Former Teach for America corps member and recruiter Gary Rubenstein writes a damning critique of TFA on his blog, arguing that the organization has “lost its way” and is now contributing to the educational inequalities it seeks to eliminate.
When he joined the organization 20 years ago, said Rubenstein, there was a major teacher shortage in high-need schools. He and the other new corps members went into classrooms knowing that they would not be great instructors, but that they were filling tough positions no one else wanted. In the blog post, entitled “Why I did TFA, and why you shouldn’t,” he writes:
If not for us, our students, most likely, would [have been] taught by a different substitute each day. Even if we were bad permanent teachers, we WERE permanent teachers and for kids who had little in life they can call permanent, it was something. The motto for TFA back then could have been 'Hey, we're better than nothing.'
Since that time, TFA has grown substantially even as the need for inexperienced bodies to fill classroom has all but run out, Rubenstein argues.
The 2011 corps is nearly 6,000, twelve times as big as the cohorts from the early 90s. Unfortunately, the landscape in education has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Instead of facing teacher shortages, we have teacher surpluses. There are regions where experienced teachers are being laid off to make room for incoming TFA corps members because the district has signed a contract with TFA, promising to hire their new people. In situations like this, it is hard to say with confidence that these under trained new teachers are really doing less harm than good.
He goes on to slam the organization’s “public relations machine,” which he claims inflates the successes of TFA’s current and former corps members (including Michelle Rhee) and promotes the belief that veteran teachers are lazy and should be replaced by “young go-getters.”
The post spurred a fascinating discussion in the comments section, with both TFA critics and proponents weighing in. Rubenstein went on to write a second post laying out his ideas for revamping the program. His plan, which calls largely for increased training and apprenticeship time, doesn’t quite cover the issue of TFA’s rapid growth or address how the proposed changes would be financed, but it’s worth a read anyway.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.