Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look
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Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look
This collection has been created to raise awareness about concerns related to the privatization of public education. The page also serves as a research tool to organize online content. The grey funnel shaped icon at the top (in the 'Desktop View' mode) allows for searching by keyword (i.e. entering K12 Inc, KIPP, TFA, Walton, Rocketship, ALEC, Koch, or 'discipline', etc.) will yield specific subsets of articles relevant to each keyword).  For posts related to TFA, see For posts related to Rocketship, see For posts related to KIPP, see, and for posts related to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), see  Readers are encouraged to explore additional links for further information beyond the text provided on the page. [Note: Views presented on this page are re-shared from external websites.  The content does not necessarily represent the views nor official position of the curator nor employer of the curator.] For critical perspectives on the next wave of privatization poised to take over public services, see the page on Social Impact Bonds and 'Pay For Success' programs: For additional education updates, see [Links to external site]
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How Teach for America Evolved Into an Arm of the Charter School Movement // ProPublica

How Teach for America Evolved Into an Arm of the Charter School Movement // ProPublica | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

"Documents obtained by ProPublica show that the Walton foundation, a staunch supporter of school choice and Teach for America’s largest private funder, was paying $4,000 for every teacher placed in a traditional public school — and $6,000 for every one placed in a charter school."... 

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Ep. 19 AB 221 Capitol Research Forum - Ban Teach For America? 


Truth For America is a podcast about Teach For America (TFA) that provides voice to educators, parents, students, and other key stakeholders. Truth For America is co-hosted by Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig and Dr. T. Jameson Brewer.

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Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance // Kristen L. Buras [Review Published on Teachers College Record] 

Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance // Kristen L. Buras [Review Published on Teachers College Record]  | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

Book Review by Ciro Viamontes & Miriam D. Ezzani August 14, 2017 [TCR]
"In Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the market meets grassroots resistance, Kristen Buras reveals details of the remarkable story of the privatization of public schools in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A New Orleans native, Buras brings to this study the influential context of the historical past of New Orleans public schools and educational policy. The text can be taken as an ethnography of the public policy conflicts between white and nonwhite communities in the context of extant hegemonic social structures that prohibit educational access. This historical setting takes on deeper significance when we are reminded that New Orleans was home to Homer Plessy, whose resistance to segregation there led to the infamous 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. Buras’ advocacy and activism experience with the Urban South Grassroots Research Collective for Public Education (USGRC) will no doubt be used to attack the validity of this work. Yet Buras clearly addresses her positionality and acknowledges that “The critique presented in this book of market-based school reform does not imply the preexisting system in New Orleans was ideal” (p. 3). The included appendix on methodology further addresses and clarifies Buras’ positionality.


Buras argues that “black education writ large cannot be understood adequately without examining the reconstruction of public education in the South” (p. 9). Moving towards that understanding, Buras expands her previously published research. Chapters Two and Six examine the actions of the white power elite, while Chapters Three and Four examine community efforts to secure equity in educational opportunities. Rather than examine this book in a linear chapter by chapter fashion, it may be helpful to think in conceptual terms. Using critical race theory, Buras proposes three conceptual facets to the political ecology of market-based privatization efforts: whiteness as property, accumulation by dispossession, and urban space economy. Arguing that New Orleans may be the American city that historically demonstrates the harshest forms of white supremacy, Buras leads us to understand how these factors intertwine to limit educational opportunities for communities of color.


Charter school-based educational reform in New Orleans is a collaboration which can appropriately be examined as an ecological system (p. 40). The Recovery School District (RSD) effectively represents the interests of the white political establishment and educational entrepreneurs/reformers. The RSD acted with astonishing speed in taking over the public-school system post Katrina. Tacit support of the takeover came from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), Governor Blanco, Senator Landrieu (Democrat) and the State Legislature, with the assistance of national groups such as the Heritage Foundation, Teach for America (TFA), and the Cowen Institute. These actions, seen as a response to the catastrophe, incited little if any resistance to the actions of the RSD. Meanwhile, accumulation by dispossession is evidenced by the RSD’s elimination of a school district by taking control of the buildings. This allowed the en masse firing of veteran teachers, predominantly people of color who had evacuated, as their jobs no longer existed. Citing a “teacher shortage” BESE then contracted with Teach for America (TFA) allowing the RSD to replace fired teachers with inexperienced, non-certified, non-union, predominantly white teachers. TFA recruitment efforts focused on teaching in communities of color as an entrepreneurial opportunity. This entrepreneurial spirit spearheaded by the RSD functions to recruit white people to come to New Orleans. Other examples of accumulation by dispossession through RSD actions can be viewed as malicious: a dramatic example is the diversion of funds from the state of Louisiana's resources for the displaced teachers’ salaries and benefits to the operating budgets of charter schools inheriting the former school district’s buildings.


Buras also shows how the historically racist political ecology served to shape the space economy of the city. The least desirable, lowest elevation, and thus most vulnerable areas became the predominately African-American areas (p. 12). It is for this reason that the African-American community suffered the brunt of the damage caused by Katrina. In these most vulnerable areas of New Orleans, grassroots groups have been struggling to mitigate the impacts of this historically inequitable political ecology. Delays in opening schools in African American communities, such as Bywater and the Ninth Ward continues to impact the space economy. After five years of RSD management, only three schools were reopened in the Bywater and lower Ninth Ward (p. 60). Even then, Frederick Douglass High School was reopened as a selective admittance charter school by the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). There are effectively no open enrollment high schools available to residents in the Bywater community, where Douglass served as a locus of community resistance to the white supremacist political ecology. Schools that were reopened relatively quickly were on the periphery of African-American areas near predominately white areas. The pattern of RSD re-establishment of educational facilities serves as a disincentive to African-Americans wishing to return to New Orleans, and also undermines grassroots movements.


The concluding chapter of this book is a refutation of the charter school incubator New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) Guide for Cities. The NSNO Guide offers a template of lessons learned to facilitate other cities enacting New Orleans style market-based school reforms. Crafted in part by the USGRC, this chapter refutes four main points of the Guide using, in part, testimonies of community based groups that resisted the market-based reforms. Taken from a critical race theory perspective, these counterstories are used with other evidence to present the experiential perspective of communities of color on the lessons learned from the implementation of this public educational policy. These counterstories thematically share the argument that allegedly innovative market-based reforms fail to serve the needs of the students and the communities they live in. These failures are comprised of the marginalization of experienced minority teachers in favor of predominantly inexperienced white teachers, the restructuring of public education as a primarily profit generating asset, reducing access to special education services through “cost containment” measures, and a non-democratic process of external actors imposing reforms without regard to community input or participation. The last lesson is dramatically illustrated in a graphic representation of the relationship between and among the NSNO leadership and other outside actors.


Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space represents a meticulously crafted work on the complexity of social justice issues in public education reform. Moving outside of the classroom and curriculum, this work details how historically inequitable political, economic, and social factors come together to create a “broken” educational system that limits the opportunities of communities of color. Rather than address the inequities of this artificially broken system Buras illustrates the reality of market-based reforms, which create a mechanism for educational “entrepreneurs” to profit from maintaining limited educational opportunities for communities of color. Further, Buras shows that the New Orleans experience is actively being presented as a template for public school privatization. This is an eye-opening book for anyone interested in the debate surrounding charter school based systems of reform."


Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 14, 2017 ID Number: 22135, Date Accessed: 10/17/2017


Title: Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance 
Author(s): Kristen L. Buras
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415814626, Pages: 230, Year: 2014

For original review in Teacher's College Record, see:  

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How These 5 Famous Billionaires Are Dismantling Black Public Schools

How These 5 Famous Billionaires Are Dismantling Black Public Schools | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

By Tom Cahill
"The biggest racists in the US aren’t running around with white hoods and burning crosses. They’re running Fortune 500 companies and burning public school systems across the country in favor of privately-run, publicly-funded charter schools. 
While none of the famous billionaires on this list are dues-paying members of racist groups, they’re engaging in actions that prey on the linchpins of the black community — public K-12 schools. Education reform by itself isn’t overtly racist, but when looking at the actions of these billionaires with a wider lens, it becomes apparent that the effort to privatize public education is primarily taking place in minority communities.


The charter school movement is particularly insidious, as it’s essentially a form of institutionalized racism veiled in altruism. In reference to the charter takeover of the New Orleans, Louisiana school district, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch put it this way: “These heavy-handed tactics require a suspension of democracy that would not be tolerated in a white suburb, but can be done to powerless urban districts where the children are black and Hispanic,” Ravitch  told In These Times. “That model requires firing all the teachers, no matter their performance, allowing them to reapply for a job, and replacing many of them with inexperienced TFA recruits. That model requires wiping out public schools and replacing them with privately managed schools that set their own standards for admission, discipline, expulsion, and are financially opaque.”


While charter schools have lately been able to brag on themselves as reports tout their higher test scores in math and reading compared to public schools, these studies leave out the fact that many charters refuse to help struggling children and instead dump them into public schools, in order to boost their own statistics. According to NY Chalkbeat, charter schools in New York City suspended 11 percent of students during the 2011-2012 school year, while public schools suspended just 4.2 percent. In fact, 11 NYC charter schools suspended as many as 30 percent of students that year. The charter suspension rate is likely higher, as charters don’t have to report in-school suspension rates.


The push for more charter schools isn’t based on a desire to better educate kids, but for the more mundane purpose of higher corporate profit. As the Washington Post pointed out, charter schools, on average, don’t do any better or worse when compared side-by-side with their public counterparts. In fact, if one were to replace the erroneous invisible “composite” public school student that Stanford University used in their report comparing charter and public school test scores with actual public school students, the results would likely be in favor of public schools.


So why the push for privately-run, publicly-funded charter schools?

The model of education reform is threefold — first, corporate education “reformers” push for “Common Core” standards by which to evaluate all students nationwide, while ignoring factors like geographic location, ethnic background, and economic well-being of different student bodies.

Next, harsh standardized testing that evaluates student performance based on these flawed standards and practically guarantees high failure rates is pushed onto schools — many of which depend on funding from property taxes, meaning that schools in affluent white suburbs are in a better position to succeed based on these standards than inner-city schools in neighborhoods with low property value.

Finally, schools are labeled as “failing” due to the lopsided evaluation process, and privately-run charters are forced onto inner-city populations, paving the way for the privatization of public education in predominantly black and latino communities.

Here are 5 white billionaires who are speeding along that process.


Not many people are aware of the Facebook billionaire’s foray into education reform. Nonetheless, Zuckerberg did, in fact, spend $100 million in an attempt to establish charter schools in Newark, New Jersey in a joint effort with Governor Chris Christie and Newark mayor Cory Booker. After Zuckerberg’s donation, Booker used the $100 million to start a foundation, though seats on the foundation only went to donors who gave $5 million or more, effectively creating a panel of super-rich, out-of-town, corporate education reformers intent on dismantling public schools. Washington Post education reporter Dale Russakoff described the nature of the reforms the three planned on implementing:

“It was dramatically expanding charter schools, getting rid of teachers whose evaluations found them to be weak, judging other teachers by their test scores and rewarding them and streamlining the management of the school district so that it ran more like a business,” Russakoff told NPR. “There were a lot of people, including some very skilled, experienced teachers, who deeply understood the needs of the children in Newark who would have been eager to be part of that conversation. And not only were they insulted that they were left out, there was an agenda that was crafted that didn’t have the benefit of their really important insights into what was needed in Newark.”

“Basically, the board decided to spend the money the way the wealthy donors wanted it spent,” Russakoff continued. “And the priorities were not about getting money to the classroom or to the children. The priorities were to have to this kind of business model, top-down reform that had become very popular in the reform movement.”

In her book, The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?, Russakoff further outlined how that foundation established to help Newark schools then went on to spend $20 million on consultants, who were paid upwards of $1,000 a day.

“I don’t think you could find any way that consultant money helped children,” Russakoff said.


Walmart is a store that made its billions by forcing its way into communities, pricing out all of their locally-owned competitors until they closed their doors, and forming a monopoly that’s almost impossible to undo. The Waltons took their business experience and are applying it to schools.

The single largest private donor to the Teach for America (TFA) program is the Walton family. And Teach for America, like Walmart stores, effectively forces out respected, certified, unionized teachers who know the community and the kids they teach, with young, inexperienced educators given just a 5-week training course. Too often, those are the teachers that are deployed to low-income, high-minority school districts where corporate education reformers have busted teachers’ unions and are in need of young blood eager to get the first notch on their teaching belt, even if it means not getting paid what their predecessors made or having the same workers’ rights.

DC Prep, which operates multiple charter schools for some 1,200 inner-city students, does so with the help of donations exceeding $1 million from the Walton family, and one-third of its teachers are from TFA. Supporters of TFA in Los Angeles include not just the Waltons, but Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Boeing, and the State Farm foundation. These corporations aren’t donating to TFA because they want to help inner-city children, but because of the huge profit potential in the corporate education reform movement.

With the help of generous donations from the Walton family, TFA is taking over school districts nationwide, replacing teachers with Master’s degrees and double majors with poorly-trained educators willing to work for pennies. Meanwhile, the profits are raking in from the public sector — in Chicago, for example, TFA recently had its contract with Chicago Public Schools not only renewed, but more than doubled from $600,000 to $1,587,000.


Billionaire Carl Icahn, who has held controlling stakes in several Fortune 500 companies, is known as a “corporate raider” for his ruthless hostile takeovers of corporations. In the late eighties and early nineties, Icahn famously bought TWA airlines, loaded it down with debt, stripped it of its most valuable assets, then resigned from the company, demanding a $190 million payment as one of its top creditors. Icahn takes the same approach to education as he does with business.

Icahn operates 5 charter schools in high-minority communities in New York City, like the Bronx, and the schools are run less like a learning institution and more like a boot camp. They accept less than 5 percent of applicants, and the ones who are accepted are rigorously-tested, schooled on Saturdays, and strictly disciplined. Icahn superintendent Jeffrey Litt admitted that its strict system would leave a permanent mark on children were they to teach K-12.

“If we keep a kid in that environment through twelfth grade, the child now leaves us and heads to college and they don’t know any other world… they’re going to be shocked,” Litt told NY Chalkbeat.

“We are a public school, but it’s the closest thing to private school,” he told the New York Times, in reference to the school’s low admittance rate.


No billionaire has had more of an impact on education than Bill Gates. Through his foundation, the billionaire tech magnate has spent at least $440 million pushing charter schools across the country. $200 million of that has gone into implementing Common Core in 45 states nationwide. As mentioned earlier, Common Core forces a strict set of evaluation standards on public schools, which tend to favor well-funded schools in white suburbs with high property value, and that simultaneously set up inner city schools to “fail” its standards, necessitating a corporate takeover.

Teachers have gone on record calling out Gates for pushing Common Core, as it depends on education and technology to meet standards — technology which is often provided by Silicon Valley companies like Microsoft.

“They are trying to turn public schools into a corporate money maker and push out the voice of teachers like we have no idea what we’re doing in education,” said Tom O’Kelley, a teacher at Oakland High School in Tacoma, Washington. “Bill Gates certainly doesn’t. He’s a college dropout. He’s a corporate money maker — that’s all he does.”

In his book, With the Best of Intentions, author Frederick Hess outlines how billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates are able to have so much of a say in public education.

“[A]cademics, activists, and the policy community live in a world where philanthropists are royalty—where philanthropic support is often the ticket to tackling big projects, making a difference, and maintaining one’s livelihood… The groups convened by foundations [to advise them] tend to include, naturally enough, their friends, allies, and grantees. Such groups are less likely than outsiders to offer a radically different take on strategy or thinking… Almost without exception, the evaluators are hired by funders or grantees….Most evaluators are selected, at least in part, because they are perceived as being sympathetic to the reform in question."


To his credit, the CEO of Newscorp — the parent company of Fox News — is the most open about his desire to nakedly profit from public school contracts. The billionaire media mogul saw the potential to profit from classroom educational technology, and made a move to get his slice of the pie in New York City by purchasing Brooklyn-based Wireless Generation for $360 million.

“When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching,” Murdoch said in November of 2010.

Murdoch then made political maneuvers to gain favor with New York’s political establishment, and gain contracts with his new purchase. As Mother Jones reported, Murdoch hired former NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein. Not long after, NYC schools entered into a $27 million contract with Wireless Generation to track student performance — one of the ways corporate-owned charter schools justify taking over school districts in predominantly black and brown communities.

“Decision making in education is so far removed from people who have anything to do with kids,” University of Arizona education professor Kenneth Goodman told Mother Jones."...


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New Leaders—The Pretend Principals

New Leaders—The Pretend Principals | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

"Most people know about Teach for America (TFA), but who are New Leaders (NL)?  New Leaders is to principals what Teach for America is to teachers.


Jonathan (Jon) Schnur is the main creator of NL. Like TFA’s Wendy Kopp, Schnur has no education degree. He never was a teacher or a principal.


A 2004 braggadocio TIME piece about him states that he mentored kindergartners when he was in third grade.

Below I tell you about the other co-founders of New Leaders. I think you will find it interesting.


Schnur originally worked as President Clinton’s Whitehouse associate director for educational policy. He developed policy concerning teacher and principal quality by working on issues like after-school programs, school district reform, charter schools, and preschools.

How did someone with no education degree or experience working in public schools, or with children (minus the third grade stuff), get such a prominent job? It’s a mystery to me.

Schnur also worked as a campaign advisor to President Barack Obama and played a critical role in writing the President’s school stimulus plan—Race to the Top. Some thought he might be education secretary.

How do teachers and principals feel when someone with no educational background or experience writes the policies that will affect their schools?

Schnur has given lectures at Harvard and other uppity places. At Harvard he is lauded for dropping out and becoming a social entrepreneur—like Bill Gates! HERE it is.

He stepped down from NL and now has a group called America Achieves, although I think many would say America Achieves less with pseudo-principals running America’s schools.

Let’s be honest.

Every school needs an outstanding principal—an individual who supports and listens to parents and teachers, who will provide constructive criticism, act as a mediator when necessary, and who sincerely enjoys the children or teens in their care.

Ask any teacher what is an important factor about teaching and they will tell you—it’s the principal. A good principal can make the difference in how a teacher is able to function.

A good principal cares about the welfare of the students and understands that children are more than test scores. Professional preparation makes all the difference.

New Leaders started out as New Leaders for New Schools but they shortened their name. I think a lot of people still don’t know who they are.

Often, TFA recruits move on to New Leaders and become principals. Or, NL encourages those from outside careers to come over to education and try out school leadership.

In 2004, on Boston NPR, Schnur likened turning around a failed school to leading an Army unit into Iraq. He was encouraging military colonels to become principals.

School districts get millions of dollars to bring in New Leader candidates instead of looking to universities for well-prepared educators.

Here’s a list of the funders.

The NL principal residents receive salaries and are considered a part of the school administration as assistant principals, or even principals. So tax dollars go to NL too."...

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Alum: Teach for America Covertly Privatizing Public Education

Alum: Teach for America Covertly Privatizing Public Education | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

"T. Jameson Brewer, co-editor of Teach For America Counter-Narrative: Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out, discusses his journey from TFA corp member to outspoken critic" 



For a TFA specific subset of articles in this collection, please see: 

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Teach for America: Lies, Damned Lies, and Special Contracts

Teach for America: Lies, Damned Lies, and Special Contracts | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

By Jameson Brewer and Beth Sondel

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this past weekend, Teach For America (TFA) marked a milestone. Over the past 25 years, the organization has not only expanded, but also shifted their mission and approach. With seemingly good, albeit naive and arrogant, intentions, TFA originated as a solution to the national teacher shortage by recruiting college graduates from "elite universities" to serve as supplemental faculty in hard to staff districts. Founder Wendy Kopp claimed that TFA "would bill itself as an emergency response to a shortage of experienced, qualified teachers and would therefore not be telling the nation that its inexperienced members were preferable to, or as qualified as, experienced teachers." Fully departing from that description, TFA now claims that their corps members are superior to traditionally trained teachers and the organization has effectively changed its mission to "enlist, develop, and mobilize as many as possible of our nation's most promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence."

Over the last quarter-century, TFA has been taken to task, for example, for their;inadequate trainingdemographics of corps membersconnection to charter schools and corporate philanthropistsdevelopment of leaders with a market-oriented "brand" of education reformattempts to undercut unions, and their general arrogance and hubris in ignoring those critiques.

Among these critiques, there has been much anecdotal evidence that TFA displaces other, more qualified teachers. TFA vehemently refutes this, claiming on their website that;

"Corps members do not have special contracts with school districts. They apply for open jobs, and they go through the same interview and hiring process as any candidate. Our approach is to bring the best possible people into the field, but no one is obligated to hire our teachers."

This issue has been an anecdotal back-and-forth and had not been addressed empirically - until now.

In a peer-reviewed study out this week - as part of a special issue examining TFA - we, along with our co-authors, provide the first empirical analysis of TFA contracts and the implications they have on hiring processes. To do this, we collected and analyzed 49 Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) between TFA and school districts across five geographic regions (Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, Eastern North Carolina, and New Orleans).

Ultimately, we found that TFA's claims about their hiring processes are decidedly false. Instead, across these MOUs (that is, the special contracts that TFA claim don't exist), it was stipulated that local districts reserve and protect positions for TFA corps members; do not limit TFA corps members to "critical" or "shortage" areas; reserve and protect positions for corps members in charter schools; and create pathways towards leadership for TFA corps members. For example, it was often the case that language like the following outlined the obligation to hire corps members:

"Although [TFA] will work in good faith with [the] school district to provide teachers who meet specific grade level, subject matter or other criteria specified by [the] school district, [the] school district shall hire every qualified teacher made available by TFA pursuant to this agreement whether or not such teacher meets such specific criteria."

In exchange for corps members, MOUs stipulate that districts be held responsible for paying a 'finders fee' to TFA for each corps member for each of the two years (usually between $3,000-$5,000). This money is non-refundable even if the corps member is determined unfit once in the classroom - or if they quit before they've completed their two-year commitment. In Atlanta alone, districts have paid approximately $10,251,240 in just finder's fees to TFA since 2000 - money that goes straight to TFA rather than students and classrooms.

With all of the money that cash-strapped districts must pony up for TFA corps members, one might ask why they continue to pay for teachers who have been shown to be mediocre at best. Our analysis found that using TFA to staff teaching positions will, after nine years, provide the district with cheaper labor options than continuing to pay for raises and pensions for career teachers. Thus, in the incessant attacks on teachers as raison d'etre for school failures, TFA corps members represent not only a cadre of teachers who focus almost exclusively on attempting to raise test scores by teaching to the test but they also represent a cheaper source of labor over the long-term. The cult of measurement and meritocracy on the cheap, as it were.

Then there are rural districts like those in Eastern North Carolina, a state that actually has a significant teacher shortage because their teacher pipeline is leaking at both ends - people are not entering the profession and attrition rates are at an all-time high. Meanwhile, the NC General Assembly decided in 2013 that TFA would be the only state-funded solution to this problem, a policy decision cheaper, for example, than raising teachers' salaries. Ultimately, the presence of TFA allows the state to avoid systemic change and still fill positions that are so untenable that only someone planning to teach for two years before moving on to another career (with the benefits and social status TFA provides) might be willing to accept.

MOUs also stipulated that school districts are required to use "reasonable efforts" to retain corps members and rehire or reinstate corps members to other comparable positions. This is especially problematic in districts like Chicago, plagued by incessant school closures and teacher layoffs. Also disturbing is the fact that while teachers typically enter into one year contracts with districts, TFA requires districts to guarantee positions for corps members for two years.

It's important to point out that traditionally credentialed teachers are not granted any of these privileges. And as Terrenda White has pointed out, even as TFA has put great effort into diversifying their corps, they simultaneously promote policies that displace black teachers across the teaching profession.

This privileging and displacement are likely to increase as TFA continues to expand its influence over policy by installing alumni in leadership positions. In New Orleans, for example, when TFA tripled in size after Hurricane Katrina, the MOUs stipulated that the school district retain corps members by directing them towards leadership opportunities. Now over 50 educational leaders (including the state superintendent) are TFA alumni, with full autonomy to hire whom they please based on charter school policies. It should not be surprising then that TFA constitutes 20% of the city's teaching force.

So, while this past weekend found TFA celebrating what they call 25 years of success, the event marked another chapter in TFA's "movement" to displace teachers, de-professionalize teaching, and privatize education - all the while outright lying about the existence of and the content of special contracts. As TFA continues to expand their reach around the world, they continue in their role as the darling of the Global Educational Reform Movement (aptly shortened to GERM).

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Teach For America’s Preferential Treatment: School District Contracts, Hiring Decisions, and Employment Practices // Brewer et al., 2016 // Education Policy Analysis Archives

Teach For America’s Preferential Treatment: School District Contracts, Hiring Decisions, and Employment Practices // Brewer et al., 2016 // Education Policy Analysis Archives | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |
Brewer, T. J., Kretchmar, K., Sondel, B., Ishmael, S., & Manfra, M. M. (2016). Teach For America’s preferential treatment: School district contracts, hiring decisions, and employment practices. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24(15). This article is part of EPAA/AAPE’s Special Issue on Teach For America: Research on Politics, Leadership, Race, and Education Reform, guest edited by Tina Trujillo and Janelle Scott. 



Teach For America (TFA) began in 1990 as an organization purportedly interested in working towards ameliorating a national teacher shortage by sending its corps members into urban and rural schools. In the decades that followed, especially during and immediately following a nationwide onslaught of teacher layoffs instigated by the 2008 Great Recession, teaching shortages no longer exist in many of the districts TFA continues to place corps members. In response to growing criticism, TFA has altered its public rhetoric, suggesting now that their “corps members” are better than traditionally trained teachers – including veteran teachers – and are hired only through equal hiring processes rather than being afforded preferential treatment. We analyze Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) between TFA and regional school districts, TFA’s official literature, and public discourse to address the degree to which TFA is privileged in hiring practices. We provide evidence that school districts are contractually obligated to reserve and protect positions exclusively for corps members, jobs held by corps members are not a result of equal and open competition, corps member positions are specifically not limited to “so-called shortage areas,” and TFA’s partnership with charter schools and alumni of the organization have skewed hiring practices in favor of TFA over non-TFA teachers. 

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#TFA25FactCheck: Examining TFA's Facade Cracks in Real Time // Mercedes Schneider

#TFA25FactCheck: Examining TFA's Facade Cracks in Real Time // Mercedes Schneider | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

"On February 5-7, 2016, Teach for America (TFA) will host its 25th Anniversary Summit in Washington, DC.  Former TFAer Gary Rubinstein wants to fact-check TFA’s marketing of itself at said celebration.

To this end, he has created the blog, TFA25FactCheck, as a headquarters for monitoring the TFA glories spouting from its summit– an effort directed toward summit attendees who are also finding themselves with raised eyebrows when hearing about the alleged wonders of TFA.

To date, the blog has three posts. The first, entitled, “Why TFA25FactCheck?“, briefly offers his rationale:

"I attended the 20 year TFA alumni summit five years ago, and was surprised by the number of wild claims I was hearing from the featured speakers and panelists.

After that conference I spent the next five years examining these sorts of claims and found that they were always untrue or extremely exaggerated.

This time around, I want there to be some kind of place where these claims can be shared and I, and others, can research them and post our finding here.

For now, I’m thinking that the ‘comments’ will be a good place to have a discussion.

Follow @TFA25FactCheck for Twitter Updates and visit this blog,, as the event nears, and most importantly, during the event Friday February 5, Saturday February 6, and Sunday February 7.

Rubinstein’s second post, “A Subversive Guide to the Saturday Sessions,” is exactly that, as Rubinstein explains:

Conference attendees might be frustrated with the lack of balance in these Saturday sessions.  I volunteered to be on a panel, but TFA had no interest in giving me any sort of sanctioned platform. Without counterpoint, these panels will leave off the other side of the story in these complicated issues.  This page (along with the comments.  Feel free to add your own.) will serve as a centralized place for people to come to if they are in a session or about to go to a session and want to learn what sorts of issues are related to these sessions, some background information that you won’t hear at these sessions, and even some potential questions you could ask the speakers during the Q and A periods.

Below I’ve listed the top 10 sessions that you should try to attend if you want to see a display of egotism and compulsive lying.  If you do go to any of these, would you please audio record them and email them to the gmail address.

And since I believe it worthwhile to share Rubinstein’s informed thoughts on what presenters in these sessions are hardly likely to reveal, including potential deceptions in session titles."...

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Ed School Dean: Urban School Reform is Really About Land Development (Not Kids) // Washington Post

Ed School Dean: Urban School Reform is Really About Land Development (Not Kids) // Washington Post | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

"Here is a provocative piece from Leslie T. Fenwick, dean of the Howard University School of Education and a professor of education policy, about what is really behind urban school reform. It’s not about fixing schools, she argues, but, rather, about urban land development. Fenwick has devoted her career to improving educational opportunity and outcomes for African American and other under-served students."...

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Open Letter to DeRay Mckesson: TFA Undermines the Fight for Racial Justice // Working Educators

Open Letter to DeRay Mckesson: TFA Undermines the Fight for Racial Justice // Working Educators | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

"Dear Mr. Mckesson,

As the social justice caucus within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, we were surprised to see that you are coming to Philadelphia to speak alongside leaders of Teach for America (TFA). The Caucus of Working Educators (WE) is committed to racial justice in our schools and society, and we stand in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

We see Teach for America as working in opposition to the goals of publicly funded education for all students in Philadelphia and to the goal of increasing the number of teachers of color and teachers who are committed to building relationships with communities over the long term, which we see as an integral component of culturally responsive teaching. We view the hiring of cadres of racial, cultural, and geographical outsiders with very little teaching preparation as part of a larger neoliberal effort to privatize education and replace unionized teachers (many of whom are teachers of color) with young, inexperienced teachers (most of whom are white and do not intend to stay in the teaching profession and commit to the long-term improvement of their teaching practice).

This practice of displacing African American teachers, in particular, is already underway. While Philadelphia’s teaching force increased by 13 percent from 2001-2011, the percentage of Black teachers dropped by 19 percent. This has contributed to Philadelphia having the greatest disparity between the race and ethnicity of the student body and those who teach them. Only 31 percent of Philadelphia teachers are of color compared to 86 percent of the student body they are teaching. This is unacceptable.

TFA has ties and parallels with the charter school movement, which we see as undercutting public education. The mass charterization of public neighborhood schools has led to the outsourcing of public school management to private operators. Just weeks ago Philadelphia Public Schools announced yet another wave of school closures and conversions of public schools into charter schools affecting upwards of 5000 students. This is in addition to the 23 public schools that were closed in Philadelphia in 2013.

The decision to turn a district school into a charter is often made by the highest levels of administration without consulting with the school community, including parents, teachers, students, and leaders. Your support of Teach for America represents a support of these same kinds of outsourced and contracted paradigms for educating our children. Rather than hiring experienced professionals that will stay in the profession for a long period of time, Teach for America hires individuals with little or no experience in classroom settings via external channels such as private universities and corporately sponsored recruitment. Teach for America and charter schools both represent a failure of public leadership to lead and create change in our public schools, and prioritize outsourcing teaching and school governance over public responsibility to realize every student’s right to a fully funded, culturally relevant, education in their neighborhood.

Instead, TFA contributes to the dangerous and misleading discourse that claims poverty and structural inequality have little to no impact on educational outcomes. This irresponsible explanation provides Democrats and Republicans alike with a pretext to continue vicious budget cuts to public services and institutions under the guise that “personal responsibility” and “grit” are the main factors in determining a child’s success or failure.

We live and work in state that has the largest funding disparity between wealthy and poor districts and in a city whose externally appointed school governance commission is proposing to continue to close down schools that primarily serve low-income African American families. In Philadelphia where 79 percent of the city’s students are Black and Latino, $9,299 is spent per pupil compared to the $17, 261 spent just across the city line in Lower Merion where 91 percent of the students are white. This is the civil rights crisis of our generation.

In this context, we believe that it is essential that those who are committed to racial justice take a critical stance against organizations that aim to further privatize education and/or replace fully prepared unionized teachers with underprepared novices who are likely to leave the teaching two to three years.

The Black Lives Matter movement has served as an inspiration and instruction on how to confront racism and inequality throughout our country. Part of that inspiration is the way that the movement has looked at the connections between police violence and racism and other inequalities faced by African Americans. We consider the attacks on public education to be a part of the “state-sanctioned violence” that the movement has done so much to highlight over the last year. We do not believe that the white billionaires that bankroll Teach for America and the corporate education “reform” movement are any more interested in the education of poor and working class Black and Latino children than we believe they are interested in ending police violence in Black and Brown communities. If they were, these crises would no longer exist.

We are glad that you are visiting Philadelphia, and we hope that you will use your platform to engage in a critical dialogue about whether TFA supports – or as we believe undercuts – the goals of a fully funded education for every student in Philadelphia with teachers who know their community and are committed to staying for the long haul.


Members of the Caucus of Working Educators Racial Justice Committee
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Open Letter was originally posted  10/20/15 on on 

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Calling Out Teach for America's Myths

Calling Out Teach for America's Myths | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

By T. Jameson Brewer

"Teach For America (TFA) turns 25 this year and, for at least the first 23 of those years, the organization was able to mark each year as a success as the organization grew in numbers, financial support, political clout, and wild public support. However, those years are slowly drawing to a close.

While TFA still receives tens of millions of dollars from the federal government and from private philanthropic organizations like the Walton Family Foundation -- an organization that benefits from systemic inequality and poverty yet is somehow interested in undermining the business of Wal-Mart by improving education (another conversation for another day) -- TFA has had a rough couple of years recently.

Notably, recruitment is down at TFA and they have shut down numerous offices and training sites throughout the U.S. (though, they continue to thrive internationally through the spin-off organization Teach For All). Much of TFA's current woes lie in the growing tide of criticism waged against the organization.

Opponents of the program suggest that TFA corps members are replacing traditionally certified teachers, that TFA operationalizes and reinforces deficit ideologies about the students they work with by relying on a White-savior mentality, and that giving corps members only 18 hours of student teaching not only undermines the profession but hurts students.

More recently, others have pointed out that TFA has shifted entirely from focusing on teachers and teaching and more on influencing policy decisions as it seeks to install alumni of the organization as political puppets who work as principals, school board leaders, and other elected political positions.

In fact, TFA's mission statement doesn't even include the word teach or teachers at all. And while all of this criticism is worthwhile -- and in my estimation very true -- dissident voices from corps members and alumni themselves have for far too long been silent."...

For full post, click on title above or here: 


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"Sit Still and Face Forward": How the Myth of Teacher Control Undermines Classroom Management // Living in Dialogue

"Sit Still and Face Forward": How the Myth of Teacher Control Undermines Classroom Management // Living in Dialogue | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

By Elliott Graham

"My second classroom teaching job was in a charter school serving low-income Black middle-schoolers in an urban neighborhood. This school, like many “no-excuses” schools, put a heavy emphasis on discipline and classroom management. I once saw a student sent out of the room for how she looked at a teacher. Another teacher, a former charter school “teacher of the year,” taught by passing out large, photocopied packets, but was held up as a model for others because her classroom was quiet and orderly.

I had read Doug Lemov’s (2010), Teach Like a Champion, and I bought into the idea that an ideal classroom would involve absolute silence and order. However, my students did not want to be silent, or sometime even orderly. Attempting to meet the expectation that classes enter the room and sit down in total silence, I had them “practice” again and again, sending them back into the hall and having them re-enter the room. I took “points” away from the more obvious talkers, I called parents, and I sent kids to the office. As I continually failed to meet the expectations of the school, the principal started to call me to her office for talks about my failure. Each day, I struggled with the students. Each evening, I dreaded the sound of my classroom phone ringing, summoning me to the office for another dressing-down.

My experience was extreme, but it illustrates one of the fundamental problems in how we think about classroom management. Because teachers are responsible for the behavior in their classrooms, we fall into the trap of believing that they (we) can control the behavior in their (our) classrooms. The reality is that no human being can control the behavior of any other human being. We can attempt to influence it, certainly. Offers of rewards or threat of punishment might influence people’s choices, as do respect, trust, and good relationships. But even young children are still able to make choices about their behavior. Especially as they enter adolescence, young people “have something of their own to say about the formation of their intellectual and social attributes; they have the power to act in what they believe are their own interests, and they do,” (Gillen, 2014, p. 56). If the teacher wants a student to sit down, and s/he insists upon standing, nothing short of physical force can actually make the student sit down.

While this is true in all classrooms, it may be an especially significant issue in schools that, like the one I taught in, primarily serve low-income youth of color. These young people are significantly less likely to trust and acquiesce to the purposes of the teacher simply because s/he is a teacher (Delpit, 1995Weiner, 2006).

Simultaneously, urban schools, teachers and students are

increasingly subject to technologies of control (Advancement Project, 2010), and the “successful” urban teacher is often constructed first and foremost as one whose classroom is “under control.”...

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Ohio Democratic Party Passes Resolution Opposing School Privatization, Supporting Public Schools

By Diane Ravitch
"The Ohio Democratic Party, aware that some Democrats have supported the privatization agenda in the past, took a strong stand supporting public schools. The resolution specifically rejects the privatization lobbying of ALEC, the Thomas Fordham Institute, Democrats for Education Reform, and TFA.

If every state Democratic Party passed similar resolutions, the candidates would be forced to be equally resolute in support of public schools.

Ohio Democratic Party

Resolution 2019-04 

Opposing School Privatization


WHEREAS, over 600 traditional public school districts in Ohio serve more than 1.8 million students; and

WHEREAS, the state of Ohio has the constitutional responsibility to secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools; and

WHEREAS, adequate and equitable funding is required to fulfill the state’s constitutional responsibility to Ohio’s school children; and

WHEREAS, students deserve a quality early childhood and K-12 education, certified teachers who have a voice in the policies which affect their schools, a rich curriculum that prepares students for college, careers, and meaningful participation as citizens; and

WHEREAS, the public school privatization agenda, which includes state takeovers, charter schools, voucher schemes, and a high-stakes test-and-punish philosophy, relies on destructive policies that harm students and blame educators that has proven to be ineffective at bringing efficiency and cost savings to our schools; and

WHEREAS, education profiteers dedicated to the public school privatization agenda and anti-educator initiatives also fund organizations entrenched in their movement to replace district schools with charter and private schools, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Thomas Fordham Institute, Chiefs for Change, Teach for America (TFA) and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER); and

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Ohio Democratic Party rejects the public school privatization movement and opposes making Ohio’s public schools private or becoming segregated again through the lobbying and campaigning efforts of affiliated organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Thomas Fordham Institute, Chiefs for Change, Teach for America (TFA) and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER); and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Ohio Democratic Party reaffirms its commitment to free accessible public school districts which are adequately and equitably funded to guarantee a comparable education for ALL children.

Adopted April 30, 2019" 

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"Good Intentions Will Only Get You So Far": Critical Reflections From Teach For America Corps Members Placed in Special Education // Education and Urban Society 

"Good Intentions Will Only Get You So Far": Critical Reflections From Teach For America Corps Members Placed in Special Education // Education and Urban Society  | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

"Research on Teach For America (TFA) continues to grow, but scant scholarship has explored the experiences of its corps members working in special education in urban schools. As teachers who require in-depth knowledge of legal and liability processes as well as effective pedagogical practices, corps members in special education positions have significant demands placed on them that often lie beyond the roles and responsibilities of other TFA teachers. This article therefore focuses on the experiences of five TFA corps members placed in special education as it explores their critical reflections about the minimal preparation and support they received from TFA. In light of recent special education initiatives launched by TFA, the article raises questions about the continued involvement of TFA in the field of special education and its ability to adequately prepare corps members for the unique responsibilities served by special education teachers in the United States."


Thomas, M. A. (2017). "Good Intentions Will Only Get You So Far": Critical Reflections From Teach For America Corps Members Placed in Special Education. Education and Urban Society, 1-16. 


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The Economics of #TeachForAmerica (#TFA): Costs, Expansion, Self-Support // Dr. Barbara Veltri, Associate Professor, Northern Arizona State University [Presentation at NPE Conference] 

To download powerpoint, click on title or arrow above.  See livestream recorded video of session at Network for Public Education Conference here: 


Jameson Brewer's segment is from: 2:05 - 8:01

Barbara Veltri: 8:01-20:49

Julian Vasquez-Heilig: 20:49-22:50

Tina Andres: 22:54-29:38  Q/A until the end 


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Mapping the Terrain: Teach For America, Charter School Reform, and Corporate Sponsorship // Kretchmar, Sondel, & Ferrare, 2014, Journal of Education Policy

Mapping the Terrain: Teach For America, Charter School Reform, and Corporate Sponsorship // Kretchmar, Sondel, & Ferrare, 2014, Journal of Education Policy | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

ABSTRACT from Journal of Education Policy - "In this paper, we illustrate the relationships between Teach For America (TFA) and federal charter school reform to interrogate how policy decisions are shaped by networks of individuals, organizations, and private corporations. We use policy network analysis to create a visual representation of TFA’s key role in developing and connecting personnel, political support, and financial backing for charter reform. Next we examine how the networks unfold at a local level by zooming in on a case study of New Orleans. By mapping out these connections, we hope to provide a foundation for further investigation of how this network affects policies."...


For main journal publication page, click on title or image above. For pdf of article, email authors of the manuscript or curator of this collection.  


For subset of TFA-related articles in the Charters & Choice: A Closer Look collection, click here:

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Big Trouble at Teach For America?

Big Trouble at Teach For America? | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

A former TFA corps member, now an academic, argues that TFA’s diversity gains have come at the expense of teachers of color, whose numbers have declined drastically in the very cities where the organization has expanded.


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Washington's Charter School Fight - Let's Set the Record Straight // The Progressive

Washington's Charter School Fight - Let's Set the Record Straight // The Progressive | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

"Washington State has been ground zero in the fight over charter schools this past year, and misinformation abounds. Over the last several years Bill Gates and the Waltons of Walmart poured millions of dollars into Washington to establish charter schools in the state.

Last fall the Washington State Supreme Court decided that those charter schools are unconstitutional, due to a lack of public oversight while using taxpayer dollars. The same organizations backed by Bill Gates including the League of Education Voters (LEV), Stand for Children (SFC) and the Washington State Charter Schools Association along with Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) founded by hedge fund managers, began funneling money to state legislators to bring bills to the floor that will circumvent public oversight of these charter schools.

Why all the flurry of activity over charter schools in our state? It's the money, of course.

Charter school operators, owners and CEO's stand to gain millions by taking Federal, state and district money to run their schools, whether they meet standards set by school district guidelines or not.

Many of these charter schools will take state money allocated for each student and then, particularly if they are special education students or students with behavioral issues, or others who require more resources, will push them back into the public schools while keeping the taxpayer dollars.

Charter schools also make large profits by offering “blended learning” alternatives, which means placing students in front of computers for classes and testing. Some charter schools will place more than 40 students in a classroom in front of computers and have one “teacher” oversee the process. The teacher is not required to be certified, and many times is a Teach for America, Inc. (TFA) recruit who is paid far less than a certified teacher in the district, thus allowing the charter school to pocket money that should be spent teaching and supporting students.

There are charter school consultants who are openly fraudulentcharter school operators who bilk millions from states, and charter franchises that receive millions from the Department of Education, which is highly influenced by Eli Broad, a millionaire who champions charter schools. Some of our elected representatives will go to great lengths to set up profitable online charter schools in their districts.

Although charter schools tout themselves as being a better option to public schools, study after study has shown that is not the case. Skewed media coverage of the battle over charter schools, especially from the slick operation “The Seventy Four,”  has created an echo chamber of misinformation about charter schools.

I want to set the record straight.

Let’s start with "the children". At this time approximately 840 students are enrolled in charter schools in Washington State—illegally according to the state supreme court. The state’s total public student population is 1.5 million. So a great deal of money and time are being spent on less than .001% of the total student population.

State legislators are spending more time and effort keeping these charter schools open than coming up with solutions to adequately fund public schools. The state legislators have been found in contempt of court by the Washington State Supreme Court for not meeting their paramount duty to adequately fund education and are being fined $100,000 per day for their lack of action or resolve.

These same legislators are getting money from charter school lobbyists. Representatives Chad Magendanz, Eric Pettigrew, Dave Sawyer and Senator Steve Litzow, all big proponents of charter schools, have received contributions from the League of Education Voters and Stand for Children, all backed by money from Bill Gates and DFER.

Representative Chad Magendanz started his political career as a school board director who pushed for a charter school plank in the PTSA state platform. As a state legislator he is now pushing a bill attempting to skirt the issue of illegal charter school funding by taxpayers. His idea is to use the state lottery money to fund charter schools.

In 2012 Representative Eric Pettigrew, along with Representative Steve Litzow and backed by the League of Education Voters, introduced a bill to allow charter schools in our state. Pettigrew was the target of  a tremendous backlash from his constituents, and the bill failed. But this year Pettigrew and Litzow are back trying to save charter schools with two more bills.

Washington State Representative David Sawyer came out in support of charter schools in December of last year. At the same time a charter school  PAC announced it would provide campaign donations to several state representatives, including Sawyer, in the run-up to the legislative session beginning in January of this year.

For information on other elected representatives in the state of Washington who are receiving money to push the charter school agenda, see Does the Education Platform of the Washington State Democrats Mean Anything to Our Legislators? 

Charter schools were rejected three times in Washington State before Initiative 1240 which called for allowing charter schools in the state. This campaign was funded by none other than Bill Gates and Alice Walton of the Walmart family. $2.5M worth of campaign ads flooded the radio, local TV channels on online media during the campaign. The measure passed with 50.69% voting yes to 49.31% opposed to the initiative. This was hardly a mandate of the people.

Then came the buyer’s remorse as students in charter schools faced expulsion without due process. There are no protections such as appealing to an elected school board or a school- district official. 

Then there is the matter of race. Charter school operators target minority communities and rarely venture outside of urban areas. Many of these charters are populated with un-certified and poorly paid Teach for America, Inc. recruits who receive only five weeks of training before they stand in front of a classroom. This would not go over well in the suburbs. There is an undertone of racism in the assumption that minority children deserve less.

What is not addressed when charter school proponents talk about closing the  "achievement gap" is that most of the children who fall into the gap live in low income areas and have pressing, basic needs that are not being met, including adequate food and clothing, necessary health care and even safe shelter. A bootstraps approach to schooling is not enough to close the gap.

The battle over charters in our state has more to do with money and ego than it does a genuine concern for children.

The question comes down to who should be determining the best way to teach our children. Might it not be parents, families, caregivers and educators who know the children better than anyone else? Or should it be a few wealthy individuals not educated in child development or any related field, who never went to public school, have never taught, and whose children will never step into a public school?

For additional information on some of the topics described in this article, see:

Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools

BOOT CAMP for Education CEOs: The Broad Foundation Superintendents Academy

Eli Broad and the End of Public Education as We Know It

How to tell if your School District is infected by the Broad Virus

League of Education Voters (LEV) recent Gates’ grants

- See more at: 

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Former Dean Questions Costs of ‘No Excuses’ Charter Schools on Students of Color // Washington Post

Former Dean Questions Costs of ‘No Excuses’ Charter Schools on Students of Color // Washington Post | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

By Valerie Strauss

“No excuses” charter schools have become a prominent feature of modern school reform. What exactly are they? This is how Joan Goodman, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the school’s Teach For America program, defined them in this post:


These schools start with the belief that there’s no reason for the large academic gaps that exist between poor minority students and more privileged children. They argue that if we just used better methods, demanded more, had higher expectations, enforced these higher expectations through very rigorous and uniform teaching methods and a very uniform and scripted curriculum geared to being successful on high-stakes tests, we can minimize or even eradicate these large gaps, high rates of drop outs and the academic failures of these children. To reach these objectives, these schools have developed very elaborate behavioral regimes that they insist all children follow, starting in kindergarten. Submission, obedience, and self-control are very large values. They want kids to submit. You can’t really do this kind of instruction if you don’t have very submissive children who are capable of high levels of inhibition and do whatever they’re told.


Here is an open letter from Ramon Griffin, the former dean of students at a New Orleans “no excuses” charter school, who urges teachers and staff at such schools to question the model’s social and emotional costs on young people. Griffin was also a charter school teacher and a juvenile probation and detention officer. He is currently working on his doctorate in educational administration at Michigan State University. Contact him at, or visit his website.


This appeared on the website of Jennifer Berkshire, freelance journalist and public education advocate who worked for six years editing a newspaper for the American Federation of Teachers in Massachusetts. She gave me permission to run this post. Here is Ramon Griffin’s open letter to teachers and staff of no-excuses charter schools:


Dear You:

You were selected to teach at your school because of your intelligence, spunk, tenacity, vigor and, most of all, your passion for public education. You are a risk-taker. You have a can-do attitude with swag to match. You believe that every child has the capacity to achieve academically and are committing your life to ensuring that you affect change in every student you encounter. Your dedication to ensuring that traditionally marginalized students receive a first-class education is commendable. But do you know how much power you hold? Do you truly understand the “no excuses” school culture that you are part of? Do you know the psychological and emotional costs that the “no excuses” model has on students of color? Furthermore, do you care to know?


Two years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “Colonizing the Black Natives: Reflections from a former New Orleans Charter School Dean of Students.” I started the piece by asking if some charters’ practices were new forms of colonial hegemony. It is vital to add that while I was employed at the school, this thought never crossed my mind. My writings were taken by some charter management administrators and staff as an “attack” instead of an opportunity critically engage and refine, deconstruct and reconstruct practices that are doing more harm than good. This time around, I’m hoping to encourage teachers and staff at “no excuses” charter schools to acknowledge what is transpiring in their schools so that we can begin to push back against these practices and transform our schools.


I’ll start by offering a few examples of my own. When I chased young black ladies to see if their nails were polished, or if they had added a different color streak to their hair, or when I followed young men to make sure that their hair wasn’t styled naturally, I could have been critically engaging my administrative peers on why these practices were the law at our school—and how exactly they contributed to getting students into and through college.


When my school punished young people for not having items school leaders knew their families couldn’t afford, I could have been pushing back against policies that effectively punished students for being poor.


When we pulled students out of their classrooms for countless hours for minor infractions even as we drilled them constantly on the importance of instruction time, we could have been taking our own advice.


Or when we suspended students from school for numerous days, we could have been providing alternatives that disciplined them but kept them in school.


I recently spoke on a panel in Nashville about the psychological and emotional costs that “no excuses” school cultures have on students of color. Afterwards, I was approached by a young white male who told me that he couldn’t understand why parents of color complained about “no excuses” school cultures when they’d chosen to enroll their children in the schools. But the idea that parents should not complain because they purposely enrolled their children in these schools is flawed.


Parents, whether they’re in Nashville or New Orleans, desire that their children attend schools that will provide them a rigorous and first-class education. They’re sold a school culture “package” that claims to bring out the best in every student, challenging them to be creative, take risks and think critically. Yet too often, once the package is unwrapped and a culture of compliance is unveiled, students and families feel that they have been sold a dream.

Is it realistic to expect parents to inherently grasp the psychological and emotional costs of the “no excuses” model when many of the teachers and school disciplinarians who enforce these policies don’t have a deep understanding of their effects either? In my experience, staff members are trained to follow the rules regarding discipline and school culture without questioning school leaders about why rules and practices exist in the first place. The idea of critically engaging administrators at these schools seems to intimidate staff, who fear potential backlash for speaking out against culture and disciplinary practices they don’t agree with. They don’t know how to push back critically and meaningfully without being disciplined or even losing their jobs.


Whatever the reason, the lack of inquiry by and pushback from highly educated professionals regarding the questionable socialization practices and disciplinary policies of “no excuses” schools is striking. Even more astonishing is that the same things young people of color are punished for in these schools, their teachers were probably raised and encouraged to value. As students themselves, they were probably given the opportunity to be critical, to take risks, to disagree, to not conform, to ask for clarity, to push back, to show emotion and to be relentless about finding their own truth.


Many of these educators are no doubt raising their own children to do similar things. But as teachers and staff at
“no excuses” charter schools, they are trained to instill the opposite values in youth of color, even punishing students for being critical or showing emotion. Why? I ask this question, not as a researcher or as a doctoral student, but as a colleague who has navigated the same terrain that you are currently treading. I understand—trust me. I am truly concerned that we are not asking the right questions. Why has “no excuses” been celebrated, packaged and sold to people of color as the prescription for educational and career excellence? Why is it “no excuses” for some and not for all?


Ask yourself if you would allow your own children to be treated the way that some of your students are being treated. If the answer is “no,” then there is no excuse for complying with rules and policies you’d never tolerate where your own children or loved ones are concerned. Your students are young people, not robots. They are human children and sometimes their circumstances do warrant exceptions to the rules. Sometimes their excuses are legitimate.

For example, a student who shows up out of uniform because he doesn’t have a washer/dryer at home has a legitimate excuse.

A kid whose family has been transient and is currently homeless has a legitimate excuse to not be in proper uniform. The school should be aware of the situation and at least attempt to provide clothing for the young person.


A kid who has three younger siblings he has to care for, clean up, help with homework, protect and teach because they live with their elderly grandmother who was thrust into legal guardianship because his mother was abusive and they never met their father has a legitimate excuse.


A kid who has witnessed his mother being shot by his father has a legitimate excuse to not want to walk on a line, talk to anybody or participate in class.


A kid who hasn’t eaten a nutritious meal in weeks, but makes it to school every day has a legitimate excuse to feel tired, to not want to participate in an activity or to look at an adult in the eye while shaking their hand. But what happens at most “no excuses” schools is that students get detention or worse because there are no excuses.


Is this what John Dewey meant when he described school as “the social center” of the community and as a site for building a democratic society? Are “no excuses” schools preparing citizens, training workers or preparing individuals to compete for social positions? If the answers to these questions aren’t clear, it may be time to seriously re-evaluate the goals of your school.


Lastly, I believe that it is time for a thorough examination of the psychological and emotional impact of “no excuses” policies and school cultures. It is time for everyone involved to start asking some critical questions. Stop being fearful. Let your voices be heard.

Ask questions, push back, critically engage, and transform your school and your workplace."...


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Former TFA Corpsmember: It’s Time for Teach For America to Fold // Washington Post

Former TFA Corpsmember: It’s Time for Teach For America to Fold // Washington Post | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

A Teach For America alum who finished teaching last year gives a detailed argument about why Wendy Kopp should close shop. 

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Teach For America Parent Speaks: Should Kids Teach Kids? #TFA25 // KVOI The Voice

"Julian Vasquez Heilig joined the show State of Education on 1.2.2016 to discuss Teach For America on 1030 AM KVOI The Voice. Anonymous parent of a Teach For America corps member also joined the show. 

Topics and questions addressed:
* How much taxpayer money does Teach For America spend?
* Do Teach For America teachers stay in the classroom?
* How much money do the Walmart heirs spend on Teach For America?

* Should Teach For America privately control the provision of teachers for communities?
* Why do Teach For America alums go into politics and political jobs?
* A parent talks about the "caring and wonderful" but "floundering"
Teach For America teachers in her daughter's school. 

* Parent discusses going from "excitement" to "devastation" about her daughter's participation in Teach For America.
* Could charters in Chicago, Louisiana and other cities survive without the temporary labor provided by Teach For America?
* Parent discussed the "militaristic" approach of the KIPP charter school that her daughter (TFA) taught in.
* Do charter schools actually perform better than traditional public schools?
* Caller asked whether it would be a better idea for kids to teach kids instead of teachers teaching kids.
* Does Teach For America punish corp members and alums (backlash) for speaking out?"...

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KIPP Charter Chain // Seattle Education

KIPP Charter Chain // Seattle Education | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

The following are links gathered by Dora Taylor about the KIPP Charter Chain


"From Seattle Education posts:

For KIPP charter schools, more computer time, less class time

Michael Feinberg’s selling of KIPP in New Zealand: FAIL

A look at KIPP, Michael Feinberg, NCTQ and Bill Gates

A former KIPP teacher comments on her experience

From other sources:

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Teach for America’s Biggest Problem Isn’t Green Teachers or Failing Schools. It’s That It Can’t Take Criticism. // The Washington Post

Teach for America’s Biggest Problem Isn’t Green Teachers or Failing Schools. It’s That It Can’t Take Criticism. // The Washington Post | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

By Jameson Brewer

"If you’ve taught your way through Teach For America like I have, you know that feedback is part of the job. Not only do new teachers receive critiques from principals, fellow educators and students, they’re also deluged with weekly and monthly reports on their success from the organization itself.
Although the amount of feedback varies from region to region, the message is clear: With enough data, anyone can become a champion educator, able to lift students’ reading and math scores many years in a single leap.

Unfortunately, TFA does not apply a similar philosophy to its own organization. Not only is TFA notoriously unwilling to listen to outside or internal critics (one former TFA manager decried its “inability and unwillingness to honestly address valid criticism” in The Washington Post). The organization has also spent millions of dollars on a press shop built to promote its brand while aggressively and proactively discrediting critiques.

This is bad for the organization, and it’s bad for students. TFA has real problems — its teachers are largely unprepared and fare no better than regular educators. It has a high drop-out rate, and the number of applicants has plummeted. Additionally, TFA sends its volunteer teachers to school districts in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, places now facing teacher layoffs and hiring freezes. Some school districts have even rescinded contracts with TFA, citing teachers’ lack of preparation and low retention rates.

Alum Catherine Michna, now a professor of education at Tulane, has said that she won’t write recommendation letters for students who want to join the program. “TFA members do not work in service of public education,” shewrote in Slate. “They work in service of a corporate reform agenda that rids communities of veteran teachers, privatizes public schools, and forces a corporatized, data-driven culture upon unique low-income communities with unique dynamics and unique challenges.”...

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CEPEDA: A Disturbing Portrait of Teach for America

CEPEDA: A Disturbing Portrait of Teach for America | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

By Esther Cepeda

"CHICAGO – After all the media fawning over the nonprofit Teach for America, there are some veterans of the program who are now telling a different story. “Teach for America Counter-Narratives: Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out” contains 20 essays with anecdotes that seem too crazy to make up.

Edited by T. Jameson Brewer and Kathleen deMarrais, this volume is filled with explosive and jaw-dropping insights into the organization whose stated mission is to “enlist, develop and mobilize as many as possible of our nation’s most promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence.”

Teach for America (TFA) has drawn much praise for its cream-of-the-crop college grads valiantly taking a short sabbatical from their rising-star careers to teach inner-city children.

But some education policy wonks know that in the last two years there has been a bit of a backlash against TFA from alumni of the teacher corps. What started as ex-TFA teachers coming forward in personal essays in education-focused publications, knocking the so-called modern-day version of the Peace Corps, took on a new flavor once school districts started severing their contractual relationships with TFA.

As a preface to the critiques about how TFA grinds out masses of newbie teachers just in time for the start of school each fall — and then all but burns them out in the first few weeks — Brewer and deMarrais explain what they see as the program’s recent change in strategy.

“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 (TFA founder Wendy) Kopp’s second assumption, that traditionally trained teachers are not as qualified or as intelligent as they should be;” write Brewer and deMarrais. “(That) her cadre of Ivy League, predominantly white and affluent corps are innately better suited to become teachers because education majors have low SAT scores. 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 during TFA’s Summer Institute — only 18 hours of which are ‘teaching’ hours — is superior to the traditional four-year college degree and student teaching semester.”

The essays eviscerate the myth of TFA’s unmitigated success by detailing the organization’s high-pressure bait-and-switch recruitment tactics, an emphasis on prestige and future career prospects, inspirational slogans overlaying inadequate preparation, and the fear instilled in corps members who do not perform up to metrics-mandated standards.

“The person leading curriculum sessions taught us ‘Compliance leads to freedom,’” wrote Jay Saper, who said he was dismissed from TFA after vocally advocating for community input in school-reform measures. “That night, my roommate pointed out that a sign with those words would look good hanging on the walls of a sweatshop.”

Saper clearly wasn’t a good cultural fit for a highly corporatized organization that, in his telling, requires compliance to stand in for experience — which in and of itself underscores the failing each essay points to: TFA’s educational tactics are not good for the people they are foisted on.

These troubling first-person accounts should give pause to anyone interested in how major education policy players shape reform movements through money and great marketing."...

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