Teach for America continues to take shellacking from people who think to ask questions like "How do you prepare someone to be a teacher in five weeks?" or "Why aren't wealthy, white districts lined up to take advantage of this awesome program?" or "How exactly does it help a high needs school to have an endless parade of untrained amateurs wandering through classrooms for just a couple of years at a time?"
But TFA fits the reformster narrative in many ways (Some people are just better than others, so they should make great teachers-- certainly better than those dopes who are in teaching as a career. Poor schools are failing because the Right People aren't there, so we'll put the Right People there and that will fix everything!), and it has allowed many people to put "teacher" on their resume as they move onto their real careers as bureaucrats, lobbyists and political appointees, so that TFA has become a multi-million dollar operation with plenty of friends in high places. Still, they also participate in another popular reformster narrative-- "Even though we are Better People and we're doing Great Things, people keep popping up to say mean things about us, and that makes us sad."
And so periodically reformsters try to fight back, and we get the bizarre spectacle of millions of dollars being spent to outfits like the $12 million Education Post or the $4 million per year the74 to combat a bunch of people who blog for little or no money.
Now TFA is joining the party. As reported by Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post, NYCAN (part of a network of pro-charter, anti-public school, anti-teacher union reformsters) has set up a Big Fat PR engine to combat TFA criticism. Why would NYCAN do that for TFA? Well, most likely because they are all interconnected and run by the same folks.
NYCAN has put up $500,000 to run the Corps Knowledge campaign. They have a nifty website, where they lay out their goals to rally alumni, combat misinformation, and provide a platform for alumni to share stories. Of course, that can be tricky because much of the criticism of TFA comes from its own alumni, like Gary Rubinstein, a TFA alum and critic that CK tried to take down.
And although Layton is just writing about Corps Knowledge now, they've been kicking around for a few months. Back in September they posted about the Badass Women of TFA and were unhappy to attract the attention of the Badass Teachers Association; they turned off comments and scrubbed responses (though they saved a few to mount a counter-attack).
That was back in September, and it underlines a lesson that TFA and friends have had a hard time absorbing: it's a lot easier to attack the establishment than to be the establishment, and coming up on their twenty-five year anniversary, TFA can no longer claim to be upstarts or outsiders. far better funded than any pro-public ed group and so well-wired into the reformster establishment that they can it will mount a $500 PR campaign on their behalf just because, TFA is part of the status quo. And after this many years, their track record is too well-known to be washed away by PR. They don't provide sufficient preparation for entering a classroom. The vast majority of their people don't enter into a teaching career, and by and large don't intend to. And as much as they like to claim success while being a group that "doesn’t need to tear down another group to affirm that success," their premise has been and continues to be that "regular" teachers just aren't up to the task of educating American students, but TFA recruits will fix it.
TFA has reinvented itself many times, and Layton's article contains a pretty straightforward admission of the core mission: "The program is designed not so much to groom career teachers as to inspire recruits to work on the larger issues of urban education in varied ways."
Darrell Bradford, NYCAN executive director, has one point to make that is fair, albeit ironic:
“Some of the best people I’ve ever known have worked for TFA — great, caring, smart — and it’s tough to see your friends get dragged through the mud,” said Bradford, who has $500,000 for the campaign and is aiming to raise an additional $1 million to expand it.
It's a useful insight, and one that Bradford, who is no dummy, might apply to understading the people who resist NYCAN's agenda in general and TFA in particular. Some of the best, smartest people I know are public school teachers, and it is hard to watch them get dragged through the mud by reformsters who insist that teachers are so bad that it's better to replace them with five-week-trained fresh college grads who don't even particularly want to teach. And we don't have a million bucks lying around to fight back with.