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.

It’s a Badass Film Festival! Closeup on Corporate School Reform!


I blog.

I write.

I look at the devastation, the hopes and promise of our public school system, and I report it to the world.

It seems a futile pursuit some days. Does anyone actually read this stuff? Or am I just talking to myself?

The hit counter tells me that, yes, indeed, there are people out there clicking on my humble little gadflyonthewallblog. Comments appear under my Facebook posts. My tweets get retweeted. Followers and friends multiply.

But I wonder sometimes about all the sets of eyes that see a block of text under my name and just keep on scrolling.

Would the minds connected to those eyes have understood? Would they have been spurred to action? Might they have been just the people we need to turn the tide and take back our education system?

And I answer: maybe.

So today’s entry is an attempt to get those roving, impatient orbs to stop, look and see.

Because today I bring not just words but pictures. Movies, in fact.

But first some background.

This whole enterprise began by accident. My school district received a $360,000 donation from Apple and Bill Campbell so every student could have an iPad for use in class.

The program will be rolled out next year, but teachers have already been given devices and some minimal training.

We were encouraged to play around with the devices to find applications for our students next year. One such app we were told to explore was iMovie.

I made a brief preview trailer for S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” – one of the novels my students read. I thought it might make a good lesson on theme for next year’s kids.

However, in doing the assignment, I wondered what it might look like if I made a similar short movie about corporate education reform. After all, I spend a lot of my off hours writing about it. Why not try another medium?

Let me be clear. I did NOT use school equipment. I have my own personal iPad at home. It’s not nearly as nice as the ones the students will be using. In fact, I had to pay for a few upgrades to get it up to similar specs.

But once I did, it was a simple matter to make the “OPT OUT OF STANDARDIZED TESTING” movie you see here:

The newest version of the program provides several short preview templates in various movie genres. All you have to do is insert pictures or video and change the text to suit your purposes. In some cases, I had to extend the templates so they’d fit the topic I was tackling.

I was kind of tickled by the result so I shared it with my fellows at the Badass Teachers Association. I serve on the Leadership Team. And in a moment of whimsy I had designated my film a production of “Badass Films.”

They seemed really taken with it. They loved the idea of having our own film studio – even if it was just a hand-held Apple device.

With the power of an organization representing more than 54,000 people, they promoted my first little film on their YouTube channel. They pushed it out on twitter and facebook. Even Education Historian Diane Ravich gave it a push and a very kind review.

They asked me to make more. I did.

My fellow BATS helped me decide on topics, made suggestions for revisions, helped provide photos and even made a kick ass mock movie poster for each film!

And every day they’d send out into the ether a reminder that Badass Films is coming soon!

I hope you enjoy them.

Without further ado, here are the remaining 12 Badass Films:


On YouTube


On YouTube


On YouTube


On YouTube


On YouTube


On YouTube


On YouTube


On YouTube


On YouTube


On YouTube


On YouTube

G.E.R.M. – Global Education Reform Movement

On YouTube

So there you have it. Badass Films.

I’m hoping these short videos can serve as a primer for our fight against the standardization and privatization movement.

People who wouldn’t sit to read an entire blog entry might stop long enough to watch a less than 2 minute film. And – hey – videos are like potato chips – you can’t stop at just one!

Some might criticize this project as being shallow. How can you really explain a topic like the School to Prison Pipeline or even Common Core in such a short span?

Well, you can’t. But these are meant to be attention-getters. I only hope they’ll spark interest. There are so many sources for more information – many of them previous articles published on this very blog!

I’d love to hear your thoughts. How did I do? Are these films successful? Will they help the fight against factory schools?

Feel free to leave a comment and certainly to share this blog or any of the individual videos.

Special thanks to all the BATS who helped bring this project to completion. You earn the name “Badass” every day!

As for me? I will continue to write.

To blog.

And – when possible – make movies.

This article was also published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

Coming Soon – Badass Films!


Quick! Somebody microwave Bill Gates a bag of popcorn!

Fluff up Arne Duncan’s favorite pillow!

Get Chris Christie some Sour Patch Kids!

A lot of Sour Patch Kids!

Because the show is about to begin!

Coming Friday, March 6, I’ll be launching Badass Films.

This new venture is a division of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs). Your humble blogger is a member of the leadership team.

I’ve made 12 very short films about corporate school reform and the grassroots movement that fights against it.

They’re nothing fancy – just something I whipped up with imovie. But I hope they’ll help spread the message and get people up to speed on the damage being done to our school system by standardization and privatization. I also hope to shine a light on some of the amazing people out there – parents, teachers, students, and people of conscience – who are fighting against factory schools with all their might.

I already released this film called “Opt Out of Standardized testing:

Friday I’ll release the remaining 11.

Here are the working titles and a few mock movie posters made by our incredible BAT Meme Team:



(Meme by Lisa Smith)



(Meme by Deb Escobar)



(Meme by Lisa Smith)



(Meme by Lisa Smith)



(Meme by Lisa Smith)



(Meme by Deb Escobar)



(Meme by Deb Escobar)



(Meme by Deb Escobar)



(Meme by Deb Escobar)



(Meme by Lisa Smith)



(Meme by Lisa Smith)

I hope you’re as excited as I am! I always wanted to be in the movies! Move over, Orson Welles! Here comes a BAT with an ipad!

See you Friday at the movies! ^O^

This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.