Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Comments from a corps member

Second, an email from another first-year TFA corps member (who prefers to remain anonymous) with some interesting thoughts on what TFA teaches (and doesn't teach) new corps members during its Summer Institute:


Hi Whitney,

As a first-year TFA corps member teaching at [a top charter school network], I just wanted to chime in and say: Don't change a thing.

I've been getting your e-mails for almost a year now, and they've been incredibly influential on my own thinking about the long-term solutions for closing the achievement gap. Most writing on education reform tends to focus on academic questions and treats the politics with kid gloves, if at all. We need people like you who are willing to say, "Here's a battle plan. Here's why it will work. Let's make it happen."

And to perhaps explain a little of where my fellow corps member is coming from, I'll offer this:

Having just come out of Summer Institute, I don't think TFA does a great job of explaining to brand new corps members how the organization fits into the long-term solution for education. They hammer us with "You'll be great teachers. Focus on being great teachers, and you'll close the achievement gap for your students." But CLEARLY that's not enough, and the politics of education has received almost no discussion so far, at least in New York. I understand that TFA, wisely, doesn't want to become an overtly political organization, but I think it could do a much better job of facilitating discussion on these topics among corps members.

Instead, what we have is a politics vacuum, and I'm not surprised that a lot of first-year corps members wouldn't yet be outraged at unions. It's easy for someone who's new to all this to think, "The problem is just that people don't care enough. We should start caring and devote more money and manpower to this issue." It's only when you really start to unpack these problems that you realize that there are fundamental political obstacles to educational achievement for low-income students, that the unions are the primary source of those obstacles, and that's why there's been very little change over the last 50 years.

I personally believe these are objective conclusions, and the only reason that a fair-minded, impartial person wouldn't come to these already is that they haven't really dove deep on this particular issue yet. I'm sure that corps member will become just as outraged as you pretty soon, but if you're wondering why it hadn't happened yet, I'd wager the above is a fairly good hypothesis.

Anyway, thanks again for everything you do, and I look forward to many more presses being stopped.

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