My Viral Video Message to the 2013 TFA CMs

Recently there has been a lot of good discussion about the pros and cons of TFA.  It started this summer with Katie Osgood’s An Open Letter to New Teach for America Recruits which has gone ‘viral’ and already has 500 comments.  Alex Morgan, A blogger here at wrote a competent, but generally weak, rebuttal called My Open Letter to 2013 Corps Members.  Then this past weekend there was a conference in Chicago where there was a session run by TFA alumni who are opposed to the direction TFA has chosen to go in.  I was not an organizer of this event, though I was invited to participate, but I couldn’t make it.  I’m glad that it happened without me since it shows that I’m not some lone vigilante doing this.  Juice Fong, a TFA staff member, wrote a bizarre post about this event called Open Letter to Anti-TFA Folks at Free Minds Free People Conference which here at, diddymath wrote a nice response called Some Anti-TFA Blowhard Lights a Torch.  This TFA push-back from within is getting a lot of coverage, which is giving more and more people the courage to speak out including, just today, someone who was a staffer for three years in Phoenix giving a very revealing interview to Valerie Strauss in The Answer Sheet in A former Teacher For America manager speaks out.  Exhausting, isn’t it?

I’ve been somewhat quiet this summer.  I’ve been busy with my kids, and teaching a graduate level course at City College and also trying to exercise and catch up on some T.V..  I even watched the All-Star game yesterday, something I haven’t done in a few years.  It is nice to get some use out of some different parts of the brain and, like crop rotation, helps rejuvenate me for another set of battles I’m sure I’ll want to participate in in the coming year.

So, in the spirit of trying new things, I decided to add something new to the education of the new 2013 TFA CMs by creating a very simple and non-rehearsed video message to them.  I don’t know if this adds anything new to the discussion, but I sometimes think that in writing my tone doesn’t always come through the way I want it to, and maybe I seem a little mean when I write when, in real life I think I’m a lot nicer and new CMs might be able to relate to me better if I speak to them.  Then again, maybe I’m an even bigger jerk in real life.  I hope not.  If you like watching me, you can see my hour long ‘spreecast’ that I did three weeks ago where I interview two new CMs.  The link for the spreecast is here.

So here is my 12 minute ‘Gary Rubinstein’s viral open video message to 2013 TFA corps members.’  I hope you like it.

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22 Responses to My Viral Video Message to the 2013 TFA CMs

  1. Educator says:

    Another idea is instead of just refusing to work in charters, that you accept the position, do a good job with your students and in the school, but if and when the charter does some shady stuff, that you call it out. But don’t call it out immediately, as in all likelihood you’re an at will employee and can be removed easily. Wait until your two years are over, then find a newspaper like the Washington Post and write an op-ed about your experiences. Basically, replicate what is happening with “anti-TFA by TFAers” except it would be “anti-charters by ex charter folks”

    I think what’s difficult with the criticism of charters is that people think those who criticize are all part of the “status quo” or “establishment” It would be more powerful if charter folks spoke up, like how TFA people are criticizing TFA. It’s just scary to criticize a big establishment like TFA. Same with charters.

    Do all charters do bad things? I don’t think so. They have a lot of passionate people and I think they do some innovative things. But as Gary said, it’s not quite a scientific experiment because of all the bad things they do.

    I’ve met too many charter teachers who say that yes, they’re aware that their school disappears students. But they don’t say anything, cause, well, that’s their employer. Too bad for those disappeared students.

    Time to speak up and get the truth out.

    • Jonathan says:

      I like your Idea. It would be opening another front on the grassroots push-back.

      When you say disappeared, do mean the student was “counseled out” of the school, or that their test data was not included with the school’s results?

      • Educator says:

        It’s very rare to have someone like an idea of mine, so you made my day. Yes, when I say “disappeared” I mean “counseled out” Sorry about the confusion. Disappeared sounds more interesting, because it elicits the question “Where did they go?” The answer is back to the local school.

        I haven’t read much about students’ test data not included in a school’s results. If this is true, then that’s sad. But this tactic would seem to be available to both charter schools and traditional schools. I think some states have provisions where your school’s score is decreased if you don’t have a certain % of enrolled students take the exam on exam day. Still, I can see how schools, traditional or charter, may want to rid of certain students on test day (like the students they know who will hand in a blank scantron sheet, or fill in random dots). Note this wouldn’t be happening if there wasn’t this fear that Parent Revolution would come in and fire everyone, or NCLB would come in and fire everyone….all based on standardized tests (what they call “student achievement” or “student outcomes” or “student growth”)

        For the counseling out, that tactic seems to be more useful to charter networks. A traditional schools system does sometimes counsel out students, but it’s usually to another school within the school district from what I observed. For example, many districts have alternative high schools, so if the student is struggling at the traditional school s/he can transfer over to the alternative school. I’m OK with this because it’s within the same school system. I believe Districts believe that some traditional schools don’t work for certain students, so an alternative setting is better. There is no incentive to push them out of their school district that I am aware of. Their test scores are counted into the district. (In fact, a district loses money if it loses students, so I’d think that traditional districts want to keep students at whatever school they can and place them at what is the best for that student.)

        Traditional districts I believe only have the expulsion process to get rid of students, which is lengthy. Additionally, the locally elected school board must approve an expulsion. If the board starts expelling all these students, the parents can organize and revolt against the school board. That’s the check and balance. With charters, the answer is “If you don’t like our school then leave.” That’s the business model idea. Shop were you like products.

        Charters on the other hand don’t seem to have as great an incentive to keep students. Yes, they lose money if a student decides to leave to go back to the local traditional school. But a premise behind charters is that the free market will keep a school accountable. So charters seem to be wanting to advertise that they’re better than the traditional by looking at test scores. Hence, counseling out. They also heavily rely on very rich people for donations, so they must convince these rich people that their donation is useful, and the rich people need to believe that it is good PR to support these schools. This is not to say that they don’t have good intent. I do believe many rich folks are trying to do good (many readers here would disagree). Some just are getting tricked, while others know the trickery, but don’t care because they have a privatization agenda, and this model of education supports privatization.

        I used to think these counseling out accusations were just theories made up by “defenders of the status quo”…until I met charter folks who say yes it’s true. SPED/ELL/Bad Behavior students are more difficult to get good test scores with. I was very disappointed.

        I’d be OK with charters if they stopped claiming they were better than traditional schools and were more honest about what they can and can’t do. Be open about who you really are serving: low income minority kids who self select out via a lottery, who are less likely to be SPED/ELL/Difficult. If the kid is difficult to education, they go back to the traditional schools, or they never joined the charter. Front end creaming, back end counseling out. Traditional schools don’t have this filtering system.

        The danger is that politicians and other powerful people are closing down local neighborhood schools based on false ideas.

        Here’s an honest article about this by a conservative:

      • Educator says:

        One more thing – I don’t think all charters do the counseling out tactic in all fairness. I’ve read that some charters do all they can to keep students. But some students leave on their own because they don’t like it / too hard / etc… And then there are charters specifically designed for difficult students. So those ideas sound good to me, but I don’t know much about those schools.

        Another thing some charters do is have a student repeat a grade if they don’t pass the tests. Some students/parents don’t like this, so they leave and go back to the traditional school. I don’t think traditional schools hold back students as much as they used to, as I think there’s some research that says it doesn’t do much for the student and leads to higher incarceration rates.

      • Jonathan says:

        The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) out of the University of Colorado, in Boulde, publishes peer reviews of Studies and Publications by Universities and Foundations. They published a review called “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment” ( It describes 12 relatively common methods that charter schools use to get the students they want.

        Another one of their publications reviews the latest Stanford Credo comparison of public and charter school performance. It describes ways in which charter schools are inherently advantaged, thus skewing the results of Stanford’s comparison. Both are interesting and quick reads.

      • Educator says:

        Thanks Jonathan. I wonder why this hasn’t been more broadcasted. I haven’t come across this paper until you just wrote here and I don’t think many of the usual bloggers have either unless I missed it.

    • The system doesn’t care about better education. Charters are just part of the same system. They are not in it for your children. They are in it for the revenue. As a teacher it is incredible how many administrators sat me down, after having voiced serious concerns, and gave it to me straight. “The bottom line is the money. And parents vote with their legs.” If we make no waves, we stand to fall. This is not just for us but for the future of America. We must send a clear message to the Federal government that says we are capable of educating our own children as we see fit.  Our communities and our states have the right to self sovereignty and must never be mandated by a system that would set itself as a dominating force. There is still time to stop the mandates of the socialist regulatory system known as the Common Core.  There is still time to realize what has happened, and educate as many people so their voices can unite.  But the window of opportunity is closing, and if we shut our eyes and pretend nothing is happening, then our chance to stop this government’s rape on education will be gone.
      I also wrote the book exposing the entire collapse of NCLB and Birth of Common Core. IF you want to see it go to my website at http://www.repealthecommoncore.comto get the whole story.
      Sinhue Noriega teacher and author of “If It’s Broken Don’t Fix it” A Candid Look at Our Complacent Education System. Find out what they don’t want you to know. The truth about the Common Core, and the education system, from the inside by a teacher.

  2. tlmerrie says:

    As I follow your posts and those of others on this site, I wonder if perhaps Teach for America WILL transform public education one day; at least from how things stand today.

    I have something to add: 2013 CM’s, please don’t just follow Gary’s advice for the sake of CM’s who come after you, follow it for my kids who don’t have TFA in their school but who are being hurt every day by ‘reform.’ They (and I) need you to be brave and speak up as well. If you are willing to be critical of decisions made by TFA then I would go so far as to say you help all kids in schools everywhere.

    • Allison says:

      Absolutely true. My kids are in a non-TFA school but reform is hindering the way their teachers work and the kid’s enthusiasm for school. Unfortunately, the school administrators have chosen to play into reformer’s hands rather than question them. So what we had in the elementary school were advanced fifth graders bored to tears because they were already where the school needed them to be and kindergarteners stressed out because the data junkie curriculum coordinator wanted ALL of them at mid year First grade level by the time they left kindergarten.

  3. Jack says:


    Perhaps you can start a new article with the following.

    This article, calling Chicago-area TFA’s “scabs, just came out:

    Here’s the quote:

    “Teach for America’s ‘Scabs’ and Principal (CEO) Development

    “Just over a month after the 50 CPS school closings and firing of 550 teachers, the Chicago Board of Education announced an increase from $600,000 to $1.58 million in spending to hire 570 Teach for America teachers.

    “Klonsky told Mint Press News that Teach for America contractors serve as de facto strike-breaking ‘scabs’ – usually unknowingly.

    “ ‘They’re providing the non-union teachers for the charter schools and they’re almost like a scab organization,’ he said. ‘What you do is you close public schools and fire hundreds of teachers like we’re doing here, then you open neighborhood
    charter schools and bring in Teach for America 5-week wonders who work cheap and last for about two or three years.’

    ” ‘Then they’re gone and another batch comes in. ‘

    “The Joyce Foundation gave $23.77 million to Teach for America in its first 20 years in existence, according to The Washington Post. It is one of 10 foundations whose funding accounted for over half of Teach for America’s budget during that time
    period. Joyce gave Teach for America another $400,000 grant in 2012.

    “The Chicago Public Education Fund also has lended a modest amount of money to Teach for America. Between 2000 and 2005, the fund gave just under $400,000 to the organization, tax filings reveal.

    “Since 2001, the Chicago Board of Education has doled out close to $6.6 million in contracts and hired 1,931 teachers from Teach for America, Board of Education contract records show. During that same period, thousands of CPS teachers got pink slips.

    “The rubber meets the road in the relationship between the Chicago school restructuring movement’s goal of creating CEO-type school principals and Teach for America’s Principal Leadership Pipeline, which was launched in September 2007. The Principal Leadership

    Pipeline was a collaboration between CPS and Teach for America, financed by the Chicago Public Education Fund and the Pritzker Family Foundation.”

    “CPS will recruit high-performing Teach For America alumni to attend a school leadership program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and then enter into a one-year residency under the tutelage of a principal at a Chicago elementary or high school,” a press release announcing the program’s launch explains.

    “After the residency, the new principals will then take the helm of some of Chicago’s most challenged schools… Over the next five years, Teach For America could have as many as 50 school leaders in the pipeline, a group that would reach some 15,000 Chicago children a year.”

    “The program arose out of the Public Education Fund’s “Great Principals Blue Ribbon Task Force,’ formed in 2005. Its members included Pritzker and Duncan.

    “ ‘A consensus has developed over the last few years that a principal is the most important person in the school building,’ Pritzker said. ‘ Just like a [CEO], the principal sets the tone, creates the culture, manages the team and ties it all together by articulating a shared vision for what the organization ought to be. So if we get the principal right, other things can fall into place.’ “

  4. Educator says:

    A good summary of all that has happened in these past weeks concerning TFA. You’re linked into this Gary. Maybe your video will go viral. I don’t think the author of the article understands your dry humor either with your video title. Afterall, one cannot claim a viral video when first posting it.

  5. Educator says:

    I’m reading on Twitter that CPS is hiring 100 TFA corps members, while laying off 2,000 CPS teachers. But I can’t find the original source of info. Anyone know?

    • Educator says:

      Found an article. But it says 325 new TFA recruits and there are 270 second year interns. I wonder if some of the 2,000+ educators getting laid off are TFA 2nd year interns? That would be interesting…
      Anyone know?
      “Some of the teachers could be replaced by Teach For America recruits, as the district has committed to more than doubling its investment in the TFA program that trains college graduates for five weeks then sends them into schools for two years at a time. The Board of Education voted to increase its payment to TFA from $600,000 to nearly $1.6 million, and to add up to 325 new TFA recruits to CPS classrooms, in addition to 270 second year “teacher interns”.

      TFA spokeswoman Becky O’Neill said about 200 of the new recruits are destined for charters, the rest to interview for openings in neighborhood schools.

      “We’re looking forward to getting more information and better understanding how all of this impacts the schools and principals with whom we partner,” she said.

      Sharkey denounced CPS’ TFA placements “at the same time it’s laying off veterans. This is an organization who started out saying their mission was to serve underserved children with a teachers shortage. There’s no longer a teacher shortage.”

      • AF says:

        Yes. I am a current Chicago CM and a number of the CPS teachers laid off are current TFA corps members. Most schools (that I’m aware of, I teach in a HS) let go of new, untenured teachers first, so that left many CMs vulnerable to being laid off.
        I read a statistic in the barrage of articles about the layoffs that last time this happened, almost 70% of laid off teachers were rehired before the next school year started. I can’t find it quickly now, of course. But it is likely, considering that principals do all the hiring and opening/closing of positions in Chicago. Unlike other school districts where teachers are laid off and the re-assigned based on seniority, principals close and open positions in their school as needed. So one school could close a science position as part of the budget cuts, but there may be over 50 science positions open throughout the city at other schools. There was a CPS career fair this past week for laid off teachers and there were lots of schools there with lots of positions. I know of a few TFA CMs that were laid off who have already been rehired, and many more with interviews (and to clarify, not set up through TFA but just through the normal CPS hiring process.) I just think it’s an interesting perspective. While there were many laid off, the nature of the hiring process in Chicago means that there are still many positions open and unfilled. That doesn’t address the problem of teachers having to move around and leave their kids and communities, which I do believe is devastating.

      • Educator says:

        Thanks AF. A corps member on a different blog has written that most of the Chicago corps members are placed in charter schools, so some of them might not be in this layoff scenario (theoretically they may be taking positions away from people who want to teach for a career)

        Here’s an interesting take on what’s happening in Chicago:

        And just today on Twitter EduShyster him/herself(?) and TFA CEO Villanueva Beard have agreed to some sort of dialogue to discuss. Should be interesting!

  6. Alex Morgan says:


    Since I’ve already laid out my views on my own post, I’m not going to go on and on here about our disagreements. I will, however, say that I think you’re right that corps members should be vocal and guide their own corps experience.

    In Teach For America, you are your own advocate. Nobody is going to fight for your principles. Further, I think that in order to be a good educator, one has to educate themselves about the issues within our profession and form their own opinion.

    Thanks for the different presentation and your views.


  7. Jack says:

    Katie Osgood was today’s guest on a HuffPost talk show criticizing TFA.

    Later on in the show, a blogger and TFA defender named Justin Tong then joined the show and challenged her while not addressing any of her actual criticisms.

    In response, Katie was having none of Justin’s calls for Katie and everyone to just “work together.”

    Great stuff… just wish that it was longer.

    Check it out:

    Here’s the written promo:

    Some public school teachers are speaking out against Teach For America, alleging that the organization’s training is insufficient and that it threatens existing jobs. In Chicago earlier this month, critics gathered at the Free Minds, Free People conference to discuss the organization’s role in the local school system.

    Katie Osgood, a special education teacher in Chicago, told HuffPost Live Monday that she feels Teach For America educators and leaders have done “extremely damaging reform” to the education system, placing inexperienced teachers with the neediest students and putting other teachers’ jobs at risk.

  8. jess says:

    I just “graduated” from TFA (for which I received both a certificate and a serious case of PTSD) and I agree with most of your points in this video. However, I think it’s more “dangerous” to speak out than you realize. My friend and co-teacher in the program was a Fulbright scholar and had just returned from two years teaching English in South Korea. During insitute, she raised questions about TFA’s (mostly shoddy, if you ask me) use of data to drive daily achievement. I very distinctly remember her questioning how “exit slips” were means of assessing proficiency. If a student got one question wrong on a two-question (often multiple-choice, low-stakes) exit slip, suddenly he would be only 50% proficient on a certain standard. She later told me that when she mentioned this to her CMA (advisor for Institute) she was placed on the “exit track” and advised that maybe teaching wasn’t for her. (BULL. SHIT.)
    Luckily, she refused to quit and ended up connecting with several hard-to-reach students at our school (did she “transform their educational pathways?” Um, no, because…wait for it…poverty matters.)
    But I guess after rambling, what I’m saying is, if you’re going to speak up, be thoughtful. DON’T QUIT if they try to tell you this isn’t for you. The fact that you are speaking up means the opposite. We need people in this field who question, disagree and discuss. Stick with it.

  9. The education system is a business.  It cares nothing about your child.  Back when NCLB was around, and everyone was complaining, the system made no efforts to slow the collapse of education.  It was meant to happen.  Now that Common Core has taken its place scores are fated to fall even further.  The truth is Common Core is not meant to better education.  It simply is the government taking over state’s rights on education.  It is a government power grab meant to place a state constitutional right in the hands of the federal government. 
    I also wrote the book exposing the entire collapse of NCLB and Birth of Common Core. IF you want to see it go to my website at http://www.repealthecommoncore.comto get the whole story.
    Sinhue Noriega teacher and author of “If It’s Broken Don’t Fix it” A Candid Look at Our Complacent Education System. Find out what they don’t want you to know. The truth about the Common Core, and the education system, from the inside by a teacher.

  10. Pingback: TFA continues to set new corps members up for failure | Gary Rubinstein's Blog

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