Teacher Prep

The American Prospect Fails Basic Test of Journalism, But Teach For America Sets the Record Straight

At Education Post, we use our Red Pen Page to mark up articles that perpetuate myths or mistruths. A recent post in The American Prospect about Teach For America (TFA) was ripe for red-penning, given that it was full of common misconceptions about the organization. In the piece, Rachel Cohen seeks to answer this question:
Why are school districts paying millions in “finder's fees” to an organization that places people without education degrees to teach in urban schools?
In addition to getting a number of facts wrong and leaving out vital context (e.g., district recruitment costs to hire any teacher, regardless of source), Cohen fails to go to the obvious source for answer—yep, she doesn’t appear to ask any of the actual district or school leaders her question or do any simple market research on the issue. This clearly one-sided and underreported piece fails to cite a single HR director, recruiter, superintendent, or even principal in any of the thousands of schools where TFA corps members have been placed across the country. As I started researching TFA to write my Red Pen, I discovered that TFA had already done some red-penning of its own, using data to address Cohen’s points one-by-one. For instance, Cohen puts forth the claim that TFA teachers lack racial and ethnic diversity, which TFA thoroughly refutes:
We know that maximizing diversity supports our effort to attract our country’s top talent. Nearly half of our corps this year received Pell Grants, a reliable indicator of low-income background, and nearly half identify as people of color, compared with less than 20 percent of all teachers nationwide. One in three are the first in their family to graduate from college. We’re also among the largest providers of African American and Latino teachers in the country.
When the article claims TFA’s two-year teaching commitment fails to provide educators who stay for the “long haul,” TFA astutely points out:
As the article notes, 90 percent of our teachers stay in the classroom for a second year. The article omits the fact that this is a higher rate than that of all teachers nationwide, including those in the highest-performing schools.
Stories like Cohen’s perpetuate gossip and mistruths, and take away from (what should be) better conversation about educational policies and practices. Cohen had an opportunity to really examine and report on a potentially interesting question, but a failure to do simple due diligence and check her own bias at the door resulted in yet another rhetorical rant on education reform.
Valentina Payne
Valentina Payne joined Bellwether Education Partners in 2021 as chief of staff to Andy Rotherham on the External Relations team. Prior to Bellwether, she spent seven years at brightbeam, where she most recently served as its chief growth officer, overseeing operations, finance, fundraising, and strategic growth of the organization.

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