Teach for America cashing in on ed reform?


What started out as a possibly altruistic idea of going into small towns in the South where it was difficult to staff schools and instead bring in lightly trained recent college graduates to populate the classrooms, has now become a multimillion dollar business relying on charter schools to use these recruits to staff their charter franchises.

These recruits contract with TFA, Inc. for two or three years then most move on to graduate school, law school or another chosen profession leaving schools and creating churn.

Another aspect of this that is overlooked is that with the new teacher evaluation system that is being pushed by Arne Duncan and his army of privatizers, the performance of the TFA, Inc. recruits will never be evaluated over time so there would be a steady stream of these young people teaching under the radar of the evaluation system.

Wendy Kopp charges school districts anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 per recruit each year for the “privilege” of having her recruits staff the most under-performing and impoverished schools or charter schools that do not hire union teachers.

And what does Wendy Kopp make each year from her endeavor to staff our schools with recruits after 5 weeks of “training”? We can take a look at her 990 form, the form that is submitted by tax exempt organizations, to get an idea.

According to the tax form that was submitted for 2009, at the end of that year there was a sum of almost $300M in net assets for TFA, Inc. Most of this cash came from wealthy donors such as Eli Broad and the Gates Foundation.

If that wasn’t enough, in 2010, Arne Duncan, through the Department of Education, provided Ms. Kopp with a $50M grant to help her teach the most impoverished children in our country. To explain this a bit, Wendy Kopp is on the Broad Foundation board. Arne Duncan who has close ties with Eli Broad from his days in Chicago as CEO of the Chicago school district, keeps the “Broad Prize” in the offices of the Department of Education, are you starting to see how this all works?

In a previous post, you can see that Ms. Kopp then charges the school district for the training of these recruits as clearly described in the contract that she has with the Seattle Public School system but at the same time, she considers that as an expense on her tax form.

Ms. Kopp paid herself that year a little over $375,000 and along with her staff, the total came to over $2M.

Not too shabby for a “non-profit”.

A video from a former Teach for America recruit

In Mr. Bilby’s words:

My name is John Bilby and I was a TFA teacher in the New York region from September 2009 until March 2010. I left the organization because I felt that it does not adequately prepare its people to serve the poorest children in public schools. I also think that TFA is more interested in power, access, and influence in the federal game of education than it is concerned with resolving educational inequity. Its “corps members” are merely a means to this end, providing the organization with a front while it pursues the goals of its donors, namely to remodel public education in this country in order to favor a high-turnover, non-unionized workforce in charters run by hedge-fund managers for tax breaks. I foresee this further stratifying our current system into one in which children with disabilities, children who don’t speak English, and children who do not do well on standardized tests are funneled into substandard schools in a constant state of crisis due to continuous budget cutting.

I still believe, however, in the democratic power of education and the right of the people to vote out those who might infringe upon it. I am beginning a traditional route teacher certification program and I am looking forward to getting back into a city classroom soon.

For more on Teach for America, Inc., see:

Dora Taylor


10 thoughts on “Teach for America cashing in on ed reform?

  1. Because TFA recruits are on contract, the language of their contract is such that they are exempt from dismissal during budget crunches. So, because America imposes unfunded mandates while simultaneously slashing education budgets, in districts all across America, new State certified credentialed teachers are being laid off while TFA “teacher’s” who have a mere 5 weeks of Special High Intensity Training (acronym) remain. This is bad for kids and a poor policy. If you want to do something, consider joining the voices of many an sign the petition at: http://dumpduncan.org/

  2. I don’t see the jump from “Wendy Kopp is making too much money” to “all of the organization is therefore malicious.” There are plenty of TFA teachers that are still teaching in low income classrooms years after their commitment…and none of those teachers are making 6 figure salaries.

    1. The TFA alum who are teaching went back to school to do the necessary work to be qualified teachers and I have no issue with them.

      The TFA recruits are many times misled by Kopp and her crew in terms of the money that they will receive or what it takes to work in any classroom.

      See “money”, http://stiruptheworld.teachforus.org/2011/10/29/money/ and this comment from TFA exposed in Seattle, http://www.reddit.com/r/education/comments/ra8e0/teach_for_america_exposed_in_seattle/c449pwd.

      Other reading that I would suggest is Recovering from Teach for America, http://recoveringfromtfa.wordpress.com/ and Why I did TFA and you shouldn’t, http://recoveringfromtfa.wordpress.com/.

      Not only is Kopp making a huge profit but she is also taking advantage of young people who are altruistic in their motives.

      I also believe that it’s criminal for districts to allow these untrained and unqualified recruits to go in and teach the children who are struggling the most.


  3. A very succinct overview, but TFA is even more insidious than this.

    There is something really icky about manipulating the idealism of young people (and trying to indoctrinate them into the patronizing, train-the-worthy-poor and take-up-the-white-man’s-burden worldview of TFA) and appropriating the language of social justice, all in the service of the corporate colonization of the public schools. TFA recruits are used as unwitting shock troops in urban districts (I can’t speak to their presence in rural areas) that are rapidly being destabilized on the way to privatization. We can look back to New Orleans after Katrina; if the plan to shut down the Philadelphia public schools goes forward, TFA will be there, feeding off the destruction of neighborhood public schools. In New York, the intention is to use them as temporary replacement workers in schools that have been “turned around” and had their seniors teachers displaced.

    Then there is TFA/Wendy Kopp’s explicitly stated intention to identify, train and groom the next generation of executive ed reform cadre. She has stated many times that this is a primary purpose of the organization, and TFAers in top positions are destabilizing public school districts all over the country.

    All of you in the Seattle area are to be commended for your efforts to keep this truly pernicious organization out of your communities.


    1. Michael,

      We unfortunately have 6 recruits in Seattle but their contract is up next year and it will be a battle royale for them to get a renewal of their contract at that time. We fought it last time around and will fight it again with more folks on our side.

      Three of our school board members tried to terminate their contract this year before it ended but the other 5 ed reformy members voted to keep it in place.

      And yes, they are trying their best to destroy our public school system and make money in the process.


  4. Dear Dora,

    Thank you for your research into Teach for America. And I have to agree with Ken, how can someone who runs a non-profit make so much money? There should be caps on excutive pay for these organizations. It sickens me when people in TfA use the language of civil rights to get rich and destroy public education. And while the corp members do not get rich while they “teach”, they certainly do benefit finacially after their time in the trenches. How many are pulling in six-figure salaries in high-pofile positions in districts or charter school franchizes before they are 30?? And all of them spreading their corporate reform poison. Meanwhile, actual schools and the children in those schools are receiving less than ever before. Disgusting.

    Please keep pushing back against this terrible organization!

  5. Fairly reasonable description of an undertaking that started out with altruistic motives and evolved into a highly profitable endeavor. Makes one wonder why TfA still qualifies as a “non-profit”.

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