By Blake McGhghy, Harvard University, Local 5
A few weeks ago, USAS students sent this letter to Teach for America announcing a public campaign to remove the organization from our campuses unless they make some important reforms.
Since then, TFA has publicly responded to students, requesting that instead of running our campaigns to defend quality public education, we should engage in a longer dialogue with them, “uniting in support of students.” A few of our locals have engaged in such dialogues with TFA representatives, and while we have learned that many individuals within Teach For America care deeply about K12 students, unfortunately we have been dissatisfied with their stated solutions to the problems we see within their organization. We hope to have a national conversation sometime in the near future about any new progress made towards meeting USAS’ demands.
Since we do not feel such progress has yet been made despite extensive dialogue, nor that their recent surface-level changes alter the fundamental structure of the organization, we will continue our campaign until we see a true commitment to ending the privatization of our public schools.
We will be launching our second Teach for America Truth Tour on Friday October 10 at Harvard University, with additional stops at Vanderbilt University, University of Memphis, Macalester College, Eastern Michigan University, and more to be announced.
For more detailed background on our stance, look to our below letter, again sent to CEOs Kramer and Villanueva-Beard, and Board Chair Kopp.
Dear CEO Kramer, CEO Villanueva Beard, and Board Chair Kopp:
Thank you for your prompt response to our letter. We have appreciated the opportunity for our locals to meet with representatives from Teach for America, and we hope that this conversation continues with more locals across the country into the near future. In addition, we request a national meeting with all of you within the next month.
We agree that students are best served when schools have access to the best teachers possible. However, we believe that the best teachers for students are lifelong teachers with long-term commitments to the specific needs of local communities. Teacher turnover, on the other hand, directly harms student achievement and TFA is exacerbating this problem. While high turnover rates are negatively reflected in “student performance data,” we know that the developmental and psychological ramifications of high turnover rates for students are much more devastating than any standardized test could reflect.
Students, especially those in low-income communities and communities of color, need continuity and this is something which TFA simply cannot provide. By continuing to send corp members to regions without teacher shortages, Teach for America is displacing the only individuals who can: life-long career teachers.
Providing corp members to regions without teacher shortages has devastated local communities by enabling rampant school closings and teacher layoffs, which have helped to catalyze the dangerous phenomena of weakening teachers associations and privatizing public schools. Far too frequently, TFA corp members are taking over recently vacated teaching positions from unnecessary layoffs in new charter schools formed in the wake of public school closings.
In Chicago, for instance, TFA has very directly enabled the closing of forty-nine unionized traditional public schools, which are now being replaced by privately controlled charter schools that are highly staffed by TFA corp members. Teach for America is thereby helping to rapidly shift the control of public education into private hands, which provides the call to action for USAS students nationwide.
We must reassert our first demand and urge Teach for America to stop sending corp members to communities without teacher shortages. Instead, corp members should only be sent to regions designated by the US Department of Education as “Teacher Shortage Areas.”
Based on our locals’ discussions with TFA representatives, if there is one thing which we all can agree, it is that corp members are insufficiently trained. We appreciate TFA’s small pilot efforts to increase corp members’ training. However, we stand firmly by the previously expressed need for holistic reform and improvements to training by partnering with local teacher preparation programs across the board.
Similarly, we appreciate Teach for America’s recent work to make the corp more inclusive and representative. We are pleased that TFA is, in your words, “one of the nation’s largest producers of African American and Latino teachers.” However, such individual-level changes and pilot programs fail to adequately address the adverse structural effects which we describe that Teach for America is having on public education in working class communities and communities of color across the country.
To your point that nearly 90% of all TFA alumni work in education or low-income communities after their two years of service, we believe that this widely shared figure is highly misleading. On our university campuses, we see that TFA alumni are very well represented at professional graduate schools, such as our business schools and law schools. Digging deeper, we realize that this statistic lumps far too many categories together in an attempt to overestimate the figure. Furthermore, we realize that this statistic comes from a survey, which according to an e-mail from CEO Kramer, only 23,000 alumni responded to, making it very problematic for the organization to claim the figure as representative of all TFA alumni. As we know that TFA has been accused of inflating data in its favor in the past, we request that TFA collect and publish more precise and honest figures.
Ultimately, we hope to work toward policies at our universities which provide support and resources for individuals with lifelong commitments to public education, rather than merely two years of service.
Again, we appreciate you for responding to our concerns and openly engaging in a dialogue with members of USAS locals. Please be in touch with us to arrange a national meeting this month.
Meanwhile, we will continue our campaign and work to sever our universities’ connections with Teach for America until we see signs of meaningful policy change which address our concerns.
United Students Against Sweatshops