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Campaign 2012: Few TFA Alums Running For Higher Office

00031zqtThere are a couple of things worth noting about Ben Wieder's new Stateline article about TFA alumni running for state legislature this year, most in the category of cautions and clarifications:

The numbers of TFA alumni running for office in 2012 are very, very small.  The positions they're running for are at the very low end of the totem pole.  The candidates don't necessarily hold a uniform set of pro-reform views (neither does TFA, for that matter), so it's unclear exactly what impact TFA alums in office will  have, anyway.  It's appointments where TFA alumni seem to thrive and are likely to continue popping up in disproportionate numbers.  

There's already been more than enough hype about TFA classroom teachers already, given the remarkably small size of the program; let's not recreate the hype on the political front, too.  More details below.

The numbers of TFA alumni running for office are very, very small -- just a half dozen out of all the statehouse races across the country.  Even if they all ran in the same state (and won) they would represent an extremely small faction in most statehouses.

In the hierarchy of elected positions available to be won, the offices they're running for are a step above dog catcher -- school boards and state assemblies.  Nothing wrong with that -- it makes a lot of sense -- but there aren't any TFA alums running for Congress, or mayor, or even state senate (far as I know).

It will happen, perhaps sooner rather than later, but for the present TFA alumni candidates for US Senate or statewide office (governor, elected superintendent) seem like they're a long way off.  Running and actually winning will take another cycle or two.

At least some of the TFA alumni running for office have labor backing and/or take non-reform positions. Illinois candidate Jeremy Ly -- mentioned lower down in the article -- worked at a charter school in Chicago -- and helped organize it.  He's got backing from a variety of labor organizations. 

In fact, as the Ly example illustrates, it's not necessarily the TFA affiliation that's at issue in these races but rather the candidates' position on related issues like unionization, testing, charter schools, and value-added.  These aren't specifically TFA issues -- the organization takes very few official policy positions -- and TFA alumni don't all hold the same views on education reform issues (think Johnston vs. Rhee).  

In the case of Ly, for example, it's not yet clear whether he will get backing from Stand or DFER or StudentsFirst. He may be too pro-labor.

Appointed leadership positions -- state superintendent, district superintendent, senior advisor to a governor or member of Congress -- are important but are a very different thing. TFA alumni seem to do much better in this kind of spot than running for office. So we'll probably see a TFA alumnus heading another big-city school district (NYC, LA, Chicago, Miami) or being appointed as an assistant secretary (under Obama or someone else) sooner than anyone's elected to high level office. They're already embedded all over the place on the Hill and within the Obama administration.   Someone should write an article or blog post about that.

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As a TFA alumnus running for School Board in Nashville, I can affirm that this is the case -- we have a wide variety of experience and policy positions, and a wide variety of constituencies as well. What we definitely see here in Tennessee is TFA alumni taking leadership positions at the state level (Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, Superintendent of the Achievement School District Chris Barbic, various and sundry positions in both those departments, as well as at the policy organization SCORE).

It’s interesting to me that so much hype has been generated over a group of people that, as a whole, would not impact the political landscape by a majority... by any means.

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