'...if you enter TFA now, I think you are contributing more to the problem, unfortunately, than to the solution'...Amazing Insider Expose on Teach for America has the Blogosphere Humming

[Editor's Note: An amazing blog posting — "Why I did TFA and Why You Shouldn't" — is shaking the lucrative world of Teach for America, one of the star-bellied sneeches of the world view pushed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama, and their millionaire and billionaire scritpers, handlers, and donors. We share it — and the blog comments — here as of November 10, 2011 with our readers. Those who want even more can go to Gary Rubinstein's TFA blog: ].

Why I did TFA, and why you shouldn’t, by Gary Rubinstein

There was a time, not very long ago, when I was an active volunteer alumni recruiter for TFA. And, as you might expect, I was great at it. One year, I think it was 1998, I did a recruitment session at Colorado College, a very small school, which brought the house down. A year later when TFA published the list of the most popular schools for TFA, Colorado College was listed alongside The University Of Michigan and all the other common TFA schools as one of the top twenty schools for that year.

The last time I recruited for TFA, I went to my alma mater, Tufts, in 2002. I even wrote this editorial which ran in The Tufts Daily.

"There are many similarities between now and 1991, when I graduated from college. Bush was in the White House, war was in the Middle East, and the job market was unfriendly. The prospect of being unemployed and living at home caused my altruistic tendencies to heighten as I applied to the newly formed Teach For America (TFA) program. TFA recruits college seniors from any major to sign up to teach for two years in some of the most under-resourced schools in the country. Four months after my acceptance, just as the current college seniors entered kindergarten, I began the first of my two years teaching sixth grade in Houston.

"Signing up for TFA required doing something I rarely did as a college student — taking a giant risk. Sure I risked being turned down when I asked girls out at fraternity parties. I risked getting a C in Psych One when I neglected to study for the final. Those were easy risks to take, and, besides, both of those risks were softened by the fact that I was drunk. Joining TFA required I risk complete failure. Though I tried to envision myself inspiring sixth graders to develop the same affection for numbers that led me to major in math, I knew that a classroom of kids, even ‘needy’ kids, could eat a young idealistic teacher alive. Aside from personal failure, I had to risk financial failure. Even though the pay wasn’t bad (In addition to a full teaching salary, we received additional money from an education grant), I would not be able to afford some of the things my friends could. TFA was a two-year program, so I could still continue with my life ambition to be a lawyer after the program was finished. Still, I was concerned by the prospect of starting law school just as many of the friends I graduated with were beginning their final year of law school. I worried that I would be giving everyone I graduated with a two-year head start in the race of life.

"Several forces combined to lead me to my eventual decision. Most importantly, it sounded exciting. For once, I’d be doing something ‘real’. I’d be doing something valuable for society. I’d be making a difference. Also, I really wasn’t as thrilled about applying to law school as my mother was. As current seniors read this, and think about their own decisions about their futures, I wish I could portray a dramatic ‘moment of truth’ that I went through. I could describe myself sitting in my dorm room with my TFA acceptance in one hand and my Harvard Law School acceptance in the other. I look back and forth at each letter and freeze on the law school letter. Then I sigh, shake my head, and begin to chuckle. I take a look at the TFA letter, then back one last time to the Harvard letter before ripping the law school acceptance into confetti. Unfortunately, that’s not how it happened. As soon as I heard about it, I knew I wanted to do TFA. I didn’t even apply to law school. I was accepted to the program in March, and began teaching in August.

"As a student, I wasn’t known for making the best decisions. “Double majoring in Math and Philosophy will be cool”, “Let’s stay on campus senior year. We’ll get single dorm rooms”, “It’s never too late for a cheesesteak”. Joining TFA was, by far, the best decision I ever made at Tufts or anywhere else. Though I risked complete failure, and struggled bravely through my first year, I eventually made it through my commitment. In doing so, I helped a lot of kids to learn and to enjoy math.

"No other path I could have chosen would have exposed me to the range of emotions I experienced in TFA. One of my best moments was during my second year of teaching. The school at which I taught had 800 freshmen but only 200 seniors. And of those seniors, twenty-five of them had not yet passed the standardized test that determined if they would graduate. I volunteered to teach them in an extra class. When the test results returned, twenty-three of the twenty-five passed. As they received their diplomas, aside from being proud of them, I was proud of myself for putting forth the extra effort for those kids.

"The low point of my experience also occurred during my second year. Returning from Thanksgiving break, I learned that one of my top students, a sixteen-year-old girl named Nohemi, had been killed by her jealous ex-boyfriend. I found myself trying to counsel her classmates at a time that I needed my own counseling.

"By joining TFA you will emerge as a better person, prepared to face whatever challenges lie in your future. Any time I have applied for a job, I have been able to look the interviewer in the eye and say that I am not intimidated by any challenge. Deadlines don’t scare me. I lived with a deadline that was marked by the end of the period bell. Problem solving and ability to improvise are skills that I developed by necessity.

"After the two years, I taught for two more years, winning teacher of the year at my school, and publishing a book about my experiences. I never went to law school, though many of my TFA friends did. I don’t feel like those friends have somehow ‘lapped’ me on the circular track of life. The race thing, in fact, turned out to be an inaccurate analogy.

"I invite current seniors to come to the evening informational sessions this week to learn more about TFA and the application deadline."

I’ve been getting some emails from prospective corps members recently asking me if I think they should apply or not. They say that my writings and the writings of others have made them realize that TFA might have its flaws. But, they wonder, do those flaws outweigh the benefits of the program?

When I joined TFA twenty years ago, I did it because I believed that poor kids deserved to have someone like me helping battle education inequity in this country. At the time, there were massive teacher shortages in high need areas. The 1990 corps had 500 members and the 1991 corps had 750 members, with a third of us going to Houston. I was one of those Houston corps members, the first group to ever go to Houston. At the time, we knew that we weren’t going to be great teachers. It was unrealistic to believe otherwise. But we also knew that the jobs we were taking were jobs that nobody else wanted. Principals who were hiring these ‘Teachers For America’ or other paraphrasings of this unknown organization, were completely desperate. If not for us, our students, most likely, would be taught by a different substitute each day. Even if we were bad permanent teachers, we WERE permanent teachers and for kids who had little in life they can call permanent, it was something. The motto for TFA back then could have been ‘Hey, we’re better than nothing.’

And we got out butts kicked. As tough as this was, we partly expected it. That was what we signed up for. We were like those front line Civil War soldiers — the ones with the bayonets whose job it was to weaken the enemy front line ever so slightly at the expense of our own health and well-being.

Many of us quit. I think that a third of the 1990 charter corps did. I’m not sure how many of the 1991s did. I lost count. Those of us who made it through the first year had pretty good second years. It was true, I guess, that what didn’t kill us only made us stronger.

Most of the people I knew left after their second year. They went to law school or other graduate programs. Even if they had a bad first year and a much better second year, they could feel they did their part in the fight to help kids. If many of those kids really were going to have rotating subs, we could be sure that we were doing less damage than good.

I’m glad I ‘did’ TFA. Twenty years ago they filled a need. Putting a few hundred barely trained teachers into the toughest to serve schools was one of those concepts that was ‘so crazy, it might just work.’ We weren’t always doing ‘good,’ but we also weren’t doing much harm. Our five or six hundred teachers were pretty insignificant in the scheme of things.

Over the next twenty years, TFA did a lot of growing, but not a lot of evolving. They replicated their institutes and increased their regions. The 2011 corps is nearly 6,000, twelve times as big as the cohorts from the early 90s. Unfortunately, the landscape in education has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Instead of facing teacher shortages, we have teacher surpluses. There are regions where experienced teachers are being laid off to make room for incoming TFA corps members because the district has signed a contract with TFA, promising to hire their new people. In situations like this, it is hard to say with confidence that these under trained new teachers are really doing less harm than good.

As TFA tried to grow and gain private and federal money, they had to develop a public relations machine. They found ways to spotlight their few successes. There were some dynamo teachers — there were bound to be. And then some of those teachers advanced to leadership roles. Some started schools, like the KIPP program which started in Houston in 1995. Some got appointed to big education jobs, like Michelle Rhee as D.C. chancellor, and some got elected to public office, like Michael Johnston as a state senator in Colorado.

More and more alumni started charter schools rather than take the long route of becoming an assistant principal at a ‘district’ school and then advancing to principal. Some of these charter schools were successful, some weren’t. Some of the successful ones, it is documented, mysteriously lose their toughest to educate kids. TFA ignored this as they needed success stories to grow.

Even through most of this, up until about three years ago, I still supported TFA and encouraged people to apply to it. But right now, I don’t.

Twenty years ago TFA was, to steal an expression from the late great Douglas Adams — ‘mostly harmless.’ Then about ten years ago they became ‘potentially harmful.’ Now, in my opinion, they have become ‘mostly harmful.’

Though the change happened so gradually, I hardly noticed it, TFA is now completely different than it was when I joined. I still believe in the original mission of TFA as much as anyone possibly can. The problem is, in my opinion, that TFA has become one of the biggest obstacles in achieving that mission.

TFA has highlighted their few successes so much that many politicians actually believe that first year TFA teachers are effective. They believe that there are lazy veteran teachers who are not ‘accountable’ to their students and who are making a lot of money so we’re better off firing those older teachers and replacing them with these young go-getters.

Some TFA alums have become leaders of school systems in various cities and states. In New York City, several of the deputy chancellors are from TFA. I already mentioned ex-chancellor Michelle Rhee who now runs StudentsFirst. John White runs the Recovery District in New Orleans. Kevin Huffman, former TFA public relations VP, is the state commissioner of Tennessee. TFA likes to point to these leaders as the true effect of TFA. Even if they haven’t really fixed the training model much and the first years are pretty awful teachers, and even if those first year teachers aren’t ‘needed’ anymore to fill any teacher shortages, it doesn’t matter since as long as a fraction of them become these ‘leaders’ TFA will have a positive impact in a big way on the education landscape.

Which sounds great except these leaders are some of the most destructive forces in public education. They seem to love nothing more than labeling schools as ‘failing,’ shutting them down, and blaming the supposed failure on the veteran teachers. The buildings of the closed schools are taken over by charter networks, often with leaders who were TFA alums and who get salaries of $200,000 or more to run a few schools.

Rather than be honest about both their successes and their failures, they deny any failures, and charge forward with an agenda that has not worked and will never work. Their ‘proof’ consists of a few high-performing charters. These charters are unwilling to release the data that proves that they succeed by booting the ‘worst’ kids — the ones that bring down their test scores. See this recent peer reviewed research paper from Berkely about KIPPs attrition.

TFA and the destructive TFA spawned leaders suffer a type of arrogance and overconfidence where they completely ignore any evidence that their beliefs are flawed. The leaders TFA has spawned are, to say this in the kindest way possible, ‘lacking wisdom.’

They say things like ‘Poverty is not destiny,’ which is true if they’re saying that it is possible for some to overcome it, but not true if they are saying that teachers, alone — and untrained teachers, at that — have the power to do this.

And the very worst thing that the TFA alum turned into education ‘reformers’ advocate is strong ‘accountability’ by measuring a teacher’s ‘value added’ through standardized test scores. It might be hard for someone who is not a teacher yet to believe that this is not a cop out by lazy teachers. The fact is that even the companies that do the measurements say that these calculations are very inaccurate. Over a third of the time, they misidentify effective teachers as ineffective and vice versa, in certain models. ‘Value added’ is in it’s infancy, and certainly not ready to be rolled out yet. But ALL the TFA reformers I’ve followed are strong supporters of this kind of evaluation.

So TFA has participated in building a group of ‘leaders’ who, in my opinion, are assisting in the destruction of public education. If this continues, there will soon be, again, a large shortage of teachers as nobody in their right mind would enter this profession for the long haul knowing they can be fired because of an inaccurate evaluation process. And then, of course, TFA can grow more since they will be needed to fill those shortages that the leaders they supported caused.

So if you’re about to graduate college and you want to ‘make a positive difference’ the way I wanted to twenty years ago, you should not do what I did and join TFA. Had TFA evolved with the times, and it’s not too late, I’m hoping they eventually do, then maybe it could have been something that I’d advise new graduates to do. Maybe they can make it a four year program. I know that this was not the idea of TFA, but I do think that when people teach for two years and then leave, it contributes to the instability of the schools that need the most stability. Maybe by bringing fewer people but having a plan for them to be true leaders with ‘wisdom’ and the ability to analyze the facts, even when those facts are counter to what they’d like them to be, future TFA leaders can be competent enough to handle the responsibilities they’ve been trusted with.

But if you enter TFA now, I think you are contributing more to the problem, unfortunately, than to the solution. This is not to say that the current 2011 corps — God help them with their dozen hours of student teaching classes of 4 to 15 kids — aren’t great people who are giving it their all. I’m sure that most of them, deep down, agree with everything I’m saying.

But if you truly feel that TFA is really the ONLY way that you have a chance to ‘give back’ to the society that has provided you such opportunities, I suppose that you can apply, but there are some things you should demand before accepting their offer.

First, you should refuse to be placed in a region that is currently suffering teacher layoffs. In those places, you will be replacing someone who, most likely, would have done a better job than you. Why would you want to live with that guilt? I was horrible my first year, but I was better than the rotating group of subs I replaced.

Second, you should refuse to go to a charter school. Though there are some charter schools that are not corrupt, I believe that most are. They NEED those test scores and they do anything they can to get them. This often means ‘counseling out’ the kids that TFA was created to serve.

Third, you need to demand that you get an authentic training experience. TFA signs contracts with districts where they promise to train you properly. But team teaching with three other teachers for twelve days with classes with as few as 4 kids is not fair to you and it is really not fair to the kids that you will teach. They deserve someone who is trained properly.

Fourth, you should commit to teaching for four years instead of two. America let you practice on their kids for your first year — you’ve got to give back three good years to make up it.

TFA does not like new recruits making any demands, so if you make them, be prepared to be asked to leave. If enough people, however, make these demands they can’t ask everyone to leave and they might consider fixing these flaws.

It does make me feel bad to write this post. I hate that TFA has lost its way so badly and that they have become a huge part of the reason that the country is going in the wrong direction with regard to ed reform. I never thought they would amass so much power. Because they have refused to learn from their failures, which they deny, and from critics, like me, they have found themselves in this difficult position. When the corporate ed reform bubble bursts, as I believe it will soon — you can’t lie about inflated success forever — I worry that TFA burst along with it. That’s too bad since the people in charge of TFA do believe they are doing what is good for the kids of this country. They just aren’t sophisticated enough to know that they are wrong.

I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able, again, to sing the praises of TFA and advise people who want to make a positive difference for kids to become a member. For this to happen, though, TFA will have to make some changes. Primarily, they will have to break the alliance they currently have with the so-called reform movement. It’s not working and it never will work. Pretending it is, like pretending that all the first year corps members are succeeding because a few outliers are, or that all alumni run charter schools are succeeding because a few outliers are. All this proves is that in a large enough data set there will, inevitably, be outliers.

And don’t misunderstand this essay as me denouncing the organization or of turning in my membership card. I’m all for the mission of TFA — to get more soldiers to improve education for poor kids in this country. But I want these people utilized in a way that helps, not that brings down the public education system promoting the myth that firing teachers and shutting down schools really works.

TFA, in its current vise, is serving a purpose for which it was never intended. It serves a purpose that is no longer needed, nor wanted by the people it is serving.

TFA, if it is not careful, will face the same fate as Blockbuster video. It filled a need in the 90s and the 2000s, but did not adapt wisely to the changing conditions. Blockbuster is all but gone, and TFA if it refuses to adapt may face the same fate.

If I were ‘America’ I would have this to say to TFA: While I appreciate your offer to ‘teach’ for me, I’ve already got enough untrained teachers for my poorest kids. And if teaching is just a stepping stone, for you, on the path to becoming an influential education ‘leader,’ thanks, but no thanks to that too. I don’t need the kind of leaders you spawn — leaders who think education ‘reform’ is done by threats of school closings and teacher firings. These leaders celebrate school closings rather than see them as their own failures to help them. These leaders deny any proof that their reforms are failing and instead continue to use P.R. to inflate their own claims of success. We’re having enough trouble swatting the number of that type of leader you’ve already given us. If you want to think of a new way to harness the brain power and energy of the ‘best and brightest,’ please do, but if you’re just going to give us a scaled up version of the program that tries to fill a need that no longer exists, please go and teach for someone else.

[Editor's further note. As of this posting, there had been 96 comments to Gary Rubinstein's essay above. Below are a few of them]

On October 31, 2011 at 3:56 am · Reply

Fran Chase

It is refreshing to hear the truth about TFA from someone on the inside. I hope young people who are considering TFA will listen to you. I fear with the tough economy that will be difficult. In reality the economy will only get worse due to the number of veteran teacher who are being replaced by TFA ers. I think that is the biggest tragedy of all this. It is like being cannibalized by the youth of our country. One wonders if this wasn’t by design somehow. : (.

on November 1, 2011 at 3:01 am · Reply


It’s worth adding that if someone is considering TFA because they want to pursue a career in teaching in a high-need area (as opposed to spending a few years as an education missionary and gaining the cachet of the TFA name on the resume) but don’t have a degree in education, there are tons of other regional teacher training and placement programs. Wide variation in quality, of course, but many of them are IMO more supportive and more ethical than TFA is.

on October 31, 2011 at 7:04 am · Reply

E. Rat

Yes. For instance, there are teacher residencies that give recruits a full year of student teaching in a classroom – even better, a high-poverty classroom like that recruit is likely to have. That way, the recruit has the time and space to learn how to teach while earning a credential.

on November 2, 2011 at 4:14 am · Reply


This is what I wish I had looked into more before accepting my offer. I chose TFA because I wanted to teach, and I am realizing what a poor teacher I am.

on November 9, 2011 at 2:59 am · Reply


Well, don’t beat yourself up. Learning to teach takes time even in the best program. Yeah, generally speaking it’s no fun for the students of first-year teachers (which is why I advocate for an apprenticeship model in teacher training, but that’s a whole different post). But at least if you stick with classroom teaching (unlike most TFAers) you will have many years in the classroom as a good teacher, and in those years you will have an opportunity to make a real positive difference in the community in which you teach. I encourage you to keep striving.

on October 31, 2011 at 3:05 pm · Reply


Gary, what does “asked to leave” mean? When one signs up with TFA and is placed in a school, is one an employee of the placement district/charter, of TFA, or both? Once TFA places you, what is your remaining obligation to TFA and what are the consequences for leaving it?

For example, can one accept a placement through TFA and continue teaching in that school while cutting ties to TFA? It would seem like that would be a better “bargaining chip” for change, since they would lose retention numbers and the potential for a successful teacher in their alumni ranks.

on October 31, 2011 at 3:16 pm · Reply

Gary Rubinstein

What I mean by that is that when you get accepted you will get a ‘tentative’ placement which, they will tell you, may get changed. If you demand to be placed in a city that actually has teacher shortages and say that you will refuse to go to one that doesn’t or if you say you refuse to teach in a high performing charter, they will boot you from TFA and not allow you to participate in the institute. That’s what I mean by ‘asked to leave.’ They do not like people being difficult and making demands. They don’t want to set a precedent for other ‘whiners.’

on November 2, 2011 at 4:51 am · Reply


I agree with a lot of what you’ve said in this article, but the bit about the surplus of teachers really rubs me wrong.

I’d think a comparable analogy we could draw would be to say that there are too many baseball players. I mean, if we say there are 30 teams with 30 players per team, we need less than 1000 professionals going into baseball – so why are there so many minor league baseball teams?

By having a surplus of baseball players, it helps to raise the minimum bar of performance to get into the major leagues to a very high level. It allows the free market to play it’s role and help to ensure that the best of the best are the ones that are actually allowed to make it to the major leagues. Now, I realize that education is very different from professional sports, but let me put forth my personal experience with Teach for America.

I taught in a school with a staff of 14 adults. In my second year at that school, throughout the course of the school we had over 10 teachers quit. It was an incredibly poorly run school, and the district quite literally could not find anybody who wanted to teach there. We went through every single substitute in the district until we could no longer get substitutes to fill in for us, and our administration told us that we could no longer take days off because there quite frankly wasn’t anybody who could fill in for us.

In this cesspool of a situation, the most stable source of an adult presence in the school were the few adults who had been raised in the community, and the teachers who had been hired through TFA. We were committed to making a difference, we had said we’d be there for a minimum of two years, and there was nothing that was going to stop us from making that happen. And nothing did, though it felt that the forces of nature united against us to make it happen.

There are two points that I want to make here.

1. Circumstances exist across the country like my school, where though teachers who have been staffed through TFA may not be the best solution for the classroom, even veteran teachers who are unemployed and looking for work aren’t so desperate as to pick up positions like what took place at my school.

2. Maybe TFA is making deals with districts across the country where the district guarantees to hire a certain number of TFA corp members, which puts some veteran teachers out of a job. However, I would think if anything this should be extra incentive to let the free market start to play a role in education and help drive some of the poorest performing teachers out of education. If a veteran educator’s job is threatened by an incoming first year teacher with no prior experience in the classroom – then they probably have good reason to feel threatened. Like in baseball, they should either pick up their game and get to work, because there’s that enormous pool of minor league players desperate to pick up the slack and make the magic happen.

I don’t think that TFA is the solution to the educational challenges that our country faces. However, I do believe that there is a ton of good that can and will come from it. Like you said, TFA needs to evolve to figure out how to best make that happen.

on October 31, 2011 at 4:14 pm · Reply


Personally, as an experienced educator, if Obama forgives my student loans, I’m ready to go teach Science and French almost anywhere. Logistics of location being the only drawback. But, being respectful to my colleagues I could never cause the displacement of another qualified teacher. I’ll fill a need but I won’t shove my fellow teachers over the cliff.

on November 1, 2011 at 3:07 am · Reply


The problem, then is teacher turnover. By having TFA in a building, you guarantee teacher turnover nearly every year. And don’t forget the 1 in 8 CMs that quit before their 2 years are up. TFA contributes to the problem, rather than helps it.

BTW, you are right, veteran teachers should not worry about TFA teachers being more effective. Most TFA teachers are pretty awful at first, and as Barbara Torre Veltri so aptly points out, they “learn how to teach on other people’s children”. The fear is when districts use TFA as a cost-cutting measure. TFA teachers are cheap beginning teachers and they will almost certainly leave after 2-3 years and save districts all those nasty pension costs or added experience pay scale costs. They usually aren’t around long enough to get tenure either. What a deal!

TFA, good for the bottom line, but bad for kids.

on November 1, 2011 at 3:57 am · Reply


This has been a very interesting read! As a current TFA CM (2010), it is rather satisfying to see these ideas stemming from a TFA insider.

I find myself, upon reading this, feeling rather conflicted and guilty (which I’m pretty sure I SHOULD feel, given the ideas expressed). I also am trying not to feel personally hurt by all the negative comments about TFA from other people.

However, like someone who posted above that knew she wanted to teach, and needed to find a way to do it, I have joined TFA because jobs were scarce post-college, I knew I wanted to teach, and I couldn’t face another 3 years in college getting a teaching degree. TFA has been a way for me to get certified, and I plan on continuing my teaching career. Many of my friends in TFA plan on doing the same.

I don’t know what the statistic is precisely, but I believe around 60% of TFA alums stay in teaching. I’m sure someone could refute that.

I guess my point is that while I agree that the organization has its flaws, and the overall reform movement’s push for using standardized test scores as a sole means of measuring success is flawed, I also think I need to stand up for those of us in the Corps who are here to become great teachers, not great “leaders.” I’m sorry to those out there that lost their job because of me, but, as Gary said, when I applied the consequences of me coming to my district were not made clear; I did not know I was getting other teachers fired. I just knew I needed a job and wanted to teach. I also know I’m helping my students, and I don’t need any data or test scores to prove it.

That being said, however, the TFA training should be far more comprehensive (we spent WAY, WAY too much time in the summer “institute” being forced to drink “kool-aid” and not enough time teaching in front of our kids at all).

Anyway, there is a reason that I always say I would not recommend TFA to others in my surveys; unless they desperately want to teach and STAY in teaching, don’t come near it!

on November 5, 2011 at 3:44 am · Reply


I am glad you are beginning to realize what TFA actually is. But instead of worrying about feeling “hurt” and “guilty”, please start to push back on the organization. A vast majority of CMs may have joined the program naively believing the TFA propaganda, but you all quickly figure out the truth once you are in the classroom. I believe you have a moral obligation to those kids to start to stand up and change TFA so it cannot continue this trend of being used to push out veteran teachers with unprepared, compliant novices.

I would also like to see more push-back on college campuses where TFA is recruiting. Right now, with all the popularity and federal and private funds coming into the program, they have no incentive to change. It needs to come from people like you!

on November 6, 2011 at 10:11 pm · Reply

Gary Rubinstein

Good point. TFA shames people into staying quiet. They have to spread the word!

on November 7, 2011 at 4:23 am ·

Steve Silvius

I think this is accurate. Most CMs I have worked with quickly became disenchanted with the propaganda of the organization, but did not feel they could stand up and do something about it. The use of the word “flawed” in the post above indicates what I often see from reformers who are challenged by sound arguments against the current policy direction…they admit its a problem, but simultaneously downplay the admission and the personal and collective power of people in the system to resist and change policy and organizations. I understand that standing up to TFA or any powerful political institution is difficult. But ultimately, it is educators, including CMs, who have day to day access to students and schools. Political forces need our compliance, and therefore, it is up to us to resist “flaws” in these organizations/systems.

on November 7, 2011 at 6:31 pm ·

Susan Hurst

My large inner-city district signed a TFA contract and my principal was told to hire 4 TFA’ers but without any allocation to pay for them. That meant he had to eliminate 4 current positions. He was able to do so by 2 teachers transferring and one resigning, but the 4th position was an excellent, experienced vocal music teacher whose contract was not renewed. The vocal program was reduced to 2 hrs. and given to the band director (me!). We now have classes of 40+ in all of our electives because there aren’t enough elective teachers. There was no one threatened here because of their incompetence, only incompetence at the district level.

on November 1, 2011 at 11:44 am · Reply

E. Rat

this should be extra incentive to let the free market start to play a role in education

It bothers me that TFA adherents make this argument while ignoring the free market reality that drives TFA teacher recruitment: TFAers are cheap. They earn starting salaries, typically take single health care benefits, and are unlikely to vest in their pensions.

The free market argument isn’t about effective teachers: it’s about cheap ones. TFA ultimately supports efforts to create a cheap, transient teacher workforce as opposed to a more expensive, heavily unionized one.

on November 2, 2011 at 4:19 am · Reply

Tommy Walton

The problem with #2 is that it assumes the veteran teachers losing their jobs are the worst veterans, and the veterans keeping their jobs are the best of the best (such as in baseball). If good teachers are misidentified as bad ones and vice versa due to the ineffectiveness of standardized tests as a measurement tool, as mentioned in the article, then the free market system is not going to be able to adequately drive up the minimum bar.

on November 2, 2011 at 9:26 pm · Reply

Steve Silvius

Thats right, a market cannot work if there is no clear signal. Essentially everyone admits that test scores are not the right signal but many won’t take the logical step of abandoning (at least softening) the market approach. They also don’t care to discuss that market approaches necessarily create losers and so cannot lead to closing an achievement gap or leaving no one behind, etc.

on November 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm · Reply


Unfortunately veteran teachers are not always released because they are performing poorly. They are released because principals are reducing the salary line item by hiring less experienced teachers at the expense of the quality of education the students will receive. It has been my experience that the TFA teachers collaborate to protect their positions and try to discredit veteran or non-TFA teachers or instructional coaches working in the schools by pushing their TFA methodology. This is like having defectors in the camp trying to execute a take over within a department or school in general by any means necessary because someone told them walking in the door that they were already superior teachers. Hopefully school districts will strive for a more harmonious and successful way of building the teaching staff in the future.

on November 8, 2011 at 1:28 pm · Reply

Wayne Bishop

Sounds like somebody has become “fat and happy” in our deeply flawed system of public education. The shortage of well-prepared mathematics and science teachers is every bit as bad as it was 20 or 30 years ago and probably worse. TFA is no panacea but a step in the right direction.

on October 31, 2011 at 4:24 pm · Reply


What about the nearly 20% of TFA teachers placed in special education positions with NO training in working with kids with special needs. That is a step so far in the wrong direction that it is technically illegal.

Besides, how many CMs are placed in placements other than their area of expertise? I have heard it happens far too often.

on November 1, 2011 at 4:00 am · Reply


Food for thought: 20 years ago you were young and looking to change the establishment.

Today you are the establishment. You’ve become part of the problem. How will you change it?

on October 31, 2011 at 4:44 pm · Reply


Hon, the word “establishment” went out in 1970. When will you update your vocabulary?

on November 10, 2011 at 4:04 am · Reply


Be careful when you write for New York and assume you are writing for the country. Some of these things are probably true in NY (I don’t know, I’m not there) but the shortage of passionate college-educated people willing and eager to teach in the face of huge odds is still very prevalent here in rural New Mexico. I’d bet other rural regions face the same thing: if I weren’t here right now, my kids would likely get a rotating substitute or someone who does not speak, read, or write fluent English. This is nothing against the experienced teachers who are here or the ELL teachers who are here too, it’s just a fact: the teacher shortage may never end here. Say what you will about TFA, and we all have lots to say about it, but, at least here, we are very much still needed.

on October 31, 2011 at 4:46 pm · Reply



In what part of New Mexico do you teach?

Thank you.

on November 2, 2011 at 4:57 am · Reply


It’s also not necessarily true for New Orleans. Shortage of teachers is an issue here, but more pressing is that MANY TIMES, charter schools are worse than what you’d think of when you think of public schools vs charter schools. Mine was a charter and was violent and terribly run and now it’s not a charter… and it’s still violent and terribly run. Next year it’ll go back to being a charter, albeit under a different organization. Many of my friends work for charters here. Most are not these gleaming examples of perfection where flawed kids are kicked out and everything else is easier. Perhaps it’s that way at KIPP, but I don’t know many who work for KIPP. Given that NOLA is more charter than public, it’s hard to swing a stick without hitting another charter school just as bad or worse than any public school with “the hardest to educate” students. Perhaps charters are different in NY, but here in NOLA, a school is a school is a wild, wild west outlaw territory, charter or not.

I did think this post made very valid points but it assumed a lot about TFA corps members that isn’t necessarily true, depending on region, background of the member, etc. Any time such assumptions are made, part of the audience will be isolated.

on November 5, 2011 at 9:21 pm · Reply

Gary Rubinstein

I’d love to hear more about New Orleans not being the utopia that they describe it as in the media. What’s going on there, for real? If it’s a mess out there, as I suspect, then you can help out by spreading the word so that they don’t try to replicate what’s happening there all over the country.

on November 7, 2011 at 4:25 am · Reply

Barbara Torre Veltri,Ed.D.

According to data released by the U.S. Census in September 2011, Arizona lost 10,000 education jobs in one year: March 2009 — March 2010 (prior to the SB 1070), and 6,470 were instructor positions.

A male, Div. I athlete (UAZ), with a degree in Biology and a teaching certificate, was pink-

slipped during that year, and is so jaded by the system that he will not return to education.

And we are supposed to have a shortage of young, credentialed, male, science teachers?

America needs trained teachers and those who are committed to the profession and children.

What is happening now is hard to swallow.

Young science and technology teachers turned away because of state budget cuts hurts. But it’s so callous when the governor of the state, who holds an associates degree along wth 70%of the legislature assigns two million dollars in descretionary funds to TFA over that same period.

America needs quality teachers who have passion and remain teachers for more than 3-5 years, and do not enter teaching with TFA or any other program because of what corps termed “pragmatic considerations” (job, benefits, camaraderie, resume support, time to consider grad school/interests) as noted in book, Learning

On Other People’s Kids: Becoming a Teach For

America Teacher (2010), or ancillary benefits

post TFA teaching.

Corps are still not trained properly and have to figure out teaching on their students.

I know and trained teachers who received (with pride) their degree in early childhood education and are back “home” on the Dine community in

New Mexico. They know the culture of the community as well as the culture of schools.

These too, are areas that TFA, in its’ expand and create leaders model, continues to overlook.

on October 31, 2011 at 8:01 pm · Reply


What eminnm writes about New Mexico is simply not accurate. There is no great shortage of teachers in New Mexico. It is not “just a fact.” I’m also a little puzzled by the reference to “someone who does not speak, read, or write fluent English.” Since NM is not importing teachers from other parts of the world, it can only be referring to native New Mexicans, perhaps those whose first language is Spanish or Navajo. The suggestion that teachers who come from those backgrounds are somehow inferior is troubling. One problem with TFA is the “we are going to save you from yourselves” attitude that their recruits sometimes bring to our state. It’s not appreciated.

on October 31, 2011 at 8:05 pm · Reply


Not what I meant at all. I don’t know where you are, but in our area there are quite a few schools that have lost teachers for various reasons and cannot fill those spots. At my roommate’s school, jobs have been posted for months with no takers.

When I say teachers who don’t speak, read or write fluent English, I don’t mean Spanish or Navajo speakers at all, I mean the influx of teachers from the Philippines (fact check: a sizable chunk of the new teachers in my district are from overseas. Yes, we are importing teachers from other parts of the world). And even there, as I said before, nothing against them–many do great work. But there are definitely some that my children cannot understand and whose grasp of English grammar is not good, which makes it hard for my kids to learn as well as kids in affluent areas can (which should be the goal). I have nothing against recent immigrants or people who are looking for a job wherever they can find it (after all, I’m one of them). And I’m not saying there’s anything inherently bad about someone who has accented English or years of experience (that’s ridiculous). I have no savior complex, I don’t think I’m doing any better than someone who knows the area and has experience (I’d be the first to tell you I’m doing worse). I’m also not trying to vouch for the country, the Southwest, or even the whole state of New Mexico (because I just don’t know). What I do know is that in my area, in my district, in my experience, TFA fills a hole.

One thing that makes me sad is when people assume the worst about my attitude or thoughts just because I’m part of TFA. I spend a whole lot of time thinking about how to present myself so that it doesn’t seem like I think I’m better than anyone, which, for the record, I AM NOT. The prevailing attitude here is the same that Gary describes as his incoming TFA attitude: no, I’m not very good; no, I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m here, I’m better than nothing, I love my kids, and I’m trying like hell to be the teacher they deserve.

on November 1, 2011 at 2:28 am · Reply


The point, I feel, is what if you are not “better than nothing”? What if your presence is actually doing more harm than good? I think many TFA CMs, especially 1st yr CMs, have NO idea the agenda the TFA organization is pushing. Many do not realize that an experienced teacher was possibly denied a job because TFA is there. This is the new reality of TFA.

You suggest that there is a teacher shortage in your area, which was the original intention of TFA, a band-aid that does help temporarily. If you are right, then fine.

However, the new motto that TFA teachers are somehow “more effective” (TFA tries to sell this idea constantly, even to its own members) than traditionally-trained teachers is what scares me. Because you are not, as you acknowledge. And by pushing this idea, TFA is aligning itself with with the narrative that our schools fail because of “lazy, bad, unionized teachers” a la TFA-alum Michelle Rhee. As someone in a school, I hope you can see this is simply not the case.

It is not you but your organization I dislike.

on November 1, 2011 at 3:41 am · Reply


This is fantastic. Teachers require real education like any other professionals. You don’t see untrained college grads out the practicing medicine or law “for America.” TFA is an insult to the professionalism of teaching.

on October 31, 2011 at 9:44 pm · Reply



on November 1, 2011 at 12:41 am · Reply


Are student test scores used to determine whether or not TFA first, second or third years are invited back? Or are test scores solely used to cull credentialed teachers to make room for cheap TFA placements?

on November 1, 2011 at 12:48 am · Reply


This idea is being tried by a new alternative certification project called the Urban Teacher Center – it’s much smaller than TFA, but some districts are really interested in the model.

on November 2, 2011 at 12:14 pm · Reply


I recently visited a charter school in Denver — one that gets a lot of good press. It touts itself as graduating 100% of its class and sending them off to 4-year college. But as this piece suggests, they hide the fact that 40% of their incoming class doesn’t finish at the school (for any number of reasons). Their 100% graduation rate is a figment of an overactive imagination. They graduate 60% of their class — no better than many of the other high schools in Denver. This is deceitful.

On the same day, I visited another charter school in Denver. There, the kids were not allowed to utter a word in the hallways. And guess what, they didn’t speak in class either. What kind of classroom in this day and age has no interaction between students and students or students and teachers?

on November 1, 2011 at 1:32 am · Reply


Back maybe 8-10 years ago, I used to hear TFA staff talking about how TFA’s goal was to put itself out of business. That is, we know it’s not ideal to train teachers for 5 weeks and then have them teach for a couple years only. But it is a needed band-aid, and maybe if after being mostly harmless these TFA alum went on to advocate for improvements in education, TFA might be able to contribute to a day when every child is taught be a well-prepared, professional teacher.

Nowadays, I don’t hear any talk in TFA circles about putting TFA out of business. At TFA conferences, the talk is all about how much better we are than everybody else, and how education needs us and how we need to grow. In fact, TFA seems to think that if the rest of the education world looked like us, the achievement gap would disappear. It’s scary how much TFA has changed.

on November 1, 2011 at 4:06 am · Reply


Exactly! TFA now is all about fundraising and courting donors and expanding to new regions. Maybe it was once an organization that fulfilled a need, but now it’s just an organization trying to grow at the expense of our kids.

on November 1, 2011 at 5:28 am · Reply


I get the impression that as TFA has grown, it’s become more bureaucratic, and as the quote goes, “the bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.” Combine that with the fact that TFA is being taken advantage of by the “reform movement,” and it’s hard to recognize the TFA of my day in the current organization.

on November 1, 2011 at 9:52 pm · Reply

E. Rat


I knew I hadn’t dreamed hearing that repeatedly at Institute in 2001. But within a couple of years, that sentiment was so utterly erased TFA regional directors have told me that I must be wrong.

on November 2, 2011 at 4:23 am · Reply

Ben Guest

Join the Mississippi Teacher Corps instead. We only place teachers in public schools and we don’t displace current teachers. No charters and no threatening of currently employed teachers.

on November 1, 2011 at 11:27 am · Reply

02 TFA Alum

I completely agree. I’m a 2002 TFA Alumni who does not publicize that fact because I’m ashamed of what TFA has become.

on November 1, 2011 at 1:05 pm · Reply


TFA in the Phoenix area has formed a partnership with ASU, and TFA teachers, from the beginning of their comittmentd, are engaged in a masters program in teacher education. The TFA proposition that a smart student with subject matter knowledge is automatically a great teacher was obviously flawed from the beginning. This partnership helps to address that flaw up front, and the program does seem to be retaining more of its teachers. This notion that teachers don’t need any training in teaching is a favorite of people hostile to public schools and colleges of education. It is to the credit of of many TFA volunteers that they did not believe it for a minute.

on November 1, 2011 at 7:47 pm · Reply


The ASU classes are a joke. So is making someone with zero teaching experience a Special Ed teacher.

on November 3, 2011 at 3:34 am · Reply


I was a TFA mentor for five summers. Though these young corp members were smart and dedicated, it was clear they had no idea about teaching or the climate of a school district. One corp member actually believed she knew more about educating inner city students than I did, even though I had taught successfully for over 30 years. I was disgusted by the arrogance of the TFA coordinators, who had little teaching experience themselves, yet felt compelled to tell the corp members how to teach. They went so far as to tell the corp members to basically ignore the teacher mentors, who had years of teaching experience. Of the corp members I worked with over the past five years, very few stayed in the profession. What does that say? They all “drink the Kool-Aid” and then leave the profession to enter “educational policy.” What a joke! If you want to really change our educational system, student teach for a year, and then TEACH!!!!

on November 1, 2011 at 9:59 pm · Reply

DC Teacher

This article is very thoughtful and your points are right on target. We do have a surplus of teachers in most (not all) subject areas- but programs like TFA keep flooding the system. They should really reassess where teachers are most needed.

on November 1, 2011 at 10:31 pm · Reply

ThinkingEDU 5: What Lies Ahead | Thinking.FM linked to this post.

on November 2, 2011 at 1:49 am · Reply

Washington Parent

Wow. Great article. Fix what (I think, at least is a typo in the first line after the shadowed text (I think perspective was meant to be prospective) and send this to the Seattle Times. Ask them to run it on the op ed page, as a “response” to the pro-TFA pieces that its staff have run! (and then send it to all the other city papers that have supported the ed reform agenda as well.) This is one of the most nuanced, persuasive articles on the evolution of TFA that I have ever read.

on November 2, 2011 at 4:16 am · Reply

Dan Dempsey

The Teach for America Scam in Seattle

There is a lot of verbiage about leveraging corporate philanthropic dollars. This has largely led to a chaotic Education Reform mess in Seattle. Following laws and telling the truth are major casualties in this attempted corporate take over.

Superintendent Enfield by signing the application requesting “Conditional Certificates” for Teach for America corps members made a fraudulent claim.

With her signing of the request, she made a claim that “conditions warranted” using Teach for America corps members to close the Achievement Gaps.

This was a fraudulent claim because Dr. Enfield failed to analyze the conditions in the manner required by WAC 181-79A-231.

Without the WAC required careful review of all other options, to using TFA, to close achievement gaps, there was no possible way that Dr. Enfield could claim that conditions warranted anything.

The Board repeatedly failed to respond to “when the WAC required careful review took place”. The reason for this is that the required review “never took place”.

Board members authorized the Superintendent to request the Conditional Certificates when they knew the required review never took place.

Board members are now in a position of needing to provide an honest answer.

When did a careful review of all options for closing the achievement gaps take place?

If the Directors cannot answer that question, they are still likely to go on to toss away public funds in an attempt to legally defend the District’s indefensible actions.

So the Directors should either answer the question honestly or resign and let the challengers running for director seats begin an era of badly needed honesty and accountability.

Here is the pending legal appeal of the TFA action =>

on November 2, 2011 at 9:07 am · Reply

Dan Dempsey

Try this article about Heilig and Jez … it confirms exactly what has been said.

Comparisons of TFA teachers with credentialed non-TFA teachers, however, reveal that “the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers,” Heilig and Jez write.

And in a large-scale Houston study, in which the researchers controlled for experience and teachers’ certification status, standard certified teachers consistently outperformed uncertified TFA teachers of comparable experience levels in similar settings.

on November 2, 2011 at 9:14 am · Reply


actually, there is a fair amount of evidence that TFA teachers match or exceed the performance of teachers from other certification and preparatory backgrounds.

What do you (and other commenters) make of this?

on November 6, 2011 at 11:26 pm · Reply

Gary Rubinstein

TFAers who quit mid-year don’t get to be part of those studies.

on November 7, 2011 at 4:19 am · Reply


fair enough. don’t think that invalidates the results of several rigorous studies, though.

what’s missing in this conversation — and what I think the linked post/studies suggest we all do — is critically think about the following:

Even if has many flaws, what is TFA doing RIGHT? And what can we ALL (informed citizens, policy makers, prospective teachers, school leaders, teacher prep and support programs, etc.) learn from this and leverage to improve our collective work to ensure equal education opportunities?

Surely the org isn’t perfect and has COUNTLESS ways to improve, but I think there’s evidence that their prep and support model IS yielding at least SOME insights about how to better prepare and support more successful teachers, especially in low income areas.

what disappoints me though is that in all of the heated rhetoric and back-n-forth, we often over shadow ways in which we all could be LEARNING from each other … even from organizations that we have legitimate (or unfounded) beefs with.

I’m sure TFA could learn a lot from preparation programs mentioned here (e.g. the Urban Teacher imitative @NadineVonCanstricus mentioned in her comment), as other traditional or alt-cert pathways could learn from TFA.

… by the way, Gary – how do you know who is included in all of the studies mentioned in the article I linked to? Did you review the findings and details of all of them? Just interested to see where you got your info …

on November 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm · Reply

Dan Dempsey

Here is more on the back story behind TFA in Seattle.

on November 2, 2011 at 9:16 am · Reply

another Washington parent

yes please do send this article to Seattle times for an OP-Ed piece, we could use some response to the TFA propaganda message that has been circling the wagons here in Washington State.

on November 2, 2011 at 7:00 pm · Reply

Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.

another Washington parent,

THE SEATTLE TIMES is a prime producer of Ed propaganda.

I sent my letter to each Seattle School Board member. The Seattle Times has no interest in anything other than pushing All things Ed Reform. Gates money brought TFA to Seattle. Gates money started the Common Core Standards. Write me at

We will likely move for a summary judgement at some point in the Seattle TFA appeal.

WA State Appeals court Div I has two hearings without oral argument on 11-3-11 in regard to the District’s failure to provide a certified correct transcript of evidence in school closures and in the $800,000 New Tech Network contract.

See RCW 28A 645.020

Too many decisions are FIXED by the Big Money interests and TFA was no different.

on November 3, 2011 at 4:36 am · Reply

Lisa Marshall


Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us.

I applied and will find out today whether I advance to the next round.

I intend to be a teacher whether it’s through TFA or not. My mother is a teacher, as was my grandmother. People I trust and respect feel I have what it takes to become a great teacher some day, and teaching is in my heart. It is what I love and I cannot think of a more rewarding or honorable career.

I am conflicted however, as I live in Dallas, TX. DISD is famous for mass lay-offs in May followed by job fairs in July (this happened over the summer for instance). In this case, is the availability of TFA Corps solely to blame? Does the fact that I intend to teach for years to come mediate my potentially-TFA provenance? Why aren’t benefits like money for Grad School and partnerships for work-degree programs offered to all teachers? Why doesn’t our country just put its money where its mouth is and properly fund education!!!! (arrrgghhh)

Your post is the latest, but not the only, cautionary voice I hear. As someone who has professional experience, a husband (DFW is my only viable option for TFA placement), and isn’t 22, I am tempted by the thought of knowing in January that I will have a teaching position in August (I could begin planning that much sooner!). I am tempted by knowing I will have the chance to work at a school where kids need dedicated teachers. But as an advocate for Social Justice, I am compelled to do the right thing. Which sounds more and more everyday like “Not TFA”. Your thoughts for a one-off candidate like myself?

on November 3, 2011 at 6:36 pm · Reply

Gary Rubinstein

If you’re planning to be a career teacher, then I guess that for you, joining TFA won’t have as much of a negative effect on the entire education system. But I think you will have a much longer career if you were to spend a year student teaching and learning the fundamentals of teaching. When you are not trained properly, you run the risk of burning out and maybe even quitting in your first year. If you cannot afford to take a year off to train to teach, and you really are committed to teaching for the long run, then I give you permission to accept your offer, should you get one. Good luck!


on November 4, 2011 at 9:47 am · Reply


Like Lisa, I too am a working professional in STEM seeking to change careers into teaching. TFA is one pathway among many to get there, and as such its just one pathway among many to which I have applied. Thanks to your blog and many others on TeachForUs, I have been made aware of the real challenges of teaching and the need for greater preparation than perhaps the TFA Institute provides. So I’m going out there and reading your book, among many others, talking to current teachers, etc. But I’m still going to apply.

Aren’t you a shining example of what TFA can produce? You are clearly motivated to fight against educational inequity, you are a career teacher with a stellar record, and now you see a more balanced picture than when you went into teaching. Couldn’t that be the case for a large number of non-TFA teachers too?

Like it or not, you are a fantastic (albeit more disgruntled than I think I could ever be, but who knows) example to me personally of what I could become through TFA. And isn’t that up to the individual? I think we need to separate TFA the organization from the people serving in TFA… the organization is merely one doorway among hundreds. It may not be wholly the shining white knight agent of change that they make themselves out to be, but they do enable a lot of individuals to to some serious good.

While I’m sure that there is a certain proportion of new CM’s who will take whatever they are fed, I don’t think you give us enough credit on the whole… we are out there researching this organization like responsible applicants. And thanks to blogs like yours, we can integrate your experiences into a more balanced picture than the TFA PR department provides, and take steps to mitigate any deficiencies that TFA might have just like any other organization. We will think twice after reading blogs like yours, and we will really consider if our motives and personal strengths are going to serve students well.

Great, I’m still going for it.

And thanks. :)

on November 4, 2011 at 4:15 pm · Reply

Gary Rubinstein

I agree that the people serving TFA — that is, the corps members are very good people who are doing the best they can. Many of the people on staff at TFA I like too. I’ve even had many positive interactions with Wendy Kopp over the past 20 years. But for some reason TFA, the organization, is what I’m complaining about.

on November 5, 2011 at 1:33 am · Reply

ex-tfa, future teacher

As an ex-tfaer who plans to be a career teacher I STRONGLY urge you to consider your other options other than TfA to be certified. I was 28 when I entered TfA with plans to be a career teacher. The training is not enough. Teaching is really difficult and it takes more than 12 hours to learn to be a teacher. I worked 80+ hours a week and can tell you- dedication can not make up for lack of training.

Lack of training and support from TfA in a truly hazardous situation, I left. A year later I am in graduate school for special education- with TEACH grants and a commitment to work in schools much like those served by TfA, but I know with 2 student teaching experiences under my belt and a year of full time coursework, I will be MUCH better prepared.

Had I stayed in TfA, I don’t know if I could have stayed in education because I might have burned out.

You can get TEACH grants of $4000 a year during your masters/cert program and take a look at teacher loan forgiveness for teachers who teach for 5 years in title 1 schools.

Some districts have fellowship programs that support you during your program while you get education and work as a para or other professional in schools. Please explore your options and see what is best for you. It might be tfa, but there might be better options.

I went into TfA because I wanted to get certified quickly and inexpensively and I can tell you- its not worth it.

on November 5, 2011 at 8:54 pm · Reply


Would you fly on a plane flown by a Pilots for America 5 week program graduate?

Would you be operated on by a Surgeons for America 5 week program graduate?

Why do we think Teach for America participants can do a better job teaching than people who have gone to college for years to be teachers? It’s insulting!

on November 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm · Reply


Please understand, what I’m trying to say here is not to sound snarky or combative. It is a genuine question that I have.

I don’t think schooling and experience are the same thing. I am a research engineer for a cutting-edge research installation. I know from my time in this field at least, that once you start cutting metal, everything in the textbook goes out the window, and what really gets you to the final product is a combination of creativity, experience, and knowing your tools. Education is one tool among many, not the product. I’d hire a student with a less-than-stellar educational record but who actively sought out avenues to apply creative thinking and get experience over a 4.0 with no experience or applied knowledge any day.

I would think that teaching would be more so this way, given that it deals so heavily with people, which are more complex and unpredictable than even our most advanced machines. The way it seems from my research, EVERYone’s first couple of years as a teacher are terrible, even those who come from education programs. The quality of the teacher, like the engineer, comes in almost entirely from the experience and the creativity + drive to know what to do with it.

So what, fundamentally, is the problem with selecting creative and driven people, directly proceeding to the experience part, and gathering the education component concurrently through a credentialing or Masters program?

(And I DO see the problem with a 2-year commitment in that context, but that’s not my question.)


on November 4, 2011 at 4:31 pm · Reply

ex-tfa, future teacher

I feel like I can add perspective as an ex-tfa corps member and current masters in education student.

When you are doing research do you work in a team with opportunities to ask questions and the time to look for answers when you need them? When you are teaching you are without someone to ask as you are likely alone in your classroom. You are holding approximately 3 jobs, planning, grading and then then 9-4 job of classroom teaching. You do not have the luxury to find the best answer immediately when you need it.

Teaching is not just managing relationships and working with people. It takes knowledge to teach someone to read, to break down complicated material that might seem obvious and clear to a teacher, to differentiate instruction for students with special needs and the rest of the parts of your job as a teacher.

The most creative,dedicated, driven people can work really hard. and a few will have the natural ability in addition to these traits that make them good teachers. But to assume that grit and creativity can make up for lack of knowledge devalues the education that it takes to be a teacher. and I include interning and learning from master teachers in that education.

I have been to institute and now I am getting a masters/certification in education. Institute isn’t enough. Two sessions on phonics and how to build a class library are not enough for you to be comfortable running your own reading program. a single session on IEPs will not leave you ready to write IEP goals for your students. One hour on coteaching will not prepare you to manage that relationship in your class. And countless other examples of 1 hour sessions from the TFA program that represent an entire semester of classwork in teacher education.

Education masters programs (and undergrad) are not perfect. I am sure many courses across the country could stand to be more rigorous and scientifically based. But the point is- to learn to do anything well, there is a learning period. In many jobs there is on the job training, mentor ships or college degrees that prepare applicants for the field. Don’t the students most at risk deserve someone who has prepared ahead of time to be their teacher- and isn’t surviving day to day just making it through and hoping for the best?

You might ask- why did I apply and enter TfA then? My goal was always to be a teacher, and I thought that with my experience with kids in various mentorship and camp and course situations, I’d be ok. I knew it would be hard, but I would be ok.

There are a lot of challenges to being a new teacher- not being prepared to teach should not be one of them.

on November 7, 2011 at 4:30 am · Reply

Been There

I enjoyed the article and the responses. However, even among those who deplore the one sidedness of the TFA, I think I detect a certain one sidedness. I my school district, many of the best long serving teachers were recently given financial incentives to leave early to make room for new cheaper teachers because the district is strapped for cash. This is a disaster, but given the budget crunch I suppose it was necessary. But not all the tenured teachers were a loss. I can think of one who told me, ” I hated every minute of teaching but it was worth it to get my retirement.” Better she was run over by a bus. There are some lousy tenured teachers and the unions need to clean up their act also so we can get rid of them. I’ve worked with teachers who can’t spell, who missgrade math tests because THEY have the wrong answers- and woe to the student who points it out. No, we don’t need anyone going into the schools without some sort of commitment, except when it fills a bona fide vacancy. Some of those idealists may discover a passion for teaching and may become good at it. At least many are intelligent, top of the class students, not the bottom third that we typically recruit our teachers from.

on November 3, 2011 at 11:05 pm · Reply


You did all this in spite of TFA?

You actually seem like a decent example of TFA’s impact. That you have a thoughtful and critical voice in education seems like a net positive to me.

Do TFA and KIPP overgeneralize for good press? Of course. So does your article. We could all stand to take a step backwards and reevaluate.

on November 4, 2011 at 4:34 am · Reply

Gary Rubinstein

I do appreciate the compliment, but I don’t think that my thoughtful critique at all balances all the school closings and teacher firings so I wouldn’t agree that it is a net positive.

But there are a lot of alumni like me out there, you’re right, who are not doing damage. There are principals of regular schools who are working very hard and making a big difference in their schools.

Unfortunately the alumni who have the most power to effect change are the ones that are so reckless with their beliefs. If TFA would come out publicly against some of these leaders, then they can reverse some of the damage. I don’t think they will, though.

on November 5, 2011 at 1:29 am · Reply

First Grade Teacher

Thank you for literally putting all my rants, arguments, grad school papers, mid-year-reflection forms, and TFA survey responses, into one beautifully written piece of writing. As an 09 corps member, who went into TFA already having student taught and with personal experience going to low income schools, I joined knowing I was going to be a career teacher in urban public schools. I fervently hoped that my anxieties and misgivings about TFA would disappear upon joining, and that its claimed mission, which I agreed with, would be real. Needless to say, my two years with the organization did nothing but confirm, and indeed convince me even more, all my deep concerns about the organization. It is absolutely contributing to the demise of public education in our country, all at the expense of low income communities of color–our children. Thank you. I am sending and posting this EVERYWHERE. (I doubt they’ll want my leadership much longer!)

on November 5, 2011 at 12:50 am · Reply

Gary Rubinstein

Thanks. Definitely spread the word. If anyone at TFA is monitoring my blog, they should know that this post has gone ‘viral’ at least in comparison to my other posts. Over 6,000 hits in four days is pretty crazy since most posts only get two or three hundred total. Sorry you had to be so frustrated with TFA, but I’m sure with your real training, you helped a lot of kids. Keep up the good work! Gary

on November 5, 2011 at 1:26 am · Reply


Maybe everyone’s problem in ed reform is that we label students as ‘poor’ kids. The people that make the biggest impact in our society are not always the most educated but they are empowered and believe in themselves. Let’s stop labeling kids and instead empower them to be more than some charity case and possibly we will see some results. This ‘giving back’/savior stuff really irks me.

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

on November 5, 2011 at 1:51 am · Reply

Gary Rubinstein

@AnEducatedPoorKid I agree that labels don’t summarize everything about an entire group of people, and that the word ‘poor’ has 2 meanings, I use that word for the simple reason that I feel that, especially in my writing, a one syllable word that conveys the idea I’m going for. I hope that people who know me and read this blog regularly know that in the context I’m using it, it’s not meant in a negative way, but just a convenient description.

I do, though, agree that labeling people with one syllable can be dangerous.

on November 5, 2011 at 9:59 am · Reply

Why I did TFA, and why you shouldn’t | Gary Rubinstein’s TFA Blog « linked to this post.

on November 6, 2011 at 7:11 pm · Reply


I have met many Teach for America teachers and some of them are awesome and others are just arrogant. They think that they are here to save the children and their approach is very elitist. I would even go as far as saying that they are condescending to other teachers and that they appear to think more seasoned teachers to be less qualified than them. They approach teaching as a mission but they leave it as quickly as come into it to go pursue something else. It is something to put on their resume to make it look good. Most of them are very young and so they bound together in groups or click, they still have a high school mentality and they are very juvenile. I am very disheartened by their lack of maturity and empathy towards the greater educational problems. They don’t realize that their organization is responsible for creating teacher layoff and deprofessionalizing the teaching profession. Districts would rather employ a TFA a very low rate than higher a fully credentialed teacher because it costs them less. Also, most of the TFA are anti-union and the districts love that! I don’t want to blame the TFAs for their life experiences and their view points, they know what they know! I think that it is simply arrogant for someone to think that they can fix in two years problems that are deeply rooted in society. You just can teach what you don’t know, the best approach to teaching is observing first and kids do teach teachers and many of these TFA candidates are too busy showing off.

on November 6, 2011 at 8:52 pm · Reply

Dan Dempsey

To clarify the Seattle School Board approved the Superintendent’s plan to place Teach for America corps members into high-poverty/ high minority schools to close achievement gaps. The students are not poor but a large percentage of their parents are low – income. The SPS made this decision without ever conducting a careful review of options to close achievement gaps.

The three TFA corps members most recently approved by the Board on Sept 21 and October 5 have as of Nov. 1 not been issued “conditional certificates” because the SPS has not even applied for them. These three are teaching in classrooms using “Emergency Substitute Certificates” that were issued. It appears that under WAC 181-79A-231 these TFA corps members did not qualify for those Certificates either, as there is no shortage of qualified substitutes in Seattle.

This is what has become of our theoretical republic in Washington State. RCWs and WACs are selectively ignored by those in charge of applying the rules.

on November 6, 2011 at 8:59 pm · Reply

Need a TFA primmer? The truth? Check this blog post out by Gary Rubenstein! #TFA #RTTT #edreform @RodelDE @GovernorMarkell | Transparent Christinalinked to this post.

on November 6, 2011 at 9:54 pm · Reply


As a 2011 CM in Kansas City, MO, I can say that this post accurately summarizes much of what me and my friends/co-workers here have expressed since starting with TFA this past summer. My experience with TFA has been characterized by institutionalized hypocrisy, double-speak, and self-importance. And it exists much to the detriment of the education system at large and the CMs who signed up expecting something else (or, more realistically, not knowing what to expect at all).

The Sparknotes version of the story of TFA Kansas City follows, and I think it is indicative of many of the delusions that plague TFA and the associated ed “reform” movement. TFA KC started as a small (50ish) charter corps in 2009. At the time, KCMSD was in the midst of a huge upheaval. The superintendant, John Covington, came in with a reform plan straight out of the Gates/Walton/random-corporate-donor-who-decides-to-meddle-in-ed-policy playbook. Close schools, fire teachers, increase class sizes, balance the budget. As part of this plan, Covington cut a huge % of the district’s non-tenured teachers, and decided to fill every single new hire position in 2011 with a TFA. The result was an expansion in the size our corps to roughly 160%, so that TFA teachers now constitute roughly 15% of all teachers in the district.

At our induction/indoctrination, Covington and our regional staff spoke optimistically about this “game-changing move” to turn around the district. Yet anyone with half a brain can see the idiocy in this type of public policy. Filling all new hire positions in an entire district with untrained teachers, most of whom have no intention of staying for more than two years!?! A huge problem here is just the simple lack of consistency/stability in personel and policy, and the result is a district working environment that is totally schizophrenic (i.e., superintendents rarely last more than 2 years or see through policy changes to their conclusion, teachers and admins constantly moved from school to school). And somehow, bringing in a staff of essentially itinerant early-20somethings is supposed to turn that around? It’s also systematically depriving the district of any new teaching talent with (1) Background in the local KCMO community, as opposed to some random college in some other state (2) Intentions of becoming a career teacher in KCMO. Covington quit as superintendent 2 weeks into the year for a higher paying position in Michigan, and left career classroom teachers (for whom he had nothing but disdain) to pick up the pieces.

The TFA staff, meanwhile, seems so convinced of it’s own moral/intellectual superiority that there was (apparently) no meaningful discussion whatsoever over whether or not a district with 15% TFAs is desirable. Certain schools have as many as 13 new TFAs on staff and, predictably, they’re a mess. The quit rate amongst 2011s is high (double-digits out of 160 in only two months), yet there’s been no official acknowledgement of this, or the general morale problems that exist here. Our TFA regional executive director recently spent 2+ weeks in China, so clearly she is committed to the success of her CMs and our operation in general.

As for the mentoring and support that TFA bills as one of it’s organizational strengths… in my experience, it’s been entirely non-existant. Through the first quarter of the year, my TFA advisor has observed me for exactly zero minutes of instructional time, and has no-showed multiple times when she scheduled an observation. The only reason I’ve had a modicum of success in my elementary classroom of 30+ kids thus far has been the constant support of a handful of veteran educators at my school.

on November 7, 2011 at 4:09 am · Reply

Gary Rubinstein

Sorry to hear about this. You sound like someone who joined TFA for the same reasons I did. You were victim of a huge bait-and-switch. I hope you can hang in there and continue getting help from those great veterans, despite TFA’s advice to stay away from them so you don’t get corrupted.

on November 7, 2011 at 4:21 am · Reply


Hi Gary,

I I’m wondering a few things after reading this. . . first, maybe it’s not about TFA’s structure, but more about TFA’s selection/placement process.

I joined TFA as a non-traditional corps member . . .someone who attended graduate school, law school, and was in the working world for awhile before coming to teach. I had worked in ed. policy for several years, and it was my earnest desire to teach that led me to the program. You see, I had a master’s degree in education, but no teaching certification. The only way I could be certified and placed was through a program like TFA.

When I was admitted, I was placed in a special education setting. Contrary to what you’ve said above, this placement was certainly a high need area. There was a teacher shortage as well as a high need for good teachers in this area.

Granted, I wouldn’t say I was good in my first year, but I would say that by my second year I was much better than many of the more seasoned folks in my school. In my time in the classroom, I was able to move our entire school from a self-contained model to an inclusion model, I reduced discipline problems by 50% through implementing a new positive behavior system, and ran both the special education department, as well as a middle school academy.

My point is, there is still a need in our schools, especially in areas like special education. Maybe TFA needs to make a more concerted effort to find non-traditional candidates, or change their screening methods to find those who would be more likely to become career teachers, as opposed to being two and out.

That being said, I have to be honest and admit that I was a two-and-outer. Even with my success (the faculty even selected me as teacher of the year) in the classroom and at my school, I felt that I needed to do more than work in a classroom to effect change. I don’t know if it was TFA that pushed me to think that way, but ultimately, I left the classroom to go back to working in education policy.

Upon reflection, I think two things probably need to be done (outside of the selection considerations). TFA should probably figure out a better way to encourage corps members to stay in the classroom, and schools need to do a better job at trying to retain these teachers. I know that I would have stayed in my school under a number of circumstances, but the politics wouldn’t allow it. I also know that I would have stayed if TFA encouraged me a bit more to stay, like through giving me leadership opportunities during my third year or further professional development, rather than cutting me loose.

Just some things to consider.

on November 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm · Reply


I have serious concerns about putting TFA corp members in Special Ed positions. As a special education teacher myself, I believe CMs, and any untrained teacher, risks doing serious damage to fragile children. More than any other field, I resist putting TFA CMs with these special children.

Ryan, you said yourself “I wouldn’t say I was good in my first year”. Those kids cannot afford teacher after teacher who is “not good” at first. You also said you only stayed 2 years, and left just as you were becoming competent and effective. Who replaced you? Another unprepared 1st year corp member?

Just this morning, I stumbled across a study which asserted clearly, “Pre-service preparation in special education has statistically significant and quantitatively substantial effects on the ability of teachers of special education courses to promote gains in achievement for students with disabilities, especially in reading.” (See:

I do not believe there is truly a shortage of Sped teachers (At least not here in Chicago. It is no longer true that a certification in Sped guarantees a job.) What we see, instead, is massive church in these Sped positions. TFA, and other alternative certification programs, now contribute to this churn. Schools have less incentive to create positive teaching environments which teachers will stay at, and instead rely on a constant stream of newbies to burn through. Special Ed is far too often not a high priority. TFA does not help.

Please, CMs out there, if you are offered a Special Ed position, PLEASE SAY NO! I have heard if you check a box saying you’d be open to working in Sped, chances are you’ll be placed there. Do not check it! If you do not already have significant experience working with students with special needs, background study in how to identify and treat different types of disabilities, knowledge of effective behavioral interventions, extensive training in reading instruction, knowledge of appropriate accommodations and modifications, practice writing IEPs, background with the legal issues surrounding IDEA and LRE, and the know-how to write a FBA and BIP, then DO NOT WORK THERE.

Please TFA corp members, go and learn on some other children than our most vulnerable.

on November 8, 2011 at 3:00 am · Reply


Hi Katie,

I really don’t wish to argue with you, but I largely disagree with some of your sentiments. I hardly believe any teacher is transformational in their first year. . . I think that’s the nature of any new job. When I said I didn’t feel I was good, that doesn’t mean I didn’t make gains with my students, in fact, in my first year, my students grew an average of 2.5 grade levels in reading (I was the special education reading teacher). What I mean to say, is that I felt I could have done more as a teacher to make the environment better. For instance, I taught within a self-contained setting. By the end of the school year, I figured out that the setting was not appropriate for my students and I moved them into full inclusion. That’s what I mean by truly being a good/great teacher. . . and to be honest, I doubt any first year teacher would be able to navigate the politics of an urban poor school to help change their students’ settings. . . it’s something that comes with establishing yourself in your position.

As for your statement about special education training. . . I think TFA has a long way to go and I think there are definitely some holes, but to be honest, when I taught special education, I was one of two TFA special educators out of 8 special educators in the building. Now, which two teachers do you think were the only ones to hold high expectations for their students and build strong relationships with them and their families? The other special educators in my school would take long smoking breaks and leave their students with paraeducators, or used all their vacation days and left them with a man who would take their community skills money and buy snacks for himself. I know that this is situational, and there are probably places where there are magnificent special educators who are not from TFA. . . but honestly, please don’t make blanket judgments about me or other special educators I know many folks who came through TFA and still do amazing things for students with special needs. It’s hurtful and misguided for you to assume otherwise.

As for why I left the classroom. . . well, as I mentioned, it was politics. I was laid off. I was actually laid off after my first year because of LIFO, but I fought to get my job back. By the end of my second year, after being laid off a second time (even after being on the leadership team and teacher of the year) I couldn’t take the stress of fighting for my job again. Can you blame me?

I now work in the policy field (something I did before, as I do have a MEd and a JD) and in my job I work for the rights of children with special needs.

So please, next time you wish to make overarching negative statements about special educators who come through TFA, please take it somewhere else or at least think twice and try to qualify your statements.

on November 8, 2011 at 3:16 am · Reply


I agree, teachers need to be in the classroom long enough to make true school-wide change. But isn’t that an argument against a short-term program like TFA?

I posted a link to a research study that says how critically important PRE-service training is especially in special education. Your reply was so quick that perhaps you didn’t have a chance to read it. Please do.

According to Barbara Torre Veltri’s book “Learning on Other People’s Children”, she interviewed many TFA teachers in the Southwest who were placed in special education positions. She writes, “Serious questions surfaced with respect to the nearly 20% of TFA novices who were assigned to teach special education with no prior training or clinical exposure to special education classrooms.” She quotes TFA CMs saying things like, “Oh my God, I’m teaching what? I didn’t know anything about Special Education.” Ms. Torre Veltri goes on to say that there were serious legal questions in letting completely unprepared teachers teach students with IEPs.

In fact, legally, a parent of a student with an IEP would have a strong case to sue a district for putting their child in the care of someone uncertified in Special Education. (Although I understand TFA has lobbied Washington to change the “highly qualified” stipulations in NCLB. A highly questionable approach in my opinion.) Mark Vite (MEd) who is a special education consultant in Phoenix says, “I don’t believe it’s even legal to hire TFA novices in Special Education placements.” With your background, perhaps you know more about the legal side than I do. Please enlighten me about any knowledge you have in this area.

I don’t know what kind of school you taught at, and I am sorry that those children have to be subjected to such poor teaching, but in MY experience, the special educators I know and have met from around the country through various conferences and trainings, are dedicated, caring, highly-trained professionals.

I’m sorry, in my opinion, there is too much at stake to risk placing completely untrained teachers (and this extends beyond TFA, certainly) in special education classrooms. TFA can make its case for math and science, but not special education.

on November 8, 2011 at 4:05 am · Reply

Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.

HERE is the LATEST from Heilig — July 2011


Julian Vasquez Heilig* Heather A. Cole** Marilyn A. Springel***

on November 8, 2011 at 2:12 am · Reply


And see the latest from the State of Tennessee below. Thoughts, Dan?

on November 8, 2011 at 5:58 pm · Reply


Thanks for speaking out against TFA. As a former member, you have a lot of credibility. One of my best friends did TFA in Baltimore in 97-99-09 and at the time it seemed crazy to me that the most needy areas would hire the least trained people. It still seems backwards. Put those hot shots with little to no training in the rooms of affluent kids in the suburbs who merely need a warm body to focus their energy. Oh wait, their parents would never allow this to happen! I am now myself a veteran ELL teacher in Washington State and I *still* think it is crazy to put “barely” trained teachers in any classroom. All a recipe for what we like to call “a hot mess.”

on November 8, 2011 at 4:24 am · Reply

Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.


Two points:

(1) TFA invaded Seattle and it has no case to make in Math or Science. From Heilig: No one would argue that doctors and lawyers should not be required to pass qualifying exams to ensure they have mastered the requisite skills to practice within their professions. Why is it that such threshold skills are not considered at least as important in the teaching profession?

(2) Agreed Special Education teachers are highly skilled .. but often not highly respected.

Heilig: (p400) It found that highly-qualified teachers facing high accountability pressures in schools rated as low-performing are more likely to leave schools than those teachers in highly-rated schools with low accountability pressures.

Consider what is happening to teachers of very high needs children in schools rated as low performing… They are more and more likely to be subjected to unrealistic requirements…… example why aren’t you moving your multiply handicapped autistic children through the material faster so that some of them can join the gen ed students next year.

BIZARRO World of the School Administrator’s mind. Good teachers can turn straw into gold … what’s the matter with you?

on November 8, 2011 at 4:36 am · Reply


2011 Tennessee State Report Card on Teacher Effectiveness

a few spotlights from the article:

Teachers certified through Teach for America and Lipscomb University in Nashville outperform veteran teachers, according to the state card on teacher training released Tuesday.

The report, produced by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, shows which of the state’s teacher programs tend to produce highly effective teachers and which do not.

Teach for America in Memphis and Nashville outshone traditional college programs and alternative certification programs statewide.

In Memphis, TFA teachers showed “statistically significant positive difference” over both veteran and new teachers and ranked high in the top quintile of teachers across Tennessee in reading, science and social studies.

a few spotlights from the executive summary of the actual report

– Alternatively licensed teachers tend to perform at the same level as veteran teachers in all grade levels and subjects with the exception of Science, where they tend to have higher student achievement gains.

–Only three programs tend to produce teachers (traditionally and alternatively licensed teachers combined) with higher student achievement gains than veteran teachers – Teach for America Memphis, Teach for America Nashville, and Lipscomb University

on November 8, 2011 at 5:15 pm · Reply


Link to the executive summary

on November 8, 2011 at 5:16 pm · Reply

Gary Rubinstein

Also interesting that only 15% of 2006s stayed for a third year and 31% of 2007s. If the average rate for 3rd years is really 60% across the country for TFA, then they are well below average. Many people who stay for a 3rd year, in my opinion, are those that were doing a good job, at least in their estimation, so it is strange that these great teachers with T-values of over 4 (whatever that means) didn’t stay for a 3rd year.

on November 9, 2011 at 2:03 am · Reply

Gary Rubinstein

Hi Interesting,

Since this calculation is probably based on some ‘value-added’ thing, I won’t take it too seriously. Value added was actually invented in Tennessee about 20 years ago by Sanders. So after 20 years of measuring teachers, where has it gotten Tennessee? Nowhere. If there was anything to it, it wouldn’t just be a way to measure, but something to improve education. As Tennessee education hasn’t improved much despite 20 years of this signals to me that these formulas are not very accurate.

I would never let my own children be taught by a first year TFA, though i would allow them to be taught by a second year. Second year TFAs are quite good and I guess they brought up the average a lot.

The problem is that nearly half of TFAers are first years.


on November 9, 2011 at 1:15 am · Reply

Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.

Dear Interesting,

The general quality of education in Tennessee has been poor for a long time. CHECK THISon NAEP scores headed south.

I thank you for the links and am now reading the full report. A really large concern is that such a high percentage of Tennessee Teachers are products of Tennessee schools. There is a huge concern nationally with the quality of ED research and quality of teacher preparation at schools of Education. …. The 3.5 GPA’s of teachers certainly confirms grade inflation in Tennessee’s schools of education.

It may well be that performing better than the average of Teachers (85+% of whom came from Tennessee schools) is not much of an accomplishment.

From the linked article:

Although there was no statistical change in Tennessee’s scores in fourth and eighth-grade reading and math —the four subjects tested this year— a greater number of states have made improvements, pushing Tennessee farther down in national rankings. The state dropped from 45 to 46 in the nation in fourth-grade math; 39 to 41 in fourth-grade reading; 43 to 45 in eighth-grade math; and 34 to 41 in eighth-grade reading. Twenty-six percent of fourth-grade students are proficient in reading, and 30 percent are proficient in math. Twenty-seven percent of eighth-grade students are proficient in reading, and 24 percent are proficient in math

The results must serve as a call to action, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said.

on November 8, 2011 at 7:24 pm · Reply


You know, whenever I hear the whole TFA debate, people claiming one thing or another, this research or that research, I am reminded of a seminar I went to this past summer.

A roomful of teachers gathered to discuss how TFA could adapt to meet the needs of students. We were right in the middle of debating how TFA could improve its training methods when a large group of students from the Recovery District in New Orleans walked in. As I’m sure most people reading this blog are aware, New Orleans relies heavily on TFA recruits.

The students listened politely for a few minutes, until one young man stood up and began to speak. He spoke of his disdain for the program saying, “why do you give US these teachers who know nothing of me, where I’m from, or what I love?” He went on to say, nearly shouting, “Why do you talk of reforming Teach For America? Teach for America has got to GO!”

Teach for America is not an answer to anything. And worse, while the country and our leaders are busy talking about TFA and other “reforms” du jour, we stop even asking the right questions.

on November 9, 2011 at 4:19 am · Reply

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