Teach for America: Why We Should Be Afraid

Here’s an excerpt from a post by Jim Horn [Corrected Peter Campbell]on an education blog I really like, Schools Matter.

[TFA President and Founder Wendy} Kopp says that we have many examples of how schools can take kids growing up in poverty and put them on a level playing field with kids in other communities. I know of some schools that have been able to do this, most notably the KIPP schools that TFA alumni Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin started. But these are only a handful of schools scattered amongst the country’s 15,000 school districts. We must never mistake these isolated examples as the norm. They aren’t. Nor must we ever believe that these isolated cases can be reproduced nation-wide. They can’t. KIPP relies on energetic idealists in their 20’s who are single and have no kids to work 10 hour days, an extra day on Saturday, and an extra month in the summer. There are only so many people who are willing to do this. There are even fewer who can do this because of their family commitments. They have to go home, fix dinner, do the dishes, walk the dog, and help with their kids’ homework.

To read the rest, click here.

3 thoughts on “Teach for America: Why We Should Be Afraid”

  1. Tom,
    How do you read the post, which appears to be by Peter Campbell, not Jim Horn?
    I can’t really figure out his cental thesis. Is he saying that the reality of poverty means that poor kids will never “make it?” Or is he simply saying the Teach for America model will not work for the nation? Or, is he saying something else?

  2. Ed
    Thanks for catching the mistake; it is from Peter Campbell (not Jim Horn). I’ll fix the post.
    I think one point is that dangerous to take the successes associated with TFA associated schools as model for public schools as a whole, that there is much that can’t be transferred. I think a larger point is that the exceptional qualities of TFA provide the basis for a critique of public education and the difficulties poverty creates that is largely false – i.e. what is needed is dedicated teachers and public school teachers lack dedication…if they only worked longer and harder the difficulties could be surmounted. Moreover, Campbell explores the ties between conservative reformers and TFA and how the TFA model plays into their agenda. Lastly, he calls for TFA to reject the conservative agenda and embrace one that attacks both the causes and consequences of poverty.
    I can see where you get the implication that Campbell is saying that poor children will never “make it,” but I don’t think that that is his point. Maybe a useful analogy is Howard Fuller’s work. The first time I saw Fuller speak, I was ready to oppose most of what he said (I’m not a voucher fan). But Fuller impressed me with three important points. First, he said he didn’t consider vouchers the answer for education in America, but as a way to give some real help to a limited number of children who needed it. Second, he detailed the work he continued to do on behalf of public education and the Milwaukee Public Schools and demonstrated a continued commitment to improvement for all children and all schools. Last, he said he fully understood that conservative, anti-public education groups “used” him and his work, but he was glad to have their help where he agreed with them and equally glad to make his voice heard where he didn’t. I think Campbell finds TFA lacking on the last two points.

  3. Tom,
    Thanks. That helped.
    I agree, as was also stressed in other posts, teachers are not the problem, though some incredibly poor teachers get hired and retained in every school district.
    Wasn’t it Deming or some other organizational guru who said it’s always the system, not the people?
    In the case of educaton, the system is the curriculum. We give teachers no curriculum or the latest untested curriculum fad, instead of curriculum proven to succeed.
    Solid curriculum won’t solve every educational challenge, but it’s the first place to begin.

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