The “Ins” and “Outs” of Teach for America….

Education Reform has been around as long as there has been education, but today’s brand of “reformers” are a heck of a lot different than John Dewey, Carolyn Pratt, Maria Montessori or Herbert Kohl. No, today’s “reformer” is a loudmouth, self-promoting, mendacious media star who has little to no knowledge of what goes on in a child’s mind, and probably even less about what a quality education looks like. These “deformers” run scab organizations like Teach for America or are shills for big businesses and homophobic lawmakers, giving themselves oxymoronic names like “Students First.”

Still, these de-formers could have their use, if they would only wake up and smell the coffee. Herewith is my compendium of when I would be “in” with these folks, and when I’d be “out” with them. In this post, I’ll start with my favorite organization, Teach for America.

I’m “in” if TFA recruited¬†everyone who was interested in teaching, not just those from elite (read “high priced”) colleges and universities, as we know that most of the the students in these institutions are there because they had the money to pay for it.¬†

I’m “out” when TFA claims that only teachers from elite universities should be placed in needy schools. As David Kirp pointed out in “Improbable Scholars,” teachers who studied at less prestigious colleges can be turned into shining examples of their profession with ongoing support and encouragement, much like those from only the elite (read “high priced”) institutions.

I’m “in” when TFA recruits “non-traditional” graduates to enter the classroom, including people of color, immigrants and students whose first language may not be English, and places them in communities similar to the one in which they grew up. Such recruits would have a vested interest in staying in these schools for the long term, not the 2 – 3 year stints that are typical of TFA’ers.

I’m “out” when TFA places teachers in communities in which the recruits have no connections or understanding of the culture, and have to spend most of their time and energy decoding the mores as they struggle with children and families to whom they are unable to relate.

I’m “in” when TFA helps to support all teachers, not just the ones they train in their abbreviated “boot camps.” These recruits should be paired up with experienced, enthusiastic teachers from whom they can learn and grow, and the mentoring teachers should be acknowledged for having the skills and expertise to help these novices as they start their careers in this underserved profession.

I’m “out” when TFA recruits are brought in as “scabs” to replace experienced and trained teachers who have the audacity to be working in a school that has been labeled as “failing” by some arbitrary set of standards.

I’m “in” when TFA gives financial help to recruits in getting their licenses and degrees. We know that many potential teachers shy away from the profession because of the poor salaries; helping them stay out of debt when they earn their degrees will certainly help ensure their longevity and commitment.

I’m “out” when public money is used to help recruits get their degrees, who then leave the profession after a few years, sticking the taxpayer with the tab and nothing to show for it.

I’m “in” when TFA uses actual research to advocate for policies that have been shown to be effective in schools, including teacher coaching, collaborative teaching and diverse forms of assessments.

I’m “out” when TFA accepts the discredited policies of high stakes testing, teacher pay for performance and opening for-profit charters in place of low-achieving underserved schools.

I’m “in” when TFA advocates for the actual profession of classroom teaching, and supports their recruits in making it a lifelong career.

I’m “out” when TFA counts among its “successes” ex-teachers who start a business or organization that ultimately demeans the profession of teaching. In fact, the most helpful thing that Wendy Kopp could do to restore any legitimacy to TFA is publicly disavow any connection to, or support for, Michele Rhee.

That’s my “in” and “out” list. What have you to add to that?


About rmberkman

This blog is the sole musings of one Robert M. Berkman, an educator who has taught math, science and technology for the past 30 years in New York. You can react to all his posts by emailing him at
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