Differentiation Debate

Apropos of the NEA’s little war against Teach For America teachers’ union critic and blogger Mike Antonucci says the NEA’s basic problem with TFA is that teachers’ unions have trouble differentiating amongst their members.  Yet while this is often true (hence one reason various differentiated pay schemes – regardless of whether they incorporate performance or not – are so contentious) I don’t think it adequately explains the situation here.   TFA is merely recruiting strategy and an entry point to the profession.  Once they start teaching TFA teachers are paid with local funds and in terms of their employment status are not different than other teachers.   In other words, the differentiation ends once they’re in the classroom.   This likely explains why, although they’re not cheerleaders for TFA, you don’t see the same level of animosity toward TFA from the American Federation of Teachers.  The AFT operates mostly in states with labor laws that basically compel union membership, so they know that TFA’ers will become members, and all else equal they’d rather see more effective teachers and better schools.   This is also why the AFT is more of a force for reform than the NEA when it comes to training and curriculum and other related issues overall.

It also points to the real reason for the NEA’s stance toward TFA, which they’d rather keep behind the scenes because it’s such lousy public relations given TFA’s record and brand:  Ideology.  Yet the NEA has had a hand in various efforts to curtail TFA in states and nationally.    TFA offends a conception of what the teaching profession should look like that is deeply held by many within the organization’s leadership and membership.  TFA is at odds with the NEA’s view of training, career paths, and so forth and they believe it de-professionalizes teaching consequently doing violence to their vision of teaching as a field akin to medicine.  Their opposition didn’t start with the current economic downturn and it won’t abate when the economy improves because this is fundamentally a debate about reforms to the field that cut against the grain of their beliefs and it’s not an empirical debate as their abuse of the evidence and ad hominem attacks on researchers illustrate.  Outside of a highly effective recruitment strategy TFA doesn’t differentiate amongst teachers but it does catalyze a lot of disruptive changes.  That’s the rub.

Want to know more about the research on TFA?  Here’s their webpage that sums it up.

3 Replies to “Differentiation Debate”

  1. To say that NEA’s problem with TFA is ideological is probably true but it’s also very interesting if you think about how often ideology rules the day in American education. Think of the massive rush any “market mad” conservative would get when he considers an educational world dominated by charter schools and voucher systems. And how about the people who develop educational standards? Don’t they get to impress their ideology on 50 million school kids every day? They control free speech in so far as they control what teachers teach. And they control censorship in so far as they determine what students learn. The testing folks (or, rather, the educational publishers) get to foist their ideology of profit upon us. And finally, think of the political ideology our state legislators can now manipulate when they can cast votes for numerous policies that never before existed. You’ve hit it on the head with the ideology thing. Education has become a playground of ideologies. And the only belief systems that don’t count are those teachers and children. (P.S. Teacher belief systems are what the TNTP report should have been studying. These are the foundations of the “widgetization” effect.)

  2. From personal experience with TFA, I honestly believe that there is and always will be a differentiation between teachers, once they are in their classrooms. The huge issue arises due to the fact that not everyone knows their exact career path once they graduate from college; leaving people to fall back on the overall judgmental statements of, “I’ll just teach until I figure out what I really want to do.” This situation happens in various different careers, and education will always be at a disadvantage to this situation, because in the end, students are not receiving the appropriate education they deserve. However, not every TFA teacher goes through the program not knowing exactly what they’d like to do, and they grow over the years into teaching professionals.

  3. I have had two TFA teachers at my school and they both left after their three years of teaching was up. One of the TFA teachers was just teaching because the program gave him $5000 a year to put towards his school. He was just teaching until he figured out what he wanted to do and I fell like E. Luper said that his students did not receive the appropriate education. This TFA teacher would show up late for work, dress in ragged clothing, miss parent teacher conferences, and often do his college work at school instead of teaching.
    The other TFA teacher that taught at my school left and went to a different school to continue teaching until she found out what she wanted to do with her life. I asked her before she left if she was planning on staying in the teaching profession and she said that she wasn’t sure yet.
    Neither of the TFA teachers had teaching degrees when they begin the TFA program and I know the man went back to school to be a lawyer while the TFA program paid for it. This is a little upsetting because the TFA program is trying to get people that want to help society’s children, yet in many cases I feel the TFA teachers are just in the position until they discover what they want to do.
    I am sure that a lot of the TFA teachers are good people and really join the program to help students out by teaching, but there are always a few that aren’t and ruin things for the rest of the group in any program.

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