I am, I’m asking you to quit.*

I am white.  I am female.  I was educated at a prestigious university, which included a minor in education.  In essence, I am riddled with privilege.  Do I belong in a classroom in a community of color to which I have no connection and of which I have no knowledge?  Absolutely not. Especially not after minimal training and no commitment to being there long term.  And neither should the countless Teach For America (TFA) corps members ‘teaching’ across the country, some of whom are my friends and peers.  I have tried broaching this subject with various people in the past, and am almost always met with resistance and anger, and for those who are close with someone who has done TFA, an edge of defensiveness.  How could I dare purport that all of these altruistic college graduates who are “giving up” two years of their precious time to teach low-income majority black and brown students need to stop what they’re doing immediately?   In response, I challenge you to look more closely.

Can you think of any skilled professions in which it would be safe to employ individuals with only a handful of weeks of training?  Would you want a nurse who had been hastily trained to be caring for your health and well being?  Would you want a lawyer with such little experience to defend you?  Would you want a poorly trained mechanic working on your car? Even if any of these people had been college-educated?  So why do so many people think it is okay to entrust the education of our nation’s children to college graduates with so little training and experience? Do we believe fundamentally that teaching requires very little skill and commitment?  I do not care where you received your degree, if you don’t have any real training in the realm of teaching, and no commitment to sticking around in order to become a good teacher, you simply do not belong in a classroom.  It is not safe.

So, ironically, this graphic comes from a NY Times article entitled “Why Teach for America” that places TFA in a positive light. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want any of these people teaching my (future) children.

But, you say, aren’t these educated recent grads better than nothing?  Probably not, but that’s another conversation because we’re not dealing with nothing.  TFA is systematically pushing out certified teachers with years of experience in order to place their own recruits.  In listening to a story from a student who experienced the intense educational changes that occurred in post-Katrina New Orleans, I wanted to close my ears, to unlisten.  The teachers she had known for years before Katrina, before undergoing a deeply traumatic experience, were gone when she returned, and not by choice.  New Orleans teachers recently won a law suit against the school district that had gone back on their promise to place teachers back into their former classrooms.  Many of these veteran teachers were from New Orleans and had close relationships with their students and their families and their communities.  Instead of returning to those schools and communities, they were replaced with (mostly) white TFA recruits, some of whom openly admitted to the fact that they were just doing it for their resume and did not care at all about their students. Worse, they were at times overtly racist.  By the end of the first school year back nearly half of the students originally in the class had been removed for small infractions and quite often ended up in the juvenile justice system.

Still, there seems to be this argument that TFA is filling a much needed gap in teachers.  That statement is false.  It may have been true when Wendy Kopp created the organization, but it is no longer true today.  That is not to say that there are no districts that have a hard time staffing schools.  But picture this.  Instead of spending millions to recruit, train and place privileged college graduates into classrooms where there is little to no cultural overlap between them and their students, why don’t we spend that money on a) properly funding schools, b) recruiting folks from within communities in need of future teachers and providing the financial and educational support necessary for them to become members of the profession, and c) attracting teachers by offering a good work environment and adequate pay?  Where is that organization?

To those that would suggest we combine our efforts to make a better TFA, I’d like to stop you there.  A better TFA is not possible.  And we are not working towards the same goals.  The basic premise is in and of itself deeply problematic.  Why would I want to spend time and energy restructuring a poorly imagined poorly operated organization that is entrenched in white saviorism and is currently at the forefront of the privatization of education?  Why on earth would I want to do that?  Tear. It. Down.  No amount of good intention can make up for the damage TFA is doing to the public education system.

And I, unlike other folks who have written on the topic, will not give recruits and corps members an easy way out.  For those considering TFA, if you have no intention of teaching after your two years are up, then you should never start in the first place.  These students do not exist to pad your resume.  To those who are currently working for TFA, regardless of whether or not you feel you can make a difference, you are still exercising your privilege and contributing to the deprofessionalization of teaching.  Worse, you are keeping experienced, fully certified teachers from your students.  I will never tell you not to teach.  In fact, I will encourage it. I will simply ask that you learn how to teach first.  I will ask that you respect your students enough to be as prepared as humanly possible before you take their education into your hands.  Because it is precious.  And they deserve more.  Period.  Undertrained teacher after undertrained teacher in an underfunded school will only lead to further educational inequity.  Don’t argue that because you plan to be a teacher long term it is okay for you to do TFA.  You are still acting as a part of an organization that is trying to destroy the very profession.  Either way, I am asking you to quit.

* Yes, this is partially directed towards recruits and corps members.  With any luck, they are the ones that I can reach, that I can talk to.  They are my peers.  So please, message me, comment, etc.  I do ask that you try to do so in a way that is constructive and respectful.  I understand you may be angry.  I am angry, too, and these conversations are hard.  But I will try my best to really hear and respond to everything that is said.


72 thoughts on “I am, I’m asking you to quit.*

  1. Thank you for writing this. It needed to be said. I particularly liked this part:

    “I do not care where you received your degree, if you don’t have any real training in the realm of teaching, and no commitment to sticking around in order to become a good teacher, you simply do not belong in a classroom. It is not safe.”

    My question to you is this: what do you say to those who entered via TFA or other alternative training programs who *do* stay and make a lifelong career of teaching? Or who intend to?

    • Hi Jenna,

      Thank you so much for your appreciation, and for asking such a great question! I would ask them to think critically about why they chose to pursue teaching through TFA or an alternative teaching program instead of a graduate teaching program. I understand that a lot of people are not aware when they enter one of these programs that these are the very organizations responsible for deprofessionalizing teaching, but if you are aware of that, it seems counter intuitive to me that if you want to pursue teaching as a profession that you would do so through these routes. I was lucky enough to have education professors who helped me work through these issues well before I would have even applied to something like TFA. It definitely crossed my mind, but they were willing to push me to understand that I am not special, or an exception to the rule. TFA does not support good teaching, no matter how committed the corps member. I actually have friends that did TFA, but who quit before their 2 years were up in order to pursue teaching programs. If that is an option, that is what I would encourage. I do know that some experience financial constraints, and I don’t want to underestimate that, but if you want to be a teacher long term, going through a program and having that support as a beginning teacher will make a world of difference, both for you and your students. Hope that answers your question!

      Thanks again,

    • She answers this in her piece.

      “Don’t argue that because you plan to be a teacher long term it is okay for you to do TFA. You are still acting as a part of an organization that is trying to destroy the very profession. Either way, I am asking you to quit.”

  2. I think you make a few good points here – TFA shouldn’t be in some of its current placement regions and often supports some of the worst aspects of the ed reform movement – but a few of your premises about corps members are completely off the mark. I wrote a post a few months ago on my perspective of TFA that explains my viewpoint and the research more fully (http://34justice.com/2013/11/08/working-together-for-educational-equity-whats-missing-from-the-tfa-debate/) and I hope you check it out, but I wanted to briefly address the following ideas in this comment:

    1) You argue that privileged people shouldn’t teach communities of color. While it’s true that some corps members and alums have the “white savior” mentality, many of us are cognizant of our privilege and deeply committed to serving the communities we teach. The more privileged people who genuinely care about and work with less privileged populations, the better. Your argument is analogous to the argument that straight people shouldn’t advocate for gay rights, or to the argument that men can’t be feminists.

    2) You contend that the short duration of TFA’s training means TFA corps members “simply do not belong in the classroom.” Although TFA training as it currently stands is inadequate, a lot of other teacher preparation programs are inadequate as well. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a teacher from a TFA placement district who felt prepared for his or her first teaching assignment. The majority of research suggests that student achievement scores on standardized tests vary little between TFA and non-TFA teachers, and I’ve personally observed a similar distribution of teacher skill among TFA and non-TFA teachers during my years in San Jose Unified School District. And the TFA corps members who stick around are generally at the higher end of the teacher quality distribution. Many TFAs and alums absolutely do belong in classrooms.

    3) You say the claim that TFA fills a need is false. In some regions your assertion is correct, and I believe TFA should not place corps members in those regions. There are many regions, however, in which TFA does fill a need. For example, one of the schools I currently work in has had vacant positions the entire year. The average corps member would be significantly better for our students than the rotating set of subs we’ve had for the last several months.

    4) You say that “[a] better TFA is not possible. And we are not working towards the same goals.” On this point, I believe you’re just factually wrong. The organization needs to seriously change many of its practices, but the vast majority of people within TFA have the exact same goals as nearly every teacher I know: give all students the best education they can possibly receive. Don’t make them out to be the enemy. Show them instead that the direction of much of the ed reform movement works against our common goal and convince them to join us in advocating for better policies.

    Again, TFA has some very significant flaws and needs to change many aspects of its approach. But many of the arguments you make in this post are unsubstantiated and counterproductive.

    • Hi Ben,

      Thank you for your thoughts. I will try to respond as thoughtfully and thoroughly as possible. I will check out the post you referenced soon, too.

      1) So I want to be clear that I am not saying folks of privilege should be banned from these spaces, or that they cannot ever teach in certain classrooms. I am trying to point out that our privilege is at play, and that I’m not sure why anyone thought it would be good to send privileged college grads into classrooms just because they were good students. Also, as this has come up before, I have never understand how folks that are cognizant of their privilege remain in TFA. As I pointed out in my piece, TFA is doing serious harm to the public ed system in a way that creates an even more inequitable education system. (Also, I have several articles/book excerpts that address this point really well, and I’ll collect some and post them soon).

      2) I will disagree that they belong in classrooms as corps members. Again, not saying not to teach, just asking that they begin from a place of respect for their students and the profession itself. I do not doubt that some corps members have the potential to be great teachers, but thinking they will be with 5 weeks of training baffles me. And in my conversations with various current or former corps members, they often agreee. And yes, very few teachers when they start off are good. Many of the teachers I took ed classes with in college said they didn’t think they became good teachers until their 3rd year. Hence another issue I take with TFA. If you are only required to stick around 2 years, and the vast majority stay for only that long or shorter, they will never reach a point where they feel confident as teachers. That is a systemic issue and a problem with the structure of TFA itself.

      3) I do address this in my piece. I wrote that I understand there are some districts that are having a hard time placing teachers, but I think there are better solutions than TFA, and worse, TFA makes it possible for the problem to not be solved. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with what happened in Pittsburgh recently, but essentially, the school board rescinded the contract put in place with TFA by the prior school board. (Read more here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/12/19/pittsburgh-school-board-drops-750000-teach-for-america-contract/). One of the school board members who abstained did so by saying that while she did not support TFA, she also knew Pittsburgh was having trouble attracting teachers. But there are alternatives. I encourage you to peruse the site of Grow Your Own Illinois for one example of what I’m talking about (http://www.growyourownteachers.org/)

      4) And on this point I will just have to disagree. And I don’t think it’s possible that my goals can be factually incorrect. I don’t think it is true that TFA (the organization, not some of the individuals within the organization) and I are working towards the same educational outcomes. They are at the forefront of the privatization movement, and without their help that movement would not have gotten nearly as far as it has. I am not talking about the goals stated on their web site. I doubt you’ll find them saying anywhere on their site that one of their goals is to destroy the public education, but their actions are speaking for them. There are a lot of people who write about this better than I do, including women like Diane Ravitch (I would encourage you to pick up her latest book, “Reign of Error,” and read at least the chapter on TFA) and Catherine Michna, who wrote one of my favorite pieces thus far: http://catherinemichna.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/why-im-calling-for-all-university-professors-to-refuse-to-write-students-letters-of-recommendation-tfa/. And if you’re still not convinced, this graphic is pretty fantastic (https://scontent-a-iad.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/t1/1146525_342451069222535_2062084893_n.png), and this article by Charles Sommer is also helpful (http://www.salon.com/2014/01/13/teach_for_americas_pro_corporate_union_busting_agenda_partner/)

      Hopefully you’ll feel like my claims are better substantiated. And, to be clear, I am not trying to be productive when it comes to “making a better TFA”—I’m simply not interested.

      • Molly, You’re right– it’s way too simple to say that we’re all working towards the same goals, since people have very different ideas about what a good education looks like and what kind of world we want to create. One fault of the “education reform” movement generally is that it encourages very little reflection about what we want to achieve. I know countless TFA types who care very sincerely about educational and social justice, but who don’t have a very broad sense of the different alternatives that are possible, or of the corporate, private, inequality-reproducing values that are being advanced many education reforms. The “movement” encourages so much thinking about efficiency and so little about efficiency-for-what.

        I am committed more than anything to strengthening the public sphere, but I’m not at all sure that the public schools, as they have been reshaped by the last few decades of reforms, are advancing my goals. They are becoming an ever-more efficient and monolithic machine for standardizing human beings, making our educational objectives and so-called “metrics” seem more inevitable and less open to questioning, and thus continuing to reproduce inequality. I am a TFA alum and a professor of education. As I think about my own participation and complicity in a number of these organizations, they all start to look partially tainted–as everything is–and partially, possibly redeemable (if you catch me on an optimistic day). Which is to say, it’s not so clear to me that one of them deserves wholesale rejection. Or maybe they both do, but we don’t have that luxury.

      • Thanks for your comment. I agree with most of what you say in the first paragraph. I know some of them really care, I’ve seen it, but it then becomes clear to me that they’re not really aware of what they’re involved in. Or maybe they are, but don’t want to admit it, I’m not sure. I can imagine that if I’d done TFA and also developed a critical lens through which to view it I would struggle with my participation, and pieces of me would want to grasp onto anything vaguely good about it. But I do believe it deserves whole sale rejection. I am aware that public ed is going in an extremely dangerous direction, and honestly, it scares the shit out of me. From my own reading and research (though I still have much more to do), there is a connection between the “reform movement” (seriously, have to put that one in quotes) and what is happening to public ed. Charters rely heavily on test scores as well in order to secure funding, thus leading us in the direction of high-stakes testing, teacher accountability based on tests, new standards (reading as much as I can on common core right now). I want to get to real ed reform, but like I said in one of my previous comments, we will not be able to do anything for public education if it no longer exists. And I’d also like to note that even within this awful storm of tests and standards, I know teachers, that though they struggle, are still managing to do incredible work in their classrooms as educators. They’re the ones I look up to. I recently read an incredibly moving piece written by a public school teacher, and if you have a moment, do read it. There aren’t that many things that can alter my perspective, but after being on the fence about studying to become a public school teacher (because as you note, what’s happening there is awful, too), this put me over. After reading it all I could think was, “how could I not do this?”

  3. Pingback: Another anti-TFA screed for the books – @ THE CHALK FACE

  4. Molly, just like you I am a white female who was educated at a prestigious university. I too am “riddled with privilege.” Unlike you, I am a Teach for America (TFA) alumnus from the Greater Newark, New Jersey region. I spent my two Corps years teaching fourth grade in an expressly Afrocentric charter school. I was one of three white people in a school staff of approximately forty. Our school student body was nearly exclusively made up of African and Caribbean Americans. Though I agree with some elements of what you expressed in terms of needing to insure teachers are not been displaced by TFA, I think beyond that you have it wrong.

    One of your primary arguments surrounds race. You assert definitively that you absolutely do not “belong in a classroom in a community of color to which I have no connection and of which I have no knowledge.” When I walked into my school for my first interview I didn’t immediately “belong” and I knew little of the community that I would be joining. Each day I humbled myself before those who knew more and I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone to learn about and participate in the community. Did I ever really belong? I’m not sure. My presence, however, demonstrated respect, a willingness to learn and an appreciation of the community. My eyes were opened, my beliefs were challenge and my mind stretched. The idea that one should not engage with a community that is unlike themselves is narrow minded. It is not just about the color of your skin, it is about your demeanor and your motives. If we don’t entrench ourselves with “the other” they will remain “other.”

    In that vain I find very problematic your expressed notion that TFA is an “organization that is entrenched in white saviorism.” TFA is committed to educational equity. It is an organization entrenched in the idea that we are responsible for one another. As Corps members we are expressly taught NOT to act like or feel like we have all of the answers. Clearly, as new teachers we have very few answers. Rather than provide answers, we are empowered to be a part of the solution and a part of the fight. Engaging in the betterment of communities to which we do not expressly belong is complicated and sensitive. It does not, however, mean that it should not be done.

    You are right, not all TFA Corps members stay in the classroom, or even in the field of education. Though TFA wants many to do so, the goal of the organization is to create a movement of individuals who not only believe strongly that all students have a right to an excellent education, but who also believe, from experience, that all students can succeed. Yes, it is important that we are “recruiting folks from within communities in need of future teachers and providing the financial and educational support necessary for them to become members of the profession, and c) attracting teachers by offering a good work environment and adequate pay?” It is also important, as in any strong movement, that we inspire and empower a community of allies. These allies fill all positions in society and can impact the movement for educational equity from their unique perspectives. You cannot understand what public education is like until you have stood in the shoes of a public education teacher.

    The second main argument in your article is that a better TFA is not possible. This notion is misguided. Why take a community of 28,000 alumni who have an expressed interest and commitment to the improvement of education in the United States and turn them away. Why automatically discredit an organization like TFA that is consistently self-reflecting through protocol, online platforms and surveys. It wants to improve. Why not join the conversation instead of dismissing it outright.

    At the end of your article you express a desire to have a conversation around this difficult topic. For your courage in this endeavor I am thankful.

    • Hi Bara,

      So I want to start by saying that after reading your comment I feel we have very fundamental differences of opinion. I think it’s important to start there, as it will inform my response. Also, since it’s helpful and other folks have been doing it, I’m going to respond in numbered order per each paragraph.

      1. It’s true, I am not a TFA alum, and for that I am incredibly thankful. In large part, I owe that to a couple of incredible education professors at the Curry School at UVA. I can’t say that without them I would have ended up in the program, but they definitely helped me develop a critical lens early on.

      2. I want to be clear that my piece is not about any one individual’s experience as a corps member. It is about the organization as a whole with a focus on recruits and corps members because I feel as my peers, those are the people I can appeal to. Your individual experience, though I am sure it shapes your opinions on the matter, is not necessarily the common experience, and it is not what I am trying to get at. While you may have really tried to learn from those at your school, there are plenty of corps members who have no desire to, and that can be damaging. I don’t think I ever said that communities of difference should never engage with one another, but in TFA that is not what is happening. That is not to say it never happens, but it is not what is happening on a larger scale. And no, I don’t think I belong there, not initially at least. And not without the proper training.

      3. Here we disagree. It is white saviorism, regardless of the feelings of discomfort that phrase evokes. It is majority white, privileged college graduates (that phrase is redundant, right?) teaching in communities of color with the assumption that because they were good students who were accepted into this ‘prestigious’ program they will make good teachers, regardless of whether or not they have any background in education. Whatever TFA says in its mission or on its web site, it is not working towards education equity. Rather, it is furthering inequity. I don’t know your background beyond your experience with TFA, so I will speak from my own. I grew up in PG County Maryland, which if you are unfamiliar with the DC area, is seen as a black pit for education. I, however, was privileged enough to attend a magnet school. My elementary school experience was incredible, and I honestly think I have it to thank for so much of who I am today. I was lucky enough to have incredible teachers, 90% of whom (that’s a straight up guesstimate) were there the entire time I attended school there. I still remember the deep loss I felt when my favorite teacher ever moved to a different school to teach music to special ed students. (I know, poor me, right? But I was 7, and it felt awful saying goodbye.) I recently discovered that there TFA corps members are now being placed in PG County. And I cried, because I and so many of my classmates had an incredible foundational experiences that is no longer available to students there. I think this reversal has been used often, but I think it’s effective. If TFA is working towards education equity, why don’t we see them placing corps members in wealthy districts? If what TFA is doing is so incredible, why aren’t folks clamoring to have them in their schools? And to get back on point, it is not my belief that TFA has any place in the solution, particularly when I feel it is a key part of the destruction happening right now (in one of my previous comments you’ll find a bunch of links to great articles about that specifically).

      4. I do think that there are folks within the organization that want good things for the field of education, but again, this post is about how those folks get used or participate in an organization that is not actually providing students with excellent educations. Nothing in their structure makes that remotely possible on a large scale. And no, I have never been a public school teacher, though I am in the process of applying to graduate teaching programs and hope to count myself among them one day. But so many of my opinions and ideas were shaped in large part by listening to public school teachers and their experiences, and by learning alongside them at the Curry School. I owe a lot to them, but never in my post do I claim to be one of them.

      5. In my interactions with TFA, or what I have heard from others who have spoken out and been critical (both from within and outside of the organization), TFA is not interested in changing itself and bettering itself. As I wrote in my piece, I have been told time after time that what I am saying is counterproductive. The thing is, I have no desire to be productive in service of TFA. And in past attempts to “join the conversation” I have not even been welcome, because when it comes down to it, we don’t want the same things. And I am lucky to be able to draw upon the experiences of former corps members whom I have gotten to know and who would like to now work against TFA. It says something that it is not only individuals from the outside who would like to see TFA cease to exist, but that there are also those who have gone through the organization that believe deeply it is beyond repair.

      Holy cats, that was longer than intended. Anyways, thanks for engaging.

      – Molly

  5. I am a TFA former corps member who spent 12 years teaching in a middle school in East Oakland, CA. I stopped only to take care of my son, and will be returning soon. When I joined TFA in 2001, I obviously did not have a credential, but had three years of student teaching experience at Berkeley High School, where I worked closely with a master teacher there in English and Journalism classes. I would have gone into education in the Bay area regardless, and most likely would have ended up in the classroom I was assigned to, since there were still 5 vacancies at my school when the year began. There were 4 young teachers there with emergency credentials from another local program (which also drew from UCB and UCSF), and a large number of veteran teachers as well.

    That’s just a little history to put my comments in perspective.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree that TFA is not the answer. I’ve watched it over the years turn more and more into another notch for privileged university grads to add to their grad school applications. As it became more competitive to get into the program, it seemed that the students entering were less and less likely to stay in education at all. (this is all conjecture, I’m sure numbers for this exist somewhere – I speak only from the experience from my school). The majority of TFA teachers assigned to my school seemed to only be “surviving” the experience so that they could use it for their own benefit, essentially building their own furthered success on the backs of the children in communities TFA so vocally says it is helping.

    Here’s where it gets a little fuzzier.

    2. The training I received at the TFA institute was far, far greater than any education classes I took at UCB, at Cal State East Bay, where I earned my credential, or at SF State where I took classes to extend my credential. It was more rigorous, more intense, more practical, more effective, and I used many of the tools from that institute immediately, and to great result in terms of children’s learning. That being said, as you say in the crux of your argument for ending TFA, many of the teachers coming out of institute had no intention of fully utilizing what they were given, as it was simply a two year stint. What it illustrates is simply that teacher education, at least in California, is shoddy at best. I have horror stories from my credential classes where professors have not known which class they were teaching until a month into class, where a professor was paying another student under the table to teach her class for her, etc… It was a complete mess. I am not saying that good programs do not exist in the state, I’m just saying that it is way too easy to skate by doing nearly nothing and still earn a credential here.

    3. At my school, experience did not equate to effective, caring teaching. There were fabulous teachers there, who I learned a great deal from, and who had devoted themselves to the education and support of the children in front of them, and there were awful teachers who sat behind desks and assigned silent reading for the entire period, or worse, belittled and verbally abused the students. We had a veteran teacher even come to school intoxicated to the point of losing consciousness in the front office. It was a debacle.

    After being in the school for several years, and seeing what was happening, I joined with other teachers to take part in a small schools initiative that the district was adopting to start a new school on the same grounds. This is where I feel like the actual answer lies. We worked with the community, with parents and local business owners and students themselves to create a curriculum, culture and community that everyone could get behind. We had complete control over who we hired, and were able to retain teachers who worked collaboratively and every step under the overarching goal of student learning. (We hired no new teachers, TFA or otherwise). This lasted exactly one year. At the beginning of our second year the district decided to more than double the size of our school, ten days before school was to start. We were assigned teachers that had been reassigned in the district (who now outnumbered our hires from the previous year and had no interest in collaboration or project based learning, which had been our guiding principle). And the school began to slide downward. In the following years, the principal argued and was basically forced out, the teachers found opportunities in other schools in the community, and TFA corps members again began to fill the vacancies at school. This is around the time I moved.

    Essentially, while I don’t think that TFA is a program that is beneficial to the community it purports to serve, I hardly think it is the main problem. Our educational system is broken at every level. If TFA were to go, in the current state of education, another similarly flawed program would replace it, simply because inner city/ underfunded districts will always hire the cheapest teachers first, with little regard to effectiveness.

    • Hi Aaron,

      I appreciate you sharing your background as a precursor to your comments and not as part of them. Super helpful.

      1. Well said. And yeah, not sure I have those numbers, but let’s just say they exist somewhere.

      2. I am surprised to hear that you place your experience at the TFA institute over other forms of training. While part of me thought I should apply and go to the training just so that I could know what really happens there, I really only have other former corps members shared experiences to go off of. While a lot of those that I know are highly critical, I’ve never heard any of them say they felt the 5 weeks of institute prepared them at all. But maybe it was a little different back in 2001. And I have very little knowledge of teacher prep programs in CA as I have lived on the east coast my whole life, but I’m sorry that was your experience with it. My only experience is with graduate education courses at UVA, which were incredible, and I definitely consider myself lucky. And now that I’m pursuing MAT programs I’ll definitely have to be careful which one I choose.

      3. I think in most schools, especially those that lack funding, there are going to be some stellar educators, and some really poor ones. But to me that is not an argument for TFA, it’s an argument for real education reform (i.e. not privatization, which I’ll get to in a moment)

      In your last couple of paragraphs you touch on what really great reform could look like (and it sucks that the experience you had was cut short after a year). I am all for it. I would like to see things change drastically within the realm of public education, but first and foremost is preserving and maintaining public education in the US. Because without it we certainly can’t reform it. And watching what is happening in cities like New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, etc. I’m terrified that we won’t get that chance. And that is maybe where we differ. I do think TFA is a main part of the problem, because I think it is contributing to the destruction of public education. It also gives altruistic donors a place to put their money that they can feel good about, whereas all that money could actually really benefit schools if put to work. I can’t know for sure if an alternative would pop up (my inclination is to say no, for if dreams came true and TFA really was taken down, that movement would have to be huge, and building a new TFA-like organization and getting it to the power and influence it has currently would not be easy). But lastly, it makes it possible for us to not deal with the problem.

      – Molly

  6. So, before I respond to new comments, I want to thank those who have engaged so far. Even if we disagree, it is clear that y’all took the time to read and respond in detail, and for that I just want to say thanks.

  7. Wow, I have to say, typically I refrain from reading comment sections on articles that are so controversial because, well, I have a very high opinion of the human race and endeavor to protect it from forces that would erode said opinion. But Aaron, Ben, Bara, and of course Molly, you guys have moved the conversation forward in incredible thoughtful and insightful ways. And Molly, your responses have been respectful, informative, and transparent. Thank you all.

    Not having been a TFA’er, but having taught a few years before leaving because I was not very good at it and realized that I needed to learn a LOT more about how students learn. I can offer much that hasn’t been said in this debate. There is one aspect that I have not heard mentioned so far has to do with the contribution of many TFA alums to the field as a whole. While certainly the challenge of TFA as an ‘equity and social justice oriented systemic reform’ has been well-articulated by Molly and others before her, many of them once TFA’ers themselves, I am interested in Molly’s perspective on the accomplishments that some TFA Alums who have left their teaching placements and gone on to make: some have innovated on the design of schools (Rocketship or KIPP for example) , others have created new wildly successful credentialing programs (Urban Teacher Center) , and others have developed new policy drivers that led to parents and communities with more voice in their child’s education (Parent Trigger in CA), more resources following need (rather than power) (LCFF design and advocacy), and many other contributions.

    Could it be that the value of the program is not actually in the placement of college students in schools, but in vesting an up and coming new crop of social capital with the vision of progressive educational opportunities for others. So vested, could it be then that these change agents can shift the very paradigm if given enough time?

    Molly, I’m interested in your thoughts on these activities, even as I realize that they do not defend the overall strategy.

    • Hi Derek,

      I wholeheartedly agree. I am incredibly grateful for how folks have been commenting. And while I do have to approve comments for them to show up, all the comments seen here are all of the ones I’ve gotten so far.

      Thank you for knowing when to leave. I think that is crucial. I am pursuing graduate teaching programs, but if I found myself in a classroom and felt like I truly was not creating a great learning environment for my students I would hope I would step back, too, even if only temporarily. I think it takes a lot to do that.

      So, first, thank you for asking me point blank for my thoughts. Strangers wanting to know what I think is a new thing for me. Interestingly enough, I feel like these ventures and endeavors created by former TFA-ers are only an extension of the problem. In the same way that I feel people with little training/background shouldn’t be teaching, I also feel that those who have very minimal experience in education should not be leading such large educational endeavors. But TFA, with its vast resources, makes it a point to help place its alums in positions of power. This piece about the former TFA-ers recently elected to the Atlanta School Board, written by Diane Ravitch, is excellent in explaining how this happens: http://dianeravitch.net/2013/09/17/what-will-it-mean-if-four-tfa-alums-are-elected-to-atlanta-school-board/. Also, if you have the time, pick up her book, “Reign of Error.” Her chapters on “Who are the Corporate Reformers?” and “The Problem with Teach for America” almost directly respond to the issues you raise.

      And to get to the specific organizations you mentioned (KIPP, Urban Teacher Center, and Parent Revolution—proponents of parent trigger), I want to point out that all of these are pieces of the corporate reform movement that as I have mentioned would not be nearly as strong without TFA pushing it forward. Not sure if you know this, but the founder of the KIPP schools, Richard Barth, is married to Wendy Kopp, founder of TFA. I can’t claim to know how that impacts the connection between their two organizations, but sometimes it baffles me. I am not pro-charter, and I should probably do an entirely separate piece on that (all in good time). While KIPP schools are technically “public charters,” I definitely do not agree with all of their practices. On top of that, they are at the forefront of the charter movement, and are all too often pointed to as a shining example for another system that I think started off broken. UTC, also, prepares teachers specifically for charters, though I will admit I do not know in detail their practices, but I’ll try and do a little more research on them soon. And lastly, Parent Revolution and the parent trigger laws are also an extension of the privatization pro-charter movement. The way most charters I know or have read about have engaged with parents is disturbing, and many of these parents are not properly informed. Which is not for lack of trying, but for the fact that they are given information that is false and misleading. Most charters are not concerned with what is in the best interest of their students. That is not to say there is not a single charter out there doing good work, but the way charters are structured is not conducive to creating good schools. If you’re interested more in this topic, I’d recommend checking out a documentary created by some folks I know called “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.” As is probably obvious, it is a response to “Waiting for Superman” and deals a lot with the charter movement.

      Also, when I have some time, I plan on putting together an extensive list of resources and articles (ideally organized by category) for people who want to read more about TFA, charters, privatization, etc. I am definitely not the only one writing on these issues, and not even the most well-studied. I’m still learning more, too.


  8. I loved this piece, thank you so much! I found the comments to be especially interesting. Seems that every pro-TFA comment began with the “I’m a TFA alum…” statement. I know that TFA sends out email blasts at times to alumni networks to comment on critical pieces, would be curious to know if they did so with this one.

    I also wanted to speak to the issue of teacher preparation. TFA often counters the critique of their short-training experience with the argument that teacher prep is broken anyway. Now, while this statement is blatantly untrue-spending thousands of hours in multiple classroom settings simply cannot compare to the 20 hours of teaching time with a single, small summer classroom which TFAers log in at Institute. But I also wanted to point out that TFAers experience of “true” teacher prep is often warped by the TFA organization. Many colleges and universities develop partnerships with TFA to create special watered-down versions of teacher prep programs for TFA participants to take at night in order to meet the “teachers in training” stipulation under NCLB. Some schools even develop programs that cost exactly the amount of money that TFAers receive from their Americorps stipend (far less than true teacher prep programs.)

    In addition, as fast-track and alternative preparation programs explode around the country, more and more traditional programs are feeling the crunch to shorten and weaken their once quality programs. TFA played a pivotal role in this trend. They were the organization that lobbied Congress to add the language of “teachers in training” to the Highly Qualified Teacher requirement under NCLB. And their highly-publicized position as a media darling has pushed other programs to “compete” in this race to the bottom. TFA’s existence and slew of non-peer reviewed puff “research” has legitimized these negative changes. Also, TFA’s connection to groups like NCTQ (National COuncil of Teacher Quality-corporate ed reform group on forefront of attacking traditional teacher prep programs) cannot be understated. To me, the slow and intentional destruction of teacher prep is yet one more reason why TFA needs to be stopped. Now.

    Lastly, as a grad student and full-time teacher myself (who is NOT a TFA alum), I want to leave everyone with the reminder that the neoliberal assault on public education is not only happening to K-12, but to universities as well. As higher ed is further privatized/monetized, once really amazing programs, including teacher education programs, are seeing dramatic changes for the worse. Pearson is now forcing pre-service teachers to perform their expensive tests (EdTAP), more adjunct faculty teaching in classes, less service supports to help with scheduling/running of the university (at my school, Univ of Illinois-Chicago, they have cut all the support staff and now faculty must update course catalogs and schedules own classes all while teaching full-time), and tuition rising out of control (even as college admins take home exorbitant salaries).

    I think it is extremely telling that a beautiful, female-dominated profession which has historically taken candidates from all socio-economic and racial backgrounds is experiencing this type of destruction. TFA is a major force in the negative changes to teacher prep. I feel that TFA blinds its participants from seeing these wider truths. TFA needs to go away. It is at the heart of these crises.

    • Thank you so much, Katie! And yeah, there’s a reason I included that asterisk comment at the end. I’ve had conversations with former TFA-ers who are now resisting TFA and still I can say things that will trigger defensive responses. It is not as though I have never done something deeply problematic and responded defensively when called out, but luckily I have great people who will help me work through it, but also not let me off the hook. So if I can help others at all through that process I’ll be happy.

      Your elaboration on teacher training programs is great, and I’ll definitely point people to your comment who want to contend that TFA teacher prep is somehow just as good as traditional prep. It was not until I started looking at graduate teaching programs that I had any sense of how far reaching TFA’s hand is in higher ed. Some schools just have formal connections, or make space for TFA corps members in its existing programs, but some (UPenn comes to my mind, though there are others), have programs in Teach for America. Needless to say I won’t be applying to any of those schools… And it is true that this is happening in higher ed, too. Thanks for pointing that out. I am a recent UVA grad, and while it had been creeping up the whole time I was there, corporate-driven reform was pretty blatantly present when I left. They basically just overhauled the financial aid program so that now students who accept any financial aid, must accept a minimum amount in loans before they even have access to grants. It’s one of those situations where I don’t even know where to focus my attentions and efforts.

      And while I know there are others out there who believe, too, that TFA needs to go away, it’s always nice to hear it again.

      – Molly

  9. Education is only broken if you’re poor.

    It all comes down to poverty. Poverty. Poverty. Poverty.

    Education is perfectly fine for the students in higher income and middle income brackets. In fact, if you account for poverty and only use schools that have a ratio of poverty in line with Finland or other top scoring countries then America is right at the top. Our scores drop as you start to include schools and students with higher ratios of poverty. The higher the ratio, the lower the test scores. (Not that I think standardized test scores are any measure of teaching ability or student achievement.) Take a look at the most under achieving states in the nation. They have two things in common. First, the have higher levels of poverty. Second, they have low participation or nearly no union protection.

    So then, why do we say education is broken when it is working perfectly well for decently funded higher income school districts? It all comes down to money. Money is being made by TFA, Pearson, people running the charter schools. And they can’t do that to the wealthy white districts. As we expand testing, move to more charter schools and other reform standards a lot of public school money is going to enrich people controlling those things.

    Education is broken if you’re poor but everything is broken if your poor. I have students who are homeless, dealing with addiction, dealing with children, dealing with mental health problems(Of which there is no help for the impoverished in America, not in any meaningful way), dealing with their parents suicide, dealing with a lot of things that I’d never be able to handle at their age. And most of them don’t cope well. They disappear from school for days to weeks at a time. When congress cut STAMP funding one of my students was in tears because she was terrified of having enough to eat for her and her child. And all the while they’ve grown up in homes with little or no support. Heck, I had to call 911 the other day because a student stopped breathing and was unresponsive in my class and then had to persuade his mother to actually go to the hospital as it was that serious.

    If TFA really cares about education inequality then they would be better served working towards income inequality. America needs a frank talk.

    One of my biggest pet peeves is TFA alums who argue that by doing two years in urban and low income schools they had their eyes opened. It’s almost poverty tourism. Those kids aren’t there for your experience, nor are they there to teach you something important. You are there for those kids. And when you serve a population like that you need to have dedication to something beyond yourself. Social justice is a nice buzz word to tout in an interview but social justice goes beyond 2 years in a classroom and resume padding.

    Real social justice would be confronting the ever widening gap of income and our painful and shared history of racial discrimination. But that is a conversation America seems dead set on not having.

    • Thank you. Your comment is excellent, and essential to the conversation. If you look at DC alone, two of the wealthiest suburban counties (Fairfax County in VA and Montgomery County in MD) dominate the list of top public high schools in the country. As I said in response to another comment on how I should not be tearing TFA down (or the current “ed reform” movement) because they are working toward education equity, it is clear they are not. Because if they were, you would see wealthy majority white school districts inviting them into their schools. That simply will not happen. But hey, what’s not good enough for wealthy white kids, low-income black and brown communities should be clammoring for, right? Some would go so far as to say they should be grateful. And it is sickening. I don’t think it’s almost poverty tourism, it is poverty tourism. Or maybe it’s worse, because it is used to the benefit of privileged college graduates and provides a rich way of life for those running the organization.

      So in short, I agree. And thank you for sticking with your kids. I’m still honing my ways of getting people to talk about issues of racial and income inequality and how it is present in nearly every aspect of our society. So please, if you have any thoughts on that, do pass them along. I’d definitely appreciate it immensely.

      • In a way, it’s not “polite” to talk about this racial and income inequality. People often wonder why low income urban areas have poor schools, high crime etc. There is a problem with education in this country but no one wants to talk about it. Mainly because it brings up a host of issues no one can have adult conversations about. For example, the living wage, if you work 40 hours a week you should be able to support yourself to a good degree. But in America, you simply can’t. Wages have stagnated for 30 years and inflation has gone up. It’s easier to simply say these people made bad choices and should work harder. Or worse, discussing it gets you called a “communist” and you’re all about “class war”.

        This idea that education is broken is just simply a way to start privatizing it. It’s a manufactured problem. One of the greatest academic indicators has always been the income level of the parents and all benefits or pitfalls that come along with your income bracket. Kids from poverty often enter schooling below their peers. They enter schooling without even the base that developmentally they should have. So they start school behind their peers. And this is compounded year after year.

        Early Childhood education that is universal and free would be a HUGE factor to education. I’d argue, and I’m pretty backed by research on this, that early childhood education plays a much bigger role than high school or middle school. It’s there that children learn the most basic things that will be the bedrock of their education. It provides so many benefits from good socialization to higher levels of reading ability that if Obama passes his universal pre-k idea it would be the best thing to happen in education in decades and truly make the educational process more equitable.

        Instead TFA wants us to believe that by being an inspiring teacher and just holding students to high standards, magically we can erase that deficit. It’s a much easier narrative to sell to the public as opposed to a systematic failure of American society as whole.

        But don’t tell that to people pushing reform.

      • I agree with, well, basically everything you say here. Not only is it not polite, but it makes people deeply uncomfortable, especially those that would like to believe we live in a post-racial society, a dodging mechanism for sure. And I will say, as a white woman, I am not without guilt here. I work hard at it, but still sometimes I’d rather not take responsibility and ownership. (And yeah, shout out to a living wage, which to put it less “radically” really just means matching minimum wage to inflation…).

        And yes, it is a manufactured problem. I should have touched on this more in my post. If you take the example of Philadelphia, it is painfully clear. Control of the district was handed over to the state government, the district was systematically defunded due to poor budget management, business consulting firms were brought in, because yes, that’s who I would want dealing with my education, and as a result of all this, Philadelphia Public Schools nearly did not open this year, and may very well be gone within a few years. This article on Colorlines is excellent and touches on all of these issues.

        I’m pretty sure books have been written on how early childhood education makes a huge impact on long-term educational outcomes…so yeah, I’d say you’re pretty backed up there.

        Thanks again for continuing the conversation.

  10. I went through teacher certification in Michigan and then moved to New York City to teach. Even with the proper education and teacher training, my first year teaching was the most challenging experience of my life; and I was prepared for it! Teaching is calling and a life-long pursuit; teachers get better through time, experience, and continuing education. I wish I could find my 150 students from my first year of teaching and apologize to them for not being good enough; thankfully I know the 500+ students since then have received a much better education! If you want to become a teacher, fantastic!! We need you! Go through a strong college or university teaching program and become trained with student teaching. Math for America is a fantastic organization that supports teachers becoming teachers the right way. Thank you for this article; the idea that anyone with a 4-year degree can be a teacher is insulting to those who work hard at honing their craft!

    • Hi Tracy!

      Thanks for your comment (and thank you for making teaching your life-long endeavor!). It is insulting. It took me a while to decide I wanted to go into teaching because I wanted to be damn well sure and fully committed. In my opinion, it takes nothing less. I’m sure your students are lucky to have you!

      – Molly

  11. I do want to echo what a lot of others have written here – this comment thread is excellent. I think it’s a really productive conversation.

    I hope, Molly, that you got a chance to read my “Working Together on Educational Equity” (http://34justice.com/2013/11/08/working-together-for-educational-equity-whats-missing-from-the-tfa-debate/, in case anyone missed it above) post on TFA. I think I address many of your follow-up comments in that piece; I wrote it after reading a slew of pro- and anti- TFA pieces, including Michna’s article, and I’m familiar with the work of both Ravitch and Sommer.

    With regard to our earlier conversation, I consider myself to be both cognizant of my privilege and the larger organizational problems TFA has, but I did not quit TFA and would not recommend quitting to others because I don’t think quitting accomplishes what you argue it will. Bara’s comment about her approach in her first year is what I see from many TFA teachers and is what I attempted – we did start from a place of respect for our students. TFA teachers on average provide their students with a solid education. As I explain in my post, the research on that point is pretty clear, and it’s also been my experience with teachers in San Jose Unified School District. Maybe you’re recommending that people like me remain in our TFA placement classrooms and renounce our TFA affiliations after our first year, but what would that accomplish? Reneging on a two-year commitment I made would have reduced my ability to dialogue with well-intentioned but misguided supporters of the ed reform movement.

    Additionally, it’s important to note that high turnover exists in general in many TFA placement districts. Teacher turnover is not good for students, certainly, and I wrote in my piece that I believe “TFA should not recommend corps members for positions for which there are other qualified candidates more likely to remain in education long-term.” I appreciate you linking Grow Your Own Teachers, which I checked out – it sounds like a great program – but you did not address what schools struggling to fill positions should do in the near-term. TFAs are considerably better for students than a rotating set of subs.

    My main issue with anti-TFA pieces is that they aren’t honest about the research (which again invalidates the claim that TFA corps members are bad for students; see http://34justice.com/2013/09/16/tfa-effectiveness/). I’ve written a fair amount about the inaccurate claims of reformers (see (http://34justice.com/2013/12/25/approaching-education-data-the-nate-silver-way/), and it really bothers me when the anti-reform movement stoops to the same level. Michelle Rhee is hypocritical when she bashes class size reduction and promotes linking teacher evaluations to standardized test scores on research grounds (the research on the efficacy of both is about equally mixed), but it’s equally hypocritical for Diane Ravitch to do the converse.

    Ultimately, I find your arguments unlikely to help low-income students. They alienate potential allies and divert their attention away from the real problem – we begin to argue about who teaches well instead of discussing the marriage of the ed reform movement with anti-poor interests. I wasn’t talking above about your goal of eliminating TFA in my comment; I was referencing your goal of ensuring an excellent education for low-income students. Most TFA corps members believe deeply in that goal and have just been convinced that the ed reform movement is the way to get there. They’re wrong, of course, but when you forget that there is a large difference between TFA donors and TFA the organization, you divide people who could otherwise work together against the real perpetrators of bad ed reform.

    • Phew, okay, so I read both your blog post and this comment, and we’ll see how my response goes. Trying to stay unjumbled.

      First and foremost, being cognizant of one’s privilege is only the first step. What follows is dismantling that privilege. But for the sake of staying on point, I’m going to save that for later discussion (though I do think it has implications here). When I write, I am not trying to pick out any one individual’s experience as a TFA corps member. While I know many do have some level of respect for their students going in, I think real respect looks like someone deciding to take on teaching as a life-long commitment and preparing themselves for that. Go through a solid teaching program. The assertion you make that few existing programs truly prepare students for high-need districts is untrue. I know of many that do. Maybe I should compile a list or something. What I would ask of those already doing TFA (if they’re in their first year), would be to stop when that year comes to a close and pursue a degree…in education. I don’t necessarily want you to walk out on your students in the middle of the year, you’re right about that. And if you haven’t started TFA, again, I would ask you to research programs and pick one that suits you. There really are some incredible ones. And I would argue that you could still redirect misguide reformers if you’d gone through a teaching program…

      Which gets us to the second point. TFA institute vs. traditional teacher prep. First, I’ll point you to Katie, Tracy’s and Stone’s comments. Second, I’ll point you to this piece about Vasquez Heilig’s work on the subject. What I would really like to point out, though, after reading the piece on your blog, as how there’s an inconsistency in the thoughts offered there. First, you point to so many studies that show that TFA creates teachers that are just as good, if not better, than traditional prep programs. I will concede that there are some not-so-great programs, but a) like Tracy, I find it insulting to teachers, and b) as Katie points out TFA has had a hand in watering down some great programs/schools of ed. You go on in your piece to site some instances of when TFA, or individual teachers, have overstated their successes and accomplishments. As you point out, if you look closely, those outcomes simply are not possible for a majority of first-year teachers, regardless of how they were trained. So if TFA is able to produce studies (both internally and externally) that make their corps members look good in comparison to traditionally-trained teachers, why is it not possible that the studies you cite are skewed? (Which I promise I will look at…soon.)

      I am glad that you point out that TFA should not place corps members where there are individuals who will likely stay around longer. I think that point is pretty obvious, but still many leave it out. But, may I ask, what is good about a program that is structured to create high teacher turnover and operates almost exclusively in districts that already suffer that problem? I still cannot wrap my head around this. That is the base structure of TFA’s program, and if that structure changed, a lot of college grads would never enter the program in the first place. Why would we not redirect those immense, vast resources towards program that try to alleviate teacher turnover? I realize you may not have said any of this explicitly, but I think it is implicit in most critical pieces that do not think TFA should be dissolved.

      And again, on your reiteration of your frustration of anti-TFA posts going against the research, I want to ask you to think about who produces that research. The Vasquez-Heilig study is only one study of many that say the opposite of those you cite. (More list making!)

      On your closing points, I don’t think that’s true, but of course I don’t, so I’ll explain why as best I can. I think my arguments weed out potential allies that would never actually operate as true allies (that’s unclear, I’ll work on it, but maybe it makes sense to someone that isn’t me). I think both discussions are important, and are connected, so I’m not entirely sure one can take away from the other. I can honestly say I don’t think anything TFA purports to stand for or do will ensure an excellent education for low-income students. And the reason I am asking potential recruits and corps members to abandon TFA is because if they did, TFA would crumble…which as I’ve probably made clear is exactly what I want. Granted, I don’t want it to crumble without any preparation for all of the work that could replace it. Which though I have some ideas about, I’d rather defer to those who are far more knowledgeable/prepared to come up with those solutions and help in whatever way I can.

      Quick addendum: This refers to your blog post mostly, but I would strongly encourage you to use the term “opportunity gap” as opposed to the “achievement gap.” There’s a really great research paper (which I’ll find promptly…) that was co-researched and co-written by a group of high school students that were sick of hearing that term and recoined it the “opportunity gap,” and rightly so. It’s amazing how much a small change and language can redirect the responsibility for the problem (in this case away from the students and onto structural inequality).

      • I’d love to see your list on programs that truly prepare teachers for first-year teaching assignments.

        I’m also well aware of who produces the research, and am familiar with the Vasquez-Heilig study as well. I try to read the full text of every study I cite and have a statistics background – I’m frequently critical of the methodological flaws in studies (the two other posts I linked above are good examples of my critiques). Many studies are misleading, and TFA does produce some bogus claims from research, but many studies are mostly sound (and none of the studies I cited were conducted by TFA). You have to view evidence very selectively to conclude that TFA teachers are worse for their students than teachers trained in different programs. Can you find some studies that draw that conclusion? Sure. But many of those studies are also flawed. The majority of evidence suggests little difference between the effectiveness of TFA teachers and those who have gone through traditional programs. Also, the comments you reference don’t really prove anything – they’re just reiterations of the same point you’re making without evidence to back them up (as an aside, Katie and I followed each other on Twitter after my posts on Vergara v. California and I found your post via one of her tweets, not via a TFA email blast).

        I’m disappointed that you think a life-long commitment to teaching is the only real way to show respect for students, but it doesn’t seem like I’ll be able to change your mind on that point. I sincerely believe the majority of students, teachers, parents, and community members would disagree with you. I know my colleagues and former students would, but that evidence is of course merely anecdotal.

        I will, however, make an effort to use “opportunity gap” instead of “achievement gap” – my district does that already and I hadn’t reflected on the language difference much, but I think you make a valid point there.

        Anyway, I will probably sign off this debate for now. Thanks for the dialogue and, in the words of my awesome teachers association, I hope we both have future success “empowering teachers to educate, inspire, and change lives through public education.”

      • I think its important to remember here that when discussing teacher effectiveness these studies are going simply by standardized test scores. Raising test scores is a much easier than actually teaching. Drill and practice become the order of the day, rote memorization, and other non critical thinking skills come into play. Test scores do not represent “real” learning.

        If you simply prepare students to take a standardized test, which is what TFA basically trains it’s corp members to do, then you are doing a huge disservice to children. Educational progress is not measure by a snapshot taken in a high stakes testing situation. Education is a process through which children continually learn.

        For example, I taught a student who was extremely difficult when I first started teaching. He barely passed my 7th grade class. I worked with him and provided support as needed. But he was an angry kid who didn’t see much use in putting effort into his schooling. Years later, as he was about to graduate high school he came and visited me and thanked me for putting so much effort into him. He was going to college and graduating with a solid GPA. He thanked me for all my writing workshops because they really helped later when he finally got his butt in gear.

        Heres the thing, by all current measures, I was a bad teacher. His grades were low, his test scores were equally low but he was involved in a process that was allowing him to grow. It was just simply a slow process. And yet here he was, thanking me, because what ever I did some things stuck and he was able to use them later in life when he finally decided to become engaged. And yet every data point would say I was “bad”. Sometimes the foundation laid for students doesn’t pay off till years down the line.

        Heres another, I have a student right now who years prior was a great student. This year, she got into trouble with the law and has started drinking and getting in trouble. Her grades have plummeted, she rarely shows up to school and her test scores lowered.Last time she was in school she came one day and that was a week and a half ago. Again, all data points that I’m a “Bad” teacher. Especially since years prior she was a great student. Am I on the hook for her disengagement from school, problems with police and addiction to drugs and alcohol? I don’t think I am but her test scores would raise alarms about my teaching. But when she comes back to school, I’ll do my best to provide the support she needs, use my big book of community resources to push for counseling and hopefully she becomes engaged in the process again. How do you evaluate that?

        Boiling down a process to easily manipulated data points in no way shows teacher effectiveness anymore than it would walking into a classroom and observing for one period. Test scores are pretty much the worst way to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

      • There simply is no large body of peer-reviewed, unbiased research that shows that TFA novices are better/as good as other teachers. Even the research listed on TFA’s own website is flawed and biased: http://ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/criticaled/article/view/184138

        But more importantly, I echo what Dranwyn brings up around the “research” of TFA. Talking about inching up standardized test scores (with differences often equivalent to getting 1-2 additional questions correct on a single exam) is simply not useful information. We need to look more critically at the full impact of TFA on students and education including issues around deficit-model pedagogy, charter school proliferation, effects on staff cohesion and school culture, effects on unions, the impact on students with special needs and English language learners, elitism around “best and the brightest”, effects on teacher preparation, fast-tracking “leaders” out of the classroom, changes in societal views of teaching/education, and of course the deep connections to privatization/union busting and TFA’s role in the neoliberal agenda.

        Here is a series of research articles that start to exam some of these issues beyond test scores:

        TFA does a fantastic job cloaking the inequalities it spreads. They purposefully focus on specific individual achievements to cloak systemic damage, they recruit more people of color (certainly not a bad thing to get more POC into teaching, but not though TFA) in order to cloak the lack of preparation of its novices, they highlight positive stories while intentionally burying the horror stories from CMs (so many suffering from severe mental health problems including anxiety, depression, and suicidal, or people silenced and kicked out of the organization when they dissented/resisted: http://www.publicschoolshakedown.org/why-teach-for-america-kicked-me-out).

        At the end of the day, TFA is hurting education. That’s all that matters.

  12. Brava!!! I am a fully certified teacher who worked in a couple of buildings with TFA teachers. A couple of them were committed, one left in tears one afternoon and never came back, an the rest were RIF’d. Although they all were brilliant people, they didn’t know an ounce of pedagogy (one asked me what pedagogy was once), were afraid of the parents, and needed to be hand held most of the time.

    I suppose the idea was a good one, the intentions were good, but, trust me, the outcomes are horrendous. Teaching is about connecting, nurturing and guiding children, regardless of socioeconomic, ethnic or cultural background. If you don’t “give a damn” about children, please, stay out of the classroom. We have enough issues without someone having someone there who isn’t in it for the right reasons.

    • And what I did not include in this piece, mainly because it has been included in so many others, and because it is not really what my post is about, is that TFA is often psychologically and emotionally damaging to corps members. Not sure if the idea was a good one, but we’re definitely agreed on the state of the outcomes. And yes, enough issues for sure. Thanks for your thoughts!

  13. Hi Molly,

    I am a NYC Teaching Fellow. It is a similar program to TFA in that it has little to no training and shoots people into classrooms. The one difference I guess is that it recruits lots of career changers in their late 20’s early 30’s who tend to be more likely to stay in the classroom. I also work with an AP who is a TFA alum. I guess her job would now make it seem like she is not ‘in the classroom’ but she is still incredibly involved and one of the best teachers I have observed.

    From my experience programs like these do belittle the profession (is it even a profession anymore?). But so do crappy ED programs where anyone can get a masters in education for just showing up. But so do the crappy wages and lack of support (34:1 should not be an acceptable student to teacher ratio). I agree fundamentally with your argument but not practically. If you have experienced a rigorous and educational experience in the field of education, then you are in the minority. Most teachers do not arrive prepared for Day 1.

    While teaching is 100% about the students, I think its important to remember what TFA is replacing and how education policy could be reformed. Yes it is privatizing education. Yes it is devaluing every working teacher everywhere. But education wasn’t in some good place before TFA. Teachers were not valued before, and teachers were often terrible and unaccountable to anyone, Teacher Man by Frank McCourt shows how unprepared teachers were decades ago. Education has been and still is a privatized world. Copious tests are more to blame for that than just TFA.

    Until there is a different/better alternative, I do not see the value of stigmatizing TFA members. And if TFA members who get elected to higher office and become whatever crazy doctor degree they want but contribute towards reforming education so that teacher training is increased/harder/exists at all, classroom size is decreased, and teaching salaries are increased, then won’t TFA have been a success?

    Sitting in the classroom, I have little time to create the change in education policy that I, or you, would like. But the current existing system as a teacher is ridiculous. It is not good, and the students suffer for that (closing schools, high class sizes, terrible teacher training, no materials, low minimum wage, scanners at the entrances of buildings, test centric curriculum (plus the three educational weeks lost to actual testing), lack of clubs/community, scheduled Quality Reviews, terrible admin training, terrible training of admin for new education policies like common core or teacher evaluation, lack of prep time (I teacher 4 subjects which I guess is four preps with 1 half hour block of prep time).

    TFA seems to be a small part of a larger puzzle?

    • Hi R.B.,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      God I hope it’s still a profession. It’s under attack, and has been for a while, but there still are a lot of professional teachers out there, and folks who plan to pursue it as a profession as well (like this awesome lady, whose thoughts on the matter I really encourage you to look at). Also, attacking an entire profession (in saying that most teachers were awful before TFA) is dangerous and misleading, and it does not give due credit to all of the incredible teachers that were in classrooms at the time. And I actually think, even with the best teacher ed programs, teachers in their first and second years are still experiencing a steep learning curve, which makes the effects of TFA even worse. Most TFA corps members do not stick around long enough to learn in the classroom what most prep cannot provide anyways. I will take a look at Teacher Man, though.

      I also understand that education is not in a great place right now, which is not to say there aren’t good schools and great teachers. However, as another commenter pointed out, while these changes are happening on a national scale, they disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color. As Asean Johnson is quick to point out in his home city of Chicago, which had the largest number of school closings in the history of the US, the schools that are being closed are overwhelmingly in majority black and brown communities. That is not a coincidence, and it is not just happening in Chicago.

      And so we get to TFA’s role in all of this, which based on the comments I should probably do an entire post about, not that folks have not already written about this issue. A lot of the issues you point to are deeply connected to the current (corporate) ed reform movement. School closings, high class sizes (some of the examples from Philadelphia right now are horrifying), high-stakes testing, poor administration and management, etc. have all been pushed forward by this ed reform in which TFA has a sizeable role. This entire booklet is fantastic, but I’d look specifically at the section titled “Education Reform’s Trojan Horse”: http://issuu.com/jacobinmag/docs/ctu_booklet_final_web/3?e=4178578%2F6717502. In many cities there has been a deliberate mismanagement of schools. After all, parents are far more likely to send their kids to a charter school when the education budget deficit is so high that the public schools don’t have books, or paper, or nurses. And, charter schools rely on standardized tests to show how well their students are doing and to maintain funding. But as I said, to be really clear and concise, I should write specifically on this, as well.

      So I don’t think TFA is a small piece, I think it’s a rather large piece. And in response to your request that we not stigmatize and get rid of TFA before we have something to replace it with, I would say that the presence of TFA allows us to not deal with the problem. We can do some preparation beforehand, and there are a lot of smaller organizations that are trying to alleviate the problem (see Grow Your Own Illinois for one example, though there are others), but with TFA still around we don’t have to.

      – Molly

    • Can someone tell me where this terrible teacher training line came from? I mean, I know Pearson was pushing to get its hands on the certification of teachers just in time for this rationale to come out. I seriously would never argue that this is a line of reasoning that has been touted recently as a way to further put corporate hands on public money. No never.

      We hear anecdotal evidence of these bad teachers and its nice to make a story out of it and damn the whole profession. When a patient dies on a doctor do we damn all doctors and say they aren’t prepared, they are professional? Or when a soldier goes off his rocker and kills civilians we don’t damn all soldiers. But if you can find a teacher that hasn’t been great, it suddenly means all teachers aren’t prepared, are lazy etc etc etc.

      This line of argument demeans the profession and TFA and the corporate reform movement continues it. Maybe its just me but I’ve rarely met a teacher who taught long term that I would say is a bad teachers. Bad teachers do not last.

      My entire generation was educated extremely well but then suddenly the American education system is a failure for the generation after mine. I don’t buy it and research doesn’t support it.

      Where are these narratives coming from? Who do they serve? Ask yourself those questions.

  14. If TFA’s goal isn’t educational equity, then PLEASE enlighten this corps member what it is? Or better yet, considering I am Corps Member and I’ve never met a TFA staff member, corps member or alumnus whose goal is not educational equity, enlighten me to what your oh so different goal is?

    • Hi Katie,

      So I think Dranwyn did a great job of responding, but since you asked… In my post I assert that TFA (the organization) and I are not working towards the same goals. There is nothing about the structure or the way that TFA operates that will ever advance education equity. Rather, its actions are only worsening the inequity they purport to be working against. They are crucial to the movement to privatize education, a movement which is systematically dismantling the public education system bit by bit. Part of that dismantlement includes pushing forward initiatives that are only going to make the success of public schools more challenging (think working against teachers unions, the use of standardized tests as the only metric by which teacher effectiveness and student achievement can be measured, pushing forward bills that replace “closed failing schools” with private charters that are more concerned about making money than their students’ educational experience, and so on). So keep that in mind, and then look at the structure. One of the biggest issues struggling districts face is teacher turnover. Thinking that an organization whose foundation is built upon high teacher turnover can do anything to alleviate inequity is ludicrous. Add on top of that the fact that the people they place in classrooms have minimal training, and that many of them will never stick around long enough to become good teachers. It only gets worse. To quote this Washington Post article about the Pittsburgh School Board’s decision to rescind its contract with TFA, “Regina Holley, a board member, expressed skepticism at the hearing about how TFA corps members could be properly trained to handle difficult classrooms with so little training, saying, ‘I find that a bit outrageous.'” So, in short, no, TFA and I do not have the same goals. Read carefully, I am not saying that there is no one involved with TFA that would like to further education equity, but I am saying that it simply is not possible within the structure of TFA and considering the impacts it is having on public education.

      – Molly

  15. Well considering that TFA is a huge proponent of charter schools and that charter schools are becoming de facto ways of segregating I’d say that is a huge barrier to claiming any sort of ownership of the term, educational equity.



    I’d also ask you to think deeply about what that means and how you are going about trying to enact it through the reforms and agenda pushed by TFA. I would also look at how TFA operates in areas where there are no teacher shortages. What effect does TFA have on the educational process? Why do we have some many TFA alums positioning themselves in positions of power seemingly only to give sweet heart deals back to the TFA. TFA is a money making machine, often taking money from cash strapped districts.

    We need to realize as a country that fixing education goes beyond the school system. We need to address social and economic inequality. We need to address that we’ve, through racist policies or classist policies, let vast swaths of American fall apart into poverty. And then we wonder why those kids aren’t able to perform in school.

    I’ll tell you what my goal is, my goal is to strengthen public education and not undermine it. My goal is to see that everyone in this country has a stake in public education. My goal is to have career educators in a classroom and not some churn and burn 2 year commitment. My goal is to get up every day and support my students in a country that has left them unsupported both at home and through social programs. My goal is to push back against forces that want to place private hands on public money and resources.

    Or you could do your own research on the harmful affects of this churn and burn mentality. But that would get in the way of the TFA narrative.

  16. I understand that the problems about TFA are real and deep, and definitely should be addressed. However I think asking them to quit is too extreme. In this economy probably a lot of college graduates are in TFA because there are not many jobs available elsewhere. Asking a current member to quit is like asking someone to become unemployed, and to me that’is unconscionable, especially in today’s economy. If one member quits, what options does he/she have? Working at McDonald’s or become a restaurant waitress? Is working for these corporations more honorable than TFA? I myself right now works as an office grunt at a corporation and my job is no better for the world than TFA or any other problematic places.

    Of course there are wealthy graduates who have resources to live by after they quit and can afford to be unemployed for awhile, but as myself is someone who comes from a lower-class background with a family that isn’t fully able to support me if I become out of work (which is why I accepted an office grunt position at a corporation in the first place), I feel that it is unrealistic to ask those corps members who come from a poor backgrounds to essentially become unemployed. Also, having a gap in one’s resume can potentially kill a career.

    • Hi Yee,

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Clearly I disagree that it is too extreme. I think the assertion that asking someone to quit is equivalent to asking them to become unemployed is extreme. First off, I highly highly doubt many people doing TFA would be forced to take a job at McDonalds if they quit. And there is nothing wrong with waitressing to support yourself, especially if it means you are not playing a part in the destruction of public education. But many corps members would be fine without their TFA posts. Let’s not forgot that a lot of TFA corps members are amongst the most privileged college grads in our country. I’m not sure if stats exist out there on the financial background of corps members, but of all of the ones I have known or met, not a single one would be considered low-income (which, to be clear, is not to say there aren’t any, but that I think the make up is disproportional). I recently graduated from UVA, and the classmates I know who went on to become corps members in various cities a) could have gotten other jobs, or b) had the support of their parents while searching for something. Hell, some of them have the continued financial support of their parents while doing TFA. I also recently had a conversation with a couple of UVA comm school students about how TFA had been recruiting heavily in their classrooms. Being the top undergraduate business school in the country, I can safely say no one walks out of there without a shiny job offer. And more and more corporations and businesses and law firms etc. allow people to defer employment offers in order to do two years of TFA.

      And because I can speak personally on this, I will. My parents cannot afford to support me financially unless I were to move home. Unfortunately, small town coastal SC, while beautiful, is not exactly a great place for me to be doing the work I would like to be doing re: education activism. And yes, it would have been easy to apply to TFA and come out with a two-year job offer. But given that a lot of my life is easy due to my immense amount of privilege, I’m really not looking for ways that make it easier at the expense of low-income communities/communities of color in this country. Because that is already my legacy, and it is a legacy I am trying to work against. Instead, I nanny, and I love it. It provides me with enough to live frugally, but comfortably, while also saving up to do a masters program in teaching, and it gives me the space and time to read, organize, write, etc.

      So no, I don’t think it is too extreme to ask them to quit, because regardless of their intentions, they are one of the reasons TFA can continue to perpetuate its own form of violence against students across this country. When it comes to making sure students who have been disadvantaged time and time again get the educational foundation they deserve, I really don’t care about some college grads career trajectory, my own included.

      – Molly

  17. Hi Molly (and everyone else),

    This has been a great feed and I have very much appreciated everyone’s contributions.

    While we fundamentally disagree (as you pointed out) in a number of different areas, I think you are really hitting on something when it comes to teacher turnover and the benefit to students and communities of having teachers who are in it for the long haul. That is unless the teacher is ineffective- though we have yet to define effectiveness. I also went to a school where you could go back and visit your teachers years later and it fostered a sense of community and stability.

    Just as there needs to be effective training, there needs to be effective job assessment. In all fields employees are assessed for their effectiveness. Ineffective teachers need to be retrained, supported and if they continue to be ineffective, fired. Though you may disagree with the assessment methodology, Teach for America does focus on teacher achievement as defined by student achievement.

    Katie, as a former Corps member I agree that educational equity is the goal of TFA. I think what is being argued here is that the MEANS to the stated goal are flawed.

    Dranwyn, you make many excellent points about the roots of inequality. It is such a complicated topic that is often so vast and overwhelming it it difficult finding a starting point. I was a little unsure about something you said though. Can you please explain to me how TFA takes money from cash strapped districts? I am just not sure this is true.

  18. Districts pay Teach for America 2k to 5k thousand dollars for each teacher place. Since TFA has a burn and churn mentality, that means that districts will need to pay that money again and again. And of course the district pays the full teacher’s salary.


    “In Mississippi, for instance, TFA laid out a plan to send 700 recruits to the impoverished Delta — but said it would need $12 million from the state, plus $3,000 per teacher from local school districts, to subsidize that growth. The legislature came up with just $6 million this year, enough to bring in 370 teachers. Still, local TFA director Ron Nurnberg said he considered that a victory, given that the state was “cutting everyone else’s budget.”

    And thats just one state. If you’d like to do your own research, you’ll see that TFA costs the tax payer quite a lot. They receive money from other states, school districts and the federal government for what amounts to a temp agency. Oh and if that TFA corp member quits. TFA keeps the money.

    Heres another one for good measure.

    “In June, the Cleveland School District entered into a contract with Teach for America, Inc. (TFA, Inc.) to have the entity provide beginning teachers to work in the district. The contract requires the school district to pay TFA, Inc. up to $9,000 just for the privilege of being able to hire the teacher for two years. That money is on top of the regular salary and benefits that are fully covered by the school district.”

    School budgets are slashed frequently and yet TFA, through it’s use of alumni, push to have public money placed into the hand of TFA. This is money that districts simply don’t need to pay. And of course since TFA has a churn and burn style approach, districts continually have to pay these fees. So yes, TFA takes money from school districts and states at a time when they could certainly use that money else where.

    How this helps educational inequality is beyond me.

    Also it should be mentioned that for TFA to even enter a state, laws have to be changed. Literal laws are changed so that teacher standards can be bypassed. If you want to talk about improving teacher training, that would be the wrong way to do it.

    TFA’s brand of teacher assessment, looking at test scores, is no way to measure teacher effectiveness. If you want to get into the reasons why distilling student achievement into high stakes test scores is problematic, I addressed that a few posts up. I would argue that any amount of teaching which requires teaching to a standardized test is bad teaching. Very bad teaching. Yet, the easiest way to improve test scores is to simply teach to the test.

  19. Hi Molly and friends,

    I’m currently a third-year fine arts student at an art school in NYC, and I’ve only just begun to consider teaching as a profession. However, it is definitely a stereotype of artists who don’t quite make it or who are afraid to work as an independent studio artist to turn to teaching to supplement a salary or start a career. For this reason your comment about making sure you were really dedicated to teaching before pursuing it really resonates with me. I work at a small, grassroots nonprofit arts center in the Bronx which works with almost exclusively black and brown kids and community members, and my boss, an older WASP woman, told me expressly to work for TFA rather than get any certification in education, based on the idea that it’s easier to be employed with less training. Now, I listened to her say this with a look of dumbfounded awe on my face, as she proceeded to utter far more racist comments about Bronx high schools and the students in them. I obviously took her words with a pound of salt, but it was deeply troubling to me that someone with this mentality was running the organization that I’ve grown to love so much and that I truly believe in.

    I am wondering what you think about people who consider teaching a true profession worthy or dedication and years of work and training but for whom teaching is not their one and only love. For me, I would consider teaching a part of my whole practice of being an artist (which could get dangerously corny and disingenuous) but this is also coming from an artist who works mostly in social practice and considers art a form of teaching and vice versa. At this point in my life, when I am constantly being made to decide what career will take up most of my time, I am conflicted on whether or not I (could potentially) love teaching enough to pursue it seriously, while still continuing to work as an artist. I understand this is a lot about personal choice and how I juggle my time, but I sometimes think about this with the teachers I encounter in my undergraduate studies, who are required to be full-time artists as well as teachers. The results can be sometimes stellar, and sometimes terrible, and I’ve had my fair share of inexperienced artists who have no communication skills attempting to teach. I’ve even had to assistant-teach for one.

    I am in a strange position in that I have more experience in non-traditional, out-of-the-classroom teaching: I’ve worked at a small, Quaker summer camp which gave incredible amounts of freedom and responsibility to the counselors, and this is where I first learned to love the reciprocal act of learning and teaching children. Do you think straddling multiple worlds between the classroom and elsewhere is beneficial to teaching skills and the students or is ultimately distracting? And do you think there is a place in the public school classroom for those most dedicated to non-traditional ways of learning?

    • Hi Maggie,

      Thank you so much for asking these questions before you enter a classroom. And I am humbled that you want to know my thoughts on the matter. First off, you have time. These decisions should not be rushed. Lord knows it has taken me a while. And there are a handful of ways to be involved in classrooms without being a teacher in order to get a better sense of whether or not teaching is a good fit. Volunteer in a classroom, teach an art class, try to talk to some other art teachers (my aunt actually went to school to be an art teacher, so perhaps I’ll ask for her thoughts), work as a teacher’s assistant, etc. Because it sounds like if you are going to pursue teaching, you want to be really sure first, and that is fantastic. Also, speaking from personal experience, when I was in elementary school we had a visiting art teacher come into our classroom a few times a year, and I absolutely loved it. I don’t know if schools still do anything like that, bringing in a person with a specialty to a bunch of classrooms, but if they do I would recommend that as well. And I know that the pressure is there to make a decision, but no one is just one thing. I actually struggled for a while between pursuing sewing and design and pursuing teaching. I chose the latter, which is not to say I intend to cut the former out of my life. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to incorporate the two. My advice is to take your time. If you’re passionate enough about being an artist, and want to start there while exploring the idea of teaching further, I say go for it. Or if in the next year of your undergrad you get the chance to experience what teaching art would be like, then you can decide if you want to pursue a master’s in teaching. Or do some combination of the both.

      Anyhow, hope that was somewhat helpful. I’ll admit I’m a little tired, but I really appreciate you asking these questions.

      – Molly

  20. Thanks for writing this blog entry. I think it’s a great statement on what TFA really does (or, really, doesn’t do.) I’m a little stunned at the number of people who believe, honestly believe, that TFA’s short training program is adequate.

    I was a career changer and went through a graduate program that required a full year of student teaching. I taught half of a teacher’s class load in a high performing suburban high school from September to June. I also did a two month pass in a middle school in the same district. Two years of substitute teaching later, I got my first job in a high-needs, extremely high-poverty rural district.

    Even after having a year of student teaching and two years of subbing under my belt, I still felt just barely prepared for the environment I was tossed into upon getting that job. I can’t imagine what my reaction would have been had I only had a few weeks of training before going into that school.

    On another note, especially where I am (New York) there is an overabundance of highly qualified, unemployed teachers due to budget cuts. Despite this, TFA still has a ridiculous presence in the high needs school districts. It may have been needed at one time, but it no longer is. These schools wouldn’t have trouble staffing without TFA given the number of young teachers out there dying for a teaching job. TFA is hurting the profession beyond belief by taking up jobs, and thus chasing some of these talented teachers out of the profession when they can’t find steady employment.

    • Hi Kristen,

      Thanks for reading, and for your support. Everything you say is on point. But most importantly, thank you for studying to be a teacher and sticking with it despite the way the profession is being treated by corporate reform interests. Teachers like you are crucial to keeping public ed alive, and we all owe you for that.

      – Molly

  21. Molly,
    You are not a teacher. You were never involved in TFA. Please write about what you know to be true firsthand and keep in mind that every time you refer to yourself as a white female, you perpetuate racism and sexism and I implore you to stop. The naivety of your opinions really illustrates your age and life experience so until you stop living the life of a “privileged white girl”, write about you know.

  22. Hi Dana,

    Can you please elaborate on how Molly’s self identification as a “white female” perpetuates racism and sexism? I am just not sure I understand what you are trying to say.

    I would also like to suggest that living the life of a “privileged white girl” is not something that can be turned on or off. Privilege is entrenched in our society. So while one can work to break down the structures that perpetuate it, until there is tremendous change I don’t think she (nor I) will be able to stop living that life.

  23. Bara and Molly,
    If you ever do have the experience to work in area where individuals experience hardship on a daily basis, I believe you will become humbled and realize that “privilege” is not race or gender based. There are countless white females who do NOT live a privileged life and many African American males who do. If you have lived a privileged life, THAT is what sets you apart from the population you refer to here-not your race or gender.
    To use the term “white”, it implies that non-“whites” are in some kind of different class. To go on and include female in your description, implies that females somehow have it “easier” than males in our society. I can’t imagine that is true where you come from, but, again, if you have ever served in a community that refer to, you will realize that being female is no walk in the park, but quite the opposite.
    My point is that I have never in my experience in teaching and living in a struggling urban community, encountered an educator who distinguishes themselves based on their race or gender. Unless you have witnessed or experienced the struggle first hand, you may not understand that when you’re “in it”, we’re all equal. I will not pretend that racism and sexism do not exist where I am from, but I will not refer to myself as a white female because it continues to perpetuate the notion that I am separate and/or different than my struggling neighbors and in my soul, I know I am not.
    I would hope that even when you’re not “in it”, that you would respect that principle and not imply that being white or being female, or even being raised in a “privileged” community limits your ability to learn, respect, and serve in a challenged community.

    • Dana,

      The simple truth is I am not the same as everyone around me. To deny that whiteness provides privilege in this society is to imply that race does not play a role in our lives. Identifying myself based on my race and gender is not somehow implying that others are a lesser class. And calling out my own privilege is the first step in beginning to break it down. That does not mean that every white person experiences the same amount of privilege (re: socioeconomic class and other factors). Still, while I basically had to take a year off of college because my family couldn’t afford it, or went a solid 10 years of my life without health insurance, or have experienced sexual assault, there are still so many things in my life that have been easier because of my skin color. I am trusted by nearly everyone while in public, cops will go out of their way to protect me rather than make the assumption that I am a threat and decide to take my life, I have an easier time getting nanny jobs, it was assumed I belonged in advanced and honors classes, going to college was never a question of if, but where. I could go on, for a while. And please, when African American males are being killed left and right for being black in public, it is dangerous not to acknowledge that their experience is different than ours.

      But to tie TFA into this discussion of privilege, I could have easily gotten a job as a TFA corps member. It would look great on my resume and potentially get me a job once I was through. That being said, I am not interested in being part of an organization that is destroying public ed and providing subpar education in low income and communities of color. I refuse to use those students as a way to advance my own privilege. And no, I never did TFA, and I am more grateful for that than I can really know. And I am not a teacher, you’re right. It may surprise you, but I wanted to be 100% committed to teaching long term before I took it on. I am currently saving money and beginning to apply to graduate teaching programs in order to become one. Oh, and much of my time as an undergraduate was spent taking graduate-level education courses. Not to mention I read everything I possibly can on public ed issues, including how TFA and the larger privatizing “reform” movement is affecting schools, students and teachers across this country.

      So please, before you launch another vicious attack and accuse me of sexism (seriously?) and racism, actually read what I have written here. And don’t perpetuate ageism by assuming I know nothing and am naive simply because I am young.

      – Molly

  24. There is class based privilege and there is race based privileged. Both exist and both benefit white folk.

    I don’t know your background but to deny that being born white doesn’t confer a degree of privilege requires a lot of hop skips and jumps in logical thinking.

    I’ve lived in several different countries. I’ve also taught in them. And I can tell you that being born with white skin confers privilege. Now, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can look to any longitudinal study on the matter. Like there are a lot. Like you could google them and do some reading if you want. There is an astounding body of work.

    Heres a good one

    I’m sure you can find more.

    Would you like a hypothetical situation.
    Lets pretend we have a white family and a black family. For arguments sake lets say the white family was one of the undesirable whites back then, say an Irishman. Then we take our two families and plopped them down in New York City in 1900 which would have ancestors better off today? Overwhelmingly the Irish family would be statistically better off 114 years later. And this is because all things being equal, the black family would have struggled through racist policies both overt and covert. It would have robbed them of educational opportunities and employment opportunities. And the white family would have benefited from some degree of those same racist policies. And this just scratches the surface of how white privilege did and still affects America.

    To deny white privilege is pretty tone deaf.

    Now she may not be a teacher, but I am. I’ve taught in three different countries and experienced different school systems. Her critics of TFA are not only valid but spot on. If you’d feel better refuting the comments of teacher go ahead.

  25. Molly,
    I apologize if you felt you were viciously attacked and I did read everything you wrote, including your linked articles supporting your argument etc. I do not deny that race based privilege exists and I also think that you have great point regarding TFAs training program. I also applaud your efforts to receive extensive training before entering a classroom.

    What I was hoping you would take from my statement is that when you refer to yourself as a white female who “absolutely” does not belong in a classroom teaching students of a different race or socioeconomic background, you sound inexperienced and ignorant. I think you had great points to make, but that statement really made it obvious that you haven’t experienced that which you criticize. As a 12th year teacher who has watched my career and life’s work be continually affected by people who have no experience in the classroom, it is hard to sit back and constantly accept the opinions of people who have not done a days work in a classroom.

    So, again, my statement was not a vicious attack. In fact, I’m surprised you see if that way after the tone of your article, but I am grateful for the conversation and thoughts you’ve provoked. I enjoyed reading the responses of others and learning more about people’s experiences and hope you continue to do the same as you train to become a teacher. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned as a teacher is that time and time again, just when you think you know something about a student, or a family, you’ll be reminded that you really know nothing til you’ve walked in their shoes.

    I’m sure you’ll make a great teacher-the field needs people with your passion. Keep sharing your ideas….and speak to what you know to be true through your experiences.


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  31. As people above have discussed the merits of teacher preparation, it strikes me that one of the true threads of privilege that runs through this blog post is access to a high quality collegiate study of education.

    It is wonderful that you’ve had a valuable undergraduate experience, Molly. Clearly it’s made you think in new ways about the world, which is what education should seek to do. But you also happen to have had a personalized experience at one of the top education schools in the country, and you did so in an undergraduate curriculum with (seemingly) time for deep, honest inquiry.

    You are now trying to apply this experience to other people and to the institution of education credentialing. This is NOT what the vast majority of teacher credentialing experiences are like or have ever been like. So you’re creating a false binary.

    Have you read about the history of the teacher credentialing process? TFA is not undermining some time-tested system of credentialing that existed for eons. The education credentialing system has always been a localized, inexact process and only really picked up steam as a post-graduate add-on to an existing degree in the latter half of the 20th century. And there’s no particular proof that I’ve ever read that it did so with particularly great results. One of the criticisms of Education Schools in the 1980s and 1990s was that they weren’t paying that much attention to where their graduates went (as in: to high needs schools), or how they fared in the classroom.

    I come from a family of public school educators. My mother is in her 32nd year of teaching, my stepmom used to teach, I have one brother who’s a math teacher, another who’s a guidance counselor. We’ve collectively taught in four extremely different states (from SC to CA) and have taught in both elementary and secondary environments. None of my family members thought their teacher preparation courses were good. They were easy, simple, non-rigorous, and utterly detached from the intensity of classroom teaching. They were neither intellectually challenging nor practically useful. They were an expensive, frustrating waste of time. That was the experience of most people I know who have taken credentialing courses—the major exceptions I know of tend to be intensive, one-year programs with small cohorts and a community focus.

    Further, if you look at international systems of education, I’m skeptical that you will find that countries with high caliber educational systems are fixated on the idea of teacher credentialing as the answer. They insist on a solid academic foundation in subject areas, and they treat teachers well. (Well, that, and they tend to have far smaller, more homogenous populations than the US, but that’s a whole different conversation.)

    I couldn’t agree more that excellent teacher preparation is better than no teacher preparation. But demanding that everyone engage in insubstantial, lengthy, expensive teacher preparation is actually significantly worse. A sizable component of the problem we’re dealing with is what human resources professionals might call a “pipeline” issue. Teaching is already an inadequately-compensated profession. If you demand that anyone going into it has to go through expensive years of preparation–especially expensive years that feel somewhat useless–you will simply lose excellent people who are interested in the field. And you will specifically lose excellent people who are not from backgrounds that have 10s of thousands of dollars to spend on graduate school.

    Look, I think TFA is a deeply flawed organization. I think it has become a marketing juggernaut that is way too fixated on elite branding and advocates far too heavily for fixed notions of what it means for students to “succeed.” But it isn’t the reason for our problems. No single institution is. America’s educational problems are the result of broad institutional inertia, a top-down approach to a problem that should be handled in local communities, a society that is entranced with the idea of quantifying everything, and entrenched poverty. The reasons go on.

    There is important work to be done in deconstructing these issues, and in advocating for positive, proactive solutions. To my mind these would include creating teacher apprenticeship programs that replace coursework requirements, advocating for smaller schools with greater authority vested in principals, providing teachers with more control over curricular choices and more collective planning time, and, maybe most importantly, breaking the stranglehold that education companies like Pearson have on the purse strings of school districts. (Money is dumped into so many costly, useless programs, while students are denied art classes. And thus school becomes more rigid and more dull, and on and on.) For instance, someone cited Math for America above, which I think is a great, innovative model. There are others. A number of them are alternative certification programs separate from TFA.

    But demonizing institutions along the way doesn’t help the conversation move forward, it inflames it. The anti-TFA movement mimics TFA in its adherence to a set of strident talking points that do not reflect truth or reality. And this is a conversation that demands (and deserves) nuance and true, deep listening.

    • So I know that thread of privilege is there, and it is probably something I should have addressed in the piece itself. I have refused to go to grad school for that very reason. And it’s true, I was lucky to go to an excellent school, even though financially it was a struggle. But it wasn’t even in those spaces that I was really allowed deep reflection. I had to find that elsewhere, including the far less privileged institution at which I also did some of my undergraduate work. But while my background is helpful to know, I really don’t want to center this conversation around it.

      I want to be clear that when I talk about how problematic TFA is, it is not an automatic stamp of approval for teaching programs or other methods of teacher certification. I am aware of the process that allowed for alternative certification to pop up, but I think it is important to acknowledge how TFA has impacted that process (including more recently sneaking in a redefinition of what a “highly qualified teacher” is via the bill that ended the gov’t shutdown). And it’s true, I could write an entirely separate piece on how we need to be reshaping schools of ed to better serve public schools. But I find this similar to the oft-cited argument when I talk about privatization of schools, that “public ed isn’t perfect.” That is something I understand deeply, and as I write in another post, I’d much rather be working on that, but I have to make sure it’s still around in order to do so. I feel similarly about teaching programs, but if we let them be eliminated we won’t ever be able to fix them. And when I say I want folks who want to teach to get the rigorous training and experience they need, I mean working on supporting them in that process. I mean diverting the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on TFA to be put towards providing tuition funds for students of color who may not be able to afford those thousands of dollars for graduate study.

      Which brings me to another point, my argument is not just about lack of training. If it were, I agree, that would be silly. It is also about lack of practical experience, which ideally would be obtained before you ever step into a classroom. With TFA you’re lucky to get 1-2 weeks of training and a few weeks of practicing on summer school students as if they were guinea pigs. And that is NOT okay. And if you only stick around for 2 years (not just in a hard school, but in teaching itself), you’re not ever going to get the experience necessary to become a good teacher. Because I agree that what can be learned in a classroom is limited, and I know teachers who even with a year of student teaching and a year of training don’t feel prepared on their first day.

      If I misled you, no, I am not from a background that can afford to spend thousands of dollars on grad school. I’m going to go into debt in order to do that. But the people doing TFA? A lot (not all, mind you) are the very kids that do come from that background. Hell, some of them are deferring law school or business school. And I would disagree that TFA is not part of our problem. TFA’s message that “anyone can teach” without training or experience, along with its practices, is helping to deprofessionalize teaching. It is showing young college grads that they can be helpful and do two years of volunteer teaching before going onto their real careers. Not to mention they’re placing alums with minimal experience in education in positions of power. Or that there is a sort of codependency between charters and TFA. Or that contracts are structured such that TFA cms get hired before new teachers who did spend money to go to school. Or that TFA has helped systematically replace veteran teachers with CMs in some of their regions. Or that they use their power to push corporate reform. Or that one of their main funders, i.e. Gates, has partnered Microsoft with Pearson so that schools are, as you said, forced to waste money. So I’d disagree with you there. To me, TFA is a huge part of the problem. And this movement does not simply stick to talking points that spout untruths.

      I am here to listen and have these conversations, I think this comment section shows that, and I understand the need for nuance (though sometimes we have to simplify our thoughts when trying to reach people who are not involved in the realm of education). It’s possible I skipped over something you said, so feel free to call me out on that. I tend to get a little jumbled when responding to long comments.

  32. Spot on with this write-up, I truly feel this web site needs a great deal more attention.
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  33. Hi,
    I have a couple of questions, after reading your article. I gather from your responses to others, that perhaps you did not attend the TFA training and/or you were not actually a TFA corps member? Is this correct?
    Although I feel you point out quite adequately that there are flaws within the TFA model. I would not argue with you, however, I would beg to differ that the TFA training is “worse than no training at all.” Having joined TFA after being ns educator already AND working for a university certification program, I can agree the training is short. Yet, short in and of itself does not equal inadequate. Long can be just as problematic if there is no opportunity for practice or enough practice.
    My second question is this: what scholarly research informs your statements? I see that you cite the New York Times, but I see no other research to inform your assertions about the style, length, and rigor of TFA’s training. Disgruntled corps members and alumni, as well misguided professors who speak out against a program they have never been employed by does not scholarly research make.
    I appreciate you speaking out on a subject that obviously concerns you, but I am concerned that your statements might further be fueling the fire to further divide the education movement which could use all the support and voices available.

    • To be clear, this is a blog entry, not a scholarly piece, in the interest of it being widely accessible. However, if you do look through the comments you’ll see I point people to pieces that I have found helpful and informative. The quote you cite is nowhere in my piece, so if you can tell me where you found that let me know. And while I have not done institute, I have heard countless stories from people who have. I would also argue that regardless of quality of training, six weeks in not adequate for a skilled profession, including teaching.

      However, since you requested scholarly work on the subject here are two pieces that I feel provide a lot of insight:



      Not entirely sure what you mean by adding fuel to the fire to further divide the education movement. Feel free to elaborate. I will say that I really have no interest in working with people whose goals do not align with my own, which is something I make clear in the piece.

      Thanks for reading,

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