Thursday, February 21, 2013

One Resignation, Two New Leaders, Three Reasons to Be Troubled

Last week Teach For America (TFA) founder and CEO Wendy Kopp resigned, er, promoted herself out of her CEO position with TFA and to the char of the board, replacing education expert biographer Walter Isaacson (known recently for penning the life story of Apple CEO Steve Jobs).  Kopp will, according to the press release, also continue to serve as CEO of Teach For All – the international spin off version of the domestic TFA.  Replacing Kopp at the helm of TFA will be Matt Kramer (formerly the President) and Elisa Villanueva (formerly the Chief Operating Officer).

I focus here on Kramer’s role in the future of TFA as he, compared to Villanueva, has more experience as a leader of TFA as the former President.  Kramer began his leadership stint within TFA after serving at McKinsey & Company (business and finance consulting).  Additionally, Kramer serves as the lead of TFA’s lobbying arm Leadership for Educational Equity, which seeks to assist TFA alumnae with political campaigns via webhosting and donations.  And while Wendy Kopp certainly has no background in education (a point which made Steven Colbert break character exhibiting a chuckle) there are three concerns, (1) the rise of non-education “experts” in education policy; (2) the disposition of business minded individuals operating within democratic spaces; and (3) viewing human capital as replaceable cogs whether they do good or cause problems.

The rise of non-education “experts” in education policy is a point that has been exercised by others.  And, as stated, while the previous leadership of TFA was no closer to the classroom in terms of practicum, the new leadership is further away in terms of educational dispositions.  In other words, a business model treats individuals as numbers, units, and thus… as replaceable cogs, rather than celebrating individuality.  Workers are to submit and work relentlessly (a phrase TFA prides itself on) towards a prescribed goal…in the case of corporate education reform, that goal is increased test scores.  Moreover, requiring workers (in this case teachers) to work without regard to their own wellbeing requires a repertoire of others who can replace the fallen.  In fact, the founders of KIPP acknowledge that a teacher in their schools could not sustain the level of requirements demanded and thus rely on “fresh blood” provided by TFA (see, for example, Horn, 2011; and Lack, 2011).

Matt Kramer’s rise to the top of TFA highlights the ever increasingly changing goal of the organization.  That is, starting with the goal of filling vacant teaching positions with the “best and brightest” has now fully morphed into an organization that is proud to say that teaching is not the ends, rather, the means.  The goal is to produce corps members who, having pedagogical training only at the hands of TFA, teach for two years, leave as “education experts” who will then take over the reigns – or create them via charters or non-profits – of organizations that seek to further implement myopic educational reforms of “no excuses,” blaming teachers, and testing as an indication of learning and subsequent worth.  If you’ve only ever known one way of perceiving and engaging with the world you will continue to champion that way as appropriate.  As corps members rise through the proverbial ranks of education reform having accepted TFA’s business model, there will be less room for democratic spaces that treat teachers and students as humans within education.  TFA’s insistence on leading the education reform movement with business-minded frameworks will certainly only further exacerbate the subversion of democracy in education in favor of what is most efficient and profitable.


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