Call for Professors to Boycott Teach for America

Mark Naison
Mark Naison is a Professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University, director of the Bronx African American History Project and co-founder of the Badass Teachers Association. He became active in defense of public education and public school teachers when the community history projects he directed were pushed out of Bronx schools by a mania for testing and school closings, a process described in his most recent book "Badass Teachers Unite" published by Haymarket Books.
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Should Labor Historians Encourage A Boycott of Teach for America? Please comment.

In the last few years, Teach for America has gone out of its way to send its Corps members into cities which have fired large numbers of veteran union teachers-among them Chicago, Newark and Washington DC. Basically, the organization has become a source of replacement labor for cities seeking to close schools, eliminate or weaken teacher tenure, and undermine the power of teachers unions.

This role for TFA seems to have coincided with the increasing influence the Walton  Foundation, which is now TFA’s largest single source of funding, has had on Teach for America leadership.

Do you think there would be  support among labor historians for a petition or some sort of national action to get faculty to refuse to allow TFA to recruit in their classes, and students to refuse to join it?

I  hope so. In the coming months we might organize an educational drive and petition to be on the front lines of this campaign:

In the meantime, here is a short video I just did to take the cover off the damage TFA has been doing in inner city communities:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PREZXh4coIo&feature=youtu.beje

Please circulate it widely. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below this post.

Mark D. Naison
Co-Founder, Badass Teachers Association & Author Badass Teachers Unite

Mark Naison and comrades at Take Back Out Schools Rally in NY on May 17
Mark Naison and comrades at Take Back Out Schools Rally in NY on May 17
  • Rosemary Feurer

    This is a very effective video. Hope everyone will click on the link and share. We don’t have much of a presence of TFA on my campus, but I know that this is something that we should support as an organization.

  • Leigh Campbell-Hale

    I absolutely support professors taking a stand on this. TFA “teachers” are gold-plated scabs. The entire federal system of education “reform,” starting with No Child Left Behind and continuing with Race to the Top, mandates closing “failing” schools, which, unsurprisingly, are always high-poverty, mostly minority student schools. Then, those schools are often reconfigured as charter schools run as test-prep prison camps for black and brown students, staffed by TFAs who think they’re doing the kids a favor. TFA offers five weeks of summer training, then places those new graduates in schools with the most vulnerable students. TFAs at the new schools displace, sometimes forever, older, darker, more experienced, and more expensive teachers. For example, in Denver, since NCLB took effect, teacher union density has dropped from around 80% to 48% today. Clearly, “reformers” hope to see that density drop even further, by turning all public schools into charters, as happened in post-Katrina New Orleans, where the city’s teachers, over 7,000 of them, were replaced by mostly TFAs.
    Furthermore, this is not just the model for K-12 education. Look at what’s happening in colleges and universities, where an estimated 70% of those teaching are “casual” employees. The National Education Association (the nation’s largest union today), the American Federation of Teachers, and SEIU are all in the beginning stages of organizing these “casual” employees. Professors need to get organized, too. Your jobs are disappearing before your very eyes.

  • Juan Carmona Zabala

    If America wants to have better teachers than those it already has, then it should improve the training of the new generation of teachers and incentivize better teaching instead of better preparation for tests. The idea that a bunch of highly motivated interns are going to improve things significantly is just ridiculous. If America wants a good educational system, it will have to pay for it. This applies to universities as well, since more and more teaching is done by graduate students with little or no experience.

    Educators need to organize and fight back. Boycotting TFA should be a part of that.

  • Adam Mertz

    TFA is a key part of school privatization and neoliberal policies in general. People involved in the TFA program claim to be “above politics,” much like those who celebrate the supposed efficiency and impartiality of “the market.” Yet TFA is indeed part of a political agenda that erodes labor rights. Labor historians should definitely oppose TFA.

    Soon, LAWCHA will have online materials to help public school teachers and their allies better understand programs like TFA, which undermine teacher unions.

    • Leigh Campbell-Hale

      I don’t think public school teachers need much help understanding how TFA undermines teacher unions. We already know. It’s everybody else I’m worried about.

      • Rosemary Feurer

        Adam is a former public school teacher. I think he just meant the broader historical context of teacher unionism and attempts to undermine it.

  • Marlowe Brant

    Anyone who cares about the quality of education our youth receive should be taking a stand against TFA and the many organizations out there that are following in TFA’s footsteps. I can’t think of any other professional job that would allow employees to enter the field with only 5 weeks of experience…not only that, but TFA places these inexperienced, “I-don’t-know-what-I-want-to-do-between-graduating-and-law-or-med-school-so-I-think-I’ll-try-this-teaching-gig-because-I’ve-been-a-student-so-surely-teaching-can’t-be-that-hard” people into some of the most challenging schools in our nation…that would be like giving a person who thinks they could be an OB/GYN 5 weeks of training and then having them work with the toughest pregnancy cases. Our youth deserve better than that. Our classrooms aren’t laboratories for people to try out education for 2 years and abandon it so they can move on to more prestigious careers.

  • Been There Done That

    Absolutely we should boycott TFA! As a retired teacher and unionist, I have been four-square against TFA from its inception, with its silly assumption that a brand new, untried and often fairly clueless college graduate would make a better teacher than someone with years of experience.
    I know a young lady who worked so very hard to get her degree, joined TFA out of idealism, and then to her horror found that she was required on her Saturdays, without pay, to go to shopping malls and grocery stores to try to recruit parents to send their children to her school. She was threatened with immediate dismissal if she refused, and of course, since she didn’t have a union to back her, she had no choice but to cave in. she certainly wasn’t making enough money to take on TFA by herself! I had some (but limited) sympathy for her situation, since by joining TFA she had become part of the problem.

  • Annelise Orleck

    I think this is a very important discussion and I’d like to see LAWCHA sponsor some kind of event either in person or on line at which we can really talk about the pros and cons of such a boycott. No one has to convince me of the damage that TFA is doing or how TFA works in tandem with privatized charter schools to undermine the public school system and teachers’ unions. The question is what the most effective and useful approach is to combating this.

  • Mark Naison

    I think a public discussion of the kind Annelise suggests would be very valuable. Andrew Hartman will definitely be drafting a Professors petition against TFA, but exactly what tactics it will propose remain somewhat flexible. Having a public discussion about how Labor Historians should best respond to TFA would be an excellent prelude to the petition, and might shape its final recommendations. The petition won’t be drafted till mid July so there is still time to act on Annalise’s proposal.

  • Citizen Stewart

    This is anti-TFA position is logical given the economic interests of colleges of education, their professors, and their union allies. It’s business, not personal.