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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.

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WUNC’s Dave DeWitt has a good story this morning comparing Teach for America in NC to the 30-year old NC Teaching Fellows program.

The NC Teaching Fellows program awards $6,500/year scholarships for tuition at an in state college to North Carolina high school students interested in teaching. In return, students must teach for four years in North Carolina after graduation.

According to DeWitt:

The Teaching Fellows program has had a transformative effect on the profession in North Carolina: currently more than 4,000 teachers are Teaching Fellows. And more than three-quarters stay on as teachers past five years.

Despite these results, the Republican-controlled Legislature abruptly cut the program two years ago.

Teach for America, on the other hand, is gaining momentum in North Carolina:

Teach For America will place more teachers in eastern North Carolina than ever starting this fall, and TFA’s political influence has grown here has, as well. Governor Pat McCrory recently named a former TFA teacher as his new education advisor. Nationally, Teach For America has a budget of around $300 million, drawing donors like the Bill and Melinda Gates and Walton Family Foundations.

Fast forward then to last month, and the State Senate’s proposed budget (pdf). For the third straight year, the Teaching Fellows annual budget of $13 million went unfunded, as it did in the Governor’s version of the budget.

Teach For America, meanwhile, is poised to get a new initial allocation of $6 million in the Senate budget.

While the House budget restores the Teaching fellows program, the Senate is on track to support TFA over the native program that trained and retained such a large percentage of its participants over the years.

The House’s final vote on its budget comes this afternoon.