Last weekend Teach For America held its 20th Anniversary Summit in Washington, D.C. It’s hard to imagine this program which started as a graduate thesis idea is now one of the most prestigious and exclusive pathways for college grads to enter the classroom. In honor of this milestone, there has been a lot written about TFA and its rise to fame and fortune.
TFA alum Robert Schwartz’s column from The Huffington Post is especially potent. As a TFA corps member, former principal and Chief Academic Officer of a charter network, Schwartz seems to know the ins and outs of TFA pretty well, which makes his criticism of TFA pretty valid.
Schwartz outlines several ways that TFA has drifted from its core mission of putting good teachers in the hardest to staff schools. The point that stuck with me was his first: “More and more, corps members are placed in high performing charter networks who have little trouble filling teaching positions.” This runs totally counter to TFA’s founding mission of placing teachers in hard-to-staff schools.
The problem was illustrated to me firsthand when a friend’s sister who has just been admitted to TFA e-mailed me asking for advice getting a job. She told me that TFA will be distributing her resume to charter schools and on a map of schools TFA is in contact, about half were charters. She also expressed her desire to find a job in a “supportive charter school environment” because she wants to be a career educator.
I did my best to answer some of her questions, and then added an unsolicited plug for teaching at a traditional district school. Based on personal experience and countless horror stories out there, it’s hard to argue that a district school would be better or more “supportive” for her. But it is where she’s needed. Twenty years ago, that’s where TFA would have told her to go and it still should today.