Wednesday, August 15, 2012

TFA: The Not-So-Subtle Trojan Horse of Corporate “Reformers,” Part II

It Is Not a Conspiracy When They Admit It.

The last post about TFA alumni in administrative positions and Corps members in the classrooms here in Minneapolis Public Schools appears to have caught the attention of local TFA supporters.  The general reaction is shock.  They are amazed that anyone could question the intentions of the ambitious young recruits to TFA.

Repubulican Representative Pat Garofalo, chair of the House Education and Finance Committee tweeted:

“StatusQuo/Teacher's union in pathetic effort 2 demonize college grads who focus on SocialJustice + EducationalEquality

A former Minneapolis School Board member, who is now involved in charter school organizations and a number of anti-teacher union groups, began a long series of posts on a Facebook page with this charge:

When bright, gifted, young people committed to social justice and educational equity dedicate themselves to pursuing better schools - who could assail that?

Teacher unionists of course...”

A current TFA teacher responded to the post with, “I just think that PEJAM post is hysterically hysterical,” ”Like, I laughed out loud.,” an ultimately referred to the comments as “conspiracy theories.”

Even a long-time teacher colleague who agreed with the questions I raised felt the need to add, “these TFA alumni will not/do not have the authority that [Rob] seems to suggest they have…”

Many of the people who were upset with the last post seem to confuse my criticism of the organization and some of its most active members with many of well intended recent college graduates who believe they are making the world better.  Some of those who attacked the post as outrageous believe the free market does nothing but good, and they are part of the effort to privatize our public schools.

Calling out TFA as the vanguard of the corporate reformers is not exactly a radical statement.  It doesn’t really expose much of a “conspiracy theory” either.  Daniel Sellers, the Executive Director of Teach For America – Twin Cities, openly admits the organizations long-term goal is “is to be the talent pipeline for education reform in Minnesota,” because “the ultimate solution resides beyond the individual classroom.”

As part of a Civic Caucus on July 11, 2011, Sellers and another TFA leader, Sarah Kemper, outlined the role of TFA in influencing public policy.

Teach for America can't solve the nation's education problem by pumping 10,000 new teachers into the system, the speakers said. The ultimate solution resides beyond the individual classroom, but will likely stem from the longer-term influence of the TFA alumni. The program boasts among its former corps members many education leaders including 400 principals, 15 superintendents (in Washington, DC, Newark, New Orleans, Tennessee, and elsewhere), and 12 elected officials and policy makers.

"In communities where we have seen the needle move," Sellers said, "TFA alums have had an impact." Their immediate goal in Minnesota is to provide students with a talented teacher, who is energetic, excited about getting kids to achieve big goals and not jaded by the "compliance culture" and the low expectations so often entrenched in the school system. In the long run however, TFA - Twin Cities' goal is to be the talent pipeline for education reform in Minnesota.  

What kind of reforms can we expect from TFA alumni?  We can look at the “reforms” of Michelle Rhee or the vast number of TFA alumni now running charters schools.

We can also look to the funders of Teach for America.  The top three are, not surprisingly, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Trust.  Also in among the top 20 financial backers are:

The Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Inc.
The Wal-Mart Foundation, Inc.
Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation
The J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation
GE Foundation

Ironically, this list of funders can be found on a site called the ERIN Project.  This "impartial" project is funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which is also listed as a funder of Teach for America.  When you look at Laura and John Arnold Foundation website, it describes its goals for education which have “four major levers for change:” “Efficient Markets,” “Human Capital,” “Learning Systems,” and “Performance Management.”  Those are terms for corporations not education, and they seem to have missed the section on social justice.

These organizations are supporting TFA because they believe it will help them to promote their corporate reforms in education.  This means TFA is part of the effort to privatize our public schools and impose a competitive, free market system for our students, whether the recruits realize it or not.  And competition, by definition, always creates winners and losers.

At this point, it may seem we have moved far from those TFA Corp members and alumni working in Minneapolis Public Schools.  They do not operate in isolation, however.  No matter their motivation, they are part of an organization that aims to implement educational changes that will make our schools more segregated and less socially just.

To point out the damage wrought by TFA is not a defense of the status quo.  Our schools do have real problems with racial and social justice, but the free market will not fix that.  Why would the corporations, banks, and billionaire philanthropists that support TFA be suddenly interested in things like justice and human rights in education. Walmart, which suppresses workers' right to organize and bargain collectively, and promotes the creation of sweatshops around the globe, they suddenly care about poor inner city kids and kids of color?  Bank of America and J.P. Morgan, major contributors to the recent economic collapse due to fraudulent or at least questionable practices, they care deeply about all children?

If Teach For America is truly working to close the achievement gap and create socially/racially just schools.  They have some surprising financial supporters.  

Representative Garofalo, you are welcome to tweet this as well. 

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

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