Nancy Bailey's Education Website: Teach for America: Their Harmful Effect on Special Education

Since 1990, America has put many school children, usually poor, in classrooms with Teach for America Corps Members (CMs) who get five weeks of training. They’ve also placed novices in special education classrooms. Many corporations and individuals donate to this group, undermining professional teachers who commit to teaching as their choice of a career.

There’s no evidence that TFA CMs teach better than professional teachers, but today I focus on how TFA has failed k-12 students in special education.

The ultimate goal for TFA is not to create a teaching service to fill the need for a teaching shortage, as advertised. Their objective is to privatize public education and end the teaching profession.

TFA CMs also, despite their insufficient pedagogical and experiential background, rise to powerful administrative positions in local, state, and federal general and special education oversight programs. See below.

TFA alums can be found in a gazillion non-profits set up to dismantle public schools. Here is one, a description of Bellwether.  

It’s especially troubling to examine the harm they do when it comes to instruction and working with students with disabilities in the classroom.

In 2013, under Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Teach for America was given “highly qualified status” in a Congressional loophole during a budget/shutdown deal. This 2013 status change enabled any college graduate no matter their degree, to teach special education.

I wonder what kind of strange policy changes involving education reform will take place as a result of our current shut down!

TFA CMs Fail in the Classroom!

In Matthew A. M. Thomas’s 2018 study “‘Good Intentions Can Only Get You So Far’: Critical Reflections From Teach For America Corps Members Placed in Special Education,” we learn that TFA CMs receive minimal preparation to work with students with a variety of disabilities.

They lack the groundwork of a professional teacher in the following areas:

  • Inclusive Pedagogy. They don’t learn how to help students adjust in general classrooms
  • Diagnostic Tools. They don’t understand the kinds of diagnostic assessment to pinpoint academic and social difficulties.
  • Instructional Strategies. They aren’t sure how to teach students with disabilities.
  • Self-Contained Classrooms. They can’t manage a classroom with students who have disabilities.
  • Upholding Federal and State Requirements. They know little about IDEA and its mandates.
  • Writing IEPs. They don’t understand the logistics of how to plan with staff, parents, and students, to carry out objectives, and evaluate outcomes.
  • Legal and Liability Issues. They lack a basic understanding concerning what is and is not acceptable while working with students.
  • Assisting With Critical Transitions. Helping students with disabilities make positive transitions from school to college or career, for example, is not something TFA do well.

TFA training is mysterious, but it seems to center around instructional texts and “boot camp” instruction that takes place within five weeks.

CMs are cultishly inducted into the core. They work with other TFA CMs, and practice on students in summer school. They write lesson plans and make teaching materials while they learn about TFA and its mission.

Thomas found that many TFA CMs don’t want a special education placement, but the TFA organization places them in those spots anyway, especially if they check “interested” on the application form. Compare that to well-prepared, career teachers who choose teaching and special education as a vocation, a calling that is a personal challenge and commitment.

TFA and Special Education in Charter Schools

Another concern is TFA CMs teaching in charter schools.

Parents, dissatisfied with public school services, or lack of services due to budget cuts, may be conned into believing choice and charter schools are better. But charter schools often use TFA CMs to teach special education. Although many charter schools often counsel students with disabilities out, or don’t accept them into the school.

In “Charters & Special Education — Truth For America about Teach For America,” a podcast by Julian Vasquez Heilig and T. Jameson Brewer, a former TFA CM and an education professor discuss the problems with TFA CMs teaching special education.

TFA Individuals Who Fail Students When it Comes to Special Education Leadership

TFA CMs also move up the ladder into leadership positions at the local, state, and federal departments of education where they change how schools work. Here are two examples.

TFA alum Penny Schwinn became known in Texas for trying to give a special education no-bid contract to another TFA alum, Richard Nyankori’s (see Mercedes Schneider’s Deutsch29, SPEDx: State SPED Data in the Hands of a Former TFAer?), for-profit data mining company known as SPEDx. I could no longer find SPEDx online. Fortunately, parents caught it and the plan was foiled, despite Texans losing $2.2 million of the $4.4 million that was supposed to go to the company. Schwinn is also a graduate of The Broad Academy. 

Schwinn was hired by Mike Morath, the commissioner of education for the Texas Education Agency. Eyes are on Texas for the harmful privatization reforms. Morath is a software developer and investor. It is well-known that he is transforming the TEA with TFA alums.

Texas is seen as a Lonestar Turnaround State by TFA.

The other TFA alum I’d like to highlight is Louisiana’s John White who is state superintendent. White likes to brag about the success of New Orleans’ controversial charter schools. But that city has failed its special education students for years.

Until the American public becomes aware of how public education has been infiltrated by this group, we will continue to see Teach for America badly influence how students learn, and that is especially unsettling when it concerns our most vulnerable students.

Citations

Matthew A. M. Thomas. “‘Good Intentions Can Only Get You So Far’: Critical Reflections From Teach For America Corps Members Placed in Special Education.” Education and Urban Society 50(5). 2018. 435-460.

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Nancy Bailey

Nancy Bailey was a teacher in the area of special education for many years, and has a PhD in educational leadership from Florida State University. She has authored two books, Misguided Education Reform: Debating the Impact on Students (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013) and Losing America’s Schools: The Fight to Reclaim Public Education (Rowman & Littlefield,...