Tuesday, August 14, 2012

TFA: The Not-So-Subtle Trojan Horse of Corporate "Reformers"

Teach for America, may have started as a stop-gap to supply teachers for school districts that could not find enough licensed teachers, but they quickly became nothing more than the vanguard of the corporate reformers.  TFA Corp members and alumni are actively promoting the corporate neoliberal "reforms" that are designed to privatize our system of public education while trying to lend them credibility by identifying themselves as “teachers.”

It was announced three years ago that Minneapolis was going to hire TFA teachers for hard-to-staff positions.  Despite many licensed teachers in Minnesota looking for a job, TFAers without a license were put into classrooms across the District.  A group of TFA Corp members in Minneapolis have joined the teachers’ union and have simultaneously worked to dismantle core union rights, mainly seniority and tenure.  These hard-earned rights empower teachers to speak up and do what is best for all students.

What may surprise some people is that you don’t need to just look to the classrooms to find Teach for America.  Recent TFA alumni, most only a few years out of college, are being hired as district administrators, building leaders, and we could soon end up with a TFA alum as a Minneapolis School Board member.

Minneapolis is building a teacher evaluation system and attempting to implement what they call “Focused Instruction” across the District (other school districts in the country know it as “Managed Instruction").  It is essentially the local equivalent of the National Common Core State Standards.  It is, no doubt, laying the groundwork for implementing the Common Core and a new testing regime that will be used for the teacher evaluations (more on this in a later post).

Two people leading the implementation of these changes in Minneapolis Public Schools are recent TFA alumni.  The Executive Director of Teacher and Learning graduated from college in 2006 and worked as a TFA teacher for 3 years.  He then work for a couple years at McKinsey and Company (another global corporation that is looking to get its hands on some of the billions that go into public education) before being hired by MPS to implement Focused Instruction and the evaluations of experienced, licensed teachers.

While the information available on the web is sparse, it appears the Director of Instructional Leadership also spent 2 years in the classroom as a TFA corp member.  She then worked another 2 years for TFA, but it is unclear if she was actually working in a classroom.

They have a combined 5 to 7 years of teaching experience between them.   They work directly under our Chief Academic Officer who has 4 years of classroom experience (Not with TFA).  The average teacher in Minneapolis has been in the classroom at least as long as the three of these individuals combined.  TFA alumni will be overseeing the evaluations that will assess the quality of all Minneapolis teachers and imposing a one-size-fits-all curriculum with more standardized tests.

We need teachers who go into the profession with a commitment for the long-term.  Professional, licensed teachers, committed to teaching as a career, need to be respected, supported, and empowered, not micromanaged.  Teaching, working with children, is a career, not a stepping-stone to law school, a corporate job, school administration, or a political career.  Two years in the classroom with minimal training does not make someone an educational expert.  

Posted by: Robert Panning-Miller

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