August 23, 2010; Source: Washington Post | In the past, when we or anyone else penned even the mildest questions about the results from Teach for America, the response from TFA’s legions of defenders would be that (a) the data proves that TFA teachers outperform traditionally trained teachers, (b) critiques of TFA are simply inspired by the teachers’ unions, and (c) the tall poppies syndrome is at work (TFA is a “tall poppy”, a successful program that garners criticism simply because it is so successful).
Lately, the press has been taking a slightly more questioning view of this poppy. Even in this WashPo piece, the reporter acknowledges, “many educators and experts question the premise that teaching is best learned on the job and doesn’t require extensive study beforehand.” Despite the Obama Administration’s giving TFA a new $50 million grant, which will double the size of the program in four years, it’s no longer simply a matter of one critic (usually the brilliant Diane Ravitch) pitted against the TFA entourage.
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Why is the door slightly ajar? Maybe it is the recent efforts to tamp down the antagonisms between the Obama Administration and the teachers unions, made more than frosty with Department of Education secretary Arne Duncan’s full-throttle endorsement of often non-union charter schools and his promotion of the “Race to the Top” program, which the unions have given a hearty “no confidence” vote.
It could be that the Administration’s dalliance with the teachers unions is not unconnected to the upcoming midterm elections, where Democrats could stand to benefit from accessing the votes and campaign spending of the teachers unions. But it looks like the Administration is playing both sides of the spectrum, cozying up to the unions in the past few weeks while still pursuing programs such as TFA and Race to the Top that the teachers unions find discomfiting.—Rick Cohen