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Media: "Reform Scare" Stories Inflate Accomplishments

Having written several times before about LEE, the TFA spinoff dedicated to recruiting alumni to run for office, I was happy to see a new article from The American Prospect about the initiative last week.  


However, I have issues with the alarmist and exaggerated thrust of the piece, which is to suggest that TFA alumni are on the verge of becoming ever-present among the ranks of elected officials.  

Writer and activist James Cersonsky writes that "A selective crowd of high-achieving college graduates is primed to take over the leadership of America’s schools."   

Well, no, it's not.  Not anytime soon, at least.

The piece (Teach for America’s Deep Bench) includes a peek into LEE's membership site that is certainly interesting, and pokes LEE for not filing its 990s and being unnecessarily press-averse (which just makes everyone crazy).  

I also appreciate Cersonsky's link to a recent LA School Report interview with TFA alumni Steve Zimmer, who as you may know is one of few TFA alumni who's run for and won elected office but doesn't follow what Zimmer describes in the article as the "TFA orthodoxy."

But the current reality is that most TFA alumni don't appear to be interested in running for office, and thus far at least LEE hasn't yet been able to recruit and support successful candidates in any large numbers.  The initiative failed to meet its 2010 goal of having 100 elected officials. One of its rising stars, Brian Johnson, recently lost the primary for state assembly in California.  The numbers in the TAP story say as much -- just four candidates for state legislature in 2010 (two won), just 12 running for school board (with 4 wins).  

That's not a deep bench, that's sort of embarrassing.  

I know, it's TAP; nobody's expecting much by way of balance or reflection.  And to be fair, TFA alums have done somewhat better at getting themselves appointed to district and state jobs, as well as hired nonprofit heads and as staffers in the Senate, etc.

But the piece is written and presented as journalism rather than advocacy and is part of a broader trend of alarmist "reform scare" stories which intentionally generate concern and -- unintentionally, I think -- inflate the accomplishments of reformers beyond what they should rightly be credited.  

Though they come from the other end of the ideological spectrum, these kinds of stories are just as bad as "bad teacher" and "failing school" stories.

Please stop. 


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Some days it feels like the news stories are coming from the children...they are like the kids on test day who get together and figure out who is going to pull the most explosive child's trigger to get themselves off the hook for awhile.

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