Resources taking a critical look at TFA

Part of the reason I started this site is because most critical content on TFA was scattered in various nooks and crannies on the web.  This site allowed me to collect links to this info in one convenient place and also to share it with others.  Since then, a few other sites have accumulated some great content on TFA.  I’ve listed them below (and will add to it as I find more; if you know of any, please email me (see About page for contact info)).

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How TFA rigs the teacher hiring process in favor of charter operators

In an insightful post, TFA: The International Brotherhood of Corporate Interests, TFA alum Chad Sommer tells how “TFA rigs the teacher hiring process in favor of charter operators.” with its strict policy whereby recruits must accept whatever offer a school makes.   Since charters rarely have collective bargaining contracts to worry about they can drastically undercut the market.  Basically, it’s a rigged seller’s market for charters that TFA helps rig.  And, “By driving down teacher salaries and weakening workplace protections, TFA has a corrosive effect on the teaching profession.”

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TFA recruits continue to speak out

TFA recruits continue to speak out about the problems with TFA.  In Help Wanted?  McTeaching with Teach for America, two ex-TFA teachers talk about their experience and disillusionment with TFA.  And, in Tell-All From A TFA and KIPP Teacher: Unprepared, Isolation, Shame, and Burnout another TFA teacher shares a similar tale of disillusionment.  In both articles, we hear many of the same recurring criticisms:  poor preparation, poor support, and the sad conclusion that TFA is not helping but is, in fact, “perpetuating many of the issues that already exist within the system.”

TFA claims it is now committed to listening to criticism.  Will it address the above issues in a substantive manner?

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TFA Takes Advantage of Season of Giving

For many, the holiday season is a time of giving – to show appreciation to family and friends and to offer help to those facing hardships.  Sadly, there are some groups that try to take advantage of this generosity for selfish reasons.   Disappointingly, I believe TFA is one of them, attempting to take advantage of such generosity in recklessly focusing on its own expansion instead of focusing on addressing educational and societal inequities.  As reported at Diane Ravitch’s site, Julian Vasquez Heilig’s Clocking Inequality site, and at EduShyster, TFA is aggressively partnering with big name consumer brands to solicit charitable donations during the holidays.  This is not only a brazen attempt to cash in on holiday generosity, but also an attempt to cash in on Americans’ concerns about educational inequity and their generosity towards teachers in general (surveys show Americans support more ed funding and their teachers).  When TFA sits flush with cash and the backing of the wealthiest corporations and foundations, it is frankly deplorable that it has the audacity to act like a charity when millions of Americans suffer in poverty and are further burdened when their neighborhood schools face inequitable funding and sometimes outright neglect.   Even if you think TFA is not all bad, it is clearly not donating or volunteering anything to poor schools – in fact, TFA charges a fee of ~$5K per recruit per year to these schools!   Tell TFA and these companies that this is hurting our schools by diverting charitable contributions away from helping the needy.   Write letters, call them, comment on their Facebook pages and tell them you will take your business elsewhere until they stop these misguided TFA fundraisers!

Boycott FedEx, Subaru, J. Crew, and Symantec and any other company partnering with TFA!

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Middlebury students urge classmates to Reconsider TFA

A group of students a Middlebury College is urging their follow students to reconsider joining TFA and instead find other ways of getting involved in education.  They note that “TFA is “deprofessionalizing” the teaching profession” and that rather than challenging the status quo, TFA is helping maintain an unequal system.   There are a growing number of college students across the country that are seeing past the marketing spin of TFA and recognizing that the inequity we see in our schools is primarily related to the inequity we see in society (refer to, and recent student articles from YaleHarvard, and Columbia College speaking out against TFA).  And, this inequity will not be solved by the same corporate backers that caused it.

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TFA Lowers Teaching Standards

In a brilliant analysis from Plunderbund, we can clearly see how far TFA lowers the bar for teaching standards in Ohio, especially compared to the rigorous programs already in place there.  One highlight shows how much more experience in the classroom Ohio’s traditionally trained teachers get:  “While Teach For America, Inc. only requires 50 hours of cooperative teaching during a summer school program, Ohio state law requires that prospective teachers complete a minimum of 460 hours of field experience, including 12 weeks of student teaching, with typically 6 of those weeks being full days of independent instruction, under the supervision of a university professor(s).”    This is especially troubling considering how Congress extended a provision allowing TFAers to be considered “highly qualified”.  Not the direction we should be headed to strengthen the teaching profession or address educational inequity.

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TFA Alum: TFA newbies should be placed into teaching assistant positions their first year

In an article seemingly aimed at defending TFA from recent criticism, TFA alum Elena Kryzhanovskaya concludes with a proposal that many critics would heartily applaud:  that TFA newbies should be placed into teaching assistant positions their first year.   She proclaims, “How much pain to me and my students would have been avoided had I had more time as a teaching assistant?”  This could truly be a model of serving communities  and helping address the “savage inequalities” that TFA claims is its goal.  Elena goes on to say, “At a time when out-of-school factors such as poverty are growing worse…, we really need to come together as a country to figure out how to move forward.”  Indeed!  Most TFA critics would agree.  TFA – are you listening?

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Does TFA allow dissent?

Until recently, Jay Saper was a TFA teacher in Philadelphia.  When he started speaking out about the destructive reforms taking place there, TFA told him, “Jay, your opinions need to remain silent.”  Jay was subsequently dismissed from TFA.  He recounts his story at Why Teach For America Kicked Me Out.

On Twitter, a current TFA teacher, commented that “I could write a book on the failure of tfa. And that’s frm 7 wks”  After someone responded that she should write that book, she replied, “I have to quit first. They would come after me…”

In Learning on Other People’s Kids, Barbara Veltri recounts the pressure TFA recruits felt to adhere to TFA edicts about participating in TFA events and promoting the organization – on top of their day jobs teaching.  She notes that “participants overwhelmingly acknowledged that “following the TFA way of doing things ” was overtly linked to not only becoming a TFA teacher, but being recognized as a good TFA corps member.”  One TFA CM reported “it’s almost like TFA is a cult.  If you’re not all for it, all for one, then you’re a bad person… that we’re not trying as hard as we possibly can for the kids.  But it’s not true, because most of us spend 15 hours just doing curriculum and planning for our kids.”  Another TFA CM reports, “The pressure is there to not tell all that they are feeling.  If they make comments, they are called in “to discuss it.”  It’s usually not pleasant.”

TFA CMs who quit or are dismissed could be giving up AmeriCorps stipends, grad school incentives, or a position at Goldman Sachs.  These are very real personal costs CMs risk by speaking out.

A defender of TFA might argue that TFA is like any organization in wanting its members to support its mission and efforts.  And, if you don’t like it, then don’t join.  But, TFA CMs work for districts on behalf of children.  As one TFA CM put it, “Personally, I’m not in it for Teach For America!  I’m in it for myself and for my students.” (from Learning on Other People’s Kids).   Something to think seriously about if you’re considering TFA.

Update on 11/16/13:  Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig recently posted an anonymous letter from a TFA alum describing the inadequate prep and typical struggles in the classroom.  Tellingly, “The writer asked for anonymity because she fears retribution from Teach For America.”

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Support Students Resisting Teach for America

Students United for Public Education (SUPE) is kicking off its first on-the-ground national campaign:  Students Resisting Teach for America.  “For years, college campuses across the country have been the core recruiting ground for Teach for America (TFA). For many soon-to-be graduates, concerned as they should be with the rampant inequality embedded in American public schools, TFA appears to be an opportunity to make a difference.

Using the rhetoric of civil rights and egalitarian politics, TFA promises ambitious college students that their hard work and good intentions are a crucial component of what it will take to fix the crisis within our education system. Yet, as numerous TFA alums and professionals have made it increasingly clear, rather than fighting inequality, TFA actually promotes it.”   Read more about the campaign here.

Please help support this real grassroots student advocacy group with a generous donation.

Update (10/01/2013):  Students Resisting Teach for America has officially launched their campaign.  Check it out at

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ACTION ALERT: Tell Congress Every Child Deserves a Fully-Prepared Teacher

Public Advocates Inc. is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination.  They have been very active in ensuring that teachers in training should not be designated as “highly qualified”.  This misleading practice has allowed ill-trained and inexperienced teachers, including TFA recruits, to be concentrated in high-needs classrooms.  This is an urgent issue that congress must not let continue.  From Public Advocates:  “This month, Congress will vote on a Continuing Resolution budget bill expected to include a harmful education amendment. The “HQT Amendment” would make permanent the federal government’s practice of labeling teachers-in-training “highly qualified” even if they have minimal preparation.”   “Let Congress know our highest-need students deserve better! Join with more than 90 disability, civil rights, parent, principal, grassroots, rural and education advocacy groups to demand that the federal government end this morally wrong practice. ” Read how you can help here.

Update on 10/17/2013:  Disappointingly, congress slipped in language in the shutdown budget deal to allow teachers in training (mainly TFA) to be considered “highly qualified” for another two years.  Check out for more details.

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