Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Student Writes on Beach Channel Closing - in The Wave

March 19, 2010

It’s My Turn

By Celine Anderson, Student, Channel View School For Research

The January 6 meeting with the Department of Education officials was an event that cannot be forgotten. Members of the community, hard working faculty and dedicated students gathered to demand the much needed answers to why the DOE has decided to “phase out” Beach Channel High School. Of course these demands were not met; the officials never answered a single question, and if they did it wasn’t a direct answer. The officials went around the questions being asked, and the only response actually being given on the topic was about the “low graduation rates.” The officials said they were there to “listen” to the community when they were really there to just shut them up. The DOE already had their minds made up, and they were just there to make the people feel like they were doing something.

The DOE practically set BCHS up for failure three years ago when they began to cut the funds needed by the school. Programs such as Cooking, Computers, Dance, Leadership and Cheerleading all had to be cut due to lack of funding. Larger programs like the Virtual Enterprises Business program and the Law Center – in which a classroom was transformed to look like an actual courtroom, so students can hold debates and trials and experience what it is like to be in a court of law – were also cut. Even Oceanography, which was the main focus of BCHS, had to be cut due to lack of funding. They also saw the loss of vital staff such as assistant principals, para’s, security guards and even teachers. “Demographics show that in a period of one year Beach Channel lost a total of 32 teachers due to budget cuts,” says Chris Petrillo, a senior student at BCHS, and the leader in the movement against the closing. During the meeting Petrillo gave a presentation that had the crowd applauding.

The Department of Education’s first victim, Far Rockaway High School, was put on the chopping block back in 2007; this had a crashing effect on Beach Channel. Many of the students that attended or would have attended FRHS were sent to Beach Channel, which, due to lack of teachers, was already an overcrowded school. “Class sizes increased from approximately 25 students in the classroom to 34 …” making the learning process a lot more difficult for the students. BCHS also witnessed an increase in violence; along with the new flock of students, came those who were involved in gang activity and/or have been incarcerated. The limited number of School Safety Guards to control the violence caused BCHS’ reputation to plummet. If the DOE has their way, BCHS will be gone within the next few years, and for the first time in over 115 years Rockaway will no longer have a comprehensive high school to serve the needs of all students on the peninsula. Though the DOE is planning to open a new charter school within Beach Channel, there is no guarantee that students will be academically eligible to attend the school or even want to attend it. Those students who are unable to attend Channel View, Scholars’ Academy or the new magnet school, will have no choice but to travel outside of the peninsula to receive their education. And with the plan to eliminate student metrocards in the coming year, students will be spending more than $30 a month to get to and from school. Those parents who drive their children to school will also have to pay a heavy price when the city re-opens the Cross Bay Bridge toll booth this coming year.

It is evident that a situation like this one needs to be handled rationally by mature adults, but the DOE has proved that they are not mature adults. A mature adult does not neglect the community and the education of the millions of students; a mature adult listens and more importantly takes responsibility for his/her actions. Instead of being the mature adults they should be, the DOE has proved to be nothing more than a bunch of immature teenagers. The DOE does not listen to what we have to say, nor do they care; in their eyes they are right and we are wrong. Their minds are made up and it’s either their way or the highway. In other words, the academic future of millions of NYC kids is in the hands of a group of “adults” with the same maturity level, if not less, of a high school freshman. No one can tell for sure what is to come, but from the looks of the protest signs, angry faces, and comments made that night, it is clear that the Rockaway community won’t give up without a fight.

Channel View is based in the Beach Channel building and has drawn students from the Beach Channel community.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Open Letter To AFT President Randi Weingarten Re: April 10 March on DC


Mar 29, 2010

Open Letter To AFT President Randi Weingarten

This letter was sent to the American Federation of Teachers national union president.

March 29, 2010
Dear President Weingarten:
“Thanks to Thursday’s (March 25) vote of the Washington Teachers Union, President George Parker and certain WTU Executive Board members will not support the April 10 march to the US Department of Education that has been organized by Steve Conn, a Detroit public schools teacher. The purpose of the march is to defend public education by taking a stand against the attacks on teachers; black, Latino, poor, working class and middle class students of all races; end privatization of public education; end separate and unequal schools; and restore Dr. King’s vision for America.
Thanks to Thursday’s vote, Washington Teachers Union President George Parker and certain WTU Executive Board members were unwilling to allow information about the April 10 march to be placed on the WTU Executive Board agenda so that I could explain why public school teachers and their students will travel here to DC on buses to stand up for public education. I was disappointed to learn that AFT, our parent organization, also will not support the April 10 march on the US Department of Education (as reported by WTU President George Parker)
This got me to thinking that, unlike teachers, neither you President Weingarten nor George Parker will be wiped out in July by an IMPACT evaluation that is grossly unfair to teachers, neither you President Weingarten nor George Parker have been wrongfully terminated at the whim of a chancellor and neither you President Weingarten nor George Parker will be forced to consider a contract proposal (tentative agreement) after three long years that gives more leverage to administrators to terminate effective teachers or be faced with reassignment options under mutual consent provisions.
I am troubled that our current WTU president, George Parker, is unwilling to have an open discussion with our WTU Executive Board members informing them about the march simply because the AFT has not endorsed the event. I know that Steve Cohn advanced this issue directly to George Parker and Monique Lenoir, WTU Communications Director, for consideration.
For this reason, I appeal to you to let members of the Washington Teachers Union, Local 6, decide whether they want to attend this event. At a time when public education is in peril, we all need to stand together as one in solidarity and struggle. If teachers can travel from across these United States, at the very least DC teachers should be afforded the option of standing alongside our colleagues. So far the Detroit Federation of Teachers, The California Federation of Teachers, The New Haven (Connecticut) Federation of Teachers, and the Detroit School Board have signed on to lend support.
I ask you President Weingarten to do the following: post an announcement on the AFT web site providing details about the April 10 Washington, DC, march to the US Department of Education and send a letter to WTU/AFT members informing them about the upcoming event. As the American Federation of Teachers national union president, you have an obligation to represent all union members, not only those who share your point of view.
Signed, Candi Peterson
full dues paying member of WTU and AFT
Washington Teachers Union Board of Trustee
Washington Teachers Union Building Representative
Posted by The Washington Teacher

The Education Agenda is a War Agenda


The Education Agenda is a War Agenda

Connecting Reason to Power and Power to Resistance

Posted: 2009-03-27

from Z Net
March 23, 2009

The authors ask a crucial question and explain why it is so critical that we come to terms with answering it: How long will educators, kindergarten through universities, continue to exchange reasonably good pay, benefits, and some security for staying mum about the nature of imperialist warfare, for implementing racist high stakes exams that not only intimidate and make dishonest everyone in a class room, but that also segregate children wrongly by class and race-under a fictitious veneer of science, hiding privilege behind a veneer of accomplishment?

The sky is, of course, falling. We are lambs among wolves. The core issue of our time is the relationship of rising color-coded social and economic inequality challenged by the potential of mass class-conscious resistance. This can now be summed up as life and death, an issue that most North Americans avoided during nearly eight years of war because, while the US supports one of the largest militaries in the world, its personnel amount to less than one percent of the population.

If we are to face the crises of our day we must do what Nemesis author Chalmers Johnson claims most Americans cannot do: connect cause and effect, the whole with the parts, past-present-future-as Johnson rightly believes history is eradicated in America.

The task means connecting war with imperialism, economic collapse with capitalism, and the imperial project to designs on schools, what people know and how they come to know it. It also means connecting the solutions, that is, recognizing that fights in health care are necessarily fights in education, that the battles about immigration are also battles about wages, hours, and benefits. It means recognizing what is really afoot: class war, an international war of the rich on the poor: the social relations of capitalism. The economic restructuring through massive job losses in almost every sector (2.6 million in the last 4 months) going on now will result in either a horrific defeat for the North American and world working class, or these months will mark as an awakening moment when the people recognized the many boots on their throats.[1] Last, making connections means transformation, overcoming the system of capital as, without that North Star, any social movement is directionless, just recreating injustice in slightly new ways.

Making Connections: The Election of 2008

Let us step back briefly and examine the last election. The recent election should not only be studied as how voters chose who would most charmingly oppress the majority of the people from the executive committee of the rich, the government. It should be studied, more importantly, as how an element of capitalist democracy [2], the spectacle of the election, has speeded the emergence of fascism as a mass popular force; that is:

  • the corporate state, the rule of the rich, near complete merger of corporations and government;

  • the continuation of the suspension of civil liberties (as with renditions);

  • the attacks on whatever free press there is;

  • the rise of racism and segregation (in every way, but especially the immigration policies);

  • the promotion of the fear of sexuality as a question of pleasure (key to creating the inner slave), and the sharpened commodification of women (Sarah Palin to pole dancers);

  • the governmental/corporate attacks on working peoples' wages and benefits (bailouts to merit pay to wage and benefit concessions);

  • intensification of imperialist war (sharpening
  • the war in Afghanistan sharpens war on Pakistan which provokes war on Russia, etc, and
  • the US is NOT going to leave Iraq's oil);

  • the promotion of nationalism (all class unity) by, among others, the union bosses,
    teaching people the lie that someone else should interpret reality and act for us, when no one is going to save us but us;

  • trivializing what is supposed to be the popular will to vile gossip, thus building cynicism—especially the idea that we cannot grasp and change the world, but also debasing whatever may have been left of a national moral sense;

  • increased mysticism (is it better to vote for a real religious fanatic or people who fake being religious fanatics?); and

  • incessant attacks on radicals (Bill Ayers is not a radical; he is a foundation-seeking liberal now, once he was a liberal with a bomb, but people see him as the epitome of a radical and he IS connected to Obama).

  • That is a litany of the acceleration of fascism.

    Al Szymanski outlined the basic functions of the capitalist state's democracy three decades ago.[3] This is a reminder:

    1. To guarantee the accumulation of capital and profit maximization and make it legitimate.
    2. Preserve capitalist class rule.
    3. Raise money to fund the state.
    4. Form and preserve capitalist class rule.

    Democracy does not dominate capital. Democracy submits, atomizes voters to individuals huddled in ballot booths asking capital's favorite question: What about Me?

    Let us continue to make connections, this time foreign and domestic policy.

    Making Connections: US Foreign Policy and the Collapsed Economy

    What is US foreign policy? It is largely unchanged post-Bush. It is war for empire, regional control, and, in particular, oil. That is why the US is in Afghanistan (it is not Al-Qaeda which is more out of business than not, and it is not the Taliban whose potential pipelines were hugged by the US years ago-though worries about nuclear Pakistan destabilized by a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan are real enough). Empire is why the US is in Iraq, and is not going to leave, not in 2010, not in 2011. The permanent bases, six by our count, say otherwise, and so does every military expert working in the Obama administration. The wars' cost, depending on your analyst, about $2 trillion, though we must acknowledge the military budget is bathed by secrecy.

    Failed wars have a lot to do, but not entirely to do, with the economic collapse that continues to spiral while Obama, like the sorcerer's apprentice, tries to contain it. The containment, so far, adds up to about $9.7 trillion, though that too is a secret, as are the recipients, in the midst of proclamations about transparency. Bloomberg is one of the few news groups willing to sue for the information-now in court.

    The TARPs etc. are sheer robbery achieved by the use of power that goes to the very nature of US society itself. When we hear "the economy," and "our government," we should think, "Their economy, their government."

    Where the bailout money has gone is a secret.[4] Where it is going to go is a secret. Which banks the FDIC is visiting is even a secret. The bailout is not trickling down. Why, after all, should banks lend to people who are already in debt at a rate more than their annual incomes-about 50% of Americans? The total debt of the US government, including unfunded entitlement obligations such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. adds up as a debt of more than $175,000 per citizen, more than $53 trillion and that is before the bailouts began.[5] To nearly all economists, before the bust, that was a secret. Societies whose veins run with secrecy, which run on rumors and fanciful hopes, verge on tyranny. But it is no secret that the stimulus is already stimulating sharp battles between state, county, and city governments over who gets what, and who holds the reins—must assuredly not those who do the work.

    The stimulus package that just passed congress may be full of pork, true, but one key aspect that is being missed. It represents a real conflict inside the US ruling classes, who use the government as their executive committee and armed weapon, now with Obama as the Chair. This battle can be oversimplified as a struggle between old-line capital, as with the Rockefeller backed Council on Foreign Relations, and newer capital, like the Bush/Cheney crowd, as well as a struggle between finance capital, investment banks, and more immediately productive capital, like the "Big 3" automakers (we can already see the financier winners and auto losers in that). Nevertheless, it is a fight with each player acting, not out of high aims for the patriotic good, but the narrowest forms of opportunism, what Lady Astor called, "running off higgledy-piggledy," after the nearest dollar.

    The many heads of finance never really separated from the many bodies of productive capital, but the heads of finance who served as generals of the moneyed class believed they did, until the bodies of overproduction, corruption, and waste pulled them back.

    The US is in a desperate situation. The military was fought to a standstill in Iraq by an enemy unfit to call Enemy. The best the US can hope for is a draw in Afghanistan. Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations (whose members are sprinkled all over the Obama regime) testified to that before Congress on February 12 of this year.[6] It's interesting to see how closely the Obama line tracks behind Biddle's writing. But Biddle is quite clear: The US is going to be in Iraq a long time, and probably longer in Afghanistan, at a cost of perhaps 50 to 100 dead troops a month.

    The US is a declining world power ideologically, morally, politically, economically, and militarily. The government stands exposed as opposing the common good—as with the massive opposition to the first bailout before the Obama/McCain election—and it cannot meet the elementary needs of the people, from housing to jobs to health care to old age assistance.

    US elites are well aware of their own weaknesses and so are their potential enemies. We recently saw Russia attack Georgia, a US ally, and the US did nothing. Russia challenged Europe and shut down pipelines. Both the US and Europe only whined.

    In Europe, national political and economic rulers retreat to the comfort and protection of their home militaries as the notion of a united continent evaporates in a wash of economic realities and old hatreds. But, the contradictory nature of capital popped up when General Motors demanded a bailout from Europe, after decades of "Buy Americanism" from both GM management and the United Auto Workers.

    Last November, the US War College's Strategic Studies Institute posited a number of "strategic surprises" that the country should be prepared for, including potential for disruption and violence caused by the economy's failure. The report "Known Unknowns: Unconventional 'Strategic Shocks' in Defense Strategy Development," says "widespread civil violence inside the US would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security."[7]

    And now, for the first time ever, US military units are staged and are training inside the country to address civil unrest rising from inequality. The Army Times has reported on the US Northern Command's (NORTHCOM) deployment of the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Combat Brigade Team (BCT) on U.S. soil for "civil unrest" and "crowd control" duties. The 5,000-member force was one of first units deployed in Baghdad.[8]

    The collapsed economy and failing wars surely turn up in domestic policy where, we can note with humor, Obama has participated in, and now led, perhaps the most massive transfer of wealth in history, gone on a breathtaking spending spree, yet he promises to balance the budget.

    The Education Agenda as a War Agenda

    These factors will all appear in schools where money plays a very significant, but not the primary, role. The primary role of capitalist schooling is social control, winning the children of the poor and working classes to be loyal, obedient, dutiful, and useful, to the ruling classes under a variety of lies: We are all in this together; this is a multicultural society, democracy trumps inequality, we all can be President, etc. Kids learn the ethics of slaves, perhaps an important reason why there is so little outcry from the rank and file of the military, engaged in war crimes world wide, but quite well educated.

    We said, months before the election, that Obama will continue the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush education agenda that came into being after the ruling classes nearly lost control of the schools and universities during and after they lost the Vietnam war—ran away. That agenda can be summarized by:

  • The regimentation of curricula (phonics, abstract math, the eradication of history and academic freedom);

  • Racist and anti-working class high stakes examination;

  • The deepening militarization of schooling (JROTC, ROTC, CIA, NSA, ICE, HS, etc. all over campuses).

  • We added that, in some instances, Obama's cadre would turn to privatization and in others they will not, depending mostly on the interaction of profitability and social control. One remarkable example of the merger of the corporate and the government is Bob Bobb's arrival in Detroit, to oversee the Detroit Public School's finances (while a dysfunctional school board is allowed to pretend it controls whatever is left). Mr Bobb is on the DPS payroll at about $250,000. His salary is to be supplemented by the right-wing Broad Foundation, where he was trained, at nearly $100,000.

    Arne Duncan, Obama's Education Secretary, is following precisely that path, rushing along with plans for merit pay rooted in test results, the abolition of some teacher job protection, a nationally regulated curriculum, privatized charters like those favored by the Broad Foundation and the takeover of some urban school system, like Detroit, by Broad-trained and funded Mr. Bobb. Leaders of both teacher unions, the National Education Association (largest union in the USA by far) and the American Federation of Teachers assist the Obama project at every turn; AFT President Randi Weingarten said the union would "embrace the goals and aspirations outlined" by Obama in his recent speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce."[9]

    Obama's education plan is based on the same rhetoric (fear mongering) and reasoning that produced the educationally disastrous NCLB. Indeed, Diane Ravitch, right-wing education policy analyst at New York University and Assistant Secretary of Education in the Reagan Administration recently opined,

    "that Obama has given President George W. Bush a third term in education policy and that Arne Duncan is the male version of Margaret Spellings [Education Secretary in Bush's second term]. Maybe he really is Margaret Spellings without the glasses and wearing very high heels. We all know that Secretary Spellings greeted Duncan's appointment with glee. She wrote him an open letter in which she praised him as "a fellow reformer" who supports NCLB and anticipated that he would continue the work of the Bush administration."[10]

    Like his predecessors, Obama misrepresents public education performance as a scare tactic and to open the door for the privatization. Gerald Bracey, a fellow at the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University, has cataloged recent errors in Obama's claims about public schools.[11] Here are a few examples:

  • Obama claims that graduation rates have fallen from 77% to 67%, but the U. S. Department of Education says the best method for estimating it puts it at 74.5% nationally.

  • Obama said dropout rates have tripled over the past 30 years. But how does a 10% decline in graduation rate equal a 300% increase in dropout rate?

  • Obama claims "Just a third of our 13- and 14-year-olds can read as well as they should." Bracey calls this claim "outright garbage."[12]

  • Obama "raved about South Korean schools but neglected to say that thousands of South Korean families sell their children--yes, sell--to American families so their kids can a) learn English and b) avoid the horrible rigidity of Korean schools. And while the US trails Korea on average test scores, it has a higher proportion of students scoring at the highest level on the Program of International Student Achievement (PISA). Moreover, it has the highest number of high scorers (67,000) of any country. No one else even comes close."

  • Obama "praises charters for creativity and innovation. But study after study of charters has come away saying they were surprised at how much the charter schools look like regular public schools. And charter schools don't score as well on tests as regular public schools. You can't bash the public schools on test scores then praise the charters which have lower scores."[13]

  • Obama's education stimulus package continues the regimentation of curriculum and test-driven approach to education by bribing states and school districts to apply for $5 billion in grants largely aimed at boosting student test scores. These grants, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, are known as the "Race to the Top Fund."

    Obama, Duncan, and the rest do this because that is what they must do in the social context they are in, and because they have chosen sides in what is the class war, the international war of the rich on the poor, which the rich recognize and the poor, at least in the US, do not-yet.

    Again, this is the core issue of our time: the interaction of rising inequality and mass, class-conscious, resistance. That is why the education budget is a war budget.

    Those who reject this fact not only mislead others—as did hundreds of liberal pundits who fashioned the hysteria that continues around Obama—but they also set up poor and working people for the emergence of fascism, the corporate state that emerges around us now. Example: demands to nationalize banks; the corporate state fully come forth.

    This includes, for example, columnist Robert Scheer who recently called the Obama near-bank nationalization, "fascist," then turned about and concluded that Obama is just okay.[14] Or education big-wig Linda Darling Hammond who waived pom-poms for Obama, then wandered off from the Obama education department, disillusioned, but never issued a self-criticism about what she did, or a warning about what scared her off.[15]

    Those who feel betrayed by Obama, like Scheer and Darling-Hammond, actually betrayed thousands of people themselves by marching them into the teeth of his charming grin. And those who knew their operation was a scam, like the education union bureaucrats, willfully set up their members for defeat. These mis-leaders should recognize the severe limitations of their analytical abilities and issue a public self-critique, rather than continue to add to the delirium and intellectual rot that typified the national election.

    In many nations, schools are the centripetal organizing point of life. The contradiction of inequality and resistance already appears in education worldwide. In Greece and France school workers and students recently initiated what became general strikes. Those who are hit first and worst, that is those who were born with the least inheritance or who have lesser powers, are likely to fight back first—though not necessarily with strategic or even tactical wisdom: New York University building takeovers, graduate assistant resistance, Detroit school job actions, and so on.

    But there is little organized class-conscious resistance. The anti-war movement wasted the potential demonstrated when millions of people hit the streets against the Iraq invasion. Most anti-war activity in the past two years was aimed at electing a demagogue, Obama, who was more open and honest than many of his liberal and left backers in proclaiming he had every intention of sustaining and expanding the empire's wars. As of this writing, opinion polls show two-thirds of the US public supports the Obama plan to intensify the invasion of Afghanistan and his extension of the war in Iraq—probably ad infinitum.

    The anti-war movement has failed not only to mobilize action but, more importantly, it failed to take up the pedagogical and practical tasks at hand: teaching people how to develop strategy and tactics inside specific communities rooted in rational answers about why things are as they are, and then, just what it is that needs to be done.

    In education, pivotal to social mastery, the leaders of the two unions, the NEA and the AFT, with a combined membership of nearly 4,500,000, poured millions of dollars and thousand of volunteer hours into the Obama election, diverting member attention from their real source of power: their ability to control or at least influence their work places, the curriculum, the assessments, the military invasion, privatization, and the very reality of whether school should be opened or closed.

    Then the education union leaders worked behind the scenes to snare workers in a union of the wreckage of the AFL-CIO and the Change To Win Coalition, the splinter group led by Andy Stern who firmly believes in corporate state unionism—the unity of business, labor and government in the national interest—and who runs his Service Employees International Union on a model written by General Motors. Leaders of both teachers' unions are already engaged in offering extensive concessions, allowing layoffs, encouraging school workers to hit out at other working people as with the California Teachers Association demands that the state raise the regressive sales tax.

    Given the child abuse that is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), closed schools buttressed by freedom schooling in the midst of social strife are superior to most everyday schooling.[16] To reach that point, education organizers will have to fight their way through a phalanx of union bosses, as did members of the United Auto Workers, for decades.

    Professional organizations in the field of education have been no better. The National Council for Social Studies, claiming to be the core group concerned with teaching for democratic citizenship in the US, has had rare presentations from Rouge Forum members, only, opposing the wars and predicting financial calamity. Absent that, NCSS has said nothing at all but to support imperialist war that sends the children of the poor, on all sides, to fight and kill the children of the poor from other nations, all acting on behalf of the rich in their homelands, that is, capitalist democracy.

    During his campaign, Obama supported linking teacher pay based upon their students' test scores and he recently served noticed that he intends to make good on his promise.[17] But teacher pay for student test scores is already an established practice in US schools. Arne Duncan, Obama's Secretary of Education, used test-based performance pay for teachers while he was C.E.O. of Chicago Public Schools, New York City Schools embarked on a project to evaluate teachers based on student test scores last year, and Washington DC schools chief, Michelle Rhee, announced this week that DC teacher evaluations will be tied to students' scores on standardized tests.

    Paying teachers for student performance is not a new idea. History shows that most of the gains from such programs are destructive illusions that narrow the curriculum offered to students and encourage teachers and administrators to cheat—as we have seen with the so-called "Texas Miracle" under the duo of Governor George W. Bush and his first Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, who presided over Houston schools when test scores there were enormously inflated.[18]

    Welford Wilms and Richard Chapleau of UCLA have examined pay for results schemes implemented in England, Canada, and the U.S. in the last two centuries and conclude: "Few results that are forced on the schools (especially destructive ones like pay-for-results) will ever penetrate the classroom and positively change the teaching and learning processes. Teachers are every bit as adept at deflecting or sabotaging reforms of this kind today as they were at deceiving English school inspectors in the 1800s. Politically driven reforms like pay-for-performance are nothing more than reflections of public frustrations. And rather than helping to solve the root causes of failure, they paralyze us and deflect public attention from reforming the educational systems at their core."[19] Yet, the Obama stimulus plan includes a continuing bribe to school workers, a payoff to soldier through the drill and kill essence of the NCLB. And, the US Department of Education's Teacher Incentive Fund is providing $200 million for teacher and principal compensation linked to student test scores.

    How long will educators, kindergarten through universities, continue to exchange reasonably good pay, benefits, and some security for staying mum about the nature of imperialist warfare, for implementing racist high stakes exams that not only intimidate and make dishonest everyone in a class room, but that also segregate children wrongly by class and race-under a fictitious veneer of science, hiding privilege behind a veneer of accomplishment? The tests, in turn, are being used to segregate teachers as merit pay, linked to test scores, expands under the Obama administration—proving out the many steps of alienation: no control of the process and product of work, becoming less human to self and others, becoming an instrument of your own servitude; losing.

    The stimulus package provides an immediate $44 billion in temporary money for schools and comes with instructions from Duncan that schools should "spend funds quickly" in ways that increase test scores and keep the receipts. While there is still a veil of secrecy around even the real education money, it appears that much of it is dedicated to school buildings, technology, etc. That will mean much of the money will go to developers; unionist construction workers will battle with their non-union counterparts for what is left—another neat example of the ability of capital's relations to sort, divide and rule.

    Moreover, state financial crises are as real as the federal crisis. It is unclear as to whether the stimulus will be sufficient to offset cuts to programs and personnel in recent years, much less cuts to state education budgets in the coming year. For those who continue to have jobs, it is likely that state, city and federal taxes will wipe out any income boost now promised. California's sun shines on the best example; even with the bailout, the state will remain two billion dollars in the red.

    Ruling classes have plenty of experience with suppressing rebellion. They know uprisings are often initiated by disgruntled, angry, educated, members of the middle or upper middle classes, who are cut off from opportunities during hard times. Keeping those people inside the evanescence of very limited privilege is important. It's not possible to out-bribe the bribers with material rewards. It is an ethic that pops the bubble, says, "No;" and leads to action.

    The ethics that drove the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement were wiped away by decades of mendacious pluralist postmodernism (religion with an angry cloak), years of consumerism (70 percent of the US economy until the bottom fell out), by the absence of example from turncoat leaders in the trade unions and professional ranks; by the elimination of history in classrooms as Johnson forewarned; the upshot being that inside a nation teetering on the brink of the collapse of its ruling classes, the resistance must resurrect its memory of what it is to be in a truly moral fight-right against wrong, equality against inequality, justice against tyranny.

    Here are four resistance ethics worth restoring to life:

  • We are responsible for our own histories, if not our birthrights.

  • Solidarity and equality; an injury to one only goes before an injury to all.

  • It is wrong to exploit other people.

  • Justice demands organization and action where it counts. It's right to rebel.

  • Connecting Reason To Passion, Passion To Ethics, Ethics To Organization, And Organization To Action

    One year ago we wrote in Counterpunch, "We do not need to be lambs among wolves. There is a real fight ahead."[20] We suggested a financial collapse could speed the rise of fascism, arriving in respectable garb. We make no Cassandra claims about our ability to predict the future—nor anyone's desire to believe us. We came to the conclusion that economic collapse and imperialist war was inevitable years ago. In the nineties, meeting with middle school teachers, we said, "You are looking at the troops in the next oil war." We foresaw the wars, but not September 11, 2001(Chalmers Johnson came close in Blowback). We did that by using dialectical and historical materialism, Marxist political economy, as an investigatory tool.

    Today, we especially appreciated work by John Bellamy Foster, writing mostly in Monthly Review, whose incisive work outlined the looming disaster. Foster recently summed up his view in response to a question that may make it easy to grasp:

    "No I am not equating stagnation, stagflation, and overproduction. though they overlap. Stagnation, i.e. slow growth, rising unemployment/underemployment, high excess capacity, etc. reemerged in the 1970s. Initially, there was a period of stagflation (stagnation plus inflation). The inflationary part was brought under control but not the underlying stagnation, which continued. Under monopoly capital (or monopoly-finance capital) actual overproduction is not the dominant tendency since the demand shortfalls show up in overcapacity rather than overproduction. Corporations cut back on output pretty quickly and lower their capacity utilization (fully competitive capitalism didn't work this way). You could say, though, that it is a case of implicit overproduction, so there is no real contradiction. Of course a build up of productive capacity, which is increasingly underutilized, fits just as well with Marx's statement, ‘the real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself,' which you quote."

    Foster's repeated insistence that there are really no sustainable solutions within the capitalist system that will really serve what is the common good is courageous and on the mark.

    Robert P. Brenner, interviewed in the Asia Pacific Journal, said,

    "What mainly accounts for it is a deep, and lasting, decline of the rate of return on capital Investment since the end of the 1960s. The failure of the rate of profit to recover is all the more remarkable, in view of the huge drop-off in the growth of real wages over the period. The main cause, though not the only cause, of the decline in the rate of profit has been a persistent tendency to overcapacity in global manufacturing industries. What happened was that, one-after-another, new manufacturing power entered the world market—Germany and Japan, the Northeast Asian NICs (Newly Industrializing Countries), the Southeast Asian Tigers, and, finally, the Chinese Leviathan. These later-developing economies produced the same goods that were already being produced by the earlier developers, only cheaper. The result was too much supply compared to demand in one industry after another, and this forced down prices and, in that way, profits. The corporations that experienced the squeeze on their profits did not, moreover, meekly leave their industries. They tried to hold their place by falling back on their capacity for innovation, speeding up investment in new technologies. But, of course, this only made overcapacity worse. Due to the fall in their rate of return, capitalists were getting smaller surpluses from their investments. They, therefore, had no choice but to slow down the growth of plants and equipment and employment. At the same time, in order to restore profitability, they held down employees' compensation, while governments reduced the growth of social expenditures. But the consequence of all these cutbacks in spending has been a long-term problem of aggregate demand. The persistent weakness of aggregate demand has been the immediate source of the economy's long-term weakness."[21]

    Brenner concluded,

    "The bottom line is that, like Roosevelt, Obama can be expected to take decisive action in defense of working people only if he is pushed by way of organized direct action from below. The Roosevelt administration passed the main progressive legislation of the New Deal, including the Wagner Act and Social Security, only after it was pressured to do so by a great wave of mass strikes. We can expect the same from Obama...where they should be active is in trying to revive the organizations of working people. Without the re-creation of working class power, little progress will be possible, and the only way to recreate that power is by way of mobilization for direct action. Only through working people taking action, collectively and en masse, will they be able to create the organization and amass the power necessary to provide the social basis, so to speak, for a transformation of their own consciousness, for political radicalization."[22]

    Marx went to the heart of the issue: shortage of effective demand. For Marx, there was never any doubt about the root cause of capitalist economic crises. "The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as opposed to the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit."[23]
    es as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit."[23]

    However, Professor Foster's profound analysis of the source of crisis offers no radical project on how to get from here, capital in ruins, to there, the transcendence of capital, no strategy and tactics, about how people might take on the system of capital, even as a beginning, and transform it.

    Brenner believes the world's ruling classes hope to use the US military might as an international police officer, preventing wider wars. We differ.

    We believe inter-imperialist rivalry will sharpen, especially over oil, but over regional control, water, markets, cheap labor, the usual suspects of imperialism. US social, military, and moral weaknesses only exacerbate the tensions and make conflict more likely.

    Given the mantra, true as it is, that WWII alone solved the depression, armed conflict could be tempting to some who have never witnessed it. War means work and profits, setting up popular national unity, even if fleeting.

    At the same time, we are troubled by wild-card players who could set off unpredictable warfare: Al-Qaeda, Israel, Pakistan, etc. Our estimate is wider war over time.
    It is with this as a foundation that we offer an expansion on the foundation that Foster, Brenner, and others are fashioning.

    We return to Marx's combat with political economists of old who treated the system of capital as a collection of gods with minds and lives of their own. Today, we see mainstream economists, really apologists, suggesting The Market does this, The Market does that, when it is people at work, and other people dominating work. And some Marxist economists (Foster and Brenner exempted) focus in much the same way, tracing the movement of finance capital—its volatile expansions and busts—in great detail, without examining what is key about capital: social relations; people in their struggle with nature to produce and reproduce life and its means, to seek rational knowledge in order to survive, and for freedom.

    Simultaneously, we see much of what most people think of as the left dodging the failure of socialism—capitalism with a party claiming benevolence in the lead—the betrayals of the world's "communist" parties and trade unions, the real dilemma of the imperial payout to the empire's working classes and especially their mis-leaders; meaning that without a sharp historical critique of the past any future struggle is undermined.

    We are also struck by this paradox: much of the left shies away from the use of the term Capitalism. We see two mistaken motives. Some of the left seems to believe that people can only learn in baby-step fashion and cannot be told of the frights of the world economic system—when the term is now in daily use on TV talk shows. Others on the left, whose tactics we surely understand, operate in what they seem to think are secret wings of parties; the upshot being that the ruling classes and their police are fully aware of how these groups do analysis, while the people they hope to influence do not.

    We are aware of the dangers of the emergence of fascism, the remaining Patriot Act, etc., and we are not so foolish to write what would be necessary should fascism arrive full blown, but in this period we urge openness and the related risks.

    If it is true that the crux of the matter is inequality at hyper-speed contradicted by the chance of mass, organized, class conscious resistance, and if it is equally true that the ruling classes have little left but their mostly conspicuous lies and sheer force, then it follows that while those who stand for equality and freedom have a formidable, ruthless, enemy; we also have a chance, yet again, to supercede capital—for freedom and equality—if we do more than construct reason, but connect reason to passion, passion to ethics, ethics to organization, and organization to action.

    As above, it is quite possible that struggle will emanate from schools where, presumably, ideas still have a role. We have written previously that schools are the integrative organizing points of North American life-centers of power struggles for knowledge, capital, labor, and freedom. That is our strategic view.

    Tactically, there are key choke points in schools, opposition to imperialist regulated curricula, rejecting high stakes exams with boycotts, and fighting the campus military invasion, as the military and the struggle for what is true are incompatible. We have already witnessed one of the larger school worker locals in the US, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, pick up the test boycott tactic, in admittedly limited ways, but a boycott nonetheless. In San Diego, a coalition of parents, students, and teachers has had remarkable success in limiting enrollment in high school ROTC programs, through, above all else, sheer perseverance, leafleting regularly at the schools.

    Since 2008, we participated in some of the largest teach-ins in the US last year—the Rouge Forum Conference in Louisville and the San Diego San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice teach-in. Combined those totaled less than five hundred participants; good in substance, far short in form.

    While around the world, students and school workers in Greece and France started what became general strikes. In the US, the education work force has been more malleable. Indeed, the key terms that might describe the majority of the professorate and k-12 US educators would be: racism, ignorance, cowardice, and opportunism. The schools, which were always capital's schools, became, more than ever, missions for capitalism and educators its missionaries. What changes that?

    Social conditions may change it somewhat. Layoffs, wage cuts, pension elimination, escalating class size; all may add up. We worry they will add up piece-meal, leading to what we have already seen: education workers continuing with the bad habits of everyday schooling and, at the same time, pointing at others (the media specialist, the counselors, support staff like bus drivers or food workers, etc.) to be cut loose first.

    We expect the union leaders, who reject the very reason most people believe they join unions, that is contradictory interests of workers and employers, to lead a series of concessions—in the national interest (meaning their own opportunist interest). Concessions will be sold as "the best that can be done in hard times." For example, the NEA is now partnering with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers to implement reforms outlined a Tough Choices for Tough Times, a report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce.[24] Tough-Tough was authored by such educational experts as the director of the militarized Lockheed-Martin, and university presidents whose incomes are frequently dependant on grants from the military, earmarked for "research." Tough-Tough calls for national curriculum standards as a means of recapturing the witless patriotism necessary to get people to work, and eagerly fight and die, for what is abundantly easy to see are the interests of their own rulers.

    Concession bargaining is already in full swing. The union leadership, and the very structure of unions—dividing people as much or more than uniting them—will mainly serve as yet another layer of enemies to be combated. The union bosses amount to a benign loyal opposition who seek to save the rules of the system, for their own narrow desires. They reify the division of labor at the heart of capitalist society.

    No concessions. None. Not one step back in health care. Indeed, free care for everyone. Tax the rich. Tax inherited, landed, and corporate wealth. A thirty-hour week with no cut in pay. No foreclosures. Bailout back mortgages with payments right to the buyers. Free k-university education. Or else.

    One strike after the next. Promoting mutinies in the military.

    We believe people will fight back because they will have to fight back in order to live. At issue is whether sense will be made of the resistance. Will protestors demand a shorter work week with no cut in pay, the end of foreclosures and evictions, free health care for all, an end to education for domination, or will people, in the midst of a confusing social collapse, demand more troops on the streets as we see in the border cities of Mexico, strangling in the grips of drug gangs?

    First resistance may come from students who have had contact with a few thinking teachers. As hope (a vital function of school, real or false) evaporates, students may rise. They will need considerable support, and the notion that their struggle is a workers' struggle as well. France 1968 is evidence enough.

    If the happier possibility of a mass resistance is to break out, we hope it combines the true passion of the ethics and call for equality and freedom we outlined with the analytical tools of political economy and the study of things and people as they change: dialectical materialism.

    Everything is at hand for a full rearrangement of the social relations of daily life. Let us get to the real task connecting Reason to Power, to Ethics, to Passion, to Organization and Action.

    Rich Gibson is a professor emeritus at San Diego State University ( E. Wayne Ross is professor at University of British Columbia ( They are co-editors of "Neoliberalism and Education Reform" (Hampton Press).


    1 Peter Goodman and Jack Healy. (2009, March 7). Job Losses Hint at Vast Remaking of U.S. Economy. The New York Times, p. A1.
    2 Stanley Williams Moore. (1957). Critique of Capitalist Democracy. New York: Paine-Whiteman; Daniel Singer. (2002). Prelude to Revolution. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
    3 Al Szymanski. (1978). The Capitalist State and the Politics of Class. Cambridge, MA: Winthrop.
    4 Mark Pittman and Bob Ivry. (2009, February 9). U. S. Taxpayers Risk $9.7 Trillion on Bailout Programs (Update 1).,
    5 America's Total Debt Report. Grandfather Economics Report Series; For deeper analysis on the debt/financialization crisis, see: John Bellamy Foster. (2009). A Failed System—The World Crisis Of Capitalist Globalisation And Its Impact On China. Links,
    6 Stephen Biddle testimony before the Committee on Armed Services, United States House of Representatives, First Session, 111th Congress, 12 February 2009.
    7 Nathan Freier. (2008, November). Known Unknowns: Unconventional Strategic Shocks In Defense Strategy Development. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, p. 32.
    8 Gina Cavallaro. (2008, September 30). Brigade Homeland Tours Start Oct. 1. Army Times; Rothschild, Matthew. (2008, November 12). What Is NorthCom Up To? The Progressive.
    9 Philip Elliot. (2009. March 10). Obama, taking on unions, backs teacher merit pay, The Associated Press.
    10 Diane Ravitch. (2009, February 24). Is Arne Duncan Really Margaret Spellings in Drag? Education Week.
    11 Gerald Bracey. (2009, March 10). Obama blows it, part II. Huffington Post.
    12 Gerald Bracey. (2007, May 3). A test everyone will fall. The Washington Post, p. A25.
    13 Eric Robelen, (2008, May 21). NAEP gap continuing for charters. Education Week.
    14 Robert Scheer. (2008, September 25). Economic Fascism Coming to America. Alternet.
    15 Gerald Bracey. (2009, January 4). The Hatchet Job on Linda Darling-Hammond. The Huffington Post.
    16 Rich Gibson and E. Wayne Ross. (2007, February 2). No Child Left Behind and the Imperial Project: Cutting the Schools-to-War Pipeline. CounterPunch.
    17 David Stout. (2009, March 10). Obama Outlines Plan For Education Overhaul. The New York Times, p. A14.
    18 A Texas Tall Tale Remembered, and Demolished, One More Time. (2008, June 5). Education Week; Julian Vasquez Heilig and Linda Darling-Hammond. (2008). Accountability Texas-Style: The Progress and Learning of Urban Minority Students in a High-Stakes Testing Context. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30(2), 75-110.
    19 Welford Wilms and Robert Chapleau. (1999, November 3). The Illusion of Paying Teachers For Student Performance. Education Week.
    20 Rich Gibson and E. Wayne Ross. (2008, March 1-15). The Role of Schools and of "No Child Left Behind" in a Rotting Imperial System: How Educators Should Resist, CounterPunch, 15(5), 1, 4-6.
    21 Robert P. Brenner speaks with Jeong Seong-jin. (2009, February 7). Overproduction not Financial Collapse is the Heart of the Crisis: the US, East Asia, and the World. Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.
    22 Ibid.
    23 Karl Marx. (1967). Capital (Vol. 3). New York: International Publishers, p. 484 (chapter 30).
    24 Catherine Gewertz. (2009, March 10). NEA, Business Groups Back 'Tough Choices' Reforms. Education Week.

    Monday, March 29, 2010

    Barbara Miner's article on Teach for America from the soon-to-be released Spring issue of Rethinking Schools

    24 n SPRING 2010
    Looking Past the Spin
    Most Teach for America recruits are idealistic and dedicated. But who is behind the organization, and does its approach bolster or hinder urban education reform?
    Barbara Miner is a journalist based in Milwaukee, Wis
    It is late at night, foggy and misty, and road construction has forced me off the interstate into downtown St. Louis. My Google directions are useless and I follow my nose, heading west on city streets to my hotel. I go past abandoned buildings, lonely gas stations, dimly lit res­cue missions. I think of stopping to ask directions, but the neighbor­hood’s desolation gives me pause; it’s hard to find an open business, let alone any people walking about.
    I am driving from Milwaukee to St. Louis for an article on Teach for America, to get a first-hand take on what is a media star in urban education reform. As I drive past yet another building with flaking paint and board­ed-up windows, my cynicism grows. Do people honestly think that sending Ivy League graduates into the St. Lou­is schools for two years will somehow unlock the academic achievement that is seen as a cornerstone of rebuilding our cities? Can the antidote to educa­tional inequity, urban disinvestment, and neighborhood decay really be so simple?
    As my thoughts wander, I try to re­gain focus: I am writing a story about Teach for America and education re­form, not the abandonment of low-income communities of color. They are two separate issues. Or so I keep reminding myself.
    Two weeks later, back in Milwaukee after scores of interviews with TFA teachers and staff and with non-TFA educators and policy makers, I am still groping towards an understanding of the organization. I have come to dis­tinguish between the generally hard-working, smart, and idealistic TFA classroom teachers, and a national organization that is as sophisticated, slippery, and media savvy as any group I have ever written about. TFA is per­ceived as a major player in the educa­tion wars over the future of public schools, and a key ally of those who disparage teacher unions and schools of education, and who are enamored of entrepreneurial reforms that bolster the privatization of a once-sacred pub­lic responsibility.
    But what exactly is TFA’s role in these education wars? Who is direct­ing the organization and to what ends? More importantly, what is TFA’s role in improving urban education?
    Twenty years ago, Princeton Uni­versity senior Wendy Kopp came up with her solution to low achievement: a Peace-Corps-type initiative called Teach for America. As she writes in her memoir, One Day, All Children..., this idea “exploded into a movement.” In two decades, the organization’s approach to eliminating educational inequality has not changed: Recruit smart, hard-working graduates from Ivy League and other highly competi­tive universities, and ask them to take a hiatus from their future careers to commit two years to teaching in a low-income urban or rural school.
    But leaving aside issues such as pov­erty and inadequate school funding, it is universally acknowledged that one of the biggest problems in low-per­forming schools is the revolving door of inadequately prepared teachers. Does TFA’s two-years-and-out com­mitment feed into this problem and thus exacerbate educational inequity?

    On the Ground in St. Louis
    TFA accounts for a small percentage of the roughly one-quarter of a million public school teachers hired every year but receives significant media cover­age. Over the years, it has grown in size and influence, and has developed a market niche with districts that, for a variety of reasons, have significant teacher turnover and hire large num­bers of uncertified teachers.
    In recession-plagued 2009, when teaching became a safe harbor for graduates unsure about the best career path, more than 35,000 people applied to TFA, including 11 percent of Ivy League graduates. TFA placed about 4,000 new members in 2009, bringing its corps to 7,300 teachers in 35 regions.
    Some critics have dubbed TFA “Teach for Awhile” and “Teach for a Résumé.” At the same time, there’s no doubt that TFA has proved inspi­rational to many recent graduates and has helped make teaching a noble and respectable undertaking. Over the years, thousands of young people have answered the TFA call. People such as Chanel Harris.
    Harris, 22, grew up in a small city 30 miles from Ann Arbor, Mich. Until she was in the 11th grade, she and her brother were the only self-identified African American students in the city. “On a daily basis, it was not unusual for me to be denied opportunities, and several teachers made it clear that this was due to my ethnicity, not my aca­demic performance,” she recounts.
    Since she was 7 years old, Harris has dreamed of being a civil rights attor­ney. For now, she is pursuing that goal by way of Teach for America.
    Harris is one of three corps mem­bers that TFA arranged for me to in­terview in St. Louis, where there are 167 TFA teachers in public schools and 17 in charter schools. I can see why TFA wanted me to interview Harris. She is impressive in many ways: her background, her personality, her work ethic, and her appreciation of being in a good school with a supportive ad­ministration.
    Harris, who, like the others inter­viewed, is in the second year of her TFA commitment, teaches English and social studies at Compton-Drew Investigative Learning Center, a St. Louis Public Schools magnet middle school partnering with a variety of universities, corporations, and founda­tions.
    While a senior at the University of Michigan, Harris was drawn to TFA by what she calls the organization’s passion to improve urban education. She also liked that it was a prominent organization and that “they are very on top of things,” whether it be the latest in technology or strategies to foster leadership skills. On the down side, she wishes that TFA had a more di­verse corps. In 2008 about 10 percent of corps members nationwide were Af­rican American, and about 7.5 percent were Latino; overall, almost 29 percent are people of color. Figures for the TFA staff are similar. TFA classrooms, meanwhile, are about 90 percent Afri­can American and Latino.
    Asked to describe some of TFA’s strengths, Harris emphasizes the or­ganization’s high expectations and the tools it provides to reach those expec­tations: “I can honestly say, what I have learned I could use in another profes­sion: the networking, the time man­agement and organizational skills.”
    It’s the type of comment I hear repeatedly from TFA members and alumni. But such comments cut two ways. After visiting the TFA teachers in St. Louis, I wondered why I heard more about what TFA-ers learned about data and time management than I did about the children and their dreams and accomplishments. It bol­stered another of the complaints about TFA: that the organization’s value ac­crues mostly to corps members—what they gain from the experience—and not to urban students, who once again see a teacher come and go.
    Harris believes it is important to commit to the classroom beyond two years, and hopes to stay at least five. Her five-year plan also includes a mas­ter’s degree in education, a master’s in education administration, and then law school. And TFA will help make Harris’ career dreams become reality.
    In its early years, TFA recruits often taught without training beyond their summer boot camp. That has changed, largely because states have tightened requirements for provisional licensing. In St. Louis, as in many districts, TFA has a relationship with area universi­ties so that corps members can get an education master’s during their TFA stint. The tuition is paid in part by the $4,725 annual educational award that members get through TFA’s affilia­tion with AmeriCorps, the federally funded national community service program. (TFA members are paid a regular teacher’s salary by the district or charter school where they work.) TFA also spends significant money on supporting its corps members. In St. Louis, for instance, TFA had six staff members providing support and train­ing for its TFA teachers.
    TFA’s partnerships with schools of education have received little public­ity, perhaps because they run counter to TFA’s much-heralded view that recruiting good people without certi­fication is more important than pro­moting high quality teacher educa­tion programs. As TFA founder Kopp writes in her memoir, from the very beginning she was “baffled” at the idea that “teachers, just like doctors and lawyers, needed to be trained in campus-based graduate programs be­fore entering the classroom. . . . How could Teach for America do anything but raise teaching standards? We were talking about recruiting the most talented graduates in the country to teach. Where was the conflict?”
    Harris was, hands down, the most impressive TFA teacher I met in St. Louis. The second seemed smart and hardworking but naive; she wasn’t sure of her future plans and was lean­ing towards grad school in the emerg­ing field of performance studies. The third, who had a quick answer to any question and was supremely confident in his abilities, would ultimately like to run for office, “maybe school board, or start off as a mayor of a small town.”
    I returned to my hotel that evening, trying to absorb all that I had seen and heard. And knowing I had seen merely a slice, one coordinated and arranged by TFA’s well-oiled media operation.
    All media inquiries are managed by TFA staff at the national level. Af­ter requesting copies of articles I had written for Rethinking Schools, the me­dia staffer at TFA initially said she would be unable to help me set up in­terviews in St. Louis. Flabbergasted, I called her up, and complained vocifer­ously. A request went out that night to the Rethinking Schools listserv asking for help getting in touch with TFA members or alumni and noting that “the national TFA media office has been uncooperative in helping set up any interviews.”
    The next morning, I got a call from Kerci Marcello Stroud, TFA’s national communications director. She said there had been a misunder­standing and TFA would be happy to help. Before long, I was receiving al­most thrice-daily calls from Marcello Stroud, along with a stream of emails, as part of what I imagine was a strat­egy of media overkill.
    While in St. Louis I interviewed people with a range of perspectives on TFA. Helen Sherman, associate dean of teacher preparation at the Universi­ty of Missouri-St. Louis, has a number of professional concerns about TFA’s model: “It’s a pretend band-aid, a quick fix to make it look like they are doing something. But, honest to God, these kids aren’t prepared.” Sherman adds that she has mixed feelings overall; her own daughter joined TFA after gradu­ating with an English degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
    Byron Clemens, vice president of the teachers’ union, said the union has good working relations with TFA lo­cal staff and has been asked to present at local training sessions. At the same time, some union members worry that administrators are using TFA to hand-pick staff and get rid of teachers they may not like, especially higher paid teachers with seniority.
    Peter Downs, president of the elect­ed school board, summarizes TFA’s role in one word: “privatization.”
    He says that the mayor, not the district, first invited TFA to St. Louis, in line with reforms such as for-profit char­ters and the privatization of services in curriculum development, teacher re­cruitment, maintenance, and food ser­vice. As part of its contract with TFA, the district pays $2,000 a year to TFA for each of its recruits. (The elected board has no power because the state took over the St. Louis schools; the mayoral appointee to the new three-person board is a former regional staff person for Teach for America.)
    St. Louis provided a window on many of the complexities of Teach for America at the local level, but didn’t answer the question of TFA’s national role. So I interviewed others across the country, and also Googled, phoned, and emailed, acquiring reams of stud­ies, reports, and articles on TFA. Which is how I came to find out about two of TFA’s newest initiatives: Teach for All and Leadership for Education Equity.
    Teach for All is a global network of like-minded organizations, launched in 2007 to replicate TFA in countries ranging from Argentina to Estonia, from Australia to Germany. Leader­ship for Education Equity (LEE) was founded in 2008 to provide a vehicle for political work and campaigning.
    LEE appears to be crucial to an­other aspect of Teach for America’s strategy: TFA’s ambitions in shaping the country’s education policy agenda and encouraging alumni to run for of­fice. My surprise at the media silence around LEE was outdone only by my amazement at LEE’s lack of public transparency.

    The Mysterious LEE
    Twenty years ago, before TFA had placed a single teacher in a single school, there were glowing articles in the New York Times, Newsweek, and Time, and a segment on Good Morn­ing America. The media love-fest with TFA has never stopped, extending to soft publications always eager for a feel-good story, such as Reader’s Digest and Good Housekeeping. When TFA founder Kopp calls Thomas Friedman at the New York Times, he not only answers her call, but also quotes her extensively (see Friedman’s April 22, 2009, column).
    At the same time, Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University, a vocal critic of TFA, has been tar­nished as a pro-union anti-reformer in influential media outlets such as Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the New Repub­lic. Darling-Hammond’s 2005 study found “no instance where uncerti­fied Teach for America teachers per­formed as well as standard certified teachers of comparable experience levels teaching in similar settings.” (see sidebar, p. 31.) Following Obama’s election, when Darling-Hammond was head of the education sector of Obama’s transition team and men­tioned as a possible secretary of edu­cation, media attacks increased, with her critique of TFA one of the con­cerns cited. The attacks became so relentless that the late Gerald Bracey wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled “The Hatchet Job on Linda Darling-Hammond.”
    TFA spends significant organiza­tional time, energy, and money on its alumni, who are arguably the source of the organization’s true political power. (The most famous alumni are Mi­chelle Rhee, chancellor of the Wash­ington, D.C., public schools, and Mike Feinberg and David Levin, founders of the KIPP Schools.) LEE is an out­growth of TFA’s Political Leadership Initiative, which the TFA website says is designed to provide “tools, resourc­es, and opportunities to help alumni influence the policies and priorities of local, state, and national government. It also helps prepare them to pursue elected positions.”
    Some 27 TFA alumni are currently in office, nine more are running for of­fice, and more than 700 are interested in “pursuing political leadership.” TFA has a goal of 100 elected officials in 2010.
    The elected officials, however, present a potential quandary, which is where LEE comes in. As a 501(c)4 nonprofit, LEE can engage in lobbying and political campaigning that is ei­ther off-limits or strictly curtailed for a 501(c)3 such as Teach for America.
    Jen Bluestein Lamb, vice president of TFA’s Political Leadership Initia­tive, who spends part of her time over­seeing LEE, agreed to talk about the new organization. At the same time, Bluestein Lamb refused to give me even temporary access to the mem­bers-only website that is at the heart of the organization’s work.
    I was hoping that LEE might unlock the door to TFA’s political agenda, so imagine my surprise when Bluestein Lamb said in no uncertain terms, “We have absolutely no agenda for LEE. We don’t have an agenda, we don’t have political goals, we don’t have an ideology.” In fact, she added, “Our [501](c)4 does not lobby.”
    I found it hard to believe, but Blues­tein Lamb patiently said the same thing in several ways. So then I asked whether there might be any positions deemed out of bounds—say a TFA alumnus wanted to run for office on a platform ending taxpayer support of public education or a total conver­sion to vouchers. Would LEE have any problem with that?
    “No,” Bluestein Lam responded, although she hoped such a platform would spark “a pretty brisk dialogue” among other alumni.
    Hoping there might be other infor­mation to help me understand LEE, I asked if there had been any media ar­ticles about the organization. “No, not to my knowledge,” she responded.
    LEE was far out of the realm of any 501(c)4 that I knew, especially one that says its mission involves ending the achievement gap and educational ineq­uity. LEE may not lobby or advocate a political agenda but, I asked, has it ever taken a policy position of any sort?
    “No, and we never would,” she re­sponded.
    “But even the Boy Scouts take poli­cy positions,” I countered.
    Bluestein Lamb laughed and then repeated, “We have never, and never will, take a policy position ourselves.”
    We were at a standstill. I felt I had entered an alternate reality. All this passion, all this talk of social justice and ending educational inequity—but without any political content or ideol­ogy or platform of any sort? It didn’t make sense.
    If LEE and TFA are as apolitical as they claim, why does the media con­stantly link Teach for America with “reformers” who attack the unions and schools of education, and reforms such as entrepreneurially motivated charter schools, even for-profit charters, as necessary alternatives to traditional public schools? And if the media is falsely linking TFA to such pro-mar­ketplace reforms, why doesn’t TFA set the record straight?
    TFA’s “Theory of Change”
    My interview with Kevin Huffman, TFA’s vice-president in charge of public affairs, was equally frustrat­ing. I asked where TFA saw itself and its priorities in five years. Huffman explained how TFA has consistently improved over the years, from train­ing and support to growing in scale and diversity. “Every year we learn new things that we should be doing better, and I think this is going to continue,” he said.
    The same could be applied to class­room teaching, I noted. Might TFA consider changing its mission, and ask teachers to commit to, say, five years in the classroom?
    No, Huffman made clear. Sticking to the two-year commitment “is criti­cal to our theory of change.”
    I struggled to remember media references to this “theory of change.” What was this theory? “That we will bring in great people who will have a tremendous impact on the kids they are teaching and who will go on for the rest of their careers to have an impact on root causes that cause the gap in educational outcomes in this country,” Huffman explained.
    I noted that TFA’s theory of change sounded top-down and that it left out the voices and perspectives of the communities who were supposed to benefit. I could sense Huffman’s frus­tration. “I think that misapprehends our theory of change,” he said. This wasn’t just an educational policy ini­tiative, he noted, because TFA hoped that alumni would enter other fields such as medicine and law and make equally important contributions. “We are decidedly nonpartisan and apoliti­cal about what our alumni are pursu­ing or pushing,” he said. “We have a belief that our alumni have had an ex­perience that will help them make bet­ter decisions.”
    The explanations were vague and ephemeral, making it seem that TFA has as much political heft as a Kiwanis Club selling corn on the cob at coun­ty fairs to raise money for needy kids around the world.
    A few days later, I was talking to Mike Rose, best known as the author of education books that raise big-pic­ture questions about the intellectual, social, civic, ethical, and aesthetic pur­poses of public education. Rose was also perplexed by Huffman’s perspec­tive.
    “Everybody who has anything to do with education in any way, from the most conservative to the most radi­cal, is going to say they want to make a change. But the kind of change is what matters,” he said. “They’re making a big claim about Teach for America and social change, so it’s fair to ask for an independent empirical study that demonstrates the validity of that claim. Otherwise there’s no way of knowing if and how their theory of change works in the real world.”
    I also talked to someone who, as much as anyone in this country, under­stands social movements for change. Shortly before his death, I emailed Howard Zinn, author of A People’s His­tory of the United States, and relayed my experience with Teach for Amer­ica and Huffman’s explanation of its “theory of change.” In response, Zinn emailed that he found the theory “re­markably orthodox.”
    “The idea of bringing in ‘great’ people, ‘important’ people, is counter to the idea of a democratic education,” he wrote. “And all the insistence on not taking policy stands, not having an ‘ideology,’ is simply naïve. Not taking policy stands is itself an ideology, and an ideology which reinforces the sta­tus quo in education and in society.”
    In early 2010, meanwhile, a study out of Stanford University found that TFA alumni actually had lower rates of civic involvement than those who were accepted by TFA but declined, and also had lower rates than those who dropped out before their two years were completed, according to a sum­mary in the New York Times. Although Kopp herself had recommended the study, she disagreed with its findings; her comments in the Times suggested that the study did not adequately un­derstand TFA’s “theory of change.”
    Journalism 101: Follow the Money
    To further investigate TFA, I decided to go back to Journalism 101: Follow the money. Which leads, among other places, to the story of Barbara Torre Veltri’s mother.
    Torre Veltri is an assistant profes­sor at Northern Arizona University. Last summer, her mother received a letter from Wachovia Securities/Wells Fargo Advisors, dated June 12, 2009, requesting input on a customer service questionnaire. In exchange for her time, the letter promised, “We will make a donation to your choice of one of the following charities: American Red Cross, Teach for America, or the National Council on Aging.”
    Torre Veltri’s mother was puzzled. “Why would donations be solicited by [Wachovia Securities/]Wells Far­go for Teach for America?” she asked her daughter. “Since when is teaching some kind of charity?”1
    Good questions without easy an­swers. Wachovia Securities/Wells Fargo was undoubtedly in need of an image makeover in early June. A few days before the letter to Torre Veltri’s mother, affidavits in a federal lawsuit recounted how Wells Fargo deliber­ately steered working-class African Americans into high-interest sub­prime mortgages, with the lending re­ferred to as “ghetto loans.”
    TFA’s 2008 annual report lists Wa­chovia as one of five corporations do­nating more than $1 million at the na­tional level. The others are Goldman Sachs, Visa, the biotechnology firm Amgen, and the golfing tournament Quail Hollow Championship.
    The organization is, without a doubt, a fundraising mega-star. In one day in June 2008, for instance, TFA raised $5.5 million. The event, TFA’s annual dinner, “brought so many cor­porate executives to the Waldorf-As­toria Hotel in New York that stretch limousines jammed Park Avenue for blocks,” the New York Times reported.
    To my knowledge, there has been no in-depth analysis of who funds TFA and why. Clearly, one of the un­answered questions is how TFA has been able to garner such amazing cor­porate support—especially since some of these same companies, in their busi­ness practices, have preyed on low-in­come people or have exacerbated this country’s growing inequality of wealth.
    Are the donations to TFA “guilt money”? Is TFA just smarter than other education groups in wooing cor­porate support? Is it that corporations believe it is no more politically risky to support TFA than to support the American Red Cross or the Council on Aging?
    Or is there a confluence of views be­tween TFA and its leading corporate and foundation funders? TFA has no public criticism of pro-market reforms such as privatization and for-profit charters. Nor does it ask hard ques­tions about the relationship between the achievement gap and problems of segregation, poverty, and an unem­ployment rate among African Ameri­can men that hovers around 50 percent in some urban communities.
    Wendy Puriefoy is president of the Public Education Network, a national association focused on public school reform in low-income communities, and was on the board of Teach for America in the early 1990s. She be­lieves the organization has expanded its agenda in recent years and chooses her words carefully in analyzing its current role because, she says, “it is go­ing to sound harsh.”
    Likening market-oriented reforms in public education to the deregula­tion of the financial industry that cul­minated in a recession, she says that the very same people who promoted economic deregulation are influential supporters of organizations such as Teach for America. They want to side­step professional teachers, unions, and schools of education “and let loose the forces of the market,” Puriefoy says. “The marketplace of education is a big market. There is a lot of money to be made.”

    Doing Good and Doing Well

    In a cover story last fall, Business Week put TFA at the number seven spot in its top 10 listing of “The Best Places to Launch a Career,” just after Goldman Sachs and just before Target.
    TFA, meanwhile, actively promotes the value of joining its teaching corps, especially for those thinking of gradu­ate school or immediately transition­ing to a corporate job. Its website boasts of TFA’s partnership with over 150 graduate schools offering TFA alumni benefits such as two-year de­ferrals, fellowships, course credits, and waived application fees. The most popular schools for TFA alumni are Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Northwest­ern, and the University of California-Berkeley—with Harvard the overall top choice.
    Its employer partners, which ac­tively recruit TFA alumni, are equal­ly prestigious and include Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, KPMG, Credit Suisse, McKinsey and Company, and Google. TFA partners in its School Leadership Initiative for alumni, meanwhile, include the for-profit Edi­son Schools. (TFA founder Kopp has nothing but praise for Edison in her memoir. She is also open to the idea of vouchers.)
    Anecdotally, and from conversa­tions with various TFA staffers, it’s clear that the pay for TFA staffers is significantly higher than for similarly qualified classroom teachers. But it is not something the organization likes to talk about. Marcello Stroud, for her part, wrote in response to an email request about TFA salaries, “We consider compensation information to be confidential.” I knew there was no point pressing the matter but mut­tered to myself, “Thank God for the 990.”
    The term “990” refers to the IRS forms that tax-exempt organizations must file and that by law are available to the public. Included on a 990 is not just essential information on total rev­enue and total expenses, but a break­down that includes the compensation of the highest paid employees.

    Marcello Stroud sent me TFA’s 990 for fiscal 2008. It shows that TFA had revenues of $159 million in fiscal year 2008 and expenses of $124.5 million. CEO and founder Wendy Kopp made $265,585, with an additional $17,027 in benefits and deferred compensation. She also made an additional $71,021 in compensation and benefits through the TFA-related organization Teach for All. Seven other TFA staffers are listed as making more than $200,000 in pay and benefits, with another four approaching that amount.
    It’s also interesting to look at the 990 for the KIPP Foundation, the charter school chain led by Richard Barth, a former Edison vice president and TFA staffer who also happens to be Kopp’s husband. Barth made more than $300,000 in pay and benefits, bringing the Kopp/Barth household income to almost $600,000 for their work with TFA and KIPP. (In a 2008 article, the New York Times dubbed Kopp and Barth as “a power couple in the world of education, emblematic of a new class of young social entrepre­neurs seeking to reshape the United States’ educational landscape.”)
    TFA’s 990 lists its major contribu­tors—some of the biggest names and players in the privatization of public education.
    Take, for example, the Walton Family Foundation, based on the phil­anthropic beliefs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. Its $9 million in contri­butions made it the single largest con­tributor to Teach for America. Within the world of education foundations, Walton is synonymous with privatiza­tion and the promotion of vouchers for private schools.
    The Doris and Donald Fisher Fund is listed as contributing $2.5 million to TFA. The late Donald Fisher founded the Gap clothing store chain and made headlines in the San Francisco Bay area for decades for his conservative Republican politics and his various deregulation and privatization plans—including a pledge of $25 million in the late 1990s to expand the for-profit Edison Schools into California.
    Teach for America also relies on lo­cal and regional funders. In St. Louis, for instance, contributions included a $1 million four-year grant from the Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of the agribusiness giant Monsan­to.
    The 990 also broke down the $523,475 that TFA spent on political lobbying in 2008, within the allow­able limit for a 501(c)3. On a state level, TFA worked to pass alternative cer­tification requirements. On a federal level, its lobbying included support for appropriations for Teach for America and for unspecified education pro­grams in the stimulus package.
    Leadership for Educational Equity, meanwhile, has been less than coop­erative in providing IRS documents that, by law, are to be made publicly available within 30 days of a request. In mid-January, after more than two months of LEE’s refusal to provide these documents, Rethinking Schools filed a formal complaint against LEE with the IRS; as of press-time in mid-March, LEE had still not responded.

    Is This MLK’s Legacy?

    One constant in TFA’s 20-year history has been founder Wendy Kopp, whose
    vision remains at the core of TFA.
    It’s useful to read Kopp’s book One Day, All Children . . . The Unlikely Tri­umph of Teach for America and What I Learned Along the Way. Many of TFA’s hallmarks—the language of educa­tional equity, the emphasis on social entrepreneurship, the reliance on corporate funding, Kopp’s messianic aura, and the missionary approach to closing the achievement gap—have been there from the beginning.
    Equally interesting, however, is what is missing from Kopp’s memoir. For example, children.
    The first and only time a child is mentioned by name is 20 pages from the book’s end, when Kopp talks briefly about visiting the home of a 4th grader named Zakia. Most of the sec­tion is actually about KIPP, because Zakia is thinking of attending a KIPP school. We don’t hear anything from Zakia herself or her mother. We do hear KIPP described as “a program designed to prepare students for suc­cess in high school and success in col­lege.” But we don’t know if Zakia ever attends KIPP, or what happens to her in subsequent years. This is in keep­ing with the rest of the book, howev­er. Purportedly about education, the book is essentially an impressive fund­raising and media relations manual.
    As I assess the book, I return to a single word: hubris. And that hubris has existed ever since Kopp started TFA as the answer to urban education reform, apparently without visiting a single urban classroom.
    Kopp crystallized her plan while a senior at Princeton, when she needed to write a thesis on mandatory nation­al service. She focused on a teacher corps for low-income areas, wrote her thesis, and applied for jobs. If she hadn’t been turned down by her final prospect, Morgan Stanley, TFA might not exist. Unemployed after gradua­tion, she decided to found TFA. She focused on corporate funding—IBM, Xerox, AT&T, and Mobil. One of her overtures worked out and Union Car­bide donated office space in mid-town Manhattan. TFA moved from idea to reality.
    In the book, Kopp claims that she is carrying on the struggle for civil rights, asserting that “through Teach for America, my generation is insisting upon educational opportunity for all Americans. To us, this is a civil rights issue.” The title of Kopp’s memoir: One Day, All Children . . ., is a not-so-subtle reference to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and rests on the assumption that Kopp has taken up King’s mantle and is carrying on his legacy.
    Much of the rhetoric takes the high road, especially in the begin­ning chapters when Kopp is wooing the reader. Later in the book, Dar­ling-Hammond comes in for almost four pages of criticism, and her peer-reviewed studies of TFA are called “diatribes.” Nor did Kopp’s attacks on Darling-Hammond end with the memoir. In March 2006, for instance, Kopp wrote a strongly worded per­sonal letter to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger opposing Darling-Hammond’s potential appointment to the state’s Teacher Credentialing Commission. (Darling-Hammond was not appointed.) Kopp’s letter not only portrays Kopp’s ongoing enmity toward Darling-Hammond, but also calls into question the organization’s alleged uninvolvement in political and policy controversies.
    As for broader reform efforts, Kopp’s memoir dismisses initiatives such as smaller class sizes in favor of “clear outcome goals.” Similarly, she belittles efforts to improve schools of education, saying that she would in­stead “do what every successful orga­nization does” and focus on recruiting talented people. (Kopp practices what she preaches when it comes to recruit­ment; she interviewed 30 people be­fore choosing the nanny for her chil­dren.)

    Kopp’s Parting Words
    There are any number of concerns that swirl around Teach for America: that the organization is part of a global net­work promoting ideologies of privati­zation, individualism, and elitism; that TFA rests on the dubious supposition that elite graduates of elite colleges are inherently better teachers than people from local or regional schools who come from the communities where they teach; that the media and founda­tion attention lavished on TFA sucks away energy and money from other im­portant reforms.
    But what if one accepts TFA’s as­sumptions—that its purpose is purely to address educational inequity by recruiting the best and the brightest, training them briefly, and having them teach for two years in a low-income school? And that its model trumps the value of recruiting accredited teachers who view teaching as a career?
    Given that the revolving door of unqualified teachers is a key factor in the poor performance of many low-income schools, what are the repercus­sions of those assumptions? Is TFA ag­gravating a problem that it claims to be solving?
    It is Kopp herself who perhaps best answers that question. Speaking in a 2007 commencement speech at Mt. Holyoke College, Kopp said:

    What I have come to appreciate is that things that matter take time. We live in an era when it is rare to meet people in their 20s and 30s who have stayed with something for more than a few years. And certainly, in some cases the right thing is to experiment and move on. But in many cases, the right thing is to stay with something, internalize tough lessons, and push yourself to new levels of knowledge and responsibility. Deep and widespread change comes from sticking with things.

    1 This vignette is adapted from the forthcom­ing book: Torre Veltri, Barbara. Learning on Other People’s Kids: Becoming a Teach For America Teacher. Charlotte: Information Age Publish­ing.
    Spin and Numbers
    Barnett Berry, head of the Center for Teaching Quality, based in North Carolina, knows that too many urban kids are taught by ill-prepared substi­tutes. And it is a problem that TFA, in a finger-in-the-dyke approach, can help solve: “They can provide a teacher that the kids might not have otherwise, because the alternative could be a substitute with barely a college education. It’s not a question of whether we shouldn’t draw upon a bright, young, energetic group of people. Of course we should.”
    “But,” Berry continues, “to suggest that TFA is the solution to the nation’s teaching quality gap is misguided at best.”
    Berry likens the TFA recruits to sprinters—talented athletes, but insufficient if one wants to build a well-rounded track team. “TFA gets its recruits ready for a sprint, not a 10K or a marathon,” Berry notes. “They look like they are working harder than the veteran teachers. But the veteran teacher has experience and knows that if you want to make a career of teaching, a sprinting pace will burn you out.”
    Because TFA recruits aren’t expected to stay, they have two other advantages: they cost less and they tend to do what they are told. “By and large, they don’t raise questions,” Berry notes.
    TFA is sensitive to the complaint that its recruits aren’t committed to teaching as a career, and tries to counter the critique. On its website, its “Alumni Social Impact Report” states that “more than two-thirds of Teach for America alumni are working or studying full-time in the field of education.” The report goes on to note that one-half of those are teachers, with a promi­nent graph linking a 50 percent bar to K-12 teachers.
    A closer look reveals a more complicated story. To start, small print notes that the re­port’s information is based on self-reported data in 2007 from 57 percent of the alumni net­work. Off the top, therefore, 43 percent of the alumni are unac­counted for, which distorts the report’s findings.
    There are other problems. For instance, TFA alumni are de­fined as those who have finished the two-year commitment. But only 87.1 percent of members completed their commitment in 2007, and dropout numbers were higher in earlier years. Yet that 13 percent or higher drop-off is not factored in. What’s more, the field of education is loosely defined to include everything from working with a nonprofit advocacy group to getting a graduate education degree. Finally, there is no sense of whether those who responded to the survey tended to be recent alumni, perhaps only a year past their initial commitments and more likely to be in graduate school or teaching for a third year, or older alumni who have moved on to other careers.
    Take away the fine-print percentages—the roughly 13 percent who didn’t finish their commitment and aren’t alumni, the 43 percent who didn’t respond to the survey, the fact that the 50 percent who are K-12 teachers are a subset of the 67 percent of alumni working in the loosely defined field of education—and the numbers become a lot less impressive.
    A math teacher ran some numbers for me. His conclu­sion? The only thing one can say with certainty is that in 2007, at least 16.6 percent of those recruited by Teach for America were teaching in a K-12 setting beyond their two-year commitment.
    TFA and Teacher Layoffs
    Many local teachers and unions, while irked by the halo that the media has placed around the heads of TFA teachers, haven’t spent much time worrying about TFA one way or another. But that may be changing. As the economy slows, districts are laying off veteran teachers—and yet still hiring TFA recruits.
    Last summer, Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman met with 18 local union presidents, “all of whom said they’d seen teachers laid off to make room for TFA members,” according to an article in USA Today. “I don’t think you’ll find a city that isn’t laying off people to accommodate Teach for America,” Stutman said.
    In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district, for instance, the superintendent laid off hundreds of veteran teach­ers but spared 100 TFA-ers. TFA, meanwhile, expanded into Dallas this fall, bringing in nearly 100 new teachers, even though the district had laid off 350 teachers in the 2008-09 school year.
    In Boston, where the district planned to lay off 20 veteran teachers and replace them with TFA corps members, the union filed a complaint. The state’s Di­vision of Labor Relations determined in early Octo­ber that “the likelihood ex­isted that the Boston School Committee violated the union contract when signing an agreement” with TFA, ac­cording to the Boston Globe.
    More recently, in Washing­ton, D.C., former TFA corps member and current Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee laid off 229 teachers in Oc­tober, but only six of the 170 TFA teachers in the system, according to the Washington Post.
    There is also growing tension between schools of education and TFA over jobs for new teachers. The College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, for example, graduates about 300 certified teachers a year. The graduates, especially elementary teachers, are increasingly having difficulty finding jobs in the Chicago schools. “One reason is the number of jobs committed to Teach for America and similar pro­grams, which have arrangements with the Chicago pub­lic schools,” notes Victoria Chou, dean of the College of Education.
    Are TFA Recruits Better Teachers?
    The Mathematica Study
    One of the controversies swirling around TFA is the teaching quality of its recruits. To answer this question, Kerci Marcello Stroud, TFA’s com­munications director, pointed me to a 2004 Mathematica study on Teach for America. She specifically noted that the conservative education policy journal Education Next gave the report an “A” for methodology and that three other studies, including a 2005 study by Linda Darling Hammond and others from Stanford University, re­ceived a “C” or lower.
    I went to the Mathematica study and, quite frankly, wondered why TFA was promoting it. I imagined how the Onion might summarize the study: “Teach for Amer­ica goes up against the worst teachers in the country—they’re both awful!”
    The Mathematica study involved 17 schools across the country, 100 classrooms, and nearly 2,000 students, and thus could be considered a representative, one-year snapshot. The study’s executive summary notes that the control group for the TFA teachers consisted of other teachers in the same schools and at the same grades—teachers with “substantially lower rates of certification and formal education training” than a nationally repre­sentative sample of teachers. In addition, the study said that many of the control group teachers had no student teaching experience at all and were less prepared than the TFA recruits.
    The Mathematica study, using the Iowa Test of Ba­sic Skills, found that there were statistically insignifi­cant differences in reading achievement for students in the TFA and control classrooms. In math, students in the TFA classrooms faired slightly better—equal to one month’s extra teaching.
    The Mathematica study also found, however, that TFA teachers “had no substantial impact on the prob­ability that students were retained in grade or assigned to summer school.”
    A closer look at the math and reading results shows that neither the TFA group nor the control group was even be­ginning to close the achievement gap.
    In math, the TFA teachers bumped their student math scores from the 14th to the 17th percentile. The control group stayed flat at the 15th percentile. In reading, both the TFA and control group teachers marginally raised reading scores, from the 13th to the 14th percentile for the control group, and from the 14th to the 15th percentile for the TFA recruits. This, as Center for Teaching Quality head Barnett Berry notes, “is essentially virtually no gain at all.
    These [TFA] students were still reading more poorly than 85 percent of their peers nationwide, and well below grade level.” Teach for America boasts about its impact, noting on its webpage: “[O]ur corps members and alumni work relentlessly to increase aca­demic achievement.” Yet in a study touted by TFA, the students of corps teachers remained far below their na­tional peers and made only marginal gains.

    Darling-Hammond’s Houston Study
    Does Teacher Preparation Matter?” is a peer-reviewed, scholarly evaluation of the effectiveness of the TFA ap­proach, published by Linda Darling-Hammond and three other Stanford University colleagues in 2005. Reading through the study, one can see why TFA doesn’t like the results.
    The study is a longitudinal, six-year look at data from Houston representing more than 132,000 students and 4,400 teachers, on six different math and reading achievement tests. (TFA has sent recruits to Houston since 1991, and this year has more than 450 corps mem­bers teaching there.)
    “Although some have suggested that perhaps bright college graduates like those who join TFA may not re­quire professional preparation for teaching, we found no instance where uncertified Teach for America teachers performed as well as standard certified teachers of com­parable experience levels teaching in similar settings,” the study states.
    The study also found, however, that teachers who gained certification, including TFA teachers who be­came certified by their second or third year of teaching, increased in effectiveness.
    At the same time, few of the TFA teachers stayed in the Houston schools for long. Based on district data, the study notes that “generally, rates of attrition for TFA teachers were about twice as high as for non-TFA teach­ers.” For instance, of those who entered in the 1998 school year, 85 percent had left the Houston public schools after three years, compared to about 55 percent of non-TFA teachers. —B.J.M.