TFA on the Rocks?

America loves a winner…until it doesn’t. Recent moves in Texas and California against Teach For America have me wondering—has the tide turned? Is TFA joining charter schools as a school reform that used to be popular on both sides of the aisle, but is now for the GOP alone? And if so, why now? There is one obvious reason that deserves more attention.

chicago charter protest

Which side are you on, Democrats?

Here’s what we know: As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, the idea for Teach For America was to get graduates of elite colleges into low-resource schools. TFA teachers promised to teach for two years. The plan was twofold. First, founder Wendy Kopp hoped to give low-resource schools an infusion of talent and enthusiasm, even if it was only temporary. Second, by experiencing life in low-resource schools, TFA alums—the thinking went—would be better-educated themselves about the challenges of real-life schools.

The program was a big hit for a while. Back in the late 20th century, almost a fifth of Harvard grads applied. School districts offered perks to the program, hoping to attract TFA teachers. Over the years, though, TFA also generated a lot of criticism. How could five weeks of training be enough? Why should no-experience teachers be acceptable in low-resource schools?

And now it seems those criticisms have begun to attract political support. They have moved beyond progressive howls in the wind. Houston has banned TFA teachers. California is thinking about doing the same. As one California lawmaker explained,

Our most vulnerable students are getting our least trained teachers. If they’re good enough for poor, low-income schools, why aren’t they good enough for the Beverly Hillses of the world? . . . Why do low-income schools have to be the guinea pigs?

Such criticisms are nothing new. TFA has always been unpopular among the progressive crowd. But now there seems to be a new political momentum against the program. What happened? Why did TFA suddenly become politically vulnerable?

To this reporter, the political swing against TFA is part of a broader realignment of education politics. For decades now, Democrats and Republicans have agreed on market-based “reforms” of public education. Charters, vouchers, tax-savings accounts, and alternative-certification programs were embraced on both sides of the aisle.

No longer. Democratic contenders for 2020 are scrambling to disavow their charter-loving pasts. Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke are all re-positioning themselves as charter skeptics, when they all enthusiastically promoted charter schools in the recent past.

The obvious culprit? The string of teacher strikes over the last two years has changed things. The strikes and protests have polarized the issue of public education. For Democrats, now, the primary goals are not to tweak TFA and charters to achieve best results, but rather to oppose any programs that stink of anti-teacher free-marketeering.

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2 Comments

  1. WaPo Needs to Get Its Ears Checked on Charter Schools | I Love You but You're Going to Hell
  2. Betsy DeVos Has Saved Public Education | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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