Teach for America (TFA) is a non-profit organization, self-described as looking for “leaders who commit to expanding opportunity for low-income students… [while] fighting for the aspirations of children and their families.” Upon critical reflection of TFA and its policies, such words barely cover the elitist reality of a corrupt organization that destabilizes public schools in low-income areas.
TFA recruits college graduates, appealing to their idealism and sense of frustration at injustice. At the most basic level, TFA’s five week training program does not adequately prepare these prospective ‘teachers’ to handle the challenges of a classroom. One former TFA member described her training experience as working with “nine well-behaved third-graders… with three other corps members, which created a generous teacher-student ratio [and] ample time for one-on-one instruction,” leaving her grossly unprepared to manage a difficult classroom. Most states require years of study on educational theory, student psychology and student teaching from their public school teachers, so TFA’s recruits’ poor training stands out as exceptionally illogical in challenging, low-income schools where training and experience is most needed. How can barely trained TFA members be expected to teach adequately, much less “expand opportunity for low-income students?”
However, TFA goes beyond ruining one or two critical years of children’s education. Corps members only need to commit to two years of teaching, creating instability in schools that are already plagued by it.
When something is so clearly contradictory as TFA’s values and outcomes, I like to give benefit of doubt by looking at intention and adherence to it. TFA was founded by Princeton University senior Wendy Kopp, who created the organization to remedy teacher shortage issues plaguing the nation. This intention has been dramatically lost, instead contributing to the unemployment of qualified teachers across the country. Journalist James Cersonsky talks about how “Chicago, for example, is closing 48 schools and laying off 850 teachers and staff while welcoming 350 corps members.” TFA fails in this regard as well.
Despite the many, many harms already perpetuated by the TFA, it, most alarmingly, seems to reflect an ongoing effort to privatize public schools. A 2019 expose by ProPublica revealed how the Walton foundation, TFA’s largest private funder, provided a two-year $20M grant in 2013 which stipulated that it would pay $4,000 for every teacher placed in public schools and $6,000 for every teacher placed in charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded and privately run, and billionaires’ interest in them represents an attempt to shift the public education system to private, for-profit charter schools. The proportion of TFA corps members sent to charter schools has increased correspondingly because while “only 7% of students go to charter schools, Teach For America sent almost 40% of its 6,736 teachers to them in 2018 — up from 34% in 2015 and 13% in 2008.”
The growing school choice movement, which supports allowing parents to choose which schools are best for their children, is perfectly reasonable, but when one of the school options are charter schools that are strategically manipulated by billionaires, there is an issue. School reform should come from policy by those with education and experience rather than million-dollar money dumps into unproductive non-profits. Thus, not only does TFA have a history of destabilizing traditional public schools, but it has a growing tendency to support charter schools and offer an avenue for billionaires to manipulate a public entity.
While the long-term consequences of such corruption have not yet played out, it cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. Reform of the public school system is undeniably necessary, but by publicly accountable professionals rather than the whims of nonprofits and billionaires. The upcoming election provides a chance for the enforcement of such reforms through proper channels: Biden’s education proposal “urges federal investment in low-income schools, supports universal pre-kindergarten and higher teacher pay, and… opposes for-profit charter schools.” His plan offers a first step in the necessary revitalization and reformation of the public education system.
Additionally, to seniors interested in changing the world: there are ways to do so that are not through corrupt organizations like TFA. Do not let your passion and potential be wasted.
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