Thursday, June 20, 2013

Teach for America: What do you mean were not exceptional?!

What do You Mean We are Not Exceptional?

June 14, 2013 was a dark day for Teach for America-Twin Cities and its neo-liberal backers.  It marked the second time in three weeks in Minnesota that TFA was rejected after having demanded that it be treated as the exceptional organization it pretends to be.

On Friday, May 24th, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a higher education bill only after he line-item vetoed $1.5 million earmarked for TFA.  Crystal Brakke, the Executive Director of TFA-Twin Cities, claimed they needed the funding to train additional TFA corps members in the next two years.  Those corps members would have attended a five-week training before being put in front of classrooms full of students with the highest needs.  Of course that same $1.5 million dollars could have provided full two-year scholarships for those same college graduates to get a master's degree in education, including their student teaching, at the University of Minnesota.  I guess a two-year master's degree in education does not produce the same exceptional, transformational teachers that a five-week TFA summer training does?

On June14th, three weeks after the Governor's line-item veto of TFA's request for state money, the Minnesota Board of Teaching voted to discontinue a group license variance to TFA.  They had been granted this group variance for the past four years, but now TFA will actually have to play by the same rules as anyone else seeking a teaching license variance in Minnesota.  Corps members will now have to apply for a variance on an individual basis.  TFA and its supporters cannot believe they are being denied special treatment.  Surely their exceptional, transformational corps members deserve exceptional treatment, right?

Having effectively been told twice that they are not special, TFA leaders and supporters have been left completely dumbfounded and outraged. A number of tweets and quotes show how truly dismayed they are.

The somewhat low key Director of Teach for America - Twin Cities, Crystal Brakke at first responded to a Star Tribune reporter that the outcome was "disheartening."  By the end of the day, however, she was quoting an unknown philosopher and tweeted that "people will always shit on the things they're scared of."

The former Director of TFA - Twin Cities and now Director of MinnCAN, Daniel Sellers, did not hold back or hesitate in showing his contempt for those who failed to recognize the exceptional, transformational abilities he believes all TFA corps members possess.  He was quoted in the Star Tribune saying, "it’s unconscionable that many Board of Teaching members allowed politics and their allegiances to the teachers union to keep highly effective teachers from teaching in high-needs communities."

Brian Sweeney, director of external affairs for Charter School Partners (CSP) was quoted in Minnpost saying, “this is a 'Minnesota Nice' version of union thuggery.”  An MPR reporter quoted him saying, "There was little about what the classroom needs today and a lot about union politics. I think we've seen a coup d'etat today by the unions on Minnesota education policy." 

Minneapolis City Council member, mayoral candidate, and infamous opponent of public schools, Don Samuels said in a press release: "This is just the latest in a series of power-plays in the education debate that has no regard for its effect on students, schools, or the learning environment for our kids."

Finally summarizing the frustration and hurt feelings of the corporate reformers is the editorial board of our local corporate newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  On June 20th, a week after the decision, a Star Tribune's editorial echoed all the claims of TFA greatness, disparaged most teachers, chided the Board of Teaching for being influenced by the "all-powerful Education Minnesota teachers union," and declared colleges of education worthless.  This, as usual, was done by citing no evidence other than one "study" produced by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).  A "study" funded by the usual foundations like Broad and Dell, and locally by MinnCAN.

These are not the comments of bold reformers, but the simple arrogance of corporate reformers.  These comments come from people who use the "fierce urgency of now" as a cover for the fierce recklessness of neoliberalism.  These individuals argue for the use of data, but comfortably and brashly ignore the overwhelming data that exposes their hypocrisy and the destruction they bring to public schools.

Like Teach for America, the NCTQ has actually worked to deprofessionalize teaching and create short cuts to the classroom.  They don't blink at their own hypocrisy.  NCTQ created the "first national alternative to traditional teacher certification" called the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.  Any state that accepted this would grant a teaching license to any applicant that has a "bachelor's degree, complete[s] a background[s] a $500 fee" and passes a computerized exam.  Wayne Au, a professor of education at the University of Washington - Bothell, describes the history NCTQ's "alternative certification" program and its board in the summer 2013 edition of Rethinking Schools.   The organization is a collection of "voucher proponents and advocates for privatizing schools."

The Star Tribune discredits colleges of education, claiming their students are not adequately prepared to face the challenges of the classroom.  They do this using a study that was paid for with money from foundations aimed at privatizing public schools and that recognize a strong teacher voice is their last major hurdle.  It is also a study done by an organization that argues teachers will be ready for the challenges of teaching with just a B.A. degree, passing scores on a standardized test, and $500.00.  This is even worse than TFA.

Daniel Sellers is typical of the neoliberal reformers as he declares completely inexperienced college graduates with five weeks of summer training "highly effective teachers."  Sellers, Sweeney, and Samuels argue our classrooms (students) will suffer because they may not have access to poorly trained and inexperienced TFA corps members.  Charter schools and the public school administrative sellouts may actually have to hire teachers who are actually licensed...maybe even with experience!

The local collection of corporate education deformers will continue to shed their crocodile tears for Minnesota students, while continuing their efforts to weaken teaching programs and dismantle our public schools.  TFA is not only not needed in Minnesota, it has become toxic for our students and students throughout the nation.

This past month has not been a victory for the status quo as the neoliberals would have us believe.  It has been quite the opposite.  There is no "all-powerful" teachers union, but there are true grassroots efforts that include union members working to liberate public schools from the corporate stranglehold.  We must continue to expose the hypocrisies and the true agenda of the neoliberal "reformers," and create truly democratic and socially just public schools.  Let's hope these small victories for public education are the beginning of the end of the corporate dominance of public education.

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller