determined to undermine any and all dissent ranging from nationally syndicated columns to obscure blogs.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. One of the main internal weaknesses of the TFA strategy was the unintended consequence of getting really smart, socially conscious grads who wanted to make a difference and position them to fail by making them believe in the future efficacy of an absurdly insufficient teacher prep program. Once out of the cult of prep and in the classroom, those bright, committed kids would naturally have to ask themselves why they were not making a difference and instead doing so poorly themselves and at work when they were promised that it would all me magical. Being smart and seeing what the real teachers around them, the ones who quite often mentored them did and knew, seeing first hand the reality of the lives of the kids were that their magic was supposed to cure, they found the answer. TFA is a pipe dream that failed due to it’s complete misunderstanding of the operating environment and the actual problems it contains.

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