A Teach for America graduate and former charter school teacher criticized the program at a Vanderbilt event Tuesday night, stating he believes the program’s goals are contradicted by its practices.
Chad Sommer says low wages, lack of support for teachers and poor working conditions at public schools across America have exacerbated high turnover and created a barrier to student achievement and quality instruction, which are among TFA’s stated goals.
Sommer spoke during the Teach for America Truth Tour at Vanderbilt University in Nashville this week. Hosted by Vanderbilt Students for Nonviolence, the tour is organized by United Students against Sweatshops, a group of college students across the country focusing on labor and social justice issues.
The group was on campus to encourage students to request that Vanderbilt administrators suspend contracts with Teach for America until certain reforms are adopted that the group argues will enhance student achievement and slow the march toward education privatization.
Speakers in the presentation included the vice president for Vanderbilt Students for Engagement in Education Dialogue (SEED), a campus group who recently disaffiliated from Students for Education Reform (SFER), citing concerns about corporate-led education reform. Sommer spoke of his experience and the concerns he has about the effects the organization is having on public education. He discussed what he perceived as the political agenda of the organization and its close ties to the charter school movement. He also described TFA as a proponent of the high-stakes standardized tests used to label public community schools as failing institutions.
Audience members expressed concerns about the efficacy of a five-week training course prior to beginning instruction and a lack of support once placements occur. Questions were raised about TFA’s corporate partnerships, and that many recruits may view their time in TFA as a “resume booster” for private sector employment rather than as an entrance into the teaching profession.
The event was attended by Vanderbilt students, community members, and Metro Nashville teachers.
The Teach for America Truth Tour also made a stop at the University of Memphis campus on October 15.