Every Child Deserves a Great Education

Archive for the ‘Teach for America’

Why the IPS School Board election matters to Oregon 0

Posted on November 19, 2014 by dmayer

Most of my school days as a student and as a public school teacher were spent in Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). These days Indianapolis seems determined to sell out its public schools. So, when I heard Stand for Children (SfC), a repressive education reform group based in Oregon (where I now live), was pouring large sums into the campaigns of three particular school board candidates, I paid attention. Why would SfC care about a school board election 2,000 miles away? Why should Oregonians think the goals of SfC in Indiana are any different for our state?

Perhaps, foreshadowing the IPS results, glossy brochures and pamphlets barraged voters at the mailbox in the final days leading up to the election. All three elected candidates, Mary Ann Sullivan, Kelly Bentley, and LaNier Echols, were endorsed by Stand for Children as well as other funders with deep pockets. SfC, in turn, receives much of its funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Over $100,000 was donated to the candidates who support for-profit charter schools, high stakes testing, and non-licensed school staff  like Teach for America and Teach Plus. Incumbent opponents raised only about $6,000 among the three of them, and while that may sound dismal in comparison to the outside corporate support, it had previously been the norm.

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Photo credit: Matthew Mayer

The ousted incumbents are current IPS board president Annie Roof, Samantha Adair-White and Michael Brown, who all had been endorsed by the local teachers’ union.

Brown was a strong supporter of former Superintendent Eugene White, voted against his buyout and has been skeptical of some of the changes the board has embraced since 2012, such as partnerships with charter schools. He said during the campaign that smaller class sizes, quality teachers and more involved parents are the keys to improving IPS.

Maybe Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) members, who often consults with SfC on education issues, think Oregonians aren’t aware of its bad behavior in other states. Maybe Governor Kitzhaber and Education CEO Nancy Golden think that parents, students, and community members aren’t aware of SfC’s agenda of privatizing our public schools. They would be wrong. State politicians and the OEIB cannot expect Oregonians to act like ostriches with their heads stuck in the sand on the very important issue of public education. We endorse smaller class sizes, quality teachers and more involved parents just like the ousted IPS board members.

Is SfC planning a coup to disrupt school board election here in Oregon? We’ll know soon enough in April, 2015, when Portland Public School board elections are scheduled.  Attempts on the part of  SfC and other reform funders to influence the outcome of the election will result in active protest. Oregon school boards are not for sale.

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Rotten Apples? 0

Posted on November 02, 2014 by dmayer

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For this teacher, the November 4, 2014, TIME magazine cover is intimately personal and painful. I view it from an unique perspective. I feel that gavel pounding my head just as surely as if the judge were standing above me. I have been deemed a “rotten apple” by a court of law. Because of a court ruling that you may find as unbelievable as I do, I have lost my job, my career, my dignity. I struggle to survive. Even though the original incident happened over a decade ago, it effects cast a lingering pall over the teaching profession.

Many other outraged teachers have voiced informed, indignant replies to TIME demanding an apology. Only a tiny fraction of the public who saw that cover and subliminally absorbed the “TEACHERS ARE ROTTEN APPLES” message, will know about the teacher responses. I’m adding my voice to the outrage machine which will also, most likely, be ignored. Speaking from personal experience, I’m making the case that it is exceedingly easy to fire a teacher — even if the court must make new law to do so.

In his letter that does not appear on the TIME website, Thomas L. Good, Professor Emeritus at the College of Education, University of Arizona writes:

Consider the front page cover that brazenly and in bold print decries (and implies that our teachers are) Rotten Apples and graphically displays a gavel that is about to smash an apple that looks healthy. Why? . . . Clearly I do not know the motives behind Time’s depiction of the issue nor will I pretend to know them.

I think I do know TIME’s motive, and unlike many employed educators, I have nothing to lose by speaking my mind. The intent of the TIME cover is to implant the BAD TEACHER message into the American psyche. As Vergara copycat lawsuits against teacher tenure wind their way through our court system, parents and the public will be reminded in a myriad of ways just how bad teachers are. The “bad teachers are impossible to fire” meme will become prolific with periodic boosts from major media outlets and incessant mimicking via social media. Members of an uninformed, unduly influenced public will far outnumber the educated few who will be powerless to stop this billionaire scheme. Unless we all become wise to this scam, the teaching profession and our publicly owned, publicly governed, publicly beloved schools are doomed. They will become the property of the wealthy elite.

The following video exchange between an Indianapolis TV news reporter and me and my attorney, Michael Schultz, tells my story succinctly. Note that even during a press conference to announce my appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, I struggle to be heard. The case is Mayer v. Monroe County Consolidated School Corporation, aka the Honk for Peace case.  (Other relevant documents including the text of the TIME for Kids article and the petition to the Supreme Court may be viewed at the Free Speech Nation website.) A transcript follows each video clip.

Reporter: What brought you here today?

Deb: The original incident happened in January of 2003 when I was teaching a current events lesson to my class that had to do with Iraq. And I was using Time for Kids which is a magazine that was provided by the school. (Construction noise from the street nearby interrupts. Deb, who had already asked that the interview be moved to a quieter place, waits for the noise to subside a bit. Even at a press conference, Deb stuggles to be heard. Ironic.)

Reporter: You were teaching what?

Deb: I was teaching a current events lesson using Time for Kids which is a magazine that was provided by the school. It was approved curriculum. The issue was about Iraq. There were articles about weapons of mass destruction, about UN inspectors going in, and there was one little article about peace demonstrations being held in Washington, D.C., so we discussed that and one of my students asked if I would ever march in a peace march. And I said that peace demonstrations were going on all over the country, even in Bloomington, Indiana. When I drive past the courthouse square where the . . . (Again noise drowns out Deb’s voice.)

Reporter: Sorry, you don’t want to get drowned out.

Deb: I know.

Reporter: Okay, when they asked you, “Would you march . . .

Deb:… would you march in a peace march? I said when I drive past the courthouse square, where the demonstrators are, I honk for peace because they have signs that say, “Honk for Peace.” And I didn’t think too much about it. I thought it was a good common sense thing to say. I also went on to say that I thought we should seek out peaceful solutions to problems, and we teach kids to be mediators on the playground so they won’t fight and hurt each other. And that was the extent of the conversation. I had a student who went home to complain to her parents that I was encouraging the kids to protest the war which hadn’t even started yet. And the parent was very angry and eventually demanded that I not mention peace in my class again. I was told, the entire school was told not to mention peace in relationship to the war. I was intimidated from that time on, harassed, and eventually lost my job.

Attorney Michael Schultz:

The question we are actually putting to the United States Supreme Court is whether and under what circumstances do public school teachers have a right to free speech in class, or stated a little differently, whether or not the First Amendment limits a public school board’s power to punish a teacher for expressing an opinion on a matter of public concern. We’ve not taken the position that teachers should always be able to just go into class and spout out their opinions on issues. This was a class of fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. The curriculum was approved. It was Time for Kids magazine. It talked about current events. It had articles in it about differing opinions on the war. The article actually talked about protests of what President Bush was doing in December of 2002 — January of ’03, and the students naturally wanted to ask about the teacher’s opinion. She made her opinion in a very limited, very professional, appropriate way and got fired for it.

Reporter: What kind of message do you hope to send with this law suit?

Deb: Well.

Reporter: I mean, you’ve already lost.

Deb: I’ve already lost.

Reporter: You’ve lost the appeal.

Deb: I’ve lost the appeal.

Reporter: Now you’re going to the Supreme Court.

Deb: At this point the . . . (Noise from jack-hammering on the street beside us interrupts again. Deb is obviously frustrated by the noise and had already asked to move the interview to a quieter place, but the reporter insists on having the image of the courthouse in the background.)

Reporter: Hold on. Oh well. Okay. Sorry. Let’s go through this.

Deb: The court has ruled that basically the Constitution and several landmark decisions involving free speech at school are irrelevant. They’ve said that teachers have no right of free speech, and that means that a teacher can be fired for any little random comment that she makes. And the court has also said that a teacher’s speech is a commodity that she sells for a salary to the school which I think is a very dangerous concept, and I don’t think we should let that stand because I think free speech is an inalienable right, and I don’t think teachers should lose their rights as a citizen whenever they go to work.

Attorney Michael Schultz:

The law is always made by the losing battle and it is always the cases lost in trial court that eventually end up making new law or clarifying the law, and what we’re trying to do is get the United States Supreme Court to finally clarify the law in this area. We have all the circuit courts are sort of all over the place on how they deal with on whether or not a teacher’s in class speech is protected. In some circuits it is protected. We say in our petition that if Ms. Mayer had been – if this had happened to her in Ohio, for example, she’d probably still have her job. Even if it had happened in Texas, she’d probably still have her job.

On the day I learned the Supreme Court declined to hear my case, Personnel Pitfalls in Cyberworld, written by the attorney for Monroe County Schools, Thomas Wheeler, II, was published on the American Association of School Administrators website. From the article:

Assume Mayer applies for a teaching position in your district. Before the common use of keyword searches on the Web, a school probably would have received limited information regarding her discharge from the Monroe County School Corp., but probably would not have received any information relating to her lawsuit or anti-war activities. If you declined to hire her based on that information alone it would probably be well within your rights to do so.

However, in this Internet age, what if you perform a Google search showing her litigation and anti-war activities. Assume you take the exact same action, declining to hire her based on her prior discharge. Unfortunately, given the knowledge of her anti-war activities and lawsuit, your school district may very well be subject to legal action by Mayer alleging you violated her First Amendment rights by refusing to hire her based upon her anti-war protests.

I haven’t worked since.

My attorney, Michael Schultz, still receives requests from teachers with free speech issues. He explains that he can’t help them because of the Mayer decision.  It seems that in fighting for my own rights, the rights of many others were lost. For me, that’s a heavy burden to bear.

You might wonder where the teachers’ union was during this time. The National Education Association, of which I was a member, and the America Federation of Teachers refused to support me. I travelled to Washington, D.C. twice and literally begged for help. Michael E. Simpson, assistant general counsel for NEA, refused to support me. His reasons were arcane and absurd, and I have never been entirely sure whether they were the union’s or his own. Let’s just say his reasoning reflected badly on the union. Organizations, after all, are the people who constitute them.

Another case, decided while the Honk for Peace case was crawling through the system, is Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006). It abolished the free speech rights of government workers while at work, tentatively making an exception for educators. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Thomas E. Wheeler II wrote an amicus brief for Garcetti and then used the verdict in that case to argue against my petition to the Supreme Court. Both my case and the Garcetti case were decided without regard for the evidence or the law, but according to a predetermined opinion of the court. Mayer v. Monroe County Consolidated School Corporation (2007) meant to challenge the Garcetti ruling, but the Supreme Court declined to hear it. You may wonder why you don’t hear more from civil service workers exposing government corruption. My guess would be because of the Garcetti ruling.

Even when teachers do win one as in Renee v. Duncan where the California Supreme Court ruled that alternative certification teachers (Teach for America types) do not meet the definition of “highly qualified” teachers, the victory is short-lived. Because of generous contributions and lobbying efforts from billionaire-funded Teach for America, the United States Congress lost no time in posting a “temporary amendment” declaring “alt certs” highly qualified teachers.  The amendment is continually renewed in the Continuing Resolution that is guaranteed passage, thus preventing a national debate about whether poor and minority students deserve actual teachers. This Congressional end run around the court is another blow to teachers and their supporters. President Obama weighed in early against teachers when he applauded the firing of teachers in Rhode Island. Arne Duncan, promoting Race to the Top and Common Core, hasn’t been teacher friendly either. So, let’s recap, all three branches of government with support from billionaires and their foundations are waging a devastating public war on teachers. Why? Why? Why?

Let’s be clear about one thing. Vergara is not at all about employing the best teachers for our children. It’s about destroying the teaching profession and teachers’ unions. As Campbell Brown and her cronies proceed with their Vergara-like cases, there will be more covers and more stories about bad teachers. She, along with Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee,  Wendy Kopp, and other public relations darlings who have nary an authentic education credential amongst them, will make the rounds on talk shows, maybe visit The Colbert Report again and The Daily Show, and act as the true voices of education. Actual teachers, on the other hand, will be silent. Not because they aren’t screaming at the top of their lungs to be heard, but because no one in the mainstream media will invite them to the conversation. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.

There are some bad teachers, it’s true. It is the job of administration to fire bad teachers. It isn’t impossible. A system is in place, and the rules should be followed. Laws and tenure protect the rights of good teachers so they can’t be fired capriciously. The next time you see a “bad teacher” story, replace that descriptor with a mental picture of your favorite teacher, or your child’s favorite teacher. Recognize that the gavel will indiscriminately fall on the head of a real person — not a meme. This could get messy.

Deb Mayer is a former teacher. Before teaching at Clear Creek Elementary School where free speech died, she taught at the prestigious Key School in Indianapolis, best known for introducing multiple intelligences into the classroom and instituting other educational theories into practice. She served as a faculty member at Indiana University (IUPUI). She is the recipient of the Defense of Academic Freedom Award. Currently, she is the director of the volunteer-run nonprofit, Great Schools for America, where she maintains Edwatch. She also maintains Teachers United Against Teach for America.


Yet another open letter to TFAers 0

Posted on June 04, 2014 by dmayer

Dear TFA Recruit,

You are considering a special education position this fall. Teach for America (TFA) has promised to transform you into an excellent, highly qualified teacher in only five weeks.  After you bought into that, it wasn’t a far stretch to believe that you could teach special education classes with only three more weeks of training.

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So, you are about to enter the world of SPED, a unique field of study with a language of its own.  It’s an alphabet soup of acronyms that provides a shorthand to experts who have additional duties over and above those of the regular classroom teacher. It comes with its own special laws, processes and protocols, and intricate funding systems. There is a reason that teaching SPED requires an additional certification.  There is so much to know. The vocabulary alone is mind-boggling. Below is a list of some SPED terms, not complete by any stretch of the imagination. Even if you could cram their names and definitions into your brain in only three weeks, the practical knowledge of how to integrate them into a curriculum demands experience.

Suppose you have a student identified with FAS? How does FAS manifest itself in a third grade boy? What kind of classroom behaviors can you expect? How does his educational needs differ from those of other students? What kind of services is he entitled to receive? Who will be on his team? How will you create the best possible IEP?  What kind of relationship will you develop with the child’s parents? 

Dear TFAer, if you really want to “give back,” become an assistant to a professional SPED teacher.  Enroll in a graduate program and learn to teach students with special needs.  Otherwise, who knows the harm you’ll do?  Certainly, not you – you may think everything is pie and ice cream because you just don’t know any better. There is real danger in not knowing what you don’t know. Your students have trusted us (the adults in the room) to give them the best teacher possible – one who knows how to teach them. It’s the least we can do.

In another open letter, An Open Letter to TFAers Tempted to Diagnose ADHD, Among Other Issues, Mercedes Schneider questions the idea of TFAers identifying or misidentifying students with ADHD.  I agree with her conclusions, but my concern runs much deeper.  I question the ability of a novice recruit to identify and educate all acronyms.


If you, dear TFAer,  are still not convinced that you aren’t the solution, here you go. Below is your new vocabulary to teach special kids. Many actual words like dyslexia and autism aren’t on the list.  To be fair, regular education teachers use some of these acronyms like DOE, ESEA, ERIC, and NCLB, too. But, then you already know that.


Teachers United Against Teach for America invites you to join our campaign to assure that every child, especially children with special needs, has a real teacher.

Who’s Failing Whom — Injustice 0

Posted on May 18, 2014 by dmayer

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During the past decade, politicians appropriated the language of civil rights for the purposes of radically changing public education. Both Republicans and Democrats have rallied around the proliferation of segregated charter schools for our poorest African-American and Latino students. Unlicensed teachers are hired to teach in these corporate schools that profess to be public schools only without the messiness of parent and community participation. Longer schooldays, weeks, and years is the remedy proscribed by faux teachers contracting to teach for two years. They enforce zero tolerance policies as they push a test-centered curriculum because they do not know how to teach. Kids suffer, teachers suffer, and schools suffer.

There is great injustice in requiring  students to learn who are not given a teacher but plenty of tests.  On this 60th anniversary of Brown v. the Board of Education, I’m positively sure that when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. professed closing the achievement gap to be the civil rights issue of our time, segregated charter schools and TFA for our poorest minority students was not what he had in mind. “Separate but equal” never was and never will be.

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Who’s Failing Whom? 0

Posted on May 17, 2014 by dmayer

Each year Teach for America places more and more recruits into teaching positions in our public schools. Even as hundreds of thousands of teachers have lost their jobs in the last decade, TFA manages to co-opt those positions for “teacher temps” who usually contract for two years. What’s wrong with this picture. This series of photos gives some clues.

You may find out much more about the inequities of TFA and like us at Teacher United Against Teach for America.


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Posted on May 05, 2014 by dmayer

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Teach for America, Inc. is asking the chosen ones — those who have been accepted into the 2014 Corps — to change their Facebook profile pictures to one that espouses their newfound status. If TFA recruits are still burying their heads in the sand to shelter themselves from the true motives of Teach for America, I offer them a heads-up. There is not teacher shortage. Over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of teachers have lost their jobs. In pursuing a position with Teach for America, you are depriving a teacher of a job. You are depriving students of a professionally licensed teacher.

Teach for America is all about teacher bashing and union busting. The end game is the privatization of our public schools. If you are still naive enough to believe that by joining Teach for America your are giving back, that your are righting a social injustice, that you are benefitting poor minority children, I implore you to wrest your head from beneath the sand. Change your Facebook photo to this instead:

Teacher Against Teach for America FB page.

Teachers United Against Teach for America 0

Posted on April 26, 2014 by dmayer

Teach for America, Inc. is the flagship of the education reform movement. The organization replaces professional teachers with unqualified college grads in the classrooms of some of our nation’s most disadvantaged children. This practice harms students and the teaching profession. It must stop!

For years I have implored NEA to support a professional recruiting organization to rival Teach for America which is nothing more than a glorified temp agency with Billionaire Boy support. At the Network for Public Education conference in Austin, Texas, leaders of both unions, NEA and AFT, agreed to give the idea consideration. So far, I’ve heard nothing from either organization.

So, I’m starting without union support and asking for yours instead. You don’t have to be a teacher to join this group. Parents, students, and everyone who cares about education justice is welcome here! Please “like” our Teachers United Against Teach for America Facebook page as we expose the harm TFA does to kids, teachers, and schools. Follow our progress as teachers begin to stand up to the dastardly behemoth of an organization that poses as an advocate for poor minority children while robbing them of the education they deserve.

Academicia – Go Away TFA – The Teacher Shortage 0

Posted on October 05, 2013 by dmayer

Teach for America wants YOU! 0

Posted on September 02, 2013 by dmayer

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Before they have entered their first class of the new academic year, seniors at colleges and universities across the country are being aggressively recruited by Teach for America. TFA is the much touted recruiting firm that places college graduates without teaching knowledge or experience into the classrooms of some of our nation’s neediest children. The following is an e-mail exchange between a TFA recruiter and my friend’s daughter who is valiantly resisting the call.  This redacted copy is reprinted with the permission of the student.  (All italics mine.)

All TFA recruiters are TFA alums who have completed two years “teaching”.  At first, the student didn’t know how TFA got her e-mail address.  She still doesn’t know for sure, but she thinks TFA has access to student data and chose her because she was an officer in a service organization.  The student is not happy that TFA has access to her data.  Some information has been redacted to protect the identities of the participants.  Authors’ names have been replaced with “TFA Recruiter” and “Student”.  

From: TFA Recruiter
Date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 11:16 AM
To: Student
Subject: Brief chat about ************

Hi Student,

I hope you are enjoying your summer vacation! I know what a treasured break this time can be before senior theses, orals, and writtens begin. However, with the fall semester of your senior year just around the corner, I thought I’d contact you about a potential post-graduate opportunity to put on your radar considering your involvement in **************.

My name is ****** *****, and I am the Recruitment Associate for Teach For America at ********. At Teach For America, we look for socially-minded, top leaders on campus, because we believe you have the passion and determination necessary to change America for the better. Teach For America’s goal is to ensure that all children have the opportunity to succeed and achieve their ambitions in life, regardless of where they grew up. However, currently only 1 in 13 children from low-income communities will graduate from college, which significantly limits their life trajectory. You have the opportunity to change this.

**** ******, a 2011 ******* Corps Member who just moved back to *********, will be meeting with select students at ********* and would love the opportunity to chat with you about your experience as an officer, Teach For America and our mission to offer every student an excellent education. Even if you don’t plan on applying to Teach For America, you can be an advocate on campus to ensure educational equity for all students.

Would you be available to meet with **** this coming week for a brief 20-30 minute chat? If you are interested, please let me know and I will send you a link to ****’s calendar so that you can find a time that works best for you.

Thank you for your time. I hope that you’ll have a chance to chat with ****.

TFA Recruiter

P.S. You may already be aware, but Teach For America is leading the movement to end educational inequity in our country. Here are some of the basics about our program:

  • All academic majors and career interests are eligible to apply
  • Receive full salary (up to $51,500) and health benefits
  • After completing the two year commitment, graduate school scholarships and employer partnerships are available

For more information check out this video and our website.

****** ****
Recruitment Associate-******* | Teach for America
Office: *********

One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

This communication and any file transmitted with it may contain information that is confidential, privileged and exempt from disclosure under applicable law. It is intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any use, dissemination or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify the sender. Thank you for your cooperation.


On Aug 30, 2013, at 8:49 AM, “****** *****” <******.****@teachforamerica.org> wrote:

Hey again Student,

Hope you’re having a great week!  I wanted to check in to make sure you got this important information about an opportunity for you to help change our country while earning a living.  I sent you an email on Wednesday (included below) and it has a lot of information about the educational injustice we are trying to solve and how you can play an integral role in the movement.   Please take 5 minutes to read the email and respond to me with your interest in chatting with us to learn more about Teach for America.

Thank you so much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon!


TFA Recruiter

From: Student

Sent: Friday, August 30, 2013 9:48 AM

To: TFA Recruiter

Subject: Re: Brief chat about ************

Hello TFA Recruiter*,

First off, I’m honestly flattered that you would be interested in talking with me.

The reason I didn’t respond is because I do not agree with the methods of TFA. I believe that at-risk kids deserve experienced teachers, not hastily-trained, fresh-from-college graduates who are, at worst, naive idealists who’ll burn out after a semester, ultimately steering them away from going into education and leaving their students unhappy with school.

That said, I do sincerely wish you and ******* the best of luck here at ********. There are plenty of people here who are much more energetic and much less cynical than I am. In general, I’m incredibly unhappy with the state of education in America, so TFA’s mission is admirable.



Teach for America’s propaganda machine is so effective that even students who disagree with their methods still believe their hype.  

On Aug 30, 2013, at 8:14 PM, “****** ****” <**********@teachforamerica.org> wrote:

Hi Student,

Thanks so much for your response and your honesty.

And you know what, you’re right – this is problematic work.  It’s extremely hard – the national retention rate for first year teachers across the country, not just TFA teachers, is 86% – and it’s 83% in districts with a majority of students that qualify for free or reduced lunch.  Across the country, teacher preparation, training and support vary in quality and few programs venture into tackling issues of educational inequities and the disparities that fall along lines of race and class.  As a country, we have a lot of work to do to ensure all kids have access to great academic opportunities.

I also believe that all kids deserve high quality educators.  I would propose that rather than preventing this, TFA is promoting this by recruiting and redirecting talent into teacher hiring pools.  Ultimately, districts and schools make hiring decisions.  For example, in *********, our corps members apply to job postings and go through the standard hiring process (they actually have an additional layer of speculation in ********** and have to be approved by our school board).  So that means if a principal is hiring a corps member, they believe that they are the best candidate for the job.  Which speaks to greater issues indeed.

Ideally, TFA wouldn’t exist and I genuinely hope that day comes.  For that day to come, we need talent in education.  About 30% of all TFA teachers are still teaching – and over 60% are still in education more broadly (for example, the Dean of the College of Education at UW is a TFA alum as well as two State Superintendents of Education and two State Senators).  We don’t have this all figured out and we don’t think two years is going to change the system – but perhaps thousands of people rooted in real classroom experiences and their own students can work with their communities to foster greater systemic change.

So this is complex.  I know you’re not interested in doing TFA but I know ******* would love to meet you.  We need to be critical of our work and would very much appreciate your time and perspective.

Let me know what you think and if you’re up for it.


TFA Recruiter

TFA tosses around statistics with impunity.  They provide no reliable evidence that 30% of TFA recruits are still in classroom or that 60% are still involved in education endeavors.  TFA contracts with school districts to hire its recruits even when credentialed teachers are available for those jobs.

On Aug 31, 2013, at 1:48 AM, “****** ****” <******@********.edu> wrote:

Hi again, TFA Recruiter,

Sorry for the extra e-mail, but I just took a look at my schedule for next week and I literally have no time to talk (which is a shame, because I would have enjoyed a good debate).  I therefore took the liberty of briefly typing up the main issues with which I am concerned in regards to education.  Feel free to read and pass on to *******–or not.

  • The devaluing of teachers and the need for more funding in schools;
  • The increasing importance placed upon testing and the cheating that ensues;
  • Charter schools;
  • The impermanence of teachers at schools and the resulting lack of stability and support for students;
  • Valuing padded resumés over experience and ability

There are others issues, as well.  I’d like to note, however, that all of these are problems exacerbated by TFA.  The American education system has never been equal, but within the 20 plus years that TFA has been around, I believe things have only grown worse.  Some of the worst proponents of mis-guided educational “reform” are indeed alumni of TFA.  Michelle Rhee, to name one.

I think if TFA really wants to work for educational equality, you need to seriously reevaluate what you are doing.

I enjoyed chatting with you,


From: TFA Recruiter

Date: August 31, 2013, 8:59:15 AM PDT

To: Student

Subject:Re: Brief chat about ******* at *********

Hi Student, 

Again, thank you for such a thoughtful response. I am sorry that you and ****** won’t be able to talk next week, but she is planning on being back at ******** later this semester and I will be sure to reach out again at that time. I know that you two would be able to have a really engaging conversation around these issues and she’s excited to meet you and hear your perspective. I have forwarded your email to her as well. 

Good luck with your first few weeks of classes! I hope you’re able to do something fun on this long weekend. (I’m currently en route to ****** to see my parents!)


TFA Recruiter
 A little research shows that the school where this particular recruiter taught actually slipped in performance in both reading and math during the years she was there.  Way to close the achievement gap TFA!

One last thought from the student:

We don’t even have a School of Education at our college. If Teach for America were sincere about providing needy kids with the best teachers, wouldn’t they be recruiting from Schools of Education? I have friends who have spent four years studying to become a teacher. They can’t find jobs. The whole idea of Teach for America just doesn’t make sense to me.

No pay from TFA (Teach for America) 0

Posted on April 15, 2013 by dmayer

Summer Institute, the teacher training boot camp that according to Teach for America (TFA) advocates amazingly produces effective teachers in only five weeks, will soon begin for over 5,000 corps members. I interviewed Casey (not the real name), a TFA alum who could hardly wait to finish the two-year commitment and get on with life. I asked Casey to share advice with the upcoming batch of new recruits on how to make the most of the experience. But, Casey wanted to tell a different story.

 photo Money-out-of-reach_zps248c4731.jpg

Before the first question eschewed from my lips, Casey blurted out, “They didn’t pay us.” Obviously still steamed after more than two years, Casey repeated, “They didn’t pay us for Summer Institute.” This had plainly been on Casey’s mind for some time, so I encouraged the TFAer to continue.

“On campus, before you apply, they promote themselves as one of the top employers of college grads in the nation. They convinced me that after five weeks of training I would be a great teacher, even better than licensed professionals they said. I couldn’t find any other job, so I signed up to work for them. I expected to earn enough money at Summer Institute to pay my expenses to move halfway across the country to my new teaching job. But, they didn’t pay us. I started off borrowing money through a loan plan they had set up for us.”

“I don’t understand. Did they promise to pay you and then renege?” I asked. I had heard a rumor about this from a disgruntled TFAer several years ago, but had dismissed it as an isolated incident.

“It isn’t really clear in the beginning. It’s embarrassing. We’re supposed to be the best and brightest, but many of us didn’t even know we weren’t getting paid for the work we did in the summer. I’m not the only one who thought we were getting paid. Other recruits thought so, too. So, the first thing I would say to new TFA recruits is that you won’t be paid for Summer Institute. So, make sure you have enough money saved up to move to your new job, pay your first and last month’s rent and security deposit, and pay for teaching materials you’ll need when school starts.

“It’s kind of demoralizing,” Casey continued. “Right from the beginning I felt like I was being taken advantage of; that TFA wasn’t straight with us, and it was too late to do anything else. I felt like, ‘What have I gotten myself into? I’m doing all this work for free?’ Maybe TFA makes it clearer to recruits these days, and if they don’t they should. They don’t pay corps members for Summer Institute. Anyway, I started out financially in the hole and spent over a year paying them back.”

As we moved on to other topics, Casey mentioned all the things I had heard before: five weeks of training isn’t nearly enough; Casey was hired to teach another subject but observed only reading and math classes during the summer; corps members felt totally unprepared to manage a classroom, and so on. So, I decided to investigate the claim about not being paid by TFA. How could a sharp young person like Casey have mistakenly thought that corps members would get a paycheck for summer work from Teach for America?

This is what I found out and quite possibly why Casey and others thought they would be paid by Teach for America:

Eleven TFA Summer Institutes will be held June-July, 2013. This sample institute daily schedule delineates a 16.5 hour work day. If corps members are paid a minimum wage of $8.00 an hour, they would make $3,300 during Institute. (16.5 hrs. x 25 days (5 weeks) x $8.00 = $3,300) If they are paid a salary approximating a beginning teacher’s salary, oddly enough, they would make about the same amount, $3,430. ($35,672/52 weeks x 5 weeks = $3,430) According to Casey, several corps members had expected a paycheck of about $3,000 for their work during Summer Institute.

TFA does have a salary and benefits page which clearly states CORPS MEMBERS RECEIVE A FULL SALARY AND COMPREHENSIVE BENEFITS.

As a corps member, you will be a full-time teacher and receive a full salary and the same comprehensive health benefits as other beginning teachers in your school district.

This statement doesn’t address Summer Institute, nor does it say who will pay the teacher’s salary. The information seems to indicate that recruits will receive a salary from Teach for America, but the amount will vary according to the school district.

Casey mentioned that campus recruiters said Teach for America was a top employer of college graduates. In 2011 College Grad.com ranked Teach for America as Number 2 in Best Companies for New Grads.

No. 2 Teach For America; hiring forecast 4,925. Average salary for teachers, $42,451

For years TV, newspapers, magazines, and websites including ABC, CBS, Washington Post, Forbes, Fortune, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Schools.com have promoted Teach for America as a top employer of college grads.

In 2010 TFA boasted about its “top employer” status to win a $50 million grant from the Department of Education (DOE), saying it ranked higher than both Microsoft and Goldman Sachs. Making the same claim in 2011, TFA was granted another $8 million SEED grant by the DOE. In that grant application TFA reported that the organization spent over $43,000 on each recruit placed in the classroom. It’s no wonder that Casey thought some of that money would be paid to corps members. Most likely the officials at the DOE and politicians promoting Teach for America have that impression, too.

Glass Door, a website that lists salaries paid by companies, reports Teach for America as paying corps member and teacher salaries. At this point I was confused myself. According to 2011 IRS form 990, TFA had assets of nearly $300 million dollars and revenue of over $270 million. You might think that an organization with that kind of moola could afford to pay recruits — their lifeblood — a salary.

Next, I called Teach for America and talked to Carrie Rankin, National Communications Director for Teach for America. I explained the claim that a corps member had made about not being paid for Summer Institute, told her I was confused about the policy myself, and asked if she could offer some clarity. She did not act surprised by my query. Neither did she confirm or deny that she had heard this complaint before. She refrained from commenting any further, and said she would send the documentation that is offered to corps members. A few days later I received this e-mail from her. I’m including her contact information here (it wasn’t easy to find) for anyone seeking clarity on this issue.

From: Carrie.Rankin@teachforamerica.org
Subject: Teach For America
Date: April 15, 2013 7:57:47 AM PDT


I wanted to follow up on the info you requested last week.

First, you said you were investigating an alleged miscommunication about paying corps members for summer Institute. On our website, we explain that Teach For America covers the costs of Institute, but corps members are not told that they will be paid. Teach For America pays for room and board during Institute, as well as for transportation to and from school sites. Corps members are responsible for all other costs. We do have grant programs available to help corps members cover the cost of travel to and from Institute.


Carrie James Rankin
National Communications Director
Teach For America

The “documentation” is nothing more than a connection to TFA’s Financing Your Transition page offering INTEREST-FREE TRANSITIONAL LOANS AND GRANTS. It contains no mention of compensation for Summer Institute nor does it specifically say that recruits will not be paid for their summer work.

So, it would seem that Teach for America does not tell recruits they will be paid for their summer work, nor does the organization tell them they will not be paid. The unambiguous thing to do would be to tell recruits upfront that they will not be paid for Summer Institute. TFA should not pretend to be an employer of college grads when, in fact, they are not.

The simple truth is this: Teach for America does not employ a single teacher straight out of college. Zero. Zip. Teach for America does not employ teachers nor does it pay teachers. Teach for America is a recruiting firm. The organization provides minimally trained temps to work in place of professionals, while falsely promoting itself as a top employer of college grads/teachers.

It does seem that Teach for America is coloring reality by promoting itself as an employer instead of a recruiting firm. It is misleading, to say the least. Some might even say it’s dishonest. Certainly it is confusing to recruits who think they are employed by TFA and expect a paycheck. At any rate, the message from Casey to new TFA recruits is this: “Don’t think of Summer Institute as a summer job, and you are employed by Teach for America. TFA doesn’t pay you anything. You can bank on it.”