Teach for America is Exhibit A for the corporate media’s notion that an army of talented teachers stands waiting to take on the most difficult schools—if only the unions would get out of the way. The Peace Corps-modeled project in which college graduates do two-year stints in low-income schools has been a feel-good media topic since the group’s 1990 founding by young Princeton grad Wendy Kopp. But where does TFA really fit in the debate over education reform? What happens when reporters try to find out?
In an interview with CounterSpin (4/16/10), Barbara Miner of Rethinking Schools differentiated between Teach for America recruits, whom she described as “by and large hardworking, great kids, a little bit idealistic,” and the national organization, which she found surprisingly opaque when she attempted to do an in-depth story (Rethinking Schools, Spring 2010). Asked to send clippings to the group’s media contact person, Miner was then told TFA would be of no assistance:
Despite the amount of (largely uncritical) coverage the group receives, placing TFA in the national debate about education reform can be difficult. They receive huge support from major corporations and from foundations that are involved in pro-market approaches to education (TeachFor America.org), but the group’s more politically oriented offshoots fly under the radar. One of these, Miner told CounterSpin, is called Leadership for Educational Equity.
So is TFA a group that has a clear political agenda, or is it a well-intentioned project that has just made common cause with powerful corporate interests in the debate over education? Says Miner: