Another excellent question!
TFA, according to its website, spends between $60,000 and $120,000 in a combination of taxpayer money and private donations to train, recruit, and support one new corps member.
The government gives them taxpayer money, many people donate their own money, and tens of thousands bright young minds apply to TFA because the mission statement of TFA, “One Day All Children Will Have The Opportunity To Attain An Excellent Education” is a worthy one. People who give money trust that TFA has this mission in mind when they match the CMs with teaching positions.
When I joined TFA 19 years ago (here he goes, talking about the ‘good old days’ again …), me and my friends in TFA knew that it was going to be tough. There was this giant problem of educational inequity, and we hoped that we could use our youth, intellect, and enthusiasm to be soldiers to fight, on the so-called, front lines. We didn’t always succeed as much as we had hoped, but the experience working in the most challenging environments in the country give us a perspective on the education crisis that we could not have gotten in less needy schools. Our experience made us able to really see what needs to be done, and what sorts of solutions are likely to work. The more difficult the placement, the more wisdom we gained from our struggles made us the kind of people who could go on to be successful education leaders, or just generally knowledgeable advocates for education.
So when I was recently informed that there is a 2011 CM training in The Delta who has been paced to teach Physical Education at a KIPP school, I was disturbed for several reasons on which I’d like to elaborate here.
The first, and most obvious question, is why is anyone being placed as a Phys Ed teacher? I have nothing against Phys Ed. Many schools have wrongly phased it out to make more time for test prep, which is wrong. Certainly part of the ‘sound mind in a sound body’ credo dictates that a well rounded education does have a component of Physical Education. Also, I know that Phys Ed is a lot more than just a teacher handing out dodge balls, so please don’t think that I undervalue Physical Education. But, is this really why taxpayers and private investors shelled out over $60,000 to recruit, train, and support a new CM? If you think that this is wrong, you can speak up and voice your opinion to the higher ups at TFA.
The next question, is why is TFA placing anybody in a charter school at all, particularly a high-performing one. For this post, I will suspend disbelief and say that the school is not just getting its high test scores by expelling the disruptive students who are bringing down their scores. In that case, TFA should be placing people in the schools that are struggling, namely the regular public schools. I know that when there was a hiring freeze in New York City, TFA had no choice but to place the CMs in charter schools, since they were the only schools permitted to hire them. I understood that, but I think now that the ice has been broken on the idea of placing first year CMs in charter schools, it has become much more common. I don’t have the statistics to back me up on this one, so I’d like some people commenting, if possible. What percent of CMs are being placed in charter schools. If it is more than 10% I’m going to be very upset and if it is more than 40%, I’m going to flip. The reason that I’ll get so angry about this is that charter schools do not, in general, serve the neediest children. By this I mean children whose don’t have parents, or who have parents who don’t have it together enough to register for the lottery, or who do register for the lottery, but don’t get to the lottery on time and are disqualified, or who get into the school, but then don’t have the support to keep the kid out of trouble so he or she gets expelled from the charter school and sent to the regular public school with it’s disproportionate number of students like this, many who bear the stigma of being booted from a charter school.
And the last question is why doesn’t the CM protest this placement? I understand that TFA strongly discourages CMs from refusing a placement. My understanding is that the CM seems happy about this placement, though he can comment if he’d like on this post if he would like. Perhaps he has some special training in Phys Ed, like he was a physiology major in college and really feels like this is the place where he can make the greatest contribution to combating educational inequity — I’m willing to give him a chance to explain what’s going on in his head. Now, I understand that TFA does not like when CMs question their master plan. CMs are supposed to take their placement and trust that TFA knows what they’re doing. But if you joined TFA to combat educational inequity and you feel that being placed in a charter school actually increases educational inequity, you should have the right to demand a placement in a regular public school.
When I was a CM in 1991, we did not have to take the placement that was first offered to us. Many of us rejected placements because they seemed ‘too easy.’ If we were going to take two years out of our life to ‘make a difference’ we wanted to be sure that we were in a place where we had the opportunity to do that and a school that was already functioning well didn’t seem like the place to do it.
Now, if you’re a 2011 CM reading this who has been placed in a charter school for next year, you might be feeling a bit angry (or defensive, maybe) right now. So let me write a bit to those people. If you’re not happy about it, you should speak up. Even if they say ‘no,’ you need to be assertive (a key characteristic of an effective teacher — consider it practice) and speak up for yourself. Write an email to Wendy or to whoever you think you should and explain why you’d like a better (i.e. ‘worse’) placement.
Now let’s say that you don’t get granted a transfer (I hope they don’t boot you from TFA for just asking — like how baseball players are booted for even arguing that a strike was really a ball), well, then you have two responsibilities, in my opinion. First, you’ve got to still do the best possible job you can teaching your kids. Just because they were fortunate enough to be born into a family that had the ability to navigate the charter admissions process, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the best teaching you can possibly give. But there’s another responsibility you have — a much more difficult one:
If you notice, while teaching at your charter, that the administration is being unethical in any way, report it to me as a comment on this posting. By unethical I mainly mean expelling kids for minor repeated disciplinary infractions. If this is how your school is boasting its high test scores, by expelling kids rather than help them, then you will be guilty by association, in my mind, if you sit back and watch it happen.
OK, everyone have their dodge balls now?