Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Parent Vents At Teach for America

Hi D,
I have a friend whose kid just signed up for Teach for America. Wasn't that the program that gave [your daughter S] so much trouble? Care to elaborate? I'm sure they'd be interested in more info. Maybe [S] can write directly to her son. Thanks.

Hi L,
Teach for America only has one program, which is for recent college graduates from prestigious universities with no or little educational experience and training. TFA gives them about one month's worth of training, mostly in record keeping, along with room and board, but nothing else. TFA then puts them in an inner city classroom (for which they get an undisclosed fee of about $1,500 to 5,000 from a school district), based on the totally erroneous assumption that high achievers can get by with determination, some mentoring (which in S's case was denied by the elementary school in Brooklyn she was assigned to two days before school began), and taking a few mediocre education courses.

S initiated all types of interventions at the school directly, through Teach for America, through her union, and through an attorney we hired to get Teach for America to intervene at the school to get the mentoring she was entitled to, but TFA told her she was not working hard enough at being a leader. S also attempted to get a transfer to a school which wanted an untrained, uncertified teacher, and TFA flatly refused the request. TFA also refused to provide us a copy of the contract between TFA and their teachers, as well as between TFA and the NYC Department of Education.

TFA also flat out lied to us when they said S would be flown to NYC for placement interviews before her "training" began. They also mislead us to believe that the placements took place during training. Finally, we were upset to find out that there was no compensation to get her to NYC, while she lived in their dorm, and while she was on her own for one month between the end of training. She only got her first pay check in October, which meant she was dependent on us for about a half-year after our first parent's briefing from Teach for America..

We also discovered that because of its foundation supporters and general philosophical outlook, that TFA is fanatically anti-union. They never tell their trainees that they will be in a unionized work force, and their staff even told us in writing that if they were to attend a meeting at S's school with a union rep present, that TFA would fire them from their staff positions!

Later we discovered the work of the foremost scholar on teacher education, Linda Darling Hammond of Stanford (who was Obama's chief education adviser during the transition period). She totally slams Teach for America and told us S's experience was not that unusual. She also is an advocate for serious teacher training, which means getting an MA after graduation instead of five weeks of summer school training.

Bottom line, it was a horrible experience in a horrible program. Your friend's son should turn to a serious program in teacher training.

A few of the articles we got, largely from Prof. Darling-Hammond, are attached. I will also copy an education blogger in NYC, Norm Scott, who published something we wrote about her experience in TFA. He may have more material. Also an old friend, who is now the president of the state Federation of Teachers, may have more thoughts, especially about TFA's strong anti-union outlook.

Darling-Hammond article is posted at
There is also a pdf of a Slate article but only available as a pdf from email.


Anonymous said...

My daughter is in Teach For America and nothing has changed since this was first written. The program succeeds because they recruit well and once the best of the best leave this program they do good things because they were good to start with, not because they got something from TFA.

The organization is disorganized, unresponsive and over promises. The worst part is they throw these kids into situations that they will likely fail in, but they hire kids who won't quit, so they create a significant problem for the students. My daughter is breaking down and will likely need therapy before this is over and I am trying to get her to quit.

Such a terrible shame. If you know someone or if your child is considering this, DON'T let them go. There are other ways to teach and help the school system. Please.

Anonymous said...

Hm, maybe your daughter was too priveleged to do this program to begin with. I just finished the program and didn't need fancy therapy. They send us into low-income communties to work with children not to Iraq.