Monday, October 01, 2007

Why Teach for America

This weekend's NY Times Magazine is "The College Issue" and has many interesting articles (<> ).  The one about Teach for America, unfortunately, is quite poorly written, rehashing tired and lame critiques such as the horrors of TFA requiring "only" a two-year commitment.  I shared Wendy's Kopp's response to this in an email earlier this year:

I found this paragraph particularly annoying because the author doesn't even attempt to answer these damning questions, nor ask anyone else to do so:

Still, might it be more  productive to try to alter the structure that produces failing schools and high teacher turnover rates rather than to spend those resources on pulling in talented young people who tend to leave teaching after a few years? And when  T.F.A. points to the successful national charter-school initiatives that have been started by T.F.A. alums, does it risk contributing to the continued  privatization of education and the belief that existing public schools are a  lost cause?

Re question 1: TFA is attempting (and succeeding in many ways) "to alter the structure that produces failing schools" -- Wendy addresses this in her response I link to above and, in addition, the article notes:

In the organization’s view,  it takes allies in every field to close the achievement gap. T.F.A.’s sights are set on the boardroom and Capitol Hill. This is what it calls “the second  half of the movement,” beyond the classroom.
One new program, for example, coaches alumni in how to run for  political office. Their goal is to get 100 leaders into elected office by  2010. “We have to have advocates in every sector to work on educational inequity,” Elissa Clapp, T.F.A.’s senior vice president for recruitment, told me in June. “It’s naïve to think that we can solve this problem only through  teaching.

In question 2 about charter schools, the author is truly idiotic.  In writing about the "continued privatization of education", she appears not to be aware that charter schools ARE public schools!!!  As for the rise of charter schools (and TFA's role in this) "contributing to ... the belief that existing public schools are a lost cause," I think the best thing that ever happened to public schools in this country has been the emergence of a new breed of public schools (charters), unshackled from the bureaucracies, unions and pervasive hopelessness about the prospects of educating low-income African-American and Latino kids.  Many of these public, open-admission, nonselective charter schools have become incredible laboratories of innovation and are proving the possible, showing that it is possible (even while spending less money) to properly educate disadvantaged children and send the great majority of them to 4-year colleges.

Why Teach for America

September 30, 2007 <>

HOUSTON'S FIFTH WARD has an abundance of overgrown grass fields and dilapidated chicken restaurants: chicken and barbecue, chicken and waffles and just plain chicken. Along railroad tracks that run past a string of cavernous warehouses is John L. McReynolds Middle School, a brick building with Art Deco flourishes that suggest a glorious past. Until 2006, McReynolds had been ranked “academically unacceptable” for three years running by the Texas Education Agency. Three principals had come and gone over five years. I went to McReynolds in early July to observe Teach for America, a program that promises to place America’s best and brightest college graduates into the nation’s neediest public schools for two-year stints. For three years, Teach for America has been working with the McReynolds summer-school program.

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