Teach for America Is Great Because It’s Great

Richard Cohen recently (FAIR Blog, 2/15/11) took to the Washington Post to argue that Teach for America is wonderful because…. Well, it just is. He predicted that the “best teacher in America” is likely to be drawn from the ranks of the program, which draws recent graduates from elite universities into the teaching profession. His only evidence of the greatness of this scheme was that the program is very competitive.

On Sunday, George Will joined Cohen in praising Teach for America–more evidence, if any was needed, that TFA enjoys a great ride in the corporate media. In Will’s column, was “Teach for America: Letting the Cream Rise,” he explains:

Until recently–until, among other things, TFA–it seemed that we simply did not know how to teach children handicapped by poverty and its accompaniments–family disintegration and destructive community cultures. Now we know exactly what to do.

Will says TFA is “a template for transformation.” And the cream is, obviously, rising:

TFA has become a flourishing reproach to departments and schools of education. It pours talent into the educational system–80 percent of its teachers are in traditional public schools–talent that flows around the barriers of the credentialing process. Hence TFA works against the homogenization that discourages innovation and prevents the cream from rising.

As Bob Somerby noted at the Daily Howler, Will offers no evidence to back up his argument. And even Teach for America doesn’t make such claims;Somerby points out thatthe TFA websiteoffers this lukewarm assessment:

TEACH FOR AMERICA: Research over time has conclusively shown that Teach For America corps members’ impact on their students’ achievement is equal to or greater than that of other new teachers.

So this program takes the best and brightest, thetalented cream, and turns them into…average new teachers?

Somerby adds:

Indeed, in a new C-Span tape (click here), Malcolm Gladwell asks Kopp how well TFA teachers perform. To her credit, Kopp abandons her practice of making anecdotal miracle claims and seems to suggest that TFA teachers arenâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢t a whole lot better than everyone else. (This happens at 0:51. Rather typically, Gladwell shows no sign of having prepared for his session with Kopp, whom he describes as one of his heroes.) By the 1:05 mark, Kopp is back to making a miracle claim about a beginning teacher in Phoenix. But again: Will doesnâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢t cite any research about such miracles because it doesn’t exist.

Luckily for Will and Cohen, tributes to TFA don’t require any evidence. Call it faith-based punditry.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.