A critique of Teach For America by a former TFAer

An excerpt of an article on TFA by James Boutin:

From my perspective, TFA is, at best, analogous to putting a band-aid on a brain hemorrhage. At worst, it is a racist, staggeringly arrogant organization that profits (both in money and fame) off the poor.

How was that for nicely communicating my feelings? Pretty crappy, huh?

It’s not the TFA corps members I have problems with (although a good many of them personify the organization’s arrogance and lack of respect for the teaching profession); it’s the notion and push behind the endeavor itself. I have nothing but the utmost respect for people who join TFA out of a sincere desire to effect change and teach their hearts out. I just caution them to be prepared for a potential rude awakening. (See Gary Rubinstein’s beautiful post on why he joined TFA, and why it’s no longer needed.)

To the new TFA corps members for the coming year, I wish you all the best, but try to keep an open mind during the propaganda process, I mean, “Institute.”‘

Published in: on February 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How Teach for America Could Have Been Useful – But Wasn’t

Imagine if Wendy Kopp had taken a different tack.

Instead of throwing untrained elite, newby college grads into an inner-city classroom with virtually no connection between what they studied at their university and what they were teaching, with the promise that once they had those 2 years under their belt, they could then get all their college loans paid off and go on to make big bucks coasting on their resume — while having in fact been AT BEST only vaguely successful (in other words, “Teach For Awhile”)

Instead of that:

Recruiting bright young college sophomores and juniors to seriously consider teaching AS A CAREER, and to take courses on educational theory and practice along with whatever subject they are already interested in;

Making sure that they had a full year, post-graduation, of student teaching and observation, as well as intensive grad-school courses that further promote their understanding of teaching as a craft and of how to teach their own chosen subject matter;

Getting them to commit to at least five years in the Title I classroom, not two, since we know that it takes at least three years to begin to become an effective classroom teacher, and it’s bad to have constant teacher turnover, and it’s wasteful to do all this training and have it all be thrown away;

Encouraging these college grads NOT to become derivative traders, mortgage bankers, corporate lawyers, or educational shucksters, but instead, real, practicing teachers and leaders in that profession;

Then we could have said that Wendy Koop had done something positive for the youth of America.

Instead, we have had a colossal con job foisted on our public educational system.

The Cluelessness of Rhee, Kopp and Mathews

Here is an article by Jay Mathews in which he shows how much he tends to worship at the feet of Michelle Rhee (ex-chancellor of DCPS) and Wendy Kopp (founder of Teach for America, who has never taught K-12 at all). He points out many facts which show how their approach is fundamentally bankrupt, but keeps promoting them anyway. For example, most of the supposedly “wonderful” principals appointed by Rhee were anything but — many quit, many were fired, and many of the rest need to be relieved of their duties ASAP.

It’s telling that even Wendy Kopp’s own son sees that TFA is a waste of time and resources:

<<She quotes her son Benjamin, then 8, after he had interviewed her about her life’s work for a school project. His final question was: “If this is such a big problem — you know, kids not having the chance to have a good education — why would you ask people with no experience right out of college to solve it?”>>

I strongly recommend reading the comments by various readers at the end of the article.

If you are unable to read them on your own, let me know.

“The Failure to Address Chronically Disruptive Students”

Excellent post on some of the really pressing problems with student discipline and how this situation affects many TFA teachers. You can find it here. The author points out that it’s only a small minority of the student population that causes problems, but that school administrations (all the way up to superintendents and school boards) of many of our inner-city, low-income school districts absolutely refuse to do anything about it, and hence condemn the rest of the students (and of course the teachers, too) to a school year of almost complete chaos.

The school administrators instead pass the responsibility to the teacher, who is nearly powerless to do anything at all without administrative support.

Published in: on February 6, 2011 at 7:34 pm  Comments (5)  
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Troubling Signs at the WTU

I saw a serious sign of what I think ails the Washington Teachers’ Union when I walked briefly over to the Franciscan Center at 14th and Quincy Streets, NE, not far from my house, where a combined general WTU membership meeting/reception/comedian entertainment/holiday party was taking place this evening.

I think that this sign explains, in part, why the percentage of teachers voting during both rounds of the recent WTU leadership was so low.

The problem?

I saw almost no young white or Asian or Hispanic teachers. And, to be frank, I didn’t even see very many young African-American teachers. Nor much in the way of older white, Asian, or Hispanic teachers, either.

After a not-very-careful look at the heads and faces, I got the feeling that if I had actually stuck around and sat down, the number of white teachers in attendance would have gone up by somewhere between 20% and 100%. (Do a little bit of mental math: if one person comes in, and that makes the number of people in group W increase by 100%, then how many people were in group W before that person arrived?)

I fear that this means that those in attendance at this meeting were not very representative of the rank-and-file teacher corps in DC Public Schools. Younger teachers, be they white, black, Hispanic, or Asian, don’t seem to be stepping up to take leadership roles in the WTU, at least not in Saunders’ slate, which I guess was probably more represented at this meeting (though I don’t know that for a certainty). Perhaps they don’t have the tradition of activism and militancy that a lot of future teachers acquired who grew up and attended college in the 1960’s and 1970s, during the Vietnam and Civil Rights eras? Do they feel that the WTU leadership is out of touch with what they need?

At a lot of DC public and charter schools that I visit, there aren’t very many older black teachers left at all. They have generally retired, and have been replaced by young teachers (and a good fraction of those are TFAers, many of whom have no intention at all of staying in education, and 89% of whom are gone after 3 years). They find, of course, that almost all of the vaunted ‘reforms’ and ‘accountability’ that Michelle Rhee and her acolytes have imposed, simply mean lots of additional demands to perform the impossible, with less and less support. And, once they fail to achieve the impossible, they are then blamed, and are labeled in the media as being part of the problem, just like the veteran teachers that they are replacing. So they burn out… but could really use a union that advocated sanity and didn’t sell out and beg for more whippings in exchange for possibly imaginary pay increases.

It’s clear to me that if the WTU is actually going to be able to represent teachers in a positive and forceful way, so that it can help lead public education away from the clutches of the billionaires who want to take it over, then it needs to start working on its own composition.

Unions in the past that have failed to do this, have generally lost.

Dividing and conquering is a useful tool for a tiny ruling class: look what the British Empire was able to do for a couple of centuries. But it doesn’t work if you are the working mass of the population. United we stand, divided we fall.

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