NPR Interview

About a week ago I was contacted by someone from the NPR show ‘Tell Me More.’ They wanted to interview me about a blog post I wrote back in October called ‘Why I Did TFA and Why You Shouldn’t‘.

Originally it was going to be a debate between either me and Wendy Kopp or me and Heather Harding, director of research.  Because TFA wasn’t able to get someone to a studio at the same time as me (or so they said!), the program was recorded in two parts.  Last Wednesday I recorded my part in a studio in New York (the host was in D.C.) and then TFA got to listen to what I said and respond to it on Friday.

I’m not sure when this will ‘air,’ or if I really got as tongue tied as I think I did, but it might be on soon and maybe some listeners will seek out my blog so I thought I’d put some links to some of my better posts if people want to read up.

I mentioned in my interview that some TFA trainees only get to student teach with under ten students.  I know this from comments from actual trainees from over the summer in a post I wrote called ‘Why do some TFA trainees have only 4 students in their student teaching classes?’

I address the issue that I believe TFA exaggerates the success of their first year teachers.  I got a lot of first hand comments about this in a post I wrote called ‘Why does TFA value quantity over quality?’

I spoke about how, on a larger level, TFA exaggerates the success of their alumni who have gone on to lead charter networks, city education departments, and even state education departments.  Here’s a post about attrition at KIPP charter schools, and another about the supposed ‘miracle’ in New Orleans.

Something that came up which may or may not have made it onto the show is the idea that our schools are actually not failing, but doing about as well as they can with the resources they have and with the problems that burden kids in poverty.  I’ve addressed this a few times, first in this post called Is Poverty Destiny?

If you’re visiting my blog for the first time since you heard me on NPR, feel free to click around and leave a comment.



P.S.  If you really like what I have to say, you can check out my books — available at!  (Hey, it’s worth a shot.  You’d do it too.)

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9 Responses to NPR Interview

  1. abcde says:

    Look forward to hearing this when it airs.

  2. Becky Sotello says:


    I am an incoming 2012 corps member, and I found your blog post “Why I Did TFA and Why You Shouldn’t” incredibly interesting. Lately, I have felt very conflicted about my decision to join TFA because of the reasons you laid out in that blog post. Here I am, a few weeks until Institute, and I am still conflicted. Your blog post, of course, made matters worse. Like all of the profiles of successful teachers that TFA shoves down our throats, I will of course take your experience and your opinions with a grain of salt. Do you have connections with other, perhaps more recent, corps members that can share their experiences with me? I have a feeling I won’t be quitting TFA- it is a job, after all- but I have been feeling quite guilty about my decision. Anyway, just sharing my opinion. Let me know if there is anything that I can do to help.

    • Gary Rubinstein says:

      Hi Becky,

      I do sometimes worry that this blog will upset or insult people who have joined TFA for all the right reasons. To me, the unpreparedness of the TFA first years is not the big issue. Especially if you teach secondary, you really can’t do that much damage in one year. You do want to do at least as good as whoever would be their teacher if TFA wasn’t around. Even in the worst case scenario where you are placed in a corrupt charter school, you can still ‘make a big difference’ there and expose the students you will teach and will love to things that inspired you to enjoy learning.
      Though I am disappointed by TFA in the ‘macro’ level, the ‘micro’ level which is all you really need to worry about for the first year, is still a bunch of very talented individuals who are trying to ‘give back’ in a way that, as far as you know, has been ‘working’ for 20 years.
      This site has a lot of blogs that are much more optimistic than mine. Like you said, even my perspective has to be taken with ‘a grain of salt.’ I have a unique perspective which many alumni, but certainly not all, relate to. Sometimes my writing can be a bit extreme. I think I am like that in writing since I’m trying to counter a big movement and I’m just one guy so I’ve got to be persuasive. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help out.

      • “Even in the worst case scenario where you are placed in a corrupt charter school….”

        Gary, I can think of a few other “worst-case scenarios.” 😉

  3. EAE says:


    Just heard this show on the radio. As a long time teacher, I’d say your analysis was spot-on. Thanks for the sober perspective.

  4. Hi Gary,
    I just listened to the piece, and you touched on something I myself have experienced/struggled with. You are asked why you are/how you can be critical of a program that puts inexperienced teachers in high need schools while you, the experienced teacher, has left that environment and “don’t have the energy right now to do it.”

    Clearly you are spending energy educating people about TFA and that’s valuable.

    It just seems like there is a grey area where we know it’s not the best situation for the students to have these inexperienced teachers, but many of the experienced ones choose to leave for one reason or another, creating the demand/ need for young, naive people who do have the energy to do that work.

    I can think of a lot of ways to fix this, though. Better training would help new teachers be more effective, and more resources/supports for high needs schools would probably increase teacher retention.

    I appreciate your critical analysis and willingness to speak out about education reform in a respectful, clear way.

    • Gary Rubinstein says:

      Katie, That’s an excellent question. I’ll probably write a whole blog entry about it sometime, but for now I’ll try to answer.
      There is a bit of a problem where many of the teachers who have the energy don’t have the wisdom, and many of the teachers who do have the wisdom don’t have the energy.
      My comment about not having the energy, though, was not speaking for all veteran teachers, but for, me, personally.
      Though I got good at classroom management, it took a lot of energy to make sure that things didn’t flare up. Also, I found teaching emotionally draining as I had to spend my day pretending to not have emotions, and then my evenings worrying about how I wasn’t doing all that was needed. Teaching at a high poverty school, for me, was almost a 24 hour a day job. I would even dream about it.
      But that doesn’t mean that all veteran teachers have the same issues. My good friend Dave Berra taught at one of my schools for 30 years. He did not burn out because his classroom persona did not drain him, the way it did me. He really was just himself in front of the class. I don’t think he called parents from home, nor did he spend hours thinking about school after leaving.
      Perhaps my inability to put school out of my mind for a few hours stems from my tough first year. Or maybe it is just my personality. Whatever it was, there are a lot of experienced teachers who have longevity in the tougher schools.
      Again, I will address this in a post someday since a lot of people might wonder why I left the front-lines.

  5. Grace says:

    Oh My! I am so happy to have found you and found your site. No time to delve in now, but thank you for saying what you are saying. I am an Alum well. TFA ’99. Went into it for all the right reasons, to save the world, help those with less etc. I somehow escaped the brainwashing by spending most of my time both at work and out of work with teachers who were not TFA. Still teaching, although now in the suburbs, I am sometimes ashamed to associate myself with the organization. This is especially because of what they are doing to educators and the system as a whole (ala Rhee and Kopp) The discourse around “bad teachers” and how they are the reason for failing schools I fee,l can be singularly traced back to them. I could go on and on… but again Thank you! I will read more and comment more regularly.

  6. Leslie Petasis says:

    I teach Social Foundations of Education at a liberal arts college. My students are interested in becoming teachers, but because we don’t have an education degree program per se, many are attracted to TFA to get some experience before applying to a teacher preparation program. This course is actually a prerequisite for admission to some MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching) Programs. Anyway, I never know what to tell them about TFA. We talk quite a lot about how public schools in the poorest neighborhoods just do not have the same resources, including the better teachers. Until our federal and state legislatures find a way to equalize funding to all public schools in the country, TFA is probably not hurting anything and it may be helping in some cases. What do you think?

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