Rumblings of an Anti-TFA Movement

Over the last three weeks, a slew of alumni from Teach For America—the alternative teacher-preparation program that puts high-achieving college graduates in low-income classrooms after five weeks of training—have gone on the record criticizing the organization.

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  1. And while opposition to the program is nothing new, it is significant that efforts to challenge TFA—including those of former "insiders"—may now be starting to coalesce.

    Here are some of the key pieces about TFA resistance that have been making the rounds. 
  2. On June 30, Katie Osgood, a traditionally prepared Chicago special education teacher, wrote a blog post urging Teach For America corps members to quit the program. She argued that TFA perpetuates inequities, puts ill-prepared teachers into classrooms, "takes precious resources from districts and states in budgetary crisis," and "steals jobs from beloved experienced teachers."
  3. Just over a week later, Alex Morgan, a 2011 TFA alum, responded with an open letter on his own blog (on the Teach For Us site, which hosts blogs by a variety of TFAers). He encouraged corps members to stay in place, contending that traditional teacher-prep programs aren't sufficient either and that, in many cases, without TFA teachers, students would be left with a rotating door of substitutes. 
  4. Critics of TFA—including alumni of the program—began to put the word out about an anti-TFA summit. According to the website, the point of the July 14 gathering, which would take place at the larger Free Minds, Free People conference, was "to organize resistance to TFA's role in market-based educational reform."
  5. A few days before the summit, The American Prospect, a liberal magazine based in Washington, published a one-sided piece hailing the gathering as the first-ever "coordinated, national effort to overhaul, or put the brakes on, TFA." The article suggested that the effort was much-needed, stating that former corps members who are critical of the program "are less likely to identify as TFA alums—and, in turn, less likely to invest in speaking out against TFA. Those who do speak out face narrower access to leadership pipelines within TFA’s political empire."
  6. The Atlantic Wire picked up on the "growing" anti-TFA effort as well, stating: "That the movement is now largely originating from the organization's own alumni base renders it all the more fascinating." The more-balanced coverage also quoted a TFA alum who had problems with the organization but was wary that the summit would not produce any positive results. "It's very easy to book a conference room, tell anecdotes about how awful TFA is, and bemoan the influence of private money. I might enjoy participating in something like that myself, but it only amounts to self-aggrandizement and does nothing to advance the goal of improving public education."
  7. The night before the summit, Justin Fong, the director of internal communications from TFA, who was attending the Free Minds, Free People conference, appealed to the anti-TFAers to work with the organization rather than against it. 
  8. A 2011 TFA corps member, self-proclaimed as "anti-TFA," responded on his blog to Fong's piece, calling it "content-free dreck which obfuscates the issue the anti-TFA crowd are protesting."
  9. Gary Rubinstein, a former corps member and longtime TFA skeptic, chimed in with a nearly 12-minute video message for the 2013 corps, in which he calls TFA "liars" and makes a case for why TFA "is doing more harm than good." (In spite of its title, the video has yet to go "viral.")
  10. Gary Rubinstein's viral open video message to the 2013 TFA corps members
  11. And in perhaps the most compelling piece yet, the Washington Post did a Q&A with a former TFA manager who became  disillusioned with the organization. She describes the group's "inability and unwillingness to honestly address valid criticism," an infrastructure with "many, many unnecessary management layers," and "significant turnover at the leadership level."
  12. So how did the TFA resistance summit go? According to The Guardian's July 17 piece, about 100 people showed up, including "TFA alumni, parents, community activists and veteran teachers."
  13. Where will it all go from here? Is a counter-movement to TFA, led mainly by alumni, truly underfoot? How will TFA respond? Or will this effort whither under financial, political, and social pressures? Stay tuned ... 
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