Grad students oppose potential University of Minnesota and Teach for America partnership

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As the University of Minnesota considers a partnership with Teach for America, a group of graduate students from the University’s College of Education and Human Development wrote a No TFA at the U statement. Asking for signatures from their fellow students and the general public, the students posted their statement June 25 on a newly-created blog of the same name.

Erin Dyke, one of the eleven graduate students who wrote the statement, sees the University’s proposed partnership with TFA as a “major compromise of the mission and values” of the University’s College of Education and its teacher prep programs. She contrasted the five-week summer training TFA recruits get before becoming classroom teachers with the University’s one year student teacher residency program for their traditional students, and feels that TFA is part of “decimating” job opportunities for traditionally licensed teachers who graduate from programs like the University’s.

By June 30, more than 150 students, teachers, and alumni from the University, the Twin Cities, and national education circles have signed the No TFA at the U statement (below). The full page statement ends by calling on the University to overlook any “short-term” financial gains a partnership with TFA could bring, and instead asks the University to say no to what the group calls the “opportunistic, trendy, and short-sighted education ‘reform’” efforts of TFA.

 

Collective Statement Opposing TFA Partnership

We are writing to collectively voice our concern and opposition to the proposed partnership between the University of Minnesota and Teach for America (TFA). We are surprised that the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) would consider partnering with TFA, given the lack of support on the part of Curriculum and Instruction faculty and many others in CEHD, its decreasing support from the State Board of Education (who denied providing the organization its 45 temporary teaching licenses), and the numerous teacher education scholars whodenounce TFA. With the lack of evidence that TFA actually improves the lives or learning environments of students most vulnerable to exploitation (e.g., urban children/youth of color/poverty), we can only guess that this partnership is primarily one of business.

We believe that this partnership offers unearned legitimacy to a significantly flawed and powerful force in education, one which sends underprepared teachers into communities of students already often marginalized by the education system. Is CEHD prepared to endorse the notion that a five-week training prepares new teachers to better educate youth in general, but especially marginalized youth? Equally, is CEHD prepared to say that teachers should only make a two-year commitment to the classroom? As graduate students who dedicate so much of our time and energy to bettering the teaching and learning situations with and for all students, teachers, and communities, we view TFA as antithetical and harmful to our work.

The partnership will contribute to the increasing precarity and contingency of teachers, graduate students, and faculty.

A major argument for the partnership is that TFA will bring in money that will provide much-needed graduate assistantships. While we are keenly aware of our precarious and minimal funding and institutional support (or lack thereof) as graduate students and educational researchers in general, this is not an appropriate nor desirable way to meet this need. Teach for Americacontributes to creating more exploitative and precarious working conditions for teachers, often displacing career educators and decreasing job opportunities for our Initial Licensure Program teacher candidates and all preservice teachers who seriously study pedagogy and curriculum before heading into the classroom. Further, TFA creates harmful environments for its own recruits, placing them in complicated classroom situations with no real knowledge of pedagogy, let alone the community or the issues of poverty and racism their students often face. In fact, a national ‘resistance to TFA’ summit organized by TFA alums will be taking place later this summer. TFA supports a political agenda that undercuts teacher unions, and that reduces teacher preparation to a quick and dirty “training” program. TFA contributes to shrinking tenure-track professorships in education in exchange for TFA coordinators and adjunct instructor positions. We view the increasing prevalence of TFA-influence in colleges of education as, in the long term, a reckless contribution to the de-skilling and de-professionalizing of us and our fellow public school teachers and faculty. Please don’t use us as an excuse to go forward with the partnership; we don’t want graduate assistantships that would force us into complicity with practices that help to dismantle the very research and commitments we are working toward as graduate students and as professionals dedicated to better educating all youth.

TFA contributes to school inequity more than resisting it.

TFA justifies its relevance by stating that it contributes to closing the achievement gap, legitimized by “research” machines like the Edvance Research or National Council on Teacher Quality, who produce sketchy research that TFA raises test scores. The Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice wrote, in reference to the most recent study, “While the findings were large enough to be relevant to policymakers, numerous issues with the sample construction, matching procedures, and statistical analyses lead us to conclude the outcomes cannot be attributed to TFA teachers.” Studies have shown that high teacher turnover rate is actually harmful to students and to student achievement. TFA recently asked the state of Minnesota for $1.4 million over the next two years, even though they are a wealthy and powerful organization with more than $350 million in assets. In the words of one local Minneapolis high school teacher, “It is a corporate funded political organization that has over 1800 (non-classroom) employees and annual operating surpluses in the millions–$114 million in a recent federal filing.” TFA is able to leverage its wealth and influence for hype that it “works.” Even if it were true, we know from our study and experience working with students, teachers, and families that test scores in isolation are not a legitimate measurement of a nurturing and healthy learning environment. We know that experience and preparedness, strong and meaningful relationships, supportive and well-resourced work and learning conditions, and a serious commitment to students’ lives contributes more to educational equity than inexperienced and underprepared (however well-meaning) TFA recruits who have a high turnover rate after their two years of “service” are completed.

TFA is NOT accessible to teachers of color and teachers from working class backgrounds.

Another argument in support of the partnership is that TFA will provide access to teaching to people of color and working class people. TFA is a prestigious institution, and recruits candidates from what it perceives are also “elite” institutions in order to build its brand. Mark Naison, professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University, said that he no longer allows TFA to recruit from his classroom after finding out that TFA overwhelmingly accepts a majority of Yale, Harvard, and other ivy-league graduates, and a tiny fraction of his Fordham students, and even fewer working class students who cannot afford to attend these schools. Further, he says that TFA markets its program as a way into business, medical, or other elite professions. The majority of TFA recruits are not people of color or people from working class backgrounds who are dedicated to their communities, and they likely won’t be, given TFA’s openly stated goals for building itself as a “quality” brand dedicated to creating a pathway to wealth and power for “quality” people (i.e., people from the elite institutions where it spends the majority of its time recruiting). (See TFA’s own website for evidence of this.) We do not think this is a real pathway for increasing access to teaching positions in school communities for the people who are rooted in and know those communities best.

TFA works against our visions of education.

Coming from different areas and perspectives within the field of education, we all have various ideas about what education should look like. However, we can agree that TFA is not it. We desire an educational system in which teachers have a long-term stake in their students’ and communities’ futures, in which teachers have the time and support to profoundly develop and refine their teaching and facilitation skills, and in which teachers possess the experience, support, and knowledge to cultivate meaningful pedagogical philosophies. We also recognize that our role is to support these emergent teachers as they transition into the classroom. We recognize that partnering with TFA has the potential to bring more financial resources that could be used to fund our education in the short term. In the long term, we do not think it is worth sacrificing the integrity of our programs, our future aspirations as teacher educators, and our communities and classrooms in aligning with what we believe is an opportunistic, trendy, and short-sighted education “reform” that does not have the education of youth as its top priority.

(Click here to see list of signers.)

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