Remember when teaching was about answering to a calling—before the Jindal administration came charging onto the scene with its half-baked ideas of education reform through sweeping legislation that promoted something called Teach for America?
As noble and magnanimous as Teach for America (TFA) would have you believe its motives to be, it would be wise to keep your eye on the dollar sign.
While Teach for America is going around asking for money from state legislators and local school districts, the organization has quietly been amassing a fortune even as TFA comes under fire from former TFA teachers and the media.
Like a snake trying to swallow its own tail, TFA has begun to devour itself, to feed off its own perceived success to the detriment of those it was formed to help.
TFA’s 2010 federal tax return reveals that it has received nearly $907.5 million in gifts, grants, contributions and membership fees over the five-year period from 2006 through 2010, including $243.6 million in 2010.
The breakdown, by year, shows that TFA had $77.94 million in income in 2006; $142.35 million in 2007; $251.52 million in 2008; $193 million in 2009, and $243.65 in 2010.
Other 2010 revenue brought TFA’s total income to $270.5 million against expenses of $218.7 million for a net income of $51.8 million, the return shows.
Of those expenses, $129.9 million was for salaries.
Another $548,437 was spent on “direct contact with legislators, their staffs, government officials and legislative bodies,” or lobbying.
TFA CEO Wendy Kopp is paid $393,600 by the organization she founded in 1989, according to the tax return, but the salaries of her support staff are equally impressive for an outfit that purports to wants only to uplift the nation’s neediest students in poverty-stricken school districts. A few examples:
• Matthew Kramer, President: $328,100;
• Tracy-Elizabeth Clay, General Counsel, Secretary: $174,500;
• Osman Kurtulus, Vice President of Accounting & Controls & Assistant Secretary: $178,500;
• Miguel Rossy, Chief Financial & Infrastructure Officer: $260,600;
• Elisa V. Beard, Chief Operating Officer: $233,400;
• Elissa Clapp, Senior Vice President of Recruitment: $246,700;
• Ellen N. Shepard, Chief Information Officer: $214,800;
• Lily Rager, Executive Vice President: $178,500;
• Aylon Samouha, Senior Vice President, Teacher Preparation Support: $253,500;
• Eric Scroggins, Executive Vice President: $231,000;
• Jeffrey Wetzier, Senior Vice President, Chief Learning Officer: $235,300;
• Kevin Huffman, Executive Vice President, Public Affairs: $243,300;
• Gillian C. Smith, Chief Marketing Officer: $238,800;
• Aimee Eubanks Davis, Chief People Officer: $229,000;
• Theordore Quinn, Vice President, Strategy & Research: $179,900.
So now, TFA, which faced financial collapse several times in the early years, comes begging to the state of Louisiana with a $5 million request for NGO (non-government organization) funding even though that request is a bit misleading.
The request is made on behalf of TFA by the compliant Department of Education (DOE) to fund TFA operations in several high need areas of the state. Instead, the legislature funds, through DOE, three contracts totaling more than $2.3 million to help recruit TFA teachers in different school districts around the state, including $1.27 million to specifically recruit teachers for the Recovery School District and for the Teaching Fellows program in northwest Louisiana.
In neighboring Mississippi, TFA requested a legislative appropriation of $12 million to send 700 recruits to the impoverished Delta area of the state. Instead, the Mississippi legislature appropriated $6 million, sufficient to fund 370 teachers.
Just how the money is spent is something of a mystery because the local school districts are required to pay TFA a fee of $3,000 per teacher recruited and the districts must also pay the TFA teacher salaries.
On top of all that, TFA receives generous grants and contributions from such philanthropists as the Walton family of the Wal-Mart retailing empire.
TFA does offer summer training to prepare recruits for the classroom—an entire five-week training course as opposed to four years and more (for advanced degrees) for teachers to receive college degrees in education and who generally sign up for the long run as opposed to TFA teachers who commit to only two years.
Some remain beyond the two year hitch but for the most part the TFA turnover is a negative factor in educating kids and in school staffing continuity.
Despite that, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, himself a TFA alumnus, calls TFA “an incredibly good investment.”
Of course they are. School districts are laying off veteran teachers with years of education and classroom experience in favor of TFA corps members because they are less expensive to hire. Some districts seem to prefer to cycle through ill-trained TFA teachers every two years.
A former TFA teacher claims that the organization’s five-week training model is ineffective, that TFA spends $33 million “doing a poor job teaching corps members to teach.” He describes the TFA training as “not enough depth, not enough breadth, not enough time.”
Reuters News Service, in an article entitled “Has Teach for America betrayed its mission,” quotes TFA alumni as claiming that policies promoted by TFA-trained reformers threaten to damage the very schools TFA once set out to save and that TFA’s relentless efforts to expand has betrayed its founding ideals.
For example, Reuters says that TFA, founded to serve public schools so poor or dysfunctional they couldn’t attract qualified teachers, now sends fully one-third of its recruits to privately-run charter schools, many of which have outstanding academic credentials, wealthy donors and flush budgets.
It’s about the money, folks.
And while there certainly are TFA teachers who truly have the welfare of students at heart and who are effective teachers, TFA has backed off its claim that almost half of its teachers achieve outstanding academic gains by students.
Heather Harding, TFA’s former research director, told Reuters that statistics claiming significant gains were unreliable and misleading because only 15 percent of TFA recruits even teach subjects and grades that are assessed by state standardized tests. As an alternative means to measure growth, Harding said, many teachers rely on assessments they design themselves.
So while TFA recruits may come into the classroom with high ideals and lofty goals for their students, TFA long ago stopped being about the students and became all about the money.
It would be a mistake for parents, legislators, school administrators and benefactors to forget that.
Any coach of any sport will tell every player on his team to keep his eye on the ball.
In this case, keep your eye on the dollar signs.
It’s all about the money.