The education non-profit Teach for America has been under increasing fire recently as critics and alumni accuse the organization of misappropriating their original mission by backing the policies of the “corporate education agenda” that promote privatization, the expansion of charter schools and the undermining of teachers unions.
These criticisms come amidst news last week that Wal-Mart owners, the Walton Family—key backers of charter school expansion and the effort to end teacher protections—donated $20 million to the nonprofit for “recruitment, training and professional development,” bringing their total support for TFA to over $100 million since 1993.
“The Walton Family Foundation’s support for Teach for America is driven by the organization’s proven ability to create a pipeline of outstanding education reform leaders,” said Ed Kirby, deputy director of the Walton Family Foundation’s K-12 Education Reform effort, in a statement released last week.
“The foundation is expanding its investment in Teach For America because of the organization’s ability to produce leaders who are helping to transform public education in the US,” the statement continues.
Recruiting recent college graduates from many of the nation’s most prestigious universities, the organization requires a two-year commitment from its student-teachers. Though the majority of recruits has no education degree or experience, the nonprofit boasts an “intensive” five weeks of training before dropping these fledgling educators in the nation’s neediest urban and rural schools.
Touting such alumni as StudentsFirst founder and former Chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools Michelle Rhee, LAUSD Board member Steve Zimmer, and KIPP charter school founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, TFA prides itself on introducing individuals to the policy side of the public education debate.
As the Washington Post’s education columnist Valerie Strauss explains, “TFA is not looking for young people who want to be teachers, but rather, people it believes will have ‘important’ jobs later in life who can advocate for public education. That’s why TFA recruits are asked to give only a two-year commitment to teaching.”
“TFA is a self-perpetuating organization,” adds Jacobin writer Kenzo Shibata. “Teach for two years, burn out, go to law school, become a policy maker, make policies that expand TFA.”
In a Los Angeles Times article published Saturday, reporter Howard Blume notes the high correlation between the number of TFA hires in states such as California, Alabama, North Carolina, and Louisiana, and the dominance of efforts to embrace charter school expansion, limiting the protections on veteran teachers and teachers’ unions.
In Chicago—where the school board recently voted to shutter 49 of the city’s public schools eliminating jobs for over a thousand teachers—the Board of Education voted to increase its payment to TFA from $600,000 to nearly $1.6 million, and to add up to 325 new TFA recruits to Chicago Public School classrooms, in addition to 270 second year “teacher interns,” the Chicago Sun Times reports.
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