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

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Astroturf "Reformers" Focused on School Board Elections

Yesterday, the League of Women Voters in Minneapolis hosted a forum for school board candidates running in the upcoming election.  The candidate responses to very generic questions yielded no new information.  The questions in the first half were written by the League of Women Voters followed by questions from the audience.  However, audience questions were "screned" by the moderators.  There were at least nine Minneapolis Public School Teachers who each submitted a number of questions.  Needless to say, none of our questions made it through the screening.

The truly telling part of this event came from the list of sponsors, a who's who list of people wanting to dance on the grave the teachers' union and universal public education.  While not all of the sponsors fit this description, more than half did, most notably the recent arrivals to Minnesota such as Teach for America and MinnCAN.

Teacher members of PEJAM handed out flyers to counter the message of the education "deformers" and to expose their true agendas.  Here is one of our flyers:

Stop the Privatization of our Public Schools:
Minneapolis Public Schools are heading down the path to privatization. Standardized testing, under the guise of accountability, has been used to blame and punish schools and teachers.  The testing regime has been used to label schools as failures.   It is also being used as a justification for creation of a one size-fits-all curriculum. 
Minneapolis Public Schools has begun to implement what it calls “Focused Instruction”.  Like most “reforms,” this is an idea coming in from the outside.  In other districts around the country they call it “Managed Instruction.”  While teachers are told they can determine how they teach (a debatable point), they are told what they must teach.  It is also a practice that involves the implementation of more standardized tests!
We have seen school districts in Chicago, Detroit, and New Orleans dismantled and sold off to private charter management organizations, and business interests.  Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, infamously said Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.”  This was because it gave him and Wall Street, the chance to privatize the schools.  The same destruction of public schools is happening in Detroit and Philadelphia, and ironically, is being justified by the economic collapse of 2008, a disaster created by some of the same corporations and individuals looking to profit from our children’s education.
Some of the organizations sponsoring this forum are no more than astroturf groups and shills for the corporations, billionaires, hedge fund managers, and self-appointed reformers hoping to destroy true public education and benefit from its demise.  Their main target is the teachers union, because teachers are the last line of defense for ALL of our students.
MinnPost’s founder and editor, Joel Kramer, has one son who is the President of Teach for America, a daughter-in-law who works for an organization called Charter School Partners, and another son who runs a charter school in Minneapolis.
MinnCAN came into Minnesota two years ago.  Modeled after it’s parent organization ConnCAN.  It has a staff of three people and millions of dollars.  It is not working to build relationships with parents and the community.  It is focused on lobbying the state government to bring in free-market corporate reforms.  In other words, they are hoping to hasten the privatization of our schools.
Empowering Educators for Equity, is a group made up of Teach for America members and alumni.  They are promoting changes that would weaken the rights of teachers and the teachers’ union, and since most do not stay with the profession, they only help to destabilize our schools.
Minneapolis Public Schools cannot excuse themselves from their responsibility to educate ALL children.  We cannot privatize our schools and leave our students to the whims of unelected charter school boards, or the corporate “reformers.”  Parents, teachers, students, and the community, must work together to build true, democratic, and socially just public schools.  We must have schools that welcome and serve the needs of all students. 

·       For more information on how you can be part of a real education reform movement, go to the websites for the Public Education Justice Alliance of Minnesota (PEJAM):!/groups/101351126592234/

* MinnPost is a local online newspaper that continually prints stories that perpetuate the myths of the neo-liberal corporate agenda, attacking public schools and teachers' unions.  Their article advertising this event really shows their role as a shill for the corporate "reform" agenda.  Find it Here.

Posted By: Rob Panning-Miller