Teach For America Raises Concerns

Friday, October 19, 2018

For the last several years, many groups, individuals and parties interested in preserving public education for our children have stood firm as a rampantly growing privatization movement has descended upon our local educational landscape.  We saw last year the Department of Education push a plan that would form a partnership zone which could potentially lead to schools in the opportunity zone being placed in the dysfunctional Achievement School District. The recent Every Student Succeed Act plan for Tennessee includes provisions for school takeover by the State. This has been in the face of empirical data and evidence that suggest several current strategies are more effective than many of the approaches that are periodically proposed. 

Now the public has been informed that Teach for America is pushing to gain a foothold in Hamilton County, and if one was to look in education journals, newspapers like the Washington Post, or listen to education advocates like Dianne Ravitch, you might become disturbed on what the inclusion of Teach for America might mean for our system. 

Teach for America professes to recruit the best students across the nation and incentivize them to join the teaching ranks.  These teachers, who in many instances have failed to study education psychology, cognitive development, the diverse needs of learners, and a wide array of elements essential to understanding child development and education, are placed into quick track teacher training programs that last less than six weeks and are then placed into classrooms under the assumption that anyone who gives half a hoot can teach children. These bright minds in turn commit to staying in a school system, often under the guise of providing a valuable service to an underserved or underprivileged school, for a two year term.

T. Jameson Brewer and Kathleen deMarrais have highlighted concerns about Teach for America in the published work, Teach for America Counter Narratives: Alumni Speak up and Speak Out (2015). This book sought to provide individuals who had previously been employed with TFA a platform to discuss and detail their experiences and insights into the practices and designs that in their opinion dictated the scope and scale of how TFA operates. Alexandra Hootnick’s 2014 article in The Nation, “Teachers Are Losing Their Jobs, but Teach For America Is Expanding. What’s Wrong With That?”, also referenced several concerns raised by former employees of TFA. Likewise, Kerry Kretchmar helped provide a chronological assessment of TFA in a 2014 article for the Urban Review entitled, “The Revolution will be Privatized: Teach For America and Charter Schools. In reviewing these critiques by respected scholars and former individuals in the TFA ranks, numerous questions do arise. 

How is their method of quick-tracking college graduates, however gifted they may be, of greater benefit than current teacher education programs, no matter how flawed they may be? What happens to the long-term stability of the teaching workforce if wages, workplace standards and professional development opportunities are undercut? Will the ability of teachers to garner present and future contractual obligations be usurped because of a workforce that only has a short-run interest? Will the relationship between TFA and policy makers be geared towards providing the essential needs of all students or relegated to promoting the aspirations of for profit businesses entities?

If history proves correct by what we have seen in New Orleans and the more than 50 areas TFA has become entrenched in, Hamilton County and indeed the State of Tennessee may well become ground zero for the next big wave of school privatization. Legitimate necessities such as the need to replenish an aging teaching workforce, provide greater parity and equity in schools, and close achievement and opportunity gaps could very well be manipulated and misconstrued to  a citizenry who rightfully and urgently want our children to be provided the best possible education by those whose true motives are to advance and accelerate an agenda promulgated by big business and the for profit corporations, laying public education as we now conceive it asunder.

Some 190 years later, Horace Mann’s  six guiding principles for common schools still reverberates: (1) Citizens cannot maintain both ignorance and freedom; (2) This education should be paid for, controlled, and maintained by the public; (3) This education should be provided in schools that embrace children from varying backgrounds; (4) This education must be nonsectarian; (5) This education must be taught using tenets of a free society; (6) This education must be provided for by a well trained and professional set of teachers and staff. For these reasons, we should be highly skeptical of any entity who is pushing market-based education solutions until they can demonstrate that it will be for the sheer betterment of our schools and students.

Eric Atkins

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