Say NO to $1.5 Million in Public Money to TFA!
Teach for America (TFA) is a tax exempt nonprofit with "reported annual operating surpluses of $35 million, $114 million and $37 million" from 2009 to 2011. In 2010, they received a $50 Million grant from the federal Department of Education, and another $8.3 million funded under the Supporting Effective Educators Development (SEED) program. The government further subsidizes TFA with student loan forbearance and education awards. TFA is also looking to get more public money from state legislatures, including Minnesota!
With the state of Minnesota still facing budget deficits, following years of educational spending cuts, TFA is at the capitol with its hand out. Bills are moving through the Minnesota state legislature that would give Teach for America $1.5 million in public funding (HF 1594 and SF 975). Minnesota School Districts are already required to pay TFA $3,000 to $5,000 dollars for each TFA corp member they hire, in addition to paying their full teacher salary and benefits.
An e-mail was recently sent out by Crystal Brakke, the Director of TFA - Twin Cities. Here is what she was asking her supporters:
PEJAM has also obtained a copy of a letter sent to the Minnesota State Senate leadership, by Mark Bonine, an Associate Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools. Assoc. Supt. Bonine oversees the MPS Office of New Schools which sponsors charter schools and works with TFA. Minneapolis Public Schools have clearly embraced the irrational ideas of TFA and the argument that inexperienced and poorly trained teachers can close the achievement gap.
In this letter, Assoc. Supt. Bonine advocates for TFA funding by claiming, "Minnesota can elevate its education system by attracting, developing, and retaining teachers that consistently matches the quality seen in the world's leading systems." It is truly troubling to see an experienced educator and administrator suggest that someone with five weeks of summer training can walk into a classroom for two years and perform at the levels of teachers in the "world's leading systems." I hope teachers in Finland and Singapore don't read this.
Even TFA alum like Matt Barnum who credit the organization with accomplishing some good, would not agree with the claims made by Bonine and other TFA supporters. Barnum notes that "districts, like the one [he] used to teach in, appear to cycle through corps members every two years, with high turnover among TFA teachers who are in turn replaced by a fresh slate of bushy-tailed, ill-trained corps members." Barnum explains how poorly prepared TFA corp members are to step into the classroom:
"For many corps members, the required five-week summer training “institute” is close to useless. Why? Not, as some have argued, because it’s so short. Rather, it’s because for many of us the training doesn’t come close to simulating what it’s like to be teaching during the real school year. As alumni blogger Gary Rubinstein has pointed out, many institutes’ corps members teach for very little time in front of very few students."
He goes on to describe how useless the on-the-job "professional development" and "coaching" are:
"TFA loves to talk about the coaching of and professional development for its teachers. This sort of talk sounds good to prospective corps members, to districts, to donors, and to the media. Again, I can only draw from own experience and those of others I know, but with few exceptions, TFA’s continued support rarely made me a better teacher."
Teach for America, an organization that began as a way to serve school districts in areas of the country that could not find qualified licensed teachers, has now been in Minnesota since 2009. After a decade of declining enrollment and teacher layoffs, the Minneapolis Public School district is responding to a growing student population by sponsoring charter schools and hiring TFA corp members rather than hiring experienced, licensed teachers. This is the norm for TFA as Stephanie Simon explains:
"The organization that was launched to serve public schools so poor or dysfunctional they couldn't attract qualified teachers now sends fully a third of its recruits to privately run charter schools, many with stellar academic reputations, flush budgets and wealthy donors. TFA also sends its rookies, who typically have just 15 to 20 hours of teaching experience, to districts that have recently laid off scores of more seasoned teachers."
TFA members are overwhelmingly self-proclaimed liberals, but as Andrew Hartman, who teaches history at Illinois State University, points out:
"The history of TFA reveals the ironies of contemporary education reform. In its mission to deliver justice to underprivileged children, TFA and the liberal education reform movement have advanced an agenda that advances conservative attempts to undercut teacher’s unions. More broadly, TFA has been in the vanguard in forming a neoliberal consensus about the role of public education—and the role of public school teachers—in a deeply unequal society."
Bringing in and promoting TFA in Minnesota has not been based on a shortage of licensed teachers. We have a surplus of licensed and experienced teachers. Rather, TFA has cited Minnesota's (specifically Minneapolis') large achievement gap. Ironically, local corporate reformers who are also behind the push for TFA, and public funds to support it, are also the ones who complain the most about the lack of experienced teachers in our schools with the highest need students.
This shift in TFA's argument is not unique to Minnesota. In Chicago, thousands of teachers have been laid off while charter schools and TFA proliferate. The rationale for TFA is now about the quality of teachers. They essentially argue that poorly trained, but young and enthusiastic teachers will better serve our most challenged students.
Professors Julian Vasquez Heilig and Su Jin Jez, in the most thorough survey of research on TFA corp member effectiveness, found "the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well than those of credentialed beginning teachers.”
As Andrew Hartman also explains:
"TFA, suitably representative of the liberal education reform more generally, underwrites, intentionally or not, the conservative assumptions of the education reform movement: that teacher’s unions serve as barriers to quality education; that testing is the best way to assess quality education; that educating poor children is best done by institutionalizing them; that meritocracy is an end-in-itself; that social class is an unimportant variable in education reform; that education policy is best made by evading politics proper; and that faith in public school teachers is misplaced."
This is not just a Minnesota phenomenon. In Mississippi, TFA asked the state legislature for $12 million and ended up getting $6 million. This is in addition to the $3,000 - $5,000 school districts must pay TFA for each corp member, plus their full teacher's salary.
Tom Aswell describes the current effort to get $5 million in funding from Louisiana:
"While Teach for America is going around asking for money from state legislators and local school districts, the organization has quietly been amassing a fortune even as TFA comes under fire from former TFA teachers and the media.
Like a snake trying to swallow its own tail, TFA has begun to devour itself, to feed off its own perceived success to the detriment of those it was formed to help.
Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, himself a TFA alumnus, calls TFA “an incredibly good investment.”
Of course they are. School districts are laying off veteran teachers with years of education and classroom experience in favor of TFA corps members because they are less expensive to hire. Some districts seem to prefer to cycle through ill-trained TFA teachers every two years.
A former TFA teacher claims that the organization’s five-week training model is ineffective, that TFA spends $33 million “doing a poor job teaching corps members to teach.” He describes the TFA training as “not enough depth, not enough breadth, not enough time.”
This is all on top of the millions of dollars funneled into TFA coffers by the billionaires, hedge fund managers, and foundations looking to dismantle our system of public schools. Aswell also lists the exorbitant salaries earned by those running this "non-profit" organization. Wendy Kopp, in her final year as CEO earned $393,600 and Minneapolis local Matthew Kramer was paid $328,100 as TFA President. Kramer is now a co-CEO of TFA. His current salary could not be found.
Improving our system of public education requires dedication, commitment, and experience. Minnesota and other states must invest in teachers who are licensed, fully-trained and committed to teaching as a career.
Teach for America corp members are generally well-intentioned, but the organization is little more than a well-funded front for neo-liberals looking to privatize our public schools. Minnesota must reject the rotating door of cheap, poorly trained labor, that is TFA, and the legislature must vote down the funding bills.