A network of Teach for America alumni and corps members is organizing in Chicago this weekend as part of the national Free Minds, Free People conference organized by the Education for Liberation Network, but this summit is more than a wistful reunion gathering. The group's aim, as encapsulated in the roundtable's title, "Organizing Resistance to Teach for America and its Role in Privatization," is no less than overthrowing—or at least overhauling—the non-profit organization's dominant role in educational reform. And who better to challenge TFA than its graduates?
The summit is the subject of extensive coverage in The American Prospect, starting with a tremendously helpful cheat sheet of popular criticisms of the non-profit educational organization in education reform circles:
Twenty-four years running, the rap on Teach for America (TFA) is a sampled, re-sampled, burned-out record: The organization’s five-week training program is too short to prepare its recruits to teach, especially in chronically under-served urban and rural districts; corps members only have to commit to teach for two years, which destabilizes schools, undermines the teaching profession, and undercuts teachers unions; and TFA, with the help of its 501(c)4 spin-off, Leadership for Educational Equity, is a leading force in the movement to close “failing” schools, expand charter schools, and tie teachers’ job security to their students’ standardized test scores. Critics burn TFA in internet-effigy across the universe of teacher listservs and labor-friendly blogs.
Meet Beth Sondel, a former TFA member listed among the organizers of the anti-TFA gathering:
“The goal is to help attendees identify the resources they have as activists and educators to advocate for real, just reform in their communities,” says co-coordinator Beth Sondel, a 2004 TFA alum who is now a PhD student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin. Though the organizers don’t have pre-set goals, possible outcomes range from a push for school districts not to contract with TFA to counter-recruitment of potential corps members away from the program.
Indeed, in recent months there's been no shortage of public pushback against the organization, ranging from a widely circulated letter urging new recruits to resign, to Minnesota Governor Mark Dalton's May decision to veto a bill granting funding for the program. In April, activists successfully fought for the California Commission on Teaching Credentialing to increase its training requirements for teaching English learners. And only last week, University of Minnesota grad students fought to block a Teach for America partnership with the university, blasting the program in a "No TFA at the U of M" statement. Then there was last year's eviscerating point/counterpoint in The Onion, mocking recruits' paternalistic attitudes and general self-absorption.