Monday, December 15, 2014

The Nation: This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach For America

The Nation released a report on the hidden weaknesses of Teach for America (TFA), the most popular and largest teacher recruitment program of its kind to address educational inequities in the nation's most distressed school districts. It spends millions of dollars annually to deflect criticism and uphold its program as the model for revamping urban education. Nonetheless, its opponents are staunch to fight back and reveal the ugly truth about TFA's practices. While TFA has become a resume-padding tool for college graduates seeking entry into top graduate and professional schools, it has dire consequences on at-risk students' learning and development.

Last year, Wendy Heller Chovnick, a former Teach For America manager, spoke out against her former organization in The Washington Post, decrying its “inability and unwillingness to honestly address valid criticism.” In recent years, such criticism has centered on Teach For America’s intimate involvement in the education privatization movement and its five-week training, two-year teaching model, which critics claim offers recruits a transformative résumé-boosting experience but burdens schools with disruptive turnover cycles.

In the interview, Chovnick referenced the extent to which Teach For America manufactured its public image, explaining, “Instead of engaging in real conversations with critics, and even supporters, about the weaknesses of Teach For America and where it falls short, Teach For America seemed to put a positive spin on everything. During my tenure on staff, we even got a national team, the communications team, whose job it was to get positive press out about Teach For America in our region and to help us quickly and swiftly address any negative stories, press or media.”

[UPDATE: January 11, 2015]: Why are school districts paying millions in "finder's fees" to an organization that places people without education degrees to teach in urban schools—even where applications from veteran teachers abound? Rachel M. Cohen, writing fellow at The American Prospect, explores another area of controversy in the Teach For America program: the start-up costs of hiring a TFA teacher, and the program’s impact on the retention of veteran teachers.

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