TFA Divorced from Corporate Reform: Donkeys Flying
In a September 19, 2015, post, Teach for America (TFA) alum-gone-legitimate-teacher and fellow blogger, Gary Rubinstein, reflects upon the departure of one of two TFA “co-CEOs,” Matt Kramer.
In his post, Rubinstein notes that this co-CEO arrangement occurred in March 2013, when “TFA stock was at an all time high.” TFA founder Wendy Kopp had moved on to become CEO of the international version of TFA, Teach for All.
I was surprised to read Rubinstein’s advice that TFA “need not go down with the ‘reform’ ship.”
Trying to extract “reform” from TFA is not possible. TFA is corporate reform, and TFA without corporate reform leaves only legitimately trained, career-intended, non-ladder-climbing, dedicated teachers.
Non-corporate-reform TFA would have to publicly admit that teaching is an actual profession and that the TFA product is at best a two-dimensional, cardboard cut-out of a substitute. Such an admission would be TFA’s undeniably-market-reform undoing.
Ironically, trying to conceal the inadequacy of her product is also leading to the undoing of TFA. However, one issue is clear about Wendy Kopp: She operates from a corporate mindset. She intends to make TFA ever-bigger, ever more influential.
All that matters is the marketed image, not the actual quality of the product, eh?
I wrote a detailed chapter on Kopp and on TFA in my book, A Chronicle of Echoes. Kopp’s TFA began as a “Peace Corps” of teaching, the idea being that college grads outside of teaching could receive cursory training in order to complete a temporary stint in the classroom in districts suffering from teacher shortages. Such districts tend to be in lower-income situations, such as the inner city, and more than that, restricting the mission of TFA to one so seemingly altruistic would not lead to a multi-million-dollar enterprise.
However, by 2001, the mission of TFA had clearly shifted to one of actively and intentionally seeking to place TFA alumni into positions of influence in education administrative and policy decisions.
And TFA advertising took on an unmistakable “TFA teachers are better that traditionally trained teachers” attitude even as data on TFA temp teacher attrition was (and is) carefully guarded.
The goal of TFA became one of advancing the privatization of public education, of offering market-model-indoctrinated, rotating staffing to not only traditional districts, but to market-model charter schools– and of supplanting traditional public education administration with TFA alums zealous about advancing the TFA brand. I live in a state– Louisiana– in which a former TFAer-gone-TFA-exec was politically placed into the position of state superintendent– John White– and he and one TFA executive-as-state board-member– Kira Orange-Jones– have made it their business to feed TFA a million-dollar contract that includes paying TFA a temp fee of up to $9,000 per TFA recruit.
In 2013-14, TFA’s total assets were $494 million.
$32 million was from “service fees.”
$73.5 million was from “government grants.”
But TFA does not only operate via taxpayer money in the form of temp fees. TFA is a corporate-reform-advancing machine. TFA draws millions from the Waltons and Broad, among other obscenely-moneyed corporate reformers.
In 2013-14, TFA garnered $208 million in “other contributions.”
Without test-score-obsessed corporate reform, there is no TFA machine. But with the strategic, national push to replace the community school with the under-regulated, cheaply-staffed, non-union charter, TFA can continue to be a machine– so long as the corporate reform model retains a hold around the throat of American public education.
Wendy Kopp’s intention with TFA is to continue to place TFA alum like John White into key administrative and political positions so that TFA continues to grow as it aggressively and faithfully proclaims the message that feeds it, the message of market-based-reform superiority.
It’s not about the kids. If it were, surely Kopp would have had at least one serious moment of reckoning about the highly questionable practice of placing ill-trained, naive college grads into tough teaching assignments in order to feed lower income students a steady diet of scripted test prep.
But Kopp is a businesswoman, and though TFA has the convenient label of “nonprofit,” for all practical purposes, TFA is a business that is nothing but a succubus of taxpayer money and a magnet of billionaire market worship.
In 2013-14, Kopp paid herself $176,657 “reportable compensation” for eight hours of work per week for TFA. She also paid herself $277,309 “reportable compensation” for a 50-hour week at Teach for All– but she sits on the board of the Broad Center for Management of School Systems for free–sort of. Broad funds both TFA and KIPP. Kopp’s husband, Richard Barth, is the CEO of KIPP. Yeah. TFA extracted from corporate reform is an airborne, domesticated, hoofed animal of the horse family.
Kopp’s undoing comes from those naive would-be TFA volunteers wising up– which I believe is connected with an increasing willingness for former TFAers to publicly register their discontent with TFA.
TFA is reaping what it has sown and has tried to keep behind carefully-guarded doors of public image.
The term “Teach for America” is becoming increasingly toxic, and I don’t think there is anything that Kopp can do to salvage corporate-reform-infused TFA from corporate reform.