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Are Teach for America, Inc. and Bill Gates Dumbing Down Our Educational System?

tfa (2)

Teach for America, Inc. was the brain child of Wendy Kopp while she was an undergraduate at Princeton in the Woodrow Wilson  School of  Public and International Affairs. TFA, Inc. has turned into a multi-million dollar business. Wendy Kopp does not have a degree in education and from what I have been able to unearth, has no experience teaching in a classroom.

It started out innocently enough, or so it would seem, as an effort based on the Peace Corps model to provide schools with temporary teaching staff. Teach for America recruited graduates fresh out of college and with five weeks of training, placed them in schools in small southern towns and rural areas for two year stints where teachers were hard to come by. Something was better than nothing as far as those school communities were concerned. Since then, because the labor is cheap, TFA became the darling of the charter school industry. No unions had to be involved with charter schools and the recruits would gladly do what they needed to do to fulfill their two year stints, have their loans waived during that time and receive a $5,000 “stipend” to pay off past educational debts or pay for their educational pursuits in the future, whatever that might be. It was perfect for the charter schools because these schools are required by state law to maintain a certain level of achievement as shown by test scores. TFA, Inc. recruits teach to the test and there is little concern about learning how to manage “low-performing” students or students with special needs because the charter schools ensure that those students  are either not admitted or are quickly shown the way out of the door. Now, they are here in Seattle trying to justify their existence with the financial aid of Bill Gates to the tune of $2.5M to support TFA, Inc. in opening an office in the Puget Sound area.

First let’s look at the broader picture in Seattle and this will hold true for many cosmopolitan areas in this country. In Seattle we have two universities that have colleges of education, Seattle University and the University of Washington. Both colleges enjoy excellent reputations for preparing students to become teachers. Needless to say, there is no shortage of qualified individuals who are eager to begin their careers here in Seattle. I personally have spoken to many teachers who are waiting to hear from Seattle Public Schools after providing their resumes and proof of certification. These teachers have had the experience of student teaching for one or two years, know how to develop lesson plans and want to make a commitment to our community to work with our students over the long haul. They’re prepared.

No matter how smart a TFA, Inc. recruit is or where they went to school or what they studied or how excited they are to be working, they will not be prepared to develop lesson plans, manage classrooms and the issues that come up with individual students as well as teach and it’s not fair to place this burden of their inexperience and lack of training on the students or school staff.

This is not quality teaching that the proponents of Race to the Top and all things corporate reform are clamoring about. This is inadequate when compared to what a student deserves when walking into a classroom on the first day of school.

To highlight the dumbing-down aspect to TFA, Inc. as well as how it is de-professionalizing the realm of educators and education, all you have to do is see what has occurred at the University of Washington in their College of Education. Dr. Tom Stritikus, Dean of the College of Education at UW and former TFA recruit, announced last week that UW would be sponsoring Teach for America recruits after their 5 week stint of training off-site. The program at UW will be provided to TFA recruits as a one year fast track to certification. These recruits will then be certified and ready to teach our kids. Right. This announcement last week created such a furor at UW that Dr. Stitikus had a forum last Wednesday to meet with students and faculty on this new program. Students could not understand how UW could have two programs side by side, one for TFA recruits for one year and on the other hand offer a Master’s degree in education and then have both candidates on equal footing in terms of who Seattle Public Schools could hire. What a scam. This is truly scamming the system.

Dr. Stitikus did not back down from his decision but he offered a compromise. That’s right, he hadn’t compromised the system enough, he was now going to do major damage to the profession of education through his alternative solution.

He is now offering the graduate degree candidates the alternative of a fast track last year of education by allowing them to go to summer school and therefore be certified by the end of the summer and with that the opportunity to be hired for teaching in the Fall. Talk about a slippery slope. What next Dr. S? Why bother having a school of education at all when a factory will do? Going this route, Dr. Stritikus is pulling the leg out from a proud tradition of teaching professionals in this country. And what does it say about education in general when a dean of a college of education obviously doesn’t really think that education, even of his own students in preparation for their future, is that important?

And another question begs to be asked. What exactly does the PhD that Dr. Stritikus earned at UC Berkeley mean then? If degrees now do not matter, if more education for preparation for your chosen profession does not matter then what is the value of his degrees now? Continuing down that road, one could say that a former CEO of a company could “manage” a school of education or a certification mill rather, just as well as he can. And you know what? That’s exactly what people like Eli Broad of the Broad Foundation and other corporate privateers believe. Dr. Stitikus is now making the case for them and devaluing himself in the process.

Is this what our students deserve? Unprepared teachers with no depth of knowledge on child development or different approaches to education, no tools from which to draw upon?

And who is paying for this $8,000 cost per student to fast track these recruits into our public school system?

This process is not cheap. On top of the salaries that these recruits will receive when teaching, Seattle Public Schools has agreed to pay $4,000 per recruit per year to have the, what “privilege”?, of having these recruits teach our children for two years. Bargain? I think not.

So far “anonymous donors” have offered to pick up the tab for Seattle by way of the Seattle Foundation which receives funding from Bill Gates. Our schools would be so much better off if we could use those funds instead to rehire teachers and counselors who are qualified, have more to offer than “art on a cart” to many of our students, have the funding so that all schools can again have full-time librarians, enrichment programs for all schools and enough money to pay for the millions of dollars in maintenance backlog that has accrued over the years to make our schools safe.

Unless it’s another “anonymous donor” picking up the tab of each recruit to be sent through the UW mill, it will be coming out of our pockets and does that make sense? Does any of this make sense?

As parents, the best action is to speak to your principals and let them know what you think. They will be the people responsible for hiring teachers in you school. The next contact to be made would be to our interim superintendent, Dr. Susan Enfield (206-252-0180), superintendent@seattleschools.org, who sponsored the effort to get TFA, Inc. approved by the school board. She was the Chief Academic Officer at the time and it was under the direction of our former Broad-trained superintendent that she lead the charge but she is now ultimately responsible for allowing TFA, Inc. recruits into the classrooms. Dr. Enfield, if she wants to, could put pressure on the principals to hire TFA, Inc. recruits so your input to her as parents is crucial.

Will Bill Gates ultimately be responsible for dumbing down our educational system with TFA, Inc. as his tool? The irony is that his vision for education in this  country is far from the reality of what he is creating and he doesn’t even know it.

Dora Taylor

Post Script:

For another viewpoint on preparing teachers, see:

The Service of Democratic Education by Linda Darling-Hammond.

For additional information on Teach for America see:

Teach for America: A False Promise

Teach for America: A Review of the Evidence

Learning from Other People’s Kids: An Important Book on Teach for America

10 comments on “Are Teach for America, Inc. and Bill Gates Dumbing Down Our Educational System?

  1. seattleducation2011
    May 25, 2011

    Michael,

    I wanted to add that I appreciate your correction about all school loans being paid off. You receive a $5,000 payment to use for past or future educational costs. But you know, with Wendy Kopp receiving $50M last year from the Department of Education by way of Arne Duncan and the millions that she has received from other sources last year, she could probably pay off all of your loans with no problem, particularly since there is no expenditure made on her part in terms of paying for the “training” and placement of the recruits in various school districts which leads to the next question, where does all of that money go?

    Dora

  2. Pingback: Are Teach for America, Inc. and Bill Gates Dumbing Down Our Educational System? (via Seattle Education) « Transparent Christina

  3. mariasallee
    May 24, 2011

    This is the danger of self-proclaimed experts looking from outside-in but who don’t understand the complexities of actually being on the inside. Intentions may be good, but they lack the clarity of those who have experience and real-life involvement. More dangerous are those with money to burn who do not have the humility to ask the real experts–teachers and families who are intimately connected with public schools.

    • Michael
      May 25, 2011

      I’m curious. How many Teach for America teachers do you actually know? I want to be a respectful as I can here, but you are presenting a lot of claims without substantial evidence to back it up.

      Let’s start from the top:

      1. “No unions had to be involved and the recruits would gladly do what they needed to do to fulfill their two year stints and get their loans waived.”

      There are no waivers of loans. All Americorps members have their student loans frozen against accruing interest why they are serving their terms. In addition, Americorp members do receive an educational stipend that can only be applied to educational usage, but most of that is directly spend by the training programs mandated by Teach for America in order to receive those stipends.

      2. “TFA, Inc. recruits teach to the test and there is little concern about learning how to manage “low-performing” students or students with special needs because the charter schools ensure that those students are either not admitted or are quickly shown the way out of the door.”

      There are two separate arguments here. One is a a (worthy) critique of the charter school systems that pump up there numbers by only taking students who have indicators of success to begin with. This is a problem, and that’s why I don’t teach in a charter school. In fact, most Teach for America teachers DON’T teach in charter schools.

      The second argument here is that somehow TFA teachers teach to the test (wow, too much alliteration, bleh, sorry). I’ll be the first to tell you that is not true. Our core philosophy regarding assessments is that honest assessments should reflect what is taught and vice versa. For example, I teach to the test, but the test I teach to is a test that is rigorous both in depth and breadth. I developed the test. It’s not any different than what any good teacher does: ensuring that the test accurately gauges what students should know, and then creating lessons that teach what students should know. “Teaching to the test” in this context is wholly different than “teaching to the test” in context of a state or national exam.

      3. You make a claim that TFA teachers will not leave their training with the know-how to create and implement a lesson plan. You even link an article in order to prove your point. However, if you read the actual article, there is no mention that TFA teachers are inequipped for teaching or planning. The article mentions new teachers in general (aka teachers just coming out of student teaching through traditional programs.) Your warrant just doesn’t make your claim.

      4. The major part of your argument above stems for the case with Dr. Stitikus and his decision to have a fast-track certification program. The fallacy in your argument here is the lack of a cohesive argument. Your raise (not beg, that’s a different idiomatic phrase) a lot of questions, but none of that has to really do with the reality of the situation. The ultimate question should be: Are TFA teachers prepared or not? It doesn’t matter what certification program they went through. If they are prepared, then they should be afforded the respect due to all quality teachers. Let’s be clear on this point: You have presented NO evidence that TFA teachers are not quality teachers.

      Once again, I’m aiming to be a respectful as possible. But when you have such a powerful platform in terms of voice in the field of education (a field I care deeply about), please make sure you broadcast truth instead of misinformation.

      • seattleducation2011
        May 25, 2011

        Actually, Michael, I know one Teach for America former recruit very well. His name is Jesse Hagopian and he taught in D.C. as part of the TFA, Inc. program. He now teaches at a high school here in Seattle and is founder of an organization called SEE, Seattle Equality Educators. Jesse spoke about his experience in TFA in a forum that was presented last year with Diane Ravitch. If you go about 8 minutes into part 5 of the forum, https://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/watch-diane-ravitch-wayne-au-jesse-hagopian-dora-taylor-in-race-to-where-a-seattle-ed-2010-forum-on-the-misdirection-of-ed-reform-now-online/, you will hear his views on Teach for America.

        When I refer to unions, I am referring to charter schools. When charter schools first became the rage a few years ago, the teachers were not part of a union. That kept the cost down for charter school franchises being that teachers are the greatest cost of a school budget. That has remained the case today. Teachers at a handful of schools have made an attempt to unionize and I have read where one or two schools did unionize but for the most part, teachers who are in charter schools are not part of a union.

        TFA is favored by charter schools and one thing that I find ironic about Dr. Stritikus is that he brings the two together in an op-ed that he wrote last year. See https://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2010/10/01/here-we-go-again-uw-dean-of-ed-suggests-charters-tfa-for-seattle-my-response/. The percentage of TFA recruits that staff charter schools versus other schools is not what I am stating, simply the fact that one enterprise has fueled the other and vice versa.

        I have no doubt that you try your best to manage your classes and your lesson plans and your tests but I expect far more than that from someone who will be teaching my child. In Seattle, you will find that to be the case among the majority of parents. We have well trained teachers who have had the education and experience needed to provide our children with the education that they need. TFA, Inc. was needed and is probably still needed in parts of the country where there is a shortage of teachers but that is not the case here. We don’t need TFA, Inc in Seattle. We don’t want TFA, Inc in Seattle. And when I say that, I am speaking on behalf of hundreds of parents who are a part of Parents Across America as well as other parents who I have spoken to around the country. End of story.

        Just this year, the teachers that my daughter had the opportunity to work with were outstanding. She and I couldn’t ask any more of the teaching staff at Nova in terms of what she learned and how she developed and was supported. What those teachers do is far beyond creating tests, it has to do with creating students who learn and then use what they learn in creative ways developing their critical thinking skills and synthesizing the information. Teaching the way one should teach, teaching the whole child, is part of the art of teaching. It’s not the mechanics of it that counts and you only get that after being well educated in your field and having a certain amount of experience that five weeks training cannot provide.

        Your comment about the link, I clarified in another response. There was an oblique reference made to TFA. If you want to read more critiques about TFA see, for starters a critique of Barbara Torre Veltri’s book, Learning on Other People’s Kids: Becoming a Teach For America Teacher.

        In the review it is noted the following, “…the vast majority of TFA leave the classroom upon completion of their two year commitments, taking advantage of the benefits offered by graduate and professional schools towards former TFAers, and includes a stipend from AmeriCorps equal to $5,000/year for use against any past or future educational expense.”

        The article goes on to say, “And while I am on the financial aspects about which you will learn in this book, let me also note the following. TFA requires that their Corp members be paid the same as would certified teachers in the same positions EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE NOT THEMSELVES CERTIFIED. Further, the contracts with school districts require a payment to TFA of several thousand dollars additional for each Corps Members, thus effectively making a TFA placement MORE EXPENSIVE than hiring others to teach, whether fully certified or – like TFAers – provisionally certified.”

        “And there are the costs associated with the constant turnover of teaching faculty. On p. 168 Veltri cites a study that says the costs of teachers leaving the classroom range from $4,366 and $17,872 for each teacher leaving this classroom. There is further non-financial impact in the negative effect upon learning that is clearly documented across the professional literature in schools lacking a constant teaching faculty.”

        See: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/06/18/877196/-Learning-On-Other-Peoples-Kidsan-important-book-on-Teach-for-America.

        Also, “Teach for America, A False Promise”, http://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2010/06/teach-america-false-promise.

        And “Teach for America: A Review of the Evidence”,
        http://www.greatlakescenter.org/docs/Policy_Briefs/Heilig_TeachForAmerica.pdf.

        I am not sure how you quantify the “quality teacher” that you are referring to and actually I never used that phrase just for that reason.

        You will also note that I never refer to TFA, Inc. recruits as teachers, ever. They are recruits who are putting in their time for two years and may or may not decide to go into the field of teaching and education. I would accord them the title of “teacher” only after they have taken the time and effort to become a teacher through the appropriate amount of education and training.

  4. Vicki Caruana
    May 24, 2011

    Dora, you’ve done a great job bringing to light what many of us are concerned about when it comes to TFA and the current dumbing down of teaching as a profession. However, I read the Darling-Hammond article and it’s about Teachers College at Columbia (TC), not TFA. Did I miss something?

    • seattleducation2011
      May 25, 2011

      Vicki,

      There is a reference to TFA in an oblique manner in this paragraph:

      “These new scientific managers, like those of a century ago, prefer teachers with little training—who will come and go quickly, without costing much money, without vesting in the pension system and without raising many questions about an increasingly prescriptive system of testing and teaching that lines the pockets of private entrepreneurs (who provide teacher-proofed materials deemed necessary, by the way, in part because there are so many underprepared novices who leave before they learn to teach). Curriculum mandates and pacing guides that would “choke a horse,” as one teacher put it, threaten to replace the opportunities for teachable moments that expert teachers know how to create with their students.”

      To clarify my introduction of the article I changed the wording above.

      Dora

  5. seattleducation2011
    May 24, 2011

    Bill Gates is ruthless, that’s how he accumulated his wealth. All of the anti-trust cases against Microsoft over the years show that to be the case. He has this goofy smile like he is just some computer geek without a care in the world but when he wants something the gloves are off and he goes after it. Now he’s doing that with education, a field that unfortunately he knows nothing about.

    Dora

  6. David Fisher
    May 24, 2011

    Dora you have written another excellently researched article on the TFA scam. The dumbing down effort by corporate America serves their financial and political interests to ensure that students don’t have a broad based education in the arts and sciences and will lack truly marketable skills.

    Bill Gates himself was given a no-bid contract with IBM to develop the operating software for the personal computer which automatically gave him a monopoly control of 90% of the software market from the very beginning. His father’s political power is the key to Bill’s success and Microsoft is one of the most ruthless players in the business industry today.

    Bill Gates the elder is a senior partner in the K&L Gates law firm based in Washington DC which is the number one law firm in the world representing death squad dictators. Its hard to find this information on the web anymore.

    The Gates Foundation has close to $30 -$40 billion of untaxed assets that it uses among other things to price the small farmers in Africa out of business by promoting expensive chemical agricultural practices. This is the same pattern in his educational reforms which are meant to give advantage to the corporate state at the expense of the individual.

    Its interesting to note that the pentagon gave IBM a no-bid contract to develop the PC after world war 11 and IBM in turn awarded a no-bid contract to Bill Gates Jr, but the real force behind Microsoft and the Gates Foundation is Bill Gates senior, arguably the most powerful man in the state of Washington, and the head of the Gates Foundation which has 3 board members. Bill, Bill, and Melinda Gates.

    David

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