School Talk

Next Time, Read The Headline

Breaking News:  Another academic has penned a piece about what he doesn’t like about Teach For America. I realize it may sound like a typical day in Edu-land but this time there’s a fun twist. T. Jameson Brewer, current PhD student and TFA alum who writes the piece for the Washington Post, chooses to cite a Vox piece by Dana Goldstein to back up his thesis that actually does just the opposite; instead of bolstering his argument, his source literally counters his central claim, even in its headline.

Next time, Brewer may decide to fully read his sources. Or at least the headline. He also claims Chris Cerf of Newark Schools is a TFA alum. That too is false. So a good dose of fact checking would also suit him well.

Perhaps Brewer is really just trying to make a name for himself or garner a little bit of attention from everyone who feels some sort of way about Teach For America. Those who love the group will cry foul and rebut his claims, those who hate it will do some celebratory high-fiving on twitter and tumblr, and those who are neutral will feel feel bad for a guy who was given the unique chance to write a hard hitting piece for the Washington Post and instead, ended up disproving his own thesis.

It is curious though that TFA, an organization that has literally conducted dozens of listening sessions across the country to discuss its successes and shortcomings, is being called out for refusing to listen to critics while the seemingly immovable traditional teacher prep programs get a pass. It’s no secret that essentially all of the long standing systems embedded in America’s K-12 system are highly resistant to change and don’t tend to be known for their self reflection or a willingness to seek out feedback in order to improve their product. Teach for America, on the contrary, has piloted several programs in an effort to tackle challenges that it they have publicly recognized; are traditional prep programs doing anything similar?

President Obama is even taking action because of what we know about teacher preparation. We know that a majority of teachers report being unprepared for the classroom after completing their teaching program. We know that principals believe that new teachers are emerging from ed school unready for the complexities of managing a classroom. We know that 96 percent of teaching candidates pass the test for licensure. Brewer may be well served working to improve the overall situation of teacher preparation in America rather than picking on one alternative teacher prep program that despite its imperfections and contrary to his claims, is actually working toward improving by listening and making changes.

As far as TFA goes, my feeling on it is this: if a soon to be college graduate doesn’t like Teach For America, they shouldn’t apply. If a school leader is not a TFA fan, they shouldn’t use them as a recruitment pipeline. But let those of us who enjoy Teach For America corps members and alumni as our children’s teachers and school leaders continue to do so without having to repeatedly read poorly cited critiques that just add noise to the very important conversation about teacher quality and student achievement.

What do you think?

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