United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a national student labor organization that fights for workers’ rights, launched this week the “TFA Truth Tour,” which they characterize as a campaign to fight back against the corporate robber barons of education reform on college campuses by exposing the truth about Teach for America.
The tour will visit 15 college campuses to educate students who are considering joining Teach for America about how its business model works.
From USAS’ press release:
Imagine your favorite professor. Now imagine that this professor will be replaced by someone who has only been trained for 5 weeks and will only be at your university for two years. They don’t know anything about you, they don’t know anything about the community at your university, and they don’t know anything about your life and how it relates to your capacity to learn. Now imagine that this isn’t happening just to your favorite professor, but to every professor at your university. As you can tell, this is a situation that would devastate and destabilize your university.
That’s what’s happening in K-12 public education. For example, in Chicago the Board of Education slashed the budget for schools and fired teachers, yet increased its financing of TFA from $600,000 to $1.6 million and brought in over 300 TFA corps members. In Newark, the superintendent, an TFA alumnus, is likely to fire 700 teachers and replace most of them with TFA corps members. But as one study noted, TFA “is best understood as a weak Band-Aid that sometimes provides some benefits but that is recurrently and systematically ripped away and replaced.”
In order to operate, TFA depends on its partnerships with universities to get corps members certified to teach in each state. While teaching, corps members must attend classes at a university, which in some programs can lead to a master’s degree. In effect, TFA uses our universities’ names to make up for its own weak training programs and convince state boards of education that its members are “highly qualified” to teach.
But students are refusing to allow this to happen any longer. We are joining together with parents, teachers, and TFA alumni to expose the truth about TFA.
At a TFA Truth Tour stop at the University of Pennsylvania, half the room was filled with students considering TFA:
“I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve head of students at schools being told, ‘If you get a job offer from Goldman Sachs you can defer that offer and still do Teach for America and then carry on with your real career,’” said Jan Van Tol, a national organizer with USAS. “That runs counter to what we believe, which is that teachers should be well-trained, well-educated professionals. Teaching is not a hobby you just do for two years.”
Last year, North Carolina’s lawmakers decided to ditch the renowned NC Teaching Fellows program and instead funnel more money to Teach for America.
The NC Teaching Fellows program awarded $6,500/year scholarships for tuition at an in state college to North Carolina high school students interested in teaching. In return, students were required to teach for four years in North Carolina after graduation. The highly regarded program had high retention rates, with 75 percent of Teaching Fellows continuing to teach into their fifth year, whereas Teach for America’s retention rates are poor: only 28 percent of TFA teachers remain in public schools beyond five years, compared with 50 percent of non-TFA teachers.