Friday Firing Lines: When judging TFA, look at the facts

Joshua Tang

I would like to respond to Ms. Lucy Griswold’s opinion piece on Teach For America — “Teach [For] America can’t offer real solutions to education inequality” — published on Feb. 4, 2014. Griswold’s piece presents an interesting perspective. However, she makes a few errors.

I should say that Teach For America has made it possible for me to take advantage of amazing opportunities. I was part of the recruitment team that helped the University of Texas at Austin become the top contributing university to the 2013 corps. I also took advantage of the opportunity to intern on the recruitment team at TFA’s
Manhattan headquarters. 

Griswold makes a few errors in her opinion piece. One of the most glaring is that she claims “TFA was a way to [teach in an under resourced district] while getting a master’s degree for free.” The link that she provides debunks her claim. TFA corps members may receive $5,350 grants in AmeriCorps funding that can be used to help pay for a graduate degree or repay qualified student loans. That is hardly receiving a master’s degree “for free.” It is true, however, that many TFA corps members are required to or choose to complete a M.Ed. while
they teach. 

Second, Griswold mistakenly attempts to link Teach For America to an attempt to “[apply] business practices such as increasing competition, emphasizing data and evaluation and promoting efficiency in the educational sphere.” Her argument is based on TFA “being funded in large part” by the Walton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The assertion “TFA is funded in large part” is false, and the link between those two groups’ donations and corporatization is not clear. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is listed along with Arizona State University, The Dream Fund at UCLA and the UCLA Foundation as “Champion Investors.” The Walton Foundation is listed as providing at least $5 million in support of TFA in fiscal year 2011. However, at least $10 million was donated to TFA from states and the federal government. TFA receives donations from a wide range of groups and does not seem to rely more heavily on either of the foundations Griswold mentioned. I am not sure why using data or being efficient in the educational sphere is a bad thing. I hope that educators will make the most informed decisions possible when deciding what’s best for their students. Still, a much stronger link to any proved agenda between corporations and Teach For America is needed for her argument to be taken seriously. 

Finally, Griswold’s comments on Teach For America’s training is concerning. Griswold insinuates that TFA corps members do not receive enough training to be effective teachers. Yet, principals and school leaders are overwhelmingly pleased with their decision to hire TFA corps members and continue to do so. Griswold then quotes corps members who state that they were “learning on [their students]” and who felt that conversations around race were “superficial” and “offered little insight to corps members of color.” I — and many within Teach For America — will point out the need for better diversity training. However, it seems that Teach For America is doing more to correct for racism in education that traditional teaching routes. In 2011 only 17 percent of the U.S. teaching force were people of color. This matches with only 12 percent of traditionally prepared teachers being people of color. In contrast, 38 percent of Teach For America’s corps was made up of people of color. More work can be done to increase diversity in the teaching force and create a better environment for children. However, TFA is taking an active role in the issue by recruiting people of color into the teaching force. 

My goal in replying to Griswold is not to convince anyone to apply to Teach For America. Rather, I think facts are important — maybe it’s the data thing — as people form their views on TFA. 

Joshua Tang, history senior, in response to Lucy Griswold’s opinion column “Teach [For] America can’t offer real solutions to education inequality.”