Other Views on Teach for America

Since I have posted positively about Teach for America, it is only fair I post this article from the Atlantic of a Teach for America alum who felt she was unprepared for what she faced in the classroom.

Over the years, I have met many TFA teachers and have been in their classrooms, and have never gotten this vibe from them, but perhaps one of our samples (mine or the author's) are flawed**.

I guess my reaction to the article is this:  TFA is the best program I have encountered to try to improve education within the framework of our deeply flawed public education system***.  However, understanding the flaws of public education, and being someone who would much rather see competition introduced into the k-12 education system, I suppose I am not surprised that putting really talented people in a bad system can only do so much.

The education establishment, which is implicitly backed by most of the media, really wants to kill TFA, which just goes to show, perhaps, the impossibility of making change happen within the system.  Think of it this way:  TFA is everything liberals have wanted in teaching reform.  It brings the brightest of the bright from America's colleges and diverts them from Wall Street and Harvard Law to teaching schoolkids.  It is modeled roughly on the Peace Corps.  It is the most establishment-friendly way I can think of to try to make public schools better and still the public school system immune system rejects it.  If TFA cannot work, then we should take that as proof that it is time for a radically new system that eliminates the government monopoly on education.


** I confess it may be my sample.  When we pay to sponsor a teacher, we specify that we will only sponsor one in a charter school.  Consistent with my comments in the rest of the article, I despair of throwing even really good people into typical public schools, and want to send them where they might have a chance.  The school where we have sponsored a teacher the last couple of years is doing great, with a population of kids nearly 100% eligible for the Federal school lunch program and most of whose parents do not speak English as a first language (or at all) significantly outperforming their peers.

*** I also think it is a great program for the young adults in it.  I have seen many of the not-for-profit and NGO jobs smart kids go into out of college, and they are awful.  They teach bad organizational lessons that will make these folks less employable in the future by productive enterprises and they at best do nothing (at worst spend their time lobbying to make my life harder and more expensive).  Against this backdrop, it is a much better experience for folks who want a service type of job out of college - the life skills taught are more relevant and the work has a higher impact.


  1. MingoV:

    "It is the most establishment-friendly way I can think of to try to make
    public schools better and still the public school system immune system
    rejects it."

    Teachers and their state governments spent decades putting more and more hurdles in front of those teaching certificates. Teach for American short-circuits those efforts and therefore must be destroyed. School administrators kowtow to the teachers' unions on teacher employment issues.

    "[TFA tries] to make public schools better..."

    Teachers and school administrators don't care one whit about making schools better. They are concerned only when funding is based on standardized tests. Then they'll dump the curriculum and "teach to the test" for as many weeks as it takes to get acceptable scores. If that doesn't work, they cheat. They don't even consider the idea of providing better education.

  2. mesocyclone:

    My mother, a mathematician, after my brother and I were in high school, went to ed school (tales are scary) and then taught Algebra in public schools for 20 years. She told us that she would do whatever it took to keep *our* kids out of public school. So we did.

  3. irandom419:

    I got depressed about public schools when I went to the local community college and noticed that was the level of my high school math teacher. I know this, because she displayed her college textbooks on her desk. My understanding about an education degree is that it tells you how to present information, not impart information to present.

  4. marque2:

    Just a point about "teach to the test" When they teach to the test, at least they are teaching something.

  5. lelnet:

    "TFA is everything liberals have wanted in teaching reform."

    This is a grievous error. Specifically, you are allowing their statements about their own desires to control what you believe they actually desire. That is quite foolish.

    TFA is most emphatically _NOT_ the most important thing liberals actually want in teaching reform: a failure.

  6. Sam L.:

    It was in Atlanta, a public school in Atlanta. Different conditions, different situations.