Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Teach For Awhile

Diane Ravitch, currently recovering from knee surgery and complications, posted this to her blog. It's written by a Teach for America alum, who went on to continue as a teacher and still is.

I’m ashamed of doing TFA and I was a '96 Corps Member. I don’t put TFA on my resume or fess up to it unless directly asked, because I value my reputation as a dedicated, knowledgeable, lifelong educator. I have spent 18 years watching Corps Members come and go.

So many things have disappointed me about TFA over the years, but my recent experiences as an instructor in their Johns Hopkins University Masters program left me feeling that there is no hope for this organization to regain its moral compass. While preaching the power of high expectations, TFAers leave JHU with artificially inflated GPAs and a masters degree that they do NOT deserve. They have done a fraction of the work that other grad students in similar programs in the School of Education are required to complete, with virtually no expectations as to the quality or timeliness of their assignments. The courses are created by Laureate Education and the professors are almost all TFA alums, some of whom have as few as 5 years experience and manage to teach 5 graduate level TFA sections while working for Baltimore City Schools full-time as well.

I keep hoping that someone will write an article about this part of the TFA attempt to convince the world that corps members are the smartest and hardest working teachers around, especially now that they have expanded this rigorous program, that was so carefully crafted to bring about transformational teaching, to several other regions. Of course nobody wants to talk about these things because that MS Ed degree is pretty much a jobs program for the alums that are “teaching” the 85+ sections of TFA-only classes.

If I were a student at Hopkins, I would be livid that other grad students can submit all assignments as late as they want (with strict limits on the amount of points that can be deducted) and resubmit every assignment to ensure that they can get a better grade. If I were a parent of a student in a public school, I would be outraged that my child’s teacher could plagiarize graduate work with impunity while standing in a classroom lecturing students about integrity and perseverance.
The comments include this from another TFA alum:
Too many involved in education policy are former corps members with only 2 years of teaching, thinking that experience makes them experts entitled to reshape the profession and public education in ways that do not serve the vast majority of our students.
And this:
So how do you stop kids from drinking the TFA koolaid? How do you stop them from turning down a job in this economy and the perks that come with it (like guaranteed loan elimination, reduced housing costs, an unearned Master’s degree)?

When will the kids graduating college realize that Teach For Awhile is using them to privatize education, bust unions, demoralize, villainize, and ruin teachers’ careers, and victimize over and over again the very children they purport to “save” and make millions/billions off their backs? Maybe it was noble 20 to 15 years ago to do a stint at TFA and move on, but these days the mission is so twisted and evil.... Perhaps there should be a grassroots effort to stop people from entering TFA. If there are no worker drones, there is no more organization. How do we organize that effort?
TFA is one of those things that sounds like a good idea, and may have been a good idea at the start when there was a shortage of qualified teachers, but it exists in a context and has been taken advantage of by larger economic forces. (Its founders, one could argue, weren't unhappy about being taken advantage of, since that's where the money is).

When "free" labor is supplied it can't help but undermine paid labor. I've seen it with AmeriCorps wiping out entry-level jobs in nonprofit organizations as well. Possibly no one intends it, but that's the effect.


Kolean Pitner said...

Ouch! My son just completed at two year TFA assignment in Memphis,TN. It definately is not a perfect program, but to suggest that organization and the work these young teachers do is evil is a cheap shot. His experience with the masters programs was that the programs themselves were very weak, not that the TFA students did not earn their masters degree.

Daughter Number Three said...

Kolean, I agree the word "evil" is too strong and not one I would generally use. It's not helpful. I apologize.

I included that person's quote because of her/his general point about the trap that young graduates are in, coming out of school in a down economy with few options. I fear the day when Daughter Number Three-Point-One will face that decision.