Trojan Horse 

Teach for America is a step toward privatizing public schools

The Idaho State Board of Education continues to make decisions toward privatizing Idaho's public schools. In a move by the board on June 20, the Teach For America program was, according to their Facebook post, "approved as a state sanctioned vehicle for the preparation of teachers in Idaho."

TFA takes Ivy League graduates, among others, trains them for five weeks, then sends them out into schools for two-year stints as "teachers." Add water, mix and stir slightly--voila--insta-teacher!

"Teach For America teachers are full-fledged faculty members at their schools, receiving the normal school district salary and benefits as well as a modest AmeriCorps 'education voucher' (which can be used to pay for credentialing courses, cover previous student loans or fund further education after the two-year commitment)," reads a Wikipedia entry on the group.

In districts across the country, Teach for America "teachers" get their feet wet for a couple years before moving on to be hedge fund managers, directors of nonprofits, attorneys and CFOs with for-profit education companies, etc. The vast majority of TFA "teachers" do not go on to teach for a career, but merely use it as a steppingstone into another profession where they can make three to five times as much. Former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee may be the most notable example, who went on to found StudentsFirst, an aggressive school reform organization.

This past May, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton rejected a line-item grant of $1.5 million to fund TFA teachers, citing lack of competition in the application process. Dayton noted TFA's $50 million profit margin in 2011, and wondered why they would need state assistance (read: corporate welfare) to fund teachers.

Incidentally, TFA is currently looking for an Idaho executive director, someone who, according to the job announcement, "Exercises an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit, exhibits an uncommon level of personal responsibility and aggressively pursues outcomes that will position Teach For America to help fuel the local movement to eliminate the educational opportunity gap and maximize our long-term impact in the community."

Read: TFA needs a hard-nosed, type-A personality willing to lobby for corporate welfare despite the cadre of "highly qualified" teachers graduating from Idaho colleges.

For years, entrepreneurs worldwide have been salivating over the United States' half-trillion dollar education market. Unfortunately, the corporate business model--the one that demands profits--is the proverbial square peg in a round hole. Conflicts of interest abound when education corporations like TFA get involved in the "business" of education. What may be good for kids, or what may be best teaching practices, fall by the wayside when shareholder profits are at stake.

Hiring temporary, fly-by-night "teachers" looking to pad their resumes doesn't seem to fall into the category of best educational practices. For this reason, Teach For America ought to be looked at a little more closely.

The acceptance of TFA as an alternate teacher certification option in Idaho comes on the heels of a study released June 18 by the National Council on Teacher Quality that made national news. TFA founder Wendy Kopp serves on the NCTQ Advisory Board. Regrettably, the study--called The Teacher Prep Review--seems to have been assembled with outcomes already firmly in mind.

"Our profound belief that new teachers and our children deserve better from America's preparation programs is the touchstone of this project," states the study.

The study, funded in part by The Albertson's Foundation--which has strong ties to online provider K-12, Inc., etc.--and others which have a stake in the for-profit education industry, causes one to question the validity of NCTQ's findings.

Travis Manning is executive director of the Common Sense Democracy Foundation of Idaho.

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