The organization of TFA is a bit like a pyramid scheme. There are a bunch of VPs who are making a lot of money for a non-profit, certainly six figures. Then there are the majority of staffers, people who work in recruitment, teacher ‘effectiveness’, even the alumni team, IT, etc., who make much less. But regardless of the status of the TFA staffer, they all have one thing in common: They are all accessories to a $300 million annual fraud funded, in part, by taxpayers, and which has, I’m sorry to say, contributed to the weakening of the pubic school system which has, in turn, hurt innocent kids and, yes, their hard working teachers.
I feel kind of bad for these staffers. I suppose there are some staffers who are oblivious about what seems so obvious to me. But the majority, I think, are much too smart to not realize what, to use an expression from VP Juice Fong’s blog, “negative unintended consequences” TFA has caused and continues to cause.
It must be disheartening for those more enlightened staffers. Like being in a relationship with a guy who used to be good and who still might have it in him to be good again, and who claims he is aware that he has not been himself lately but that he’s going to really try to turn over a new leaf soon, but who never demonstrates that these are any more than empty words.
To these staffers, I’m their secret hero. They’re reading this right now and grateful that someone has the guts to call TFA out on this. I’ve spoken to some of them and though they haven’t been so explicit, they have given me hints (and please TFA, understand that it’s not everyone I’ve talked to so please don’t try to track down everyone I might have talked to over the past couple of years and punish them all). One said to me “don’t stop blogging.” Others claim that they’re always the one at the staff meeting who is challenging the TFA status quo.
For those staff members who continue to go to work every day hoping that TFA will change for the better, my sense is that this is unlikely to happen. All I see is TFA opening up more regions, Pittsburgh, Virginia, for example, getting more federal money, getting ‘highly qualified teacher’ to mean ‘anybody,’ and they really seem to be getting worse each day.
Yes, they talk a good game and they have even stopped talking up their hero Michelle Rhee. But in a lot of ways I respect Michelle Rhee more than I do TFA because she is very open about her beliefs. She thinks that teachers have way too many job protections and that the only thing that will motivate them is to hold them accountable for how their student’s standardized test scores compare to what a computer simulation predicts them to be. TFA doesn’t say this explicitly, and they’ve even stopped having Rhee speak at their events, but they still behave like an organization that believes just as fanatically in test scores as the primary measure of the quality of a school and a teacher.
Many staffers, I believe, are frustrated by their inability to influence the direction of the organization. I don’t know the turnover rate of staffers, but I think that some staffers do quit once they realize that they are part of an organization that has, as its cheerleaders, someone like Arne Duncan, and an organization that is a cheerleader for schools like the KIPP schools which are, let’s face it, vastly overrated.
I often get asked if I think that TFA is a net positive or a negative. After all, there are a lot of great teachers and principals out there today who would never gotten involved in education if it weren’t for this organization. It is true that a lot of good came from TFA in this way. But as of November 2013 I think that the negative caused by the ‘reformer’ alumni, even though there are not a vast many of them, has greatly outweighed all the good that has been done by all the people, including those who are still working in schools. This is not to say that ten years from now this will be the case. You see, if there was no TFA it is true that there would be no Michelle Rhee. But it is likely that someone just like her would have risen to power anyway. But maybe the legacy of TFA will be, when we look back on it ten years from now, the alumni who fought against these ‘reformers.’ And if that turns out to be the case then the ‘good’ of TFA will eventually outweigh this ‘bad’ dark period.
So I’m here today to say to these frustrated staffers, and you know who you are, I don’t think that my awesome blog posts are going to be enough to get TFA to change. No, they won’t change until they hit the proverbial ‘rock bottom.’ And already they are dealing with issues they never have faced before. Several ivy league schools have recently published an op-ed urging people not to do TFA. When TFA tries to invade a new territory, they are met with a lot of resistance though they always seem to edge out the competition at the end. And, yes, there have been some former staffers who have spoken out.
So if you want to ‘give back’ as you wanted to do when you joined TFA, the best thing you can do is quit and get on the ‘right side’ of history. After you quit, if you have the guts, you should write something about why you made this wise decision and publish it somewhere, I’d be willing to give you some space here — you can do it anonymously if you need to.
Doing this would, I’m sure you’re concerned, hurt your future prospects as powerful and rich player in the education industry. TFA, at least right now, can probably make it so you will “never work again in this town,” so you’ll have to decide who you’re in education for.
I don’t expect the higher ups to take me up on this challenge. You’re just making way too much money and I doubt you’ll be able to make as much elsewhere, particularly if you write something publicly. But for the lower level people at the bottom of the pyramid, like leaving the bad boyfriend, this is the only way that there is any chance TFA will change. It is the only way they will ever hit rock bottom.
Some might be questioning why I would write a post like this. What am I hoping to achieve? Well, I will admit that I don’t expect a large percent of TFA staffers to resign after reading this post, and I won’t consider this a failure when that doesn’t happen. I guess I’m probing to see if I will get some anonymous testimonials from TFA staffers who are feeling a bit guilty, but a bit trapped. Maybe I can post some of these responses. Another thing that might happen is that the TFA spin machine goes into overdrive with testimonials from staffers who are very happy at TFA. No matter what the response, it will be more information for me in trying to determine what strategies I’ll pursue in the future as I try to do my part in getting the TFA blob to start moving in a direction that might truly bring us closer to the day when One Day … you know the rest.