Last month, Teach For America held a 25th Anniversary Summit in Washington DC and showed a congratulatory video from someone you may have heard of.
This month, however, TFA is laying off 150 staffers due to its failure to meet its own recruiting targets. We know this because a TFA staffer leaked the information to Diane Ravitch. The schadenfreude runs thick in the typical channels, even though last week they were flogging the lack of teacher recruits themselves.
No matter. This isn’t about teacher recruitment or teacher quality or federal funding. Merits and flaws aside, TFA circumvents the established way of recruiting, training and deploying teachers. It also threatens the notion that K-12 public school teaching is a 30-year career. To some, that means it must be stopped.
Efforts to find common ground – even those attempted by the president of the National Education Association – were met with howls of outrage. NEA itself concluded in 2012, “No evidence suggests that the TFA contracts are being used to reduce teacher costs, silence union voices, or as a vehicle to bust unions.”
This had no effect on opponents, who continued their campaigns against TFA, either independently or with union affiliate sanction. Just this January the executive officers of the California Teachers Association approved a measure to actively support a campaign by its student teacher chapter to “Resist Teach for America.” The rationale was that “Teach for America is in direct competition with CTA for student membership. They impede our ability to recruit and organize student chapters on college campuses. They promote an anti-union message.”
The toolkit notes TFA’s growth through 2014 and a “significant decrease in union membership and participation.” It concludes: “These trends are not unrelated.”
The toolkit contains tips and exercises for activists to use when confronted by TFA supporters, emphasizing that “we are critiquing the organization of Teach for America and its associated reform movement, not TFA recruits or alumni as individuals. We encourage TFA resistors to withhold value judgments (i.e. bad, good) and use language that is aimed at critiquing the system (i.e. ineffective, inequitable).”
TFA as an organization will stand or fall based on the value of the services it provides. If only that could be said of all public education organizations.