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Rhapsodies & Rants: 12-14-2011

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Someone Doesn't Like Teach for America

So, after two whole years in the classroom Kelly Amis moved on to make a series of short "mockumentaries" about the schools ("Chalking It Up," Dec. 7). This critical stance is often the case for the children of the 1% who do their pedagogic fly-by as a Teach for America (TFA) member. Teach for America is for the students from the nation's elite universities who come to the inner city to dip their oh-so-sensitive toes into the too-chilly waters of urban classrooms. The vast majority leave the profession after the minimum two years, and leave the students of the lower rungs of the 99% behind as well. Teaching is hard and doesn't pay well. There are other, more lucrative professions available to graduates of Stanford/Harvard/Princeton/et al.—like selling toxic financial instruments on Wall Street. Or making films based on misinformation, for that matter.

If Ms. Amis actually had any expertise in education, she would not be talking about teachers' "tenure policies." Teachers in California don't have tenure. Teachers have three different employment categories: temporary, probationary and permanent. Temporary and probationary teachers can be dismissed without cause. Permanent teachers have due-process rights and can be dismissed only with "cause" established and documented. If some teacher over the course of years, as she alleges, "slept all day, every day," that would appear to be fairly easily documented. It would be probable cause for dismissal.

And then, as TFA provides its members only five weeks of instruction on teaching skills, and she spent only two years at a school, she concludes: "The whole school was operating in a way that was completely dysfunctional and chaotic." One sure way to make a school "dysfunctional and chaotic" would be to staff it with a bunch of nonprofessionals with five short weeks of formal preparation. Teach for America participants, obviously, have no shortage in the hubris department.

As to "a candid assessment of the nation's race-based achievement gap," Ms. Amis and other concerned citizens might well pay attention to the healthcare gap, the affordable-housing gap, the universal high-quality preschool gap and the living-wage-jobs-for-parents gap. It is the accumulation of those gaps that create the achievement gap. And, as opposed to Ms. Amis' opinion, the "statistics" have more then barely shifted—the statistics on the number of students living in poverty, that is.

Poverty in the United States has grown in the last decade and now puts this country into the rank of having the second highest percentage of children living in poverty in the 32 most industrialized nations in the world. America does terrible things to its poor children, and the schools have no remedy for that.

This film (or series of films) follows in the path of the critically panned, commercial flop Waiting for Superman. Propaganda, after a time, becomes tired as well as tiresome. Time to do some actual creative work on the socioeconomic problems that really plague the nation's poor children and that really handicap their educational achievement.

The truth is out there, and Ms. Amis could focus her artistic talent on the real gaps faced by the 99%. If she is so inclined.

President, Early Childhood/K-12 Council,

California Federation of Teachers

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