TFA: Reeking of Pork, Again

With a five-week summer survival course and no actual classroom experience, TFA candidates are deemed “highly qualified” before the school year even begins. The controversial interpretation of “highly qualified,” opposed by more than 100 civil rights and education groups, was set to expire at the end of the 2013-14 school year until this week’s legislative wheeling and dealing landed TFA another two-year extension of the provision.

Buried deep within the resolution to reopen government and avert default on the country’s debt obligations, Teach For America wrapped itself some pork. The organization made clear, yet again, that it can only be sustained through underhanded legislative maneuvers brokered behind closed doors.

Back in 2002, No Child Left Behind was passed with a provision entitling all students to a “highly qualified” teacher. The Department of Education, however, expanded the definition of “highly qualified” to include those pursuing alternative routes to the classroom (e.g., TFA) if they were making “satisfactory progress toward” state certification.

With a five-week summer survival course and no actual classroom experience, TFA candidates are deemed “highly qualified” before the school year even begins. Go figure.

In 2010, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that alternative route candidates were not in fact “highly qualified” and that the Department’s interpretation violated the law.

The ruling was rendered meaningless, however, in late 2010, when a continuing resolution (again, to keep government open) codified the expanded definition of “highly qualified” as law—all without public debate.

The provision TFA fights so desperately for has been opposed by more than 100 civil rights and education groups.

It was set to expire at the end of the 2013-14 school year until this week’s legislative wheeling and dealing landed TFA another two-year extension of the provision.

I’ve been critical of the organization before, particularly because of missed opportunities to transform into an organization that enhances the profession rather than treating teaching as an internship. But the millions spent on lobbying in recent years combined with these underhanded tactics should not be tolerated by TFA’s 28,000 alumni.

When I was a TFA corps member, the organization’s core values were stressed time and again: relentless pursuit of results, sense of possibility, disciplined thought, respect, humility, and integrity.

Those core values have changed in recent years. Notably, integrity is no longer on the list.

For an organization committed to taking any means necessary to get their way, relentless pursuit of results aptly describes the true state of affairs.

But respect and humility? Those don’t adequately characterize the conceit with which this latest effort was perpetrated, nor TFA’s contempt for teaching as a profession.


h/t Noah and Ken Zeichner, Valerie Strauss

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  • JustinMinkel


    Love your piece, Kris, and you’ve ignited my own anger as a TFA alum.  Amazing that your post was the first I’ve heard of this. 

    Gandhi was once asked whether the ends justified the means.  He said that it’s a false conundrum because the path shapes the goal.  If you think you can take path X to reach point Z, or else path Y to reach point Z, you’re wrong.  By the time you reach the goal, the path you took has shaped it.

    If Gandhi’s right, this is a deeply troubling scoop.

    • KristofferKohl

      Excellent quote…

      Going to keep that one in my back pocket for future posts. TFA’s destination is admirable, but the path is fraught with short-term thinking veiled as solutions. Talking more about this with Edushyster

  • SusanGraham

    The Alchemy of TFA

    If we lived in the Magic Kingdom of Education where one could wish upon a star and make dreams come true, then the TFA’s Sorcer’s Apprentices might be a formula for school reform. You could take take 22 fourteen year old children of poverty, expose them to one twenty- one year old Yale Public Policy major and one twenty-two year old graduate of the Harvard School of Economics and produce  22 college applicants,  a brillant education policymaker, and a multimillaire donor with a social conscious that wants to fix education. There are many who suffer from the effects of  the TFA fantasy of magic brooms and mops that will clean up the failed experiments of public education. What about:

    • The idealistic but usually over-confident college graduates who are told they are the solution and then thrown into situations where they are likely to fail?
    • The disrespected exprienced educators who have invested their lives and careers in educating children but who are styled as lacking the passion and compassion of these well-meaning but inexperienced kids?
    • The school administrators who are expected to run schools with revolving door faculties with minimal  training, and no little to no experience with the culture of their students school or community?
    • The school systems who are pushed by politically motivated policymakers to accept TFA as “the solution” because it’s a quick, cheap fix?
    • The well-intended but apparently rather naive stakeholders and donors who buy into the argument that “all those people  need is exposure to people like us, so that those people will  want to go to college in order to be like us, and then once those people graduate from college they wil want tol Work Hard (for us) and Be Nice  (to us)”?

    One could argue that all of the above have been exploited or dupped, but we’ve left out one group of victims.

    The kids.

    The kids that are told not to expect to get a master teacher, but to be grateful for trickle down effect of being exposed to well meaning kids who benefitted from those kind of teachers.

    The kids who are told that  it’s okay to use them as a training ground  to develop social consciousness in young people who, unlike them, can “really make a difference.”

    The kids who are told, in effect, that they are expendible.

    It’s time to acknowlege that TFA was an experiement that truly did begin with good intentions but has gone wrong along the way.

    • KristofferKohl

      Where to go from here?


      In the absence of TFA closing up shop, what are we (frustrated alums and those committed to education careers) to do with an organization that perpetuates so many of the challenges that educators are grappling with? How do we capitalize on the good intentions and idealism of TFA corps members while correcting the path of the organization? 

      Justin Minkel and I are among a growing group who have become disillusioned with an organization originally chartered to fill a teacher shortage that has transformed in its 25 year history into a political machine. We’re a solutions-oriented group that wants to be proud of our affiliation with TFA.

      We’ve batted around a few ideas, like TFA as a pathway to Board Certification requiring at least a 5 year classroom committment, but what would be your fix for the organization? How would you remake and rebrand what they do? 

      Always appreciate your insight!