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Teach For America Counter-Narratives

Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out


Edited By Jameson T. Brewer and Kathleen deMarrais

In its twenty-five years of existence, Teach For America (TFA) has transformed from an organization based on a perceived need to ameliorate a national teacher shortage to an organization that seeks to systematically replace traditional fully-certified teachers while simultaneously producing alumni who are interested in facilitating neoliberal education reform through elected political positions. From its inception, TFA has had its share of critics; yet criticism of the organization by its own members and alumni has largely been silenced and relegated to the margins.
This book – the first of its kind – provides alumni of TFA with the opportunity to share their insight on the organization. And perhaps more importantly, this collection of counter-narratives serves as a testament that many of the claims made by TFA are, in fact, myths that ultimately hurt teachers and students. No longer will alumni voices be silenced in the name of corporate and neoliberal education reform.
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The idea for Teach For America (TFA) was originally proposed in Wendy Kopp’s (1989) senior thesis, An Argument and Plan for the Creation of the Teacher Corps, presented to the faculty of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University. In that document, Kopp outlined the need for alternatively certified teachers to ameliorate the national teacher shortage of the late 1980s, while putting forward an argument for “smarter” teachers in the profession—those who Kopp labeled the “best and brightest.” From its inception, TFA has relied heavily on ties to corporate and venture philanthropic organizations for its funding (deMarrais, 2012; deMarrais, Lewis, & Wenner, 2011) as well as extensive federal funding.

And while the first 20 years of TFA were billed as working toward a viable solution for addressing teacher shortages, the organization has slowly transformed into acting on Kopp’s second assumption, that traditionally trained teachers are not as qualified or intelligent as they should be; her cadre of Ivy League, predominantly White, and affluent corps members are innately better suited to become teachers because education majors have low SAT scores (Goldstein, 2014). This change is evident in the organization’s recent shift away from rhetoric about teacher shortages to an argument that the 145 hours of training corps members receive ← 1 | 2 → during TFA’s Summer Institute—only 18 hours of which are “teaching” hours (Brewer, 2014)—is superior to the traditional 4-year college degree...

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