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


Anonymous said...

The NCTQ report on teacher prep programs isn't good enough to line the bottom of a bird cage with. It is nothing more than propaganda, having been based on no valid data whatsoever. The methodology it used was as BOGUS as pretending to be able to review a restaurant by only looking at it's menu online and never setting foot in the place to taste the food or experience the service.

Dan McGuire said...

We need to step up the responses to the these insane editorials in the Strib. It's hard to believe that they keep printing the same anti public school propaganda,

NS said...

1) Charter schools are public schools. Same funding. Same rules. I hate this false dichotomy.

2) A lot of words are expended in this piece without a single link to a single study that supports the fact that there is a difference between traditional and TFA teachers.

Boom - an actual study that shows that a TFA certification is as good, if not better, than a traditional certification.

Another one.

3) I don't see how infusing the profession with more talent, regardless of where it comes from, is in any way deprofessionalizing the work. 60.5% of TFA teachers continue teaching after the two year placement... I don't see that as weakening anything. They. Are. Your. Colleagues. Not your enemies.

Anonymous said...

Charter schools are public schools in that they take public money. Beyond that, charter schools are NOT public schools, and people need to quit saying they are. They have no elected board, they have limited space and therefore do not have to take every student. There are myriad tricks the charters have to exclude kids. They can't handle the special education needs that public schools do, their special education students come back to us in the public schools with their paperwork a complete mess.

Teach For America has been a disaster for public schools. Sure, the kids are great, but the organization is reviled by teachers who have been in the classroom long enough to understand what a school community truly is.

TFA does not infuses the profession with talent? That is some serious sanctimonious snobbery.

Life is full of dichotomies. If people would only step back and take a look at the big picture, they will see that school systems and communities are being destroyed throughout the nation. But don't rely on corporate mainstream media to inform you, because you won't find it there.

Anonymous said...

typo in above post---should read "TFA infuses the profession"

morgan m, said...

NS could you please site your evidence for 65% of TFA teacher remaining in the classroom. Also could you bee more specific as many (in my experience) leave after the 3rd year. I see in the report they only have data to show for the 07-08 corps as far as tracking their allegiance to the profession out into the 3rd year and that was 31% returning in their 3rd year... not so good.

Is the 65% you're referring to off of the TFA website in some secret, unreleased study they did perhaps?

TFA did show that they were better than the Veteran teachers in certain subjects according to the study so kudos but the Memphis Teacher Residency program gains were much more compelling.

Anonymous said...

In this latest in a series of pro TFA editorials in the Star Tribune,, there is some of the typical misinformation presented as fact.

1. The two corps members held up as wounded examples of some perceived injustice may be of color, but they are absolutely the exception to the rule of TFA, which predominately places non-minorities in the classrooms of minority students. To present them as typical is manipulative; however, presenting skewed information IS a typical practice of TFA as an organization. Both young people will have all their student loans forgiven for participating in the program, in addition to their teaching salaries, and the schools pay TFA a finders’ of $3000-5000 for each member. Many more young people who are just as bright commit to the profession, and they are the ones that I believe best serve students due to both their dedication and more formal training and education.

2. The fact that the TFAers were presented jobs without having a certain promise of the variance in place is something that the organization did, not the state, or the board of teaching. It is TFA that was acting in their typically entitled and arrogant manner that is leaving the corps members to obtain an individual variance vs. a group variance. Only TFA was reckless and grossly unfair to all parties involved by promising something they could not deliver. Once again, the manipulation of the organization is displayed when they blame the board of teaching, Education Minnesota, the Governor, and the department of education for something they alone are responsible for doing.

3. The alternative certification routes for new teachers was originally presented as a path for mid-career professionals and is part of an ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) model legislation which is ultimately to work to dismantle public education. Representative Pat Garafalo authored the alternative teacher licensure bill and he is a member of ALEC.

I am glad that the obstacles are in place to slow the forces of TFA, which ultimately is used to privatize public education. We need the state to save equitable public education, and steer clear of the pressure and private interests that work within TFA. Finally, shame on TFA for using these young corps members to carry out the organization’s hidden agenda under the pretense of helping the most vulnerable students. The editorial shows that the organization does not act in good faith and I hope that the corps members are not even given individual variances as a means to sever the uneasy partnership that has resulted from TFA trying to redesign and ultimately privatize education for the profit of their select peers. I hope that Dean Quam, President Kaler, and the U of MN’s Board of Reagents will use the information available to them from ALEC exposed, and specifically the dean of education at Madison, Julie Underwood, to gain a true understanding of the true forces at work in education reform and to then make the ethical decision to avoid aiding these forces. If Dean Quam doesn't think education privatization is a mission of ALEC, she should watch this: I hope that Dean Quam gets in contact with Julie Underwood, Dean of Education to discuss if she believes opening the door to TFA at the U of MN is a good idea. Dean Quam and reach Dean Underwood here:

Anonymous said...

You really have to wonder about the Tennessee report that NS posted a link to in the above comments. Kevin Huffman is Commissioner of Education in Tennessee and coincidentally: "Huffman joined the senior management of Teach For America in 2000, serving as the general counsel, the senior vice president of growth strategy and development, and the executive vice president of public affairs during more than a decade with the organization. As head of growth strategy and development, he grew Teach For America's annual revenue from $11 million to over $110 million and managed the opening of 14 new regional sites"

Ashley said...

Corporate dominance over public schools and education is going to be there. Let's hope otherwise.

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