The Fight Ahead

What we should be talking about when we talk about Teach for America

Teachers and students protest the closure of 50 public schools in Chicago. Teach for America increasingly drives the policies behind such school closures.

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve no doubt noticed that the debate about Teach for America has ratcheted up considerably in recent weeks. Here’s the quick and dirty version: urban districts are closing dozens of schools and laying off teachers, even as they’re bringing in new Teach for America recruits. When news began to spread that a popular Chicago teacher had been laid off (the news delivered by his mother, no less), the back-and-forth reached a boiling point. How was it right for the Chicago Public Schools to axe a well-regarded teacher, one of 2000 let go, while expanding the number of TFA corps members, who’ll be entering the city’s schools this fall after just five weeks of training?

It’s a heated and emotional discussion but it also misses the larger point. TFA’s threat to urban teachers isn’t in these new corps members but in the policy of rampant urban charter expansion that TFA is driving. What’s more, the rancorous tone of the debate threatens to push away the growing number of alumni who have begun to question TFA’s mission and orientation. So what should we be talking about? Here’s a look:
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Hogwarts University for Education Reform

What if there was a way to combine the two fiercest urgencies of today: college preparation and reforming our failed and failing public schools? Reader: I’ve got some great news. Pack up the beer pong table and the Mötley Crüe poster—we’re headed to college. Welcome to 50CAN University, the college for people who want to put other people on a path to college.  Continue reading →

In Chicago, Rahm’s Reform Vision in Deep Dish

The final “vote” on which Chicago Public Schools to shutter may be a done deal, but the implications of the largest single school closure in US history will be felt well beyond the Windy City. Mayor Emanuel, who has long tethered his political fortunes to hedge-funded education reform, now has poll numbers hovering near the bottom of Lake Michigan. Meanwhile, the Chicago media has suddenly awakened and is practicing, once again, the long-lost art of journalism. And Chicago charter school fever is beginning to look an awful lot like old-fashioned Illinois-style “pay to play” corruption. In other words, on this bad news bears day, my outlook is decidedly wine-box-half-full… Continue reading →

Stop the Minnsanity!

The next stop on TFA’s “listening tour” should be CEO Matt Kramer’s hometown: Minneapolis

Minnsanity combines cronyism and contempt for democracy served up with a cherry of condescension.

If there is a single city in the US that perfectly exemplifies the insanity of the corporate education “reform” movement it has to be Minneapolis. The particular brand of reform here—let’s call it Minnsanity— combines cronyism and contempt for democracy in a neat, corporate-funded package topped with a cherry of condescension. But why take my word for it (or the word of the Minneapolis parents and teachers who seem to contact me daily asking what the @#$% is going on in their city)? Let’s climb aboard the education rephorm express and head to Minneapolis, whose name I have just learned was coined by the city’s first schoolteacher, who combined mni, a Dakota Sioux word for water, and polis, the Greek word for city. Continue reading →

Is Education Rephorm Phever Hereditary?

There is growing evidence that rephorm phever may be genetic.

Reader: the rich are different from you and me. For starters they REALLY want to bring freshness and innovation to the public schools they didn’t attend—and they have the dough to realize their dream of a world in which every minority child will be taught by a young white teacher traverse the achievement gap with panache.

But it turns out that the species known as homo job creator-us may be handing down more than trust funds and horsemanship to their offspring. Like a Habsburg chin, a passion for education rephorm can also be passed from generation to generation. Continue reading →