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Tomorrow, Al-Jazeera America will broadcast a show about Teach for America at 7:30 Eastern, 6:30 Central. TFA does offer a good route for non-traditional teachers to become certified. Unfortunately, the purpose of TFA is not to improve education in our schools, but to bust the teachers' unions. And that in and of itself is a dealbreaker.

Numerous posters in the AJ Stream thread have pointed out how they undermine unions, hurt the quality of education, and further the corporatist cause of cheap labor. Here is one; we post a few more comments below the fold.

Teach for America is wreaking havoc and harm in our Chicago schools. Our most vulnerable children are being taught by novices - essentially experimenting with their pedagogy at our children's expense. Teach for America corp members were guaranteed positions while 2,000 veteran educators were laid off. The collective craft knowledge of these educators thrown out the window to be replaced by temporary and unprepared employees. Wrong on many levels.

A former teacher for TFA is not happy:

I'm a 2011 TFA Alum, and I #ResistTFA because I saw how the organization has been hijacked by big-money donors who want to privatize education. TFA is used to cynically exploit the good intentions of TFA recruits, placing them as temporary teachers in unsustainable "churn and burn" charter schools. The TFA teachers are worked to death for 2 years, and then replaced with a new TFA recruit. TFA has become a $300 million temp agency for charter schools. This constant churn of novice teachers is not good for students, schools, or communities.
Another poster points out how they exist to pad the profits of charter schools:
Teach for America is the engine of the charter profit machine. Without its low wage, high turnover work force feeding charters, there would be few hedgefunds seeking a 39% return on investment via New Market Tax Credits and and foreign investors seeking EB-3 visas because the profit margin just wouldn't exist. 80% of K-12 education is salary/benefits (people) and TFA is a sure-fire way to free up money for profit. Cut the salaries, pad the profit.
In Philadelphia, experienced teachers were laid off for the purpose of hiring cheap labor. The results were a disaster:
I agree with Michelle, the same thing is happening in Philadelphia. Our children deserve experienced teachers. Veteran teachers were laid off and replaced by glorified temp workers with 5 weeks of training. TFA represents itself as a worthwhile charity and is a darling of corporations, but in reality the organization completely destabilize public education in the cities they target. They thrive on crisis and churn. It's their business model.
Chad Sommer, a former TFA teacher, has this to write:
Like law and medicine, teaching requires specialized, graduate school training and state certified credentials. Teaching is not "service work" in the sense of volunteering. By portraying teaching as a volunteer opportunity that anyone can do to "give back to the community", like building a playground or cleaning up a vacant lot, it devalues the profession. Unfortunately, though full of well-intentioned people, Teach For America contributes to this devaluing.

Briefly, Teach For America recruits top students from top universities and young professionals all across the country to commit to teaching in low-income communities for a minimum of two years. A huge component of the recruitment pitch is the “give back” notion. The concept sounded so fantastic to me that I applied to the program, and participated in it, from 2011-2013.

Through my experience, however, I came to the realization that teaching is extremely difficult, and if we want a world-class teaching force in Illinois’ schools, we need to attract dedicated people who are called to make this their career, not a two-year dalliance to assuage a need to “give back”. Though many Teach For America recruits do continue teaching past their two-year commitment, studies show that over 70% of Teach For America recruits quit teaching within five years (the national average is 50%).

The problem with the TFA model is that you simply can't prepare someone to teach in the schools in five weeks. It takes 4 years of specialized training before someone is ready to teach, and even then, it is a challenge when you walk in the first time.

And TFA teachers are not part of a union. They are employed at will, which means that they can be fired at any time at the whim of the employer. TFA teachers must accept the first offer that they get. This means that they might make as little as $25,000 or as much as $50,000 in a year. If they are unfortunate enough to get picked for a $25,000 position, good luck with trying to manage 20 rowdy kids and then trying to figure out how you're going to pay the bills the rest of the time.

Unlike TFA teachers, real teachers are required to be paid a minimum salary, which must be raised every year. Once they have proved themselves in the classroom, they are tenured, an important safeguard against censorship. They are part of a teacher's union, which means that they are paid significantly higher than their TFA counterparts. That is an important safeguard against the excessive corporate salaries we read about in the paper.

I submit that our schools need to deemphasize standard testing and prepare our children for practical skills that will help them function in life. Liberal arts is important. But so are life skills. I submit that our students, when they graduate high school, should:

1. Know how to start a business;
2. Be prepared to enter college;
3. Be ready to join the workforce (and how to organize a union);
4. Know how to create a budget (and stick to it).
5. Know how to take care of their health.

There should be a lot of local control as well. Where I live, farming is an important part of our economy; therefore, our school is offering ag classes. Nursing and teaching might be other skills our school might consider teaching should finances permit since they provide a lot of jobs around here. Michigan schools, however, might offer skills that help prepare the next generation of automakers.

Unfortunately, the results are in. TFA does not deliver on what it promises. It shortchanges our kids, undermines our unions, and is nothing more than a form of corporate welfare dressed in high-minded empty promises.

Originally posted to Stop the Police State! on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 07:40 PM PST.

Also republished by Chicago Kossacks.

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