Over the past weekend, a Buffalo public school teacher provided Corps Knowledge with a memo to the Superintendent and members of Buffalo’s board of education, sent by Philip Rumore, the long-tenured head of the Buffalo Teachers Federation. The memo was crafted in the days following the board’s unanimous vote to bring in 30 Teach For America corps members to fill hard-to-staff positions in Buffalo’s traditional public schools, widely considered to be among the worst in the country in serving low-income students of color
Recently, Kaya Henderson announced that she would step down in October from her role as the Chancellor of Washington D.C. Public Schools to pursue other interests. Henderson, a charismatic and competent leader who is in many circles lauded as the most popular person in D.C., leaves the District on an epic upswing. Recent TUDA results show that the District is one of the fastest improving urban districts in the country. And, unlike what many originally posited, it is not simply because the District continues to undergo gentrification from the white and affluent
Last Friday, Diane Ravitch posted an article on her blog about three Rhode Island teachers who resigned from their school, Blackstone Valley Prep, after students of that school accessed an online faculty chat program and discovered disparaging and hurtful remarks made their intelligence. The teachers were immediately suspended and then, when an internal investigation proved the allegations were accurate, asked to resign
A decade after walking into Washington D.C.'s Paul Public Charter School as a middle and high school math teacher—and a Teach For America corps member—it's still hurtful to see some of the attacks against TFA recently. But no attack bothers me more than the whole "they only teach for two years" argument. Whether it’s framed as TFA being a resume-builder for uncaring elitists or as an opportunity to give privileged folks the feeling that they are saving the world for a brief period of time, both disturb me greatly.
So we had an unexpected hit in the press this weekend. The Corps Knowledge campaign is about press but it’s also not necessarily about being in it. I got quoted being flip (which is what I normally do when I am trying to make a point...for good or ill) but in the aftermath there were a couple of things that kept rising to the surface of the chatter. We thought they were important enough to address so here they are:
Earlier this week, Lyndsey Layton – an education writer who I respect – wrote a column on a new teacher training program being launched at Harvard. Layton dedicates the second half of her story to covering the differences between the Harvard program and Teach For America, and offers some of the ’en vogue’ critiques of the latter by citing an article written by a member of Harvard’s Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM).
Last week, a campaign coalition organized by the Center for American Progress called #TeachStrong was announced. As reported by Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post:
A coalition of 40 education groups — including some strange bedfellows — is starting a national campaign aimed at “modernizing and elevating” the teaching profession.
In describing the effectiveness of the right-wing noise machine in attacking the Obama administration’s agenda, columnist Greg Sargent wrote in 2011 for the Washington Post:
“Keep making noise, regardless of the facts, and hopefully with a big assist from major news orgs, until the other side caves from sheer exhaustion, in order to make the noise go away.”
We all know that the Internet teems with conspiracy theories and personal attacks. But a recent piece about Teach For America really struck a chord with me. In it, the author lays out what he sees as the master plan of TFA (I won’t give the article the dignity of linking the article here but you can certainly find it on your own). It reads like a manifesto powered by a focus group session.
We’ve had an exciting first month at Corps Knowledge, with a launch that wildly exceeded our expectations, a great deal of buzz among the Teach For America alumni community, and a sense of growing momentum.
Over the past week, we’ve begun to see narratives emerge in the op-ed pages of college newspapers from recently admitted Teach For America applicants who will be among the incredible leaders and teachers of the 2016 corps.
As we’ve read these columns, we’ve been impressed by the understanding of the landscape, the highly politicized climate that the education sector finds itself in today, and the thoughtfulness that these future leaders put into their decision to join Teach For America. These aren’t college students that have been warmed over – they have a nuanced understanding of the arguments surrounding our school systems, and have chosen to join Teach For America out of their own personal values and orientation to justice and equity for all students.
Last week on Corps Knowledge, Reshma Singh penned a celebration of the women who lead and have developed their leadership through Teach For America. It quickly became the most popular post on Corps Knowledge and we saw countless other women tagged on social media to have their efforts celebrated. It was a great – and proud – day for our fledgling community.
Wednesday, Corps Knowledge advisory board member Reshma Singh celebrated some of the Badass Women of Teach For America and many of you contributed to the celebration – linking in hundreds of names on Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media. It was an incredible afternoon for us – seeing so many brilliant, dedicated, powerful, loving women being celebrated for their commitment to children, communities and each other.
Within six hours of the post going live, the Badass Teacher’s Association – a group initially started by Fordham professor Mark Naison, celebrated by Diane Ravitch, and referenced by Politico as a “militant splinter group” and the “teacher union’s… militant faction” by the Washington Post – attempted to hijack the celebration on social media under the hashtag #TFAIsNotBadass.
Teach For America (TFA) has transformed the education landscape since its inception in 1990. Tens of thousands of young Americans, many of whom would have not otherwise taught, are now teaching in schools across this country. Other Teach For America alumni and former staff members are leading schools, districts, state education departments, education and other nonprofits.
On Wednesday September 9, 2015, Matt Kramer announced his resignation as one of Teach For America’s two CEOs, a move that he made under the rationale that, “co-leadership comes with real costs… we spend a lot of time maintaining alignment and we often speak in a voice that reflects our daily compromises.” It’s a heartfelt piece, written with an integrity that is unsurprising for anyone who knows Matt.
I first met Matt in 2005; the same year I joined Teach For America’s New York City corps and Matt left McKinsey and Company to serve as TFA’s Chief Program Officer. I was with a group of corps members one evening at the regional office, working on collaborative lesson planning, when he stopped by. I remember him asking two questions: “How are your students doing?” and “What are you doing to make them learn even more?”
Last week on Corps Knowledge, advisory board member Kevin Huffman penned a piece that compared Teach For America to other traditional education programs in his state of Tennessee and across the country. If you haven’t read it yet, start there and come back in a few.
There are five questions that all teacher preparation programs should be able to answer. Some can answer some; few can answer all. But it’s my belief that all of us, collectively, should be pushing traditional schools of education to find out the answers to these questions before they attack other preparation programs like Teach For America. I’m laying them out here because I hope you will join me in asking them:
Back in 2005, I worked on staff at Teach For America - Greater New Orleans supporting dozens of our teachers in public schools across the city. On August 30th, the day after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I wrote an email to my corps members that concluded with the following:
“Even though things now seem dire for the city and its people, what we have is actually a tremendous opportunity to have an even more profound and long-lasting impact as we work to help rebuild the community in the months to come…As long as we continue to support each other and reach out to each other, as you have been doing all along, our finest hour is yet to come.”
In 1992 I packed up my $2,000 Honda Civic and headed to Houston, a city I had never visited before, to start my time with TFA. I ran up my credit card waiting to get my first paycheck at the end of September. And every day I woke up terrified about a group of six year olds—many of whom wore frilly party dresses and politely called me Maestro. I’d left my old life behind for this one. But I loved (almost) every moment of it.
Fast forward almost 20 years, and I was packing up my $2,000 family car (I actually only got $1,800 on the trade-in last year) with kids and a small dog and moved to Nashville, a city I had visited once prior to being hired as Tennessee’s state education commissioner. The job was a whirlwind. But I love the place and I’m still here.
The world of education has changed since I was a New York City corps member in 2005. As reforms, driven by Race to the Top and other events, have taken hold in districts across the country, opposition and push-back have increased dramatically – both in their frequency and in their vitriol. And far too often, the target of these critiques has been Teach For America, which also means its corps members and alums. The structure of these arguments, and the noise-machine networks that make them, have been a subject of long reflection, primarily because they stand in such contrast to my own experience with Teach For America – one that supported me, taught me to teach, was diverse and gave me a group of lifelong friends with deep values and belief in the inherent power and brilliance of all children.
It might stick out to anyone visiting this page that the Corps Knowledge campaign is led by someone who is neither a TFA corps alum, a member of its board or person on its staff. More pointedly, when I was in college TFA was what the smart kids did…and I didn’t think I was smart enough to do it, so I steered clear. I also thought I’d never be working in education. I liked to write—I wanted to do that all my life because it felt like what I was made for.
Fast forward almost 20 years and I am over a decade into advocating for a wide range of education polices—from picking great schools to picking great people—and now I work daily with folks who are TFA alums. Whether it’s a person on the 50CAN national staff, an ally in Newark, a state superintendent in Tennessee or Louisiana, or the executive director of one of my sister CANs, these men and women are among the brightest, most talented, committed people I know. In the same way that I could not imagine my work without them, I won’t countenance a present where our kids don’t have their benefit either.