Teach for America – What a Stupid Idea! (Or is it?)


Welcome to the Hall of Stupid Ideas!

I’ll be your guide through this section of the museum.

Moving past the hall of phrenology, past the flat earth wing and the newly renovated rotunda of climate change denial, we come to one of my favorite displays – Teach for America or TFA.

This really is a very dumb idea.

Imagine, if you will, a country besieged by an education crisis! In this case, a shortage of teachers.

To meet the needs of this deficiency, we hire a slew of poorly trained college grads to fill-in the gaps.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Young go-getters ready to take a stand and help the country by devoting themselves to our little children.

Yet it’s just so much bullshit.

You see the problem is real. We DO need more teachers – especially at our poorest schools. However, the same people who are promoting TFA are the ones who caused this shortage in the first place.

As public school budgets are slashed at both the state and federal level, local districts are forced to furlough more-and-more educators. Students are stuffed into larger classes and forced to do without the arts, foreign languages, technology courses, anything that isn’t on our federally mandated standardized tests.

So there IS a real shortage of teachers in the classroom, but there is NO shortage of unemployed teachers.

More than 300,000 teachers are out of work. These are people with at least a bachelors degree in education – many of whom have even more experience in the classroom actually teaching kids.

You might think that we could just allocate funding and hire them! Right!?

Wouldn’t that be better?

We could fill our public schools with dedicated education professionals instead of lightly trained temps.

Because this is what Teach for America is providing. TFA recruits get 5 weeks training and only have to sign on for a two-year commitment.

So those advocating for TFA insist it’s somehow better to give a child an instructor who has a few weeks training versus someone with a 4-or-5-year degree and who has real life experience on the job!

It’s staggering isn’t it?

Now this would never fly in most neighborhoods. Imagine trying to convince the rich that their children would be best served by this kind of scheme. They’d riot!

But this scam is almost exclusively perpetrated in poor neighborhoods because that’s where our state and federal governments cut funding. In rich neighborhoods, they can just raise local property taxes to give their children all the best that money can buy. In poor neighborhoods, this isn’t an option. They rely on state and federal tax dollars to give their kids a fair start in life so they can equally compete in the job market.

Well, the joke’s on you, poor people!

Rich folks are selling you substandard teachers and pretending like it’s philanthropy!

You’d think this scheme would be laughed out of existence but many national news sources praise it to the sky! They even make excuses when research proves how ineffective the whole scheme is!

Take this report from March 2015 concluding that students taught by TFA recruits score no better on standardized tests than those of traditional teachers.

Time Magazine – yes, THAT Time Magazinepublished an article claiming that this proved TFA was a success!

Look! It’s just as effective as bachelor-degree-holding-teachers!

However, all it really shows is that judging an instructor – whether TFA or not – based on student test scores is ridiculous!

(Yes,Value-Added Measures are coming up later in the tour. But I’m getting ahead of myself!)

Standardized test scores have been shown time-and-again to measure the student’s parental income – not academic abilities.

So you would expect poor students to have lower test scores than rich students – no matter how well-trained their instructors are!

Which leaves us with motivation. Why would anyone still advocate for TFA?

Answer: because it’s actually not a dumb idea at all!

It’s an evil one!

The whole point of this sham is to serve the needs of the privatization movement.

Investors want to change public education into a cash cow. They want to alter the rules so that corporations running districts can cut services for children and use the extra cash for profits.

And that starts with teachers.

If we allow privatizers to replace well-prepared and trained teachers with lightly trained temps, we can reduce the salaries we pay instructors. We delegitimize the profession. We redefine the job “teacher.” It’s no longer a highly-trained professional. It’s something anyone can do from off the street – thus we can pay poverty wages.

And the savings from cutting salaries can all go into our corporate pockets!

This kind of flim-flam would never be allowed with our present crop of highly trained professionals because many of them belong to labor unions. We have to give them the boot so we can exterminate their unions and thus provide easy pickings for the profiteers.

There’s no question that this scheme is bad for children.

But that’s not the point for TFA advocates. It’s all about money.

I guess this is as good a time as any to reveal the name of the wing we’ve just entered – Corporate Education Reform!

Here we’ll see many more exhibits displaying ideas that appear just as stupid as TFA but are really as intelligent as they are immoral.

What’s that, little boy? Who’s that man pictured above the archway? That’s Bill Gates.

Step right this way to the Common Core display…

Movie Extra:

-This article also appeared in the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

20 thoughts on “Teach for America – What a Stupid Idea! (Or is it?)

  1. […] Terrible programs like Teach for America would come to an abrupt end, too. The military wouldn’t let you send a lightly trained trooper into the harshest war zones to do battle. So no more lightly trained teacher temps dropped into our urban schools for a year or two before entering the business world. We only want educator commandos who have gone through rigorous training programs and received full degrees at our university citadels. […]


  2. “Standardized test scores have been shown time-and-again to measure the student’s parental income – not academic abilities.”

    We have to make a concerted effort to not use the edudeformer language of “measurement”. No, those tests absolutely do not “measure” student’s parental income. The test score results correlate with parental income, that is all. Standardized tests “measure” nothing. Quite literally as a matter of fact according to one ardent supporter.

    The most misleading concept/term in education is “measuring student achievement” or “measuring student learning”. The concept has been misleading educators into deluding themselves that the teaching and learning process can be analyzed/assessed using “scientific” methods which are actually pseudo-scientific at best and at worst a complete bastardization of rationo-logical thinking and language usage.

    There never has been and never will be any “measuring” of the teaching and learning process and what each individual student learns in their schooling. There is and always has been assessing, evaluating, judging of what students learn but never a true “measuring” of it.

    The TESTS MEASURE NOTHING, quite literally when you realize what is actually happening with them. Richard Phelps, a staunch standardized test proponent (he has written at least two books defending the standardized testing malpractices) in the introduction to “Correcting Fallacies About Educational and Psychological Testing” unwittingly lets the cat out of the bag with this statement:

    “Physical tests, such as those conducted by engineers, can be standardized, of course [why of course of course], but in this volume, we focus on the measurement of latent (i.e., nonobservable) mental, and not physical, traits.” [my addition]

    Notice how he is trying to assert by proximity that educational standardized testing and the testing done by engineers are basically the same, in other words a “truly scientific endeavor”. The same by proximity is not a good rhetorical/debating technique.

    Since there is no agreement on a standard unit of learning, there is no exemplar of that standard unit and there is no measuring device calibrated against said non-existent standard unit, how is it possible to “measure the nonobservable”?

    THE TESTS MEASURE NOTHING for how is it possible to “measure” the nonobservable with a non-existing measuring device that is not calibrated against a non-existing standard unit of learning?????


    The basic fallacy of this is the confusing and conflating metrological (metrology is the scientific study of measurement) measuring and measuring that connotes assessing, evaluating and judging. The two meanings are not the same and confusing and conflating them is a very easy way to make it appear that standards and standardized testing are “scientific endeavors”-objective and not subjective like assessing, evaluating and judging.

    Those supposedly objective results are used to justify discrimination against many students for their life circumstances and inherent intellectual traits.


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