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An Open Letter to Teach for America Recruits

The program exacerbates some of the greatest inequalities in education today.
 
 
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Dear New TFA Recruits,

Around the country, hundreds of college seniors and a handful of career changers are receiving letters of acceptance into Teach For America (TFA). Congratulations on being accepted into this prestigious program. You clearly have demonstrated intelligence, passion, and leadership to make it this far.

And now I am asking you to quit.

TFA probably enticed you into the program with its call to end education inequality. That is a beautiful and noble mission. I applaud you for being moved by the chance to help children, to be part of creating equality in our schools, of ending poverty once and for all.

However, the actual practice of TFA does the exact opposite. TFA claims to fight to end educational inequality, and yet exacerbates one of the greatest inequalities in education today: Low-income children of color are much more likely to be given inexperienced, uncertified teachers. TFA’s five weeks of institute are simply not enough time to prepare anyone, no matter how dedicated or intelligent, with the skills necessary to help our neediest children. This fall, on that first day of school, you will be alone with kids who need so much more. You will represent one more inequality in our education system, denying kids from low-income backgrounds equitable educational opportunities.

Many of you no doubt believe you are joining a progressive education justice movement; that is the message TFA sells so well. But TFA is not progressive. The data-driven pedagogy, the fast-track preparation, the union-busting, the forced exploitation of your labor, the deep-pocketed affiliation with corporate education reform are all very conservative, very anti-progressive ideas. Look no further than TFA’s list of supporters/donors. The largest donations are from groups like the Walton Foundation, of Walmart fortune, which has a vested interest in the status quo of inequality, breaking unions, and keeping wages low and workers oppressed. Or notice the partnerships with JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, the very institutions that caused the financial collapse of 2008 and threw millions of Americans—including your future students’ families—into foreclosure, bankruptcy, and deeper poverty. These organizations choose to donate to TFA because TFA supports their agendas. If TFA was truly pushing back on the status quo of educational inequality, these donors would not only refuse financial support, they would be on the attack.

Ask yourself: Since when did billionaires, financial giants, or hedge fund managers on Wall Street begin to care about the education of poor black and brown children in America? If you follow the money, you will see the potential for mass profit through privatization, new construction, union-busting, and educational service industries. Why would a group dedicated to educational justice partner with these forces?

A Broken Model

In places like my city of Chicago, TFA represents a gross injustice from the very first day of training. TFA places up to five trainees at a time in our summer school classrooms. In Chicago, summer school is for children who failed courses during the school year. These are the children most in need of expert teaching and support; many have or eventually may need special education services. Instead, these students are used for practice as novice TFA corps members have their very first experiences working with a group of children. Last year, a phenomenal teacher friend of mine described his experience of having TFA forced upon his classroom, “They are using my kids as guinea pigs,” he lamented. This powerful, experienced teacher was told to sit silently in the back of his classroom. He was forbidden to give feedback as five novice TFAers fumbled their way through lessons for four weeks of a five-week summer term. Those kids will never get that time back.