Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 27, 2011

PARTY POLITICS AND TEACH FOR AMERICA.... George Will's column today sings the praises of Teach for America (TFA) and its CEO, Wendy Kopp. It's one of those rare Will columns that I have no trouble agreeing with, but it's the conclusion that's important.

Will explains in the piece that TFA helps direct graduates of elite universities into teaching positions in difficult-to-staff schools in areas of urban and rural poverty. It's been a striking success, and Kopp clearly deserves enormous credit -- this program and its participants are making a remarkable difference that will pay dividends for all of us for years to come.

So, what's the catch? Take a wild guess.

Government funding -- federal, state, local -- is just 30 percent of TFA's budget. Last year's federal allocation, $21 million, would be a rounding error in the General Motors bailout. And Kopp says that every federal dollar leverages six non-federal dollars. All that money might, however, be lost because even when Washington does something right, it does it wrong.

It has obtusely defined "earmark" to include "any named program," so TFA has been declared an earmark and sentenced to death. If Congress cannot understand how nonsensical this is, it should be sent back to school for remedial instruction from some of TFA's exemplary young people.

I'm delighted George Will is shining a light on this, but note his use of passive voice -- Teach for America "has been ... sentenced to death." That's true, but it's incomplete.

The word Will doesn't want readers to see is "Republican." This successful, innovative education program was on track to receive $18 million in federal funding, but under the Republican budget plan, this has been reduced to zero. As GOP lawmakers see it, Teach for America, which used to enjoy bipartisan support, doesn't deserve a single penny from the federal budget. It's part of a brutal effort to gut federal education investment at every level.

It's a classic example of painfully ridiculous priorities. The same Republicans who put $858 billion in tax cuts on the national charge card in December now believe we can't afford $18 million for a simple program that puts bright young people to work teaching in low-income schools.

Will's right to call this "nonsensical," but he's wrong to go out of his way to avoid assigning blame.

"TFA has been declared an earmark and sentenced to death"? Here, George, let me fix that for you: Republicans have declared TFA an earmark and sentenced it to death.

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Y spen mony teechin wen u wan da pubic 2 b igna... igne... STOOPED! ???

Posted by: c u n d gulag on February 27, 2011 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

And I predict that Barack Obama will not utter one word in anger over this. It represents just one of literally hundreds of such opportunities that have arisen over the past two years for Obama and other Democratic "leaders" to clearly delineate the corrupt hypocrisy of the Republican Party in front of microphones and TV cameras. Unfortunately, since Obama and the Dems wouldn't know how to sell a glass of water to a man dying of thirst in the desert, these opportunities have been allowed to pass repeatedly, and this will as well. This would be bad enough in a media environment that was truly sane, but considering that Obama is trying to do his job with a mass media that is collectively an around-the-clock advertising agency for the GOP, the refusal or inability to take advantage of these opportunities is even more critically damaging. And incredibly frustrating.

Posted by: bluestatedon on February 27, 2011 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

For Will, adding the word Republican is equivalent to someone at Hogworts saying the name Voldemort.

Only the opposite. Will supports the Repugnant Ones, the good people at Hogwarts despise Voldemort.

Posted by: Mark-NC on February 27, 2011 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

It would have been better to mention the Republican hand in all this, but still, it's noteworthy to hear anyone on the right dispute the wisdom of cutting public spending.

Posted by: mlm on February 27, 2011 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

@ Mark-NC: Maybe Will's in Slytherin House...?

Posted by: Severian on February 27, 2011 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, Ever'body Knows that edumacation begins- and ENDS- with a copy of the Holy Babble and a candle to read it by. . .

Posted by: DAY on February 27, 2011 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Will explains in the piece that TFA helps direct graduates of elite universities into teaching positions in difficult-to-staff schools in areas of urban and rural poverty -SB

The reconstructionists dont want no stinking high falutin elites teaching their kids. They want America the way it used to be. Before those elitists went and sent that letter to their King George

Posted by: Kill Bill on February 27, 2011 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

My understanding is that both republicans and democrats have foolishly agreed to the "no earmarks" rule, n'est-ce pas?

Posted by: chi res on February 27, 2011 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Cut off their access to education and destroy the unions, and the classes of humanity once again take their natural places, with the white Christian daddy-providers at the top and the rest of us gratefully accepting our positions of servitude. Ayn Rand would be so proud.

Posted by: DelCapslock on February 27, 2011 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Welcome to Cognitive Dissonance Theater, tonight starring George Will. Watch our hero try to balance the ideas that (1) there's a government program that actually does some good; (2) Republicans have eliminated this program;(3) Republicans can do no wrong; (4) blame for any incorrect or failed action must be placed on "Washington" or "Obama" or both. Warning: some scenes contain violence, including exploding pundit heads, and may not be suitable for all audiences.

Posted by: seriously on February 27, 2011 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, TFA is NOT particularly innovative....or TFA would be modeled in suburban districts.

No, TFA is akin to putting bandaids on cancer as a policy response. TFA is no more innovative than my cat Gilda. Seriously. Please ask research Linda Darling-Hammond who's conducted the most rigorous analyses of the program.

BTW: While only 50% of the traditionally prepared teachers (bachelors degree in education) remain in the classroom after 5 years, the TFA rate is only 18%. Until policymakers are willing to address the high-burnout rate of public school teachers, TFA can't create enough teachers....the traditional programs are barely keeping up. Factor in a political environment that currently demonizes teachers for every economic ill, and well,

Good luck meeting those teacher shortages in the next 3-5 years. Those who can retire will...others will leave the profession altogether. It's going to leave very, very few experienced and talented educators to teach the next few generations of US kids. If you thought the nursing shortage has been fun, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Posted by: brat on February 27, 2011 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

What would conservative political columnists do without the passive voice?

Posted by: Okie on February 27, 2011 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Actually there's another catch. Will calls the cost of the TFA program "a rounding error in the General Motors bailout." Thus he asserts that the GM bailout will cost the Federal government. He doesn't know that yet. It is expected to roughly break even. It is as likely as not that TFA will cost more than the GM bailout, because the GM bailout will cost less than nothing.

You correctly compare a cost with a cost -- the cost of the tax cuts.

Will just chose a large program whihc was essentially established by the Obama administration. He equates an investment with a loss. He fails accounting 101 (sorry I understate my case -- I'm sure that in accounting 101 the prof sees no need to explain that investments aren't losses).

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on February 27, 2011 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK


I am surprised that the number for TFA alumni to stick around is that high since the main purpose of TFA is to help the Ivy leaguers (and Ivy likes) in building an application to graduate school.

Schools like Princeton or Harvard are there to produce people who work in log-normal distributed career field. Teaching is a normally distributed career and field and is the last place that one should expect the top college sstudents to stay for very long.

Posted by: superdestroyer on February 27, 2011 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

George Will forgot to mention that Michelle Bachmann believes TFA is a socialist re-education conspiracy

Posted by: Winknandanod on February 27, 2011 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

Here we go again...'SOMEBODY' cut funding...let's hope the DEMS do what's right, restore funding and then we will bitch about it while secretly being happy it's still there. Just don't let the VOTERS in on it...

Posted by: SYSPROG on February 27, 2011 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

Will's column is rank propaganda from beginning to end, supporting one of the corporate world's favorite fantasists, Kopp.

Steve has no trouble agreeing with it! Good lord, where does this all end?

There is absolutely no evidence that Teach for America has been any sort of "striking success;" that's why Will cites no evidence of any such success. Despite this, Kopp's endless miracle claims are relentlessly used to bash teachers and their unions. She mainly deserves "enormous credit" for being a corporate tool.

Steve has no trouble with any of this! Dear God Machine, where does this end?

Posted by: bob somerby on February 27, 2011 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

It's a matter of priorities: the 18 soldiers who could be sent to Vietnam... sorry, Afghanistan, are much more important than the thousands more kids who could be helped by funding TFA with that same money.

It makes perfect sense, provided you don't think about it.


Posted by: Zorro on February 27, 2011 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

By what measure is TFA a "striking success"? Placing graduates of "elite" schools into classrooms in needy districts, yes. But as mentioned above, they don't stay long, and it's unclear how much good they do while they're in those classrooms. They receive just a few weeks of training beforehand, and may have no experience working with "elite" children, much less those who may not have had breakfast this morning or dinner last night or whose parents don't speak English. In what other profession would we accept placement of the greenest, least prepared recruits into the most difficult situations? (Here's an idea: let's have first-year medical students do the most challenging brain surgeries.) TFA exists only because we as a society choose to pay for children's educations in direct proportion to their families' incomes. We shouldn't celebrate TFA -- we should be working to make it obsolete.

Posted by: R on February 27, 2011 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

"George Will forgot to mention that Michelle Bachmann believes TFA is a socialist re-education conspiracy."

...a program that Michele's son, Harrison Bachmann, joined.

Michele's remarks about TFA are as hypocritical as her acceptance of farm subsidies for her own "hobby farm" while simultaneously ranting against said farm subsidies.


Posted by: Tired of the Hypocrisy on February 27, 2011 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

I was just going to say that Bob Somerby was going to unload on this column. But I was beaten to the punch by... Bob Somerby himself!

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on February 27, 2011 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

I am by no means a fan of Will's--he rigidly adheres to a traditional conservative line--but he certainly isn't a "Republicans can do no wrong" guy.

And while it would have been nice to see him point the finger directly at the Republicans here, I suspect that this column was consciously aimed at the Congressional Republicans. The purpose of the column was to argue for a particular worthwhile program, not to score political points. I'm fine with that.

Posted by: DRF on February 27, 2011 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

My understanding is that both republicans and democrats have foolishly agreed to the "no earmarks" rule, n'est-ce pas?
Posted by: chi res on February 27, 2011 at 10:48 AM

That's definitely how it came to pass, yes. But, if you read Will carefully, you'll notice he's not bitching about the no earmarks rule per se; he's complaining about *semantics*: [Washington] has obtusely defined "earmark" to include "any named program,"[...]

So, it's not the principle that bugs him; it's the (misguided, in his opinion) definition of what should count as an "earmark" and what is considered an earmark now ("any named program"). Who defined it that way I don't know and Will doesn't say.

And, to Steve Benen: the only reason Will likes TfA is that the Teachers Unions do not. I thought you knew that :)

Posted by: exlibra on February 27, 2011 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, bob, knew you'd come through.

No chance of an update by benen using any facts.

Posted by: Tom M on February 27, 2011 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

Is Kopp overrated?? I think this is interesting.


Posted by: maddem on February 27, 2011 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

TFA is fine for what it does. But it's the product of the problems in our education system, not a significant step towards a solution. As others have noted, few participants stay in the teaching profession, and those that stay or go on to other education advocacy positions might have done so without the program, making it difficult to evaluate. Nor does it seem to be scalable to a significant degree.

I can't complain about a program that encourages smart, motivated people to try teaching, especially when it directs resources to needy schools. But let's not pretend it does much to address the structural problems that need to be solved if we're going to have real improvement.

Posted by: dsimon on February 27, 2011 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

Echoing the critiques of TFA -- there's nothing inherently wrong about funding bright college kids to teach in urban schools. But the program has gone way beyond that and has given pernicious support to the worst of the education "reform" movement, embodied by Michelle Rhee et al. who have no idea what kind of teaching works, but think that merely abolishing tenure and seniority, administering testing regimes and firing teachers are the answer to the problems of education.

Posted by: Upper West on February 27, 2011 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

TFA is not a striking success. None of the INDEPENDENT research on the program is positive. After a 5 week cram course of canned strategies, inexperienced, young, white, students are thrown into some of the most difficult schools in the country. TfA exemplifies the Walmartization of the teaching profession and is nothing more than a means for schools to keep pay scales low by churning staff. No other profession considers no-nothing temps qualified to tackle challenging problems, yet this program just received $50 million from DoE to do just that.

None of the billionaire edu-reformers permit their children to be taught by drastically untrained, inexperienced teachers. Yet, this is the model of teacher training endorsed in Obama's neoliberal education deforms via Race to the Top. This is not about saving poor kids. It's about privatizing public schools. TfA fits the human capital model corporate reformers need to keep cost low and profits high.

I rarely agree with Geo Will, but TfA can't be cut from the budget soon enough.

Posted by: jcg on February 27, 2011 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are OK with cutting education because they don't believe education makes you smart. Experience and making deals makes you smart. The first commenter was right.

Posted by: Mark on February 28, 2011 at 12:13 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans didn't make TFA and earmark.
It is one.

Funding set aside for a specific purpose.

The opposite is funding for general use to be determined, usually, by unelected bureaucrats.

Republicans object to those too calling them "slush funds".

Lather, rinse, repeat.

They don't hate ALL spending. They just hate specifics like earmarks.
Once they're gone, the attack on government "slush funds" can commence.

Even an American public as detached as ours hould wake up to this kubuki theater at SOME point, shouldn't it?

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on February 28, 2011 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, The Daily Howler certainly makes hash of this.

Posted by: Greg on March 1, 2011 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, The Daily Howler certainly makes hash of this.

Posted by: Greg on March 1, 2011 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK



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