Coaches like to say there is no "I" in team. But there is definitely an "I" in Teach for America and also a "ME."
A recent article in The New York Times (July 12, 2010) makes it clear just how much this program is about "me," how little it actually provides for kids, and that it is a colossal waste of money.
Teach for America (TFA) is really a relatively well-paid temporary missionary program that sends the children of the wealthy into the inner cities for resume building and career enhancement. It pays much better than the Peace Corps or church work, you get to stay in this country, and you don't have to move back into your parent's house after college. One recent Yale University graduate, getting paid $45,000 a year for a two-year stint in San Antonio schools, explained it well: "I feel very fortunate. I know a lot of people at Yale who didn't have a job or plan when they graduated."
Ironically, because of the economic recession, it is now harder to get into TFA than into a number of the more prestigious law and business schools. College graduates are really desperate for jobs. At Harvard and Yale, 18% of the senior classes of 2010 applied for TFA positions but few were actually accepted. Nationwide, applications were up 32% over 2009, and fewer than 10% of the applicants were accepted.
In New York State, where there is no teacher shortage and many districts have frozen hiring, the Regents, the governing body for education, recently endorsed TFA and other programs as alternative routes to certification and empowered them to issue advanced degrees. The seventeen Regents, all affluent and most committed to private schooling, were probably looking for temporary work for their own children and their children's friends in a very tight economy.
TFA has an annual operating budget of $185 million, two-thirds of it from private donors and about sixty million from tax dollars. Why the United States runs a jobs program for the wealthy and well connected while extended unemployment benefits for the working class has been terminated is unclear.
In exchange for the private and public support, TFA provides zero point two percent (.2%) of American teachers. The TFA missionaries are then trained and paid by the local districts, and leave in droves when their contracts expire. In New York City, an estimated 85% are gone within four years. According to one 2008 Harvard doctoral thesis, few of the TFA missionaries remain "teachers" anywhere in the United States beyond five or six years.
What is this all about? Rather than improving education in the United States, TFA is part of the campaign to de-professional teaching and the concerted campaign to "charterize" and privatize public education. As far as I can tell, wealthy donors are really investors waiting to cash in when the educational system switches to privately-operated publicly financed schools. Think Halliburton and the U.S. military.
One thing is certain: TFA is not about children or America. For the young missionaries who sign up to visit inner city America, it is all about "ME."