We have a crisis in US education. Many of our most prominent school reform industry leaders and politicians are not proficient in basic critical thinking skills. I’m concerned, troubled, even, that they may not be prepared for the education landscape of the 21st century when public schools are completely deregulated, privatized and fragmented and there are thousands of non-profit and for-profit schools, groups, schemes, products, plans, grifts and lobbyists all gorging themselves at the (formerly) public education trough. Every once in a while though, a politician breaks from the reform industry mediocrity herd and applies actual independent thought to formulate additional questions that were not on the standardized test. Here’s Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota, striving for excellence:
The following items of appropriation are vetoed for the reasons below: • Page 5. line 5.29: A $750,000 item of appropriation in FY 14 and a $750,000 item of appropriation in FY15 for Teach for America.
Teach for America (TFA) is a well-established, national program with revenues totaling $270 million for fiscal year 2011 (its most recent annual report). With total expenses of $219 million, TFA’s net assets increased by over $50 million and now total over $350 million. With those financial resources available, it is not clear why a $1.5 million grant from the State of Minnesota is required to continue or expand the organization’s work here.
My principal concern, however, is the way in which TFA was selected as the recipient of this grant. To my knowledge, no competitive grant program was established; no other applications were solicited; and no objective review was made by an independent panel of experts. Instead, the funds were inserted into the Senate’s Higher Education bill, directed to this organization, and retained in the
Conference Committee’s report.
Teach For America receives federal and state funding to continually expand their reach. In addition they are paid for each temp they place in a public school system.
The organization that was launched to serve public schools so poor or dysfunctional they couldn’t attract qualified teachers now sends fully a third of its recruits to privately run charter schools, many with stellar academic reputations, flush budgets and wealthy donors. TFA also sends its rookies, who typically have just 15 to 20 hours of teaching experience, to districts that have recently laid off scores of more seasoned teachers.
Meanwhile, TFA has backed away from a claim that nearly half its teachers achieve outstanding academic gains with students, leaving the pivotal question of its effectiveness unresolved.
Camika Royal, who taught for TFA and has worked for them in various capacities for 13 years, says she once believed the organization’s goal was to strengthen troubled schools. Now she fears it is feeding a perception that public education is in ruins, and only an elite cavalry can rescue America’s children. “I can’t stand the self-importance,” Royal said.
Training an employee is an investment because experienced people have to do the actual work of training in addition to their own work. We all know this, because we’ve all either been trainees or trained someone in every job we’ve ever had. I didn’t consider myself competent as a lawyer until I had been at it 4 years. I remember the day I realized, “I actually know how to do this!” I got a week of on-the-job paid training for a waitress job at the International House of Pancakes 25 years ago, plus a pouffy uniform. TFA pays for five weeks training. What’s the return on my investment in a Teach For America 2 year temp over investing in hiring and training local people who commit to a career in public schools and intend to stay rather than using us as a fall-back if they don’t get into a top-tier law school?
Unfortunately, Arne Duncan is not making Adequate Yearly Progress in reform industry studies and is still diligently filling in bubbles on the reform industry federal funding demand list. I don’t know if it’s social promotion or the soft bigotry of low expectations with him, but I may have to follow the public school playbook of the reform industry insiders Duncan admires and follows and close the DOE and then privatize it.
I’m a reasonable centrist, so I’ll also consider “co-locating” Duncan’s DOE within the Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture will be the Welcoming Agency for the Department of Education when I (reluctantly, with great sadness, or at least a look of anguished concern while on television) close his Agency and then locate it …elsewhere. Sure it will be crowded and chaotic and painful, there will be real sadness and mourning, but I’ll promise a “free!” tablet for each displaced employee plus, air conditioning and maybe a garden if I can tap my donor base for some charity cash to placate the employees who refuse to relinquish the building in a timely manner. You say they already have air conditioning at the DOE? I say “air conditioning” a little louder. Hear that? I addressed your concern, because I’m a listener. Consider yourself heard.