Saturday, November 10, 2012

Teach For America

The readings and podcast for Monday shed light on the controversial nature of Teach for America. Both the authors are critical of TFA and the way that it does more harm than good for kids in the classroom. I think the fact that people such as Neha Singhal, who were selected to participate in TFA and then dropped out, are willing to speak so openly about their experiences and offer a criticism of the program helps validate the various claims that many teachers employed by TFA are actually detrimental to a child’s education.

            In reality, many intelligent, ambitious graduates use TFA as a stepping-stone for their path to a “real job” such as one in law, medicine, or business. Being a teacher is rarely in the cards and being chosen to teach through a very selective program serves as a tremendous resume booster for those looking to go into other industries (Darling-Hammond, 23). Part of the problem is that the elite often make up those chosen to teach. Since TFA is known for placing newly-hired teachers in underprivileged schools and districts, many of the teachers have grown up in environments quite different from where they are about to teach. Darling-Hammond’s article cites Ann Cook, a teacher and co-director of a New York City public school that succeeds with students that were failed by other schools. I in some ways agree with Cook’s assertion that TFA recruits could be the least likely to succeed when teaching those children to whom they can hardly relate. She proposes an alternative in which TFA sends its recruits to privileged suburbs and private schools where the classrooms are more likely to mirror their own experiences (Darling-Hammond, 24). While I think that this does take away from Wendy Kopp’s original intent of TFA, clearly the way things are going now is inefficient and some form of change would be more effective. Do you think that directing recruits to more privileged areas would be a better move for TFA? Or is keeping the program the way it is now and focusing on improving the training program a more effective way of bettering the system?

            The Hartman article bashes TFA by picking apart and analyzing the apparent justifications of the program. Part of it touches on the issue of standardized testing that we have encountered throughout this course. Kopp and Michelle Rhee, who is the Chancellor of Schools in Washington, D.C., continue to claim that standardized testing is the most effective way to quantify accountability. Additionally, they claim that these tests provide evidence that their efforts are working. This notion goes back to the issue of priority and how programs such as TFA are neglecting to put a child’s education over their own success. Teacher success turns into the number one priority (here, discussed out of the realm of TFA) so teachers do not lose their jobs.

            In finding out more about how TFA really works, it is alarming how much value holding a comprehensive, “official” degree in teaching means over merely being selected for your academic talents through TFA. As Maddy mentioned in regards to the podcast, former TFA recruits themselves admit that it is a problem for the children, qualified teachers, and recruits themselves that the qualified teachers cannot secure jobs because of spots reserved for TFA recruits. Based on the problems we have seen stem from TFA, do you think that doing away with the program would be the only way of “fixing” the negative effects it has on students in the classroom? It is evident that the program looks to provide the recruits with a rewarding and enlightening experience while making the kids they teach the guinea pigs that help them have that experience. Once the teachers finish their term (if they even do), they often venture out into the corporate world with no intention of ever turning back. The students, meanwhile, are trapped in the cycle of receiving teachers lacking professional training and personal understanding to help them in the classroom. 


  1. Before taking this course, and knowing very little about education and educational policy, I had thought that Teach for America sounded like a great opportunity for those planning on going into education. I vaguely remembered discussing it in The American School, and the only negative I remember hearing was that you aren’t paid well and your housing is sometimes not great. I have a few friends who are applying for TFA, and personally I thought they were great people for wanting to help out public schools in areas that need it. Unfortunately, this is not the case. After reading these readings and talking about it in this class, it is apparent how severely flawed TFA really is. It is really terrible to read about participants dropping out because they realized they were totally unprepared to be in environments that were completely foreign to them, and I was shocked to learn how bad the training system is.
    It seems to me that there are many ideas about how to improve on the Teach for America program, but none of them are ideal. Monica raised a lot of good points about whether it would be more effective to abolish the system at all, or just improve the training program so that those in TFA are more well-equipped to be in the classrooms that they will be in. I personally think that the TFA program should not be done away with. It seems to me to have good intentions, but has become a program that people take advantage of to be a résumé-booster before entering the corporate, financial, or other industries. What I find particularly interesting is how this is the opposite of some of the administrators at Harlem Children’s Zone, where they had initially been businessmen and thought that their experience there translated well into working in education. Perhaps some people think working in underprivileged schools prepares them for the business world? Clearly this is not how TFA is supposed to work, and something must be done to fix it.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Much as Courtney explained, prior to taking this course, I was very uninformed about current educational policy and how programs such as TFA functioned in the educational system. I also have a number of friends who are interested in the programs, and having heard their perspective, it sounded like an excellent opportunity for them to “make a difference”. The readings for today highlighted some of the very noticeable flaws with such a programs, and ultimately made me question how I my intuition did not catch these obvious discontinuities. Beginning with the title (Who will speak for the children?) Darling-Hammond brings to the light a problem that our society seems to miss when considering programs such as TFA, and that is the quality of education for those affected. There is an “elitist” type of mentality that perpetuates these programs. TFA views high needs schools with a condescending “missionary” type of attitude. They look at these schools as a type of “ground-zero”, where even if they are not successful teachers, their efforts will be “better than nothing”. After reading this article, it was immediately obvious to me that giving high needs students, the least adequately prepared teachers, is a recipe for failure, and is instead the inverse solution to the problem of unqualified teachers at public schools. By taking the student-learning out of the equation, TFA becomes a type of stepping stool, for students seeking other professional outlets, to expedite their advancement. When these individuals move to other careers, TFA is viewed as a “valuable experience” that will help them advance in the professional world. TFA provides an interesting source of social commentary on how Americans have grown to see the educational system, and the way teaching and education is valued in our culture. The type of quick fix teaching programs that exist for teachers would never be found in other professions. I expect that none of us would attend a hospital or firm full of inexperienced doctors or lawyers. It is unfortunate that the caliber of education is something we do not intrinsically value, and that programs such as TFA equate professional teaching as some type of "community service" that we can dash out to the underpriviledged