United Students Against Sweatshops, a national college student organizing group, wants Teach for America off college campuses. In a “TFA Truth Tour” launched this week, student activists, Teach For America alumni and local teachers are visiting college campuses and speaking up about the politics of Teach for America, and education reform. The tour is slated to hit over a dozen college campuses over the next two weeks to target the undergrads who are the backbone of the Teach for America teaching corps. TFA focuses its recruitment operations on college campuses and often partners with local universities to offer provisional teaching licenses to fresh college graduates who are brought in for two-year teaching stints in poor communities, says Jan Van Tol, a national organizer with USAS.
“TFA recruits based on a social justice and community service message,” says Van Tol. “We think that’s deceptive and doesn’t get at what TFA is really about,” which is about dismantling democratic institutions of public education with market-driven education reform.
At a TFA Truth Tour event at the University of Pennsylvania on Tuesday night, half the room was filled with UPenn undergrads who had already applied or were considering applying for TFA, says Van Tol. “I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of students at schools being told, ‘If you get a job offer from Goldman Sachs you can defer that offer and still do Teach for America and then carry on with your real career,’” says Van Tol. “That runs counter to what we believe, which is that teachers should be well-trained, well-educated professionals. Teaching is not a hobby you just do for two years.”
TFA is indeed a lightning rod in the education reform debate. Long supported by corporate-reform-minded foundations and school superintendents like the Broad Foundation and TFA alumni Michelle Rhee, TFA is often blamed for being part of the larger political effort to hollow out public education, villify school teachers and their unions, and ultimately destabilize poor comunities and communities of color.
USAS’s goal is to use the tour as a launching pad for a longterm campaign to kick TFA recruiters off college campuses and question universities’ current role in sustaining TFA.