California Educator

October 2014

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Feature W H I L E C O N T R O V E R S Y R A G E S regarding TFA's true mission, there's no disputing its rising influence in the education world. There are now nearly 30,000 TFA alumni nationwide. Last year TFA sent about 8,000 teachers into the nation's 14,000 districts, contributing about 3 percent of the nation's 250,000 new teacher hires. Rhee and TFA founder Wendy Kopp have made Time's "most influential" list, and TFA's nonprofit organization spends millions of dollars to put TFA alums into elected and appointed leadership positions. Caputo-Pearl believes it's important to separate the "do-gooder types" from the corporate leaders who play a "dangerous role" in the school privatization movement. "My life is about organizing and building things collec- tively, and as president of UTLA, I want to engage with TFA alums as I do all union members. Many wonderful By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin Do-gooders or school Rhee-formers? T E AC H F O R A M E R I C A : Alex Caputo-Pearl, new president of United Teachers Los Angeles, is a staunch and "unapologetic" crusader for teacher rights who believes attacks on teachers unions "destabilize" public schools. He sees teachers unions as vehicles for improving teaching and learning — and promoting social justice. Michelle Rhee is a so-called school reformer who blames the nation's education woes on "bad teachers" and unions. Due process and job protections for teachers have come under attack from StudentsFirst, an organization Rhee founded to promote charter school expansion, vouchers and evaluations linked to test scores. teachers have gone through the ranks of TFA. But of much larger concern is TFA's role as an organization seeking to privatize public education, support the charter school movement and undermine teachers unions. TFA as an organization creates conditions that are not good for kids — and has turned some schools into teacher turnover factories. " I S F I V E W E E K S E N O U G H ? TFA was founded 25 years ago as a way to address a national teacher short- age. At that time, says Caputo-Pearl, TFA was a "rag-tag" organization that sent inexperienced college grads to teach at understaffed inner-city schools. He was sent to Compton in 1990 after five weeks of training that left him "completely unprepared." He "survived" because a kind-hearted teacher next door, who was unaffiliated with TFA, took him under her wing. "I was eager, but unprepared for the real work of teaching. The program had encouraged us to believe that motivation, goodwill and some weeks of training were all it took to help struggling kids. Of course, green as I was, Miles apart philosophically, these two individuals shared the same pathway into the teaching profession. They began in Teach For America, a controversial pro- gram that many believe is pushing the pro-corporate, union-busting agenda of Rhee rather than the views favoring public education and social justice of Caputo-Pearl. 18

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