Teach For America, Inc. Is Not Worth The Expense


This morning Crystal Bonvillian ran an interesting article about the Huntsville City School board’s plans to hire up to 110 new Teach for American, Inc. teachers over the next three years. These hirings will cost the system $550,000 or $5,000 for each new teacher. Yet this money represents one-quarter of the total cost associated with recruiting, selection and professional development of a Teach for America teacher. The actual cost for all 110 of these teachers will be closer to $2,200,000 over three years.

Mr. J. W. Carpenter of TFA claims that 75% of that cost will be covered “through donations from the private sector.”

Let’s think about this for a moment.

The Huntsville City School System is projecting approximately a four million dollar deficit in its general fund operating budget at the end of the 2012 fiscal year. In order to address that deficit, the board has voted to reduce new teachers’ salaries to the state minimum. Additionally, the board has voted to freeze all STEP raises for all teachers/employees. And yet this same board is considering a proposal to spend $550,000 dollars over the next three years with a private company just to hire 110 new teachers? And this money is on top of the amount that these 110 teachers will be paid by the system?

So, a broke system believes that hiring people to teach who are not trained as teachers is a good idea.


I thought that the private sector was supposed to be all about the bottom line? Wasn’t Dr. Wardynski sold to the system as a person who could bring financial stability to a floundering system? So how does it make sense to spend $550,000 to hire teachers–who aren’t trained to teach–when we could not spend $550,000 and hire teachers who are trained to teach?

Regardless of the stupid jokes that get passed around, people who can also teach others to do so as well. (In fact, no one truly understands a topic until they try to teach it to someone else.) Yet, according to Mr. Carpenter’s own numbers, 90% of the Teach for America “teachers” weren’t interested enough in eduction to pursue a degree in education. (According to their website, that number is closer to 94%.) They decided that a degree in some other field, that a career in some other field, made more sense and then changed their minds.

You know, I complete understand that. I, too, entered education from another field. Teaching is, without question, the greatest career on the planet. Being able to work with students and watch them struggle with concepts they’ve never considered before until they grasp them is, simply, the coolest thing ever.

So I understand why a recent graduate would consider teaching to be an amazing gift.

But Teach for America, Inc. adds additional overhead to a process that is working without adding any additional benefit. And that makes no sense.

Here’s a simple question: if we can and are filling our teaching positions without spending an extra $5,000 per teacher on recruitment, selection and training, then why are we even considering spending the extra money while we’re still in debt?

Could it be that the reason we’re doing so is because our superintendent and our school board do not respect educators? Perhaps this is why Dr. Wardynski seeks to blame teachers at every turn as he did last Tuesday when he said, “Educators can play games” with AYP scores and evaluations?

A person who has never been a teacher, who has received only weekend training seminars when he decided to enter education, finds it easy to dismiss the commitment and dedication that teachers, who have dedicated their entire lives to teaching, have to educating all of our children.

Here’s a thought: rather than giving $550,000 to TFA, why not spend that money on the classrooms that are already filled? Why not hire an additional 10-15 teachers on our own and avoid the TFA overhead? Why not go to those “private sector” donors and ask them to support our classrooms to the tune of $1.6 million over the next three years instead?

Only a superintendent with no educational background (but who appreciates the benefits of working in education for himself and his friends), would think this a good idea.


"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. This;
    So how does it make sense to spend $550,000 to hire teachers–who aren’t trained to teach–when we could not spend $550,000 and hire teachers who are trained to teach?

    But Teach for America, Inc. adds additional overhead to a process that is working without adding any additional benefit. And that makes no sense.

    And this;
    A person who has never been a teacher, who has received only weekend training seminars when he decided to enter education, finds it easy to dismiss the commitment and dedication that teachers, who have dedicated their entire lives to teaching, have to educating all of our children.

    And they are sending them to experiment on predominately African American students/schools.

    Lots more on TFA here

    But here is the kicker;
    A school system in North Carolina hired 100 TFA participants after laying off hundreds of traditionally certified teachers.

    Thanks for this post. Well said.

  2. Russell, perhaps we should keep hiring A&M teachers who don’t want to come to work, re: JoAnne Thompson. Your logic dictates that the teachers Huntsville is getting are better than teach for America. Prove it. From what I saw these teachers that teach for America will bring in have degrees in the subjects they teach instead of degrees in how to teach. Let me see…would I rather my son get instruction from someone with actual expert knowledge or someone with a degree in lesson planning? You know what they say about teachers…if you can’t do, teach! I’d rather have people who know their stuff. You show your true colors with every post. You and your vendetta are a poison on this city. Maybe Dr. Wardynski will see the light and give you that half of a million for your child’s iep. Your vocal minority will fail.

    1. Mr. Mullendore,

      Thank you for your comment. It’s good to hear from you again.

      First, the burden of proof doesn’t rest with me nor with the current certification process. The burden of proof rests with those insisting on an increased expenditure. Since Teach for America teachers cost more, it is Teach for America’s responsibility to prove (per your request) that they are worth the added expense.

      In addition to that, Teach for American must also prove that the added expense is justifiable while the system is in debt.

      Again, since the burden of proof is on Teach for American, since they are demanding the premium, prove to me that a person with a BA in Political Science is qualified to teach a first grader how to read. Since you love that your son is being taught by someone with knowledge in the field, are you certain that your son’s teacher will have sufficient knowledge in all the fields your son’s teacher is required to teach? Are you certain that a political science major is qualified to teach math or English?

      Yes, I’m well aware of the stupidity behind the saying “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” I alluded to it in my post, which again it seems you didn’t read. As any one who has ever tried to teach anyone, anything (even a Teach for America teacher) can attest to, you must completely understand something to teach it to someone else. If you have ever attempted to teach anyone anything, you would know this to be true as well. Assuming, of course, that you are honest enough to admit it.

      Again, you mention that I’m “showing my true colors” as if that’s a bad thing. Would you prefer I lie?

      Finally, as I have stated before, I do not have a vendetta against anyone. Nor am I asking for a half a million dollars for my child. I’m asking that we treat our students and teachers fairly and with respect. I’m asking that we make educating our students a priority. I’m asking that we spend our funds wisely. So far I do not believe Dr. Wardynski is doing so. I wish he would.

      If I’m truly a minority, why are you so concerned about what I say?

      Sincerely, thank you for sharing your opinion. I value differences, and I’m happy to have my ideas challenged.

    2. Mr. Mullendore,

      From experience, the current administration is out to cut spending and not for quality. I am currently teaching in Huntsville City with a Master’s level professional degree, yet because I do not have a teacher’s certificate HCS does not want to allow me credit for my Master’s degree nor my 18 years of experience. What exactly does HCS want? They want “higher degree status” and experience without having to pay for it. Would any administrator in HCS take a 30% pay cut as they have expected of me? I think I can rightfully assume not.

  3. Russell, you make the ascertain that “teach for America is not worth the expense” therefore the burden of proof is on you to prove that. So far your argument is a straw man. You like to use redirection and emotion to make up for coherent and cogent thought. Yes, I would rather have a teach for America teacher coming from Duke, Yale, Harvard, or any other quality institution than from the direct output of Alabama A&M. I do think these students are better prepared for the challenges which lure ahead.

    1. Mr. Mullendore,
      You seem to prefer name calling to honest debate.
      I have not made an emotional appeal, nor have I made use of redirection. I believe that my argument that teachers must understand their curriculum fully in order to be able to teach it to a student is a coherent and cogent thought. I also believe that since TFA costs more, then TFA needs to prove that they are worth the added expense. It doesn’t make financial sense to pay an outside company to do the job that we are currently paying our own superintendent, board, and principals to do: namely, hire and support qualified teachers.
      You are, as I have said often, free to disagree. If you’re convinced that a TFA teacher is the best possible teacher for your child, I suggest that you request that your child be allowed to participate in their classrooms.

  4. Furthermore, I am thankful that Dr. Wardynski is making the decisions and not you. I would put his West Point & Harvard degree up against any training you have had as an educator. You make an exemplary example to support my case. He is Teach for America compared to your lackluster credentials as a traditional “educator.” And I speak out as the representative of the silent majority who support Dr. Wardynski. If you think otherwise then you should run for school board and prove me incorrect.

    1. Mr. Mullendore,

      I’m glad that you are please with Dr. Wardynski’s decisions. Again, if you would actually read the post that you’re commenting on, you will see that I am not a “traditional” educator at all.

      I’m not trying to win a popularity contest, nor am I interested in running for school board. As I have stated, I am completely happy as a teacher, a husband, and a father.

      It doesn’t matter to me if my ideas, ideals and expectations for excellence in our public officials and in our schools are popular or not. It doesn’t matter if the entire city were opposed to me and my opinions. I don’t write what I write to be popular. I write what I write because I believe it to be the truth, and I believe in standing up for truth. I believe in standing up for fairness. I believe in standing up for justice, particularly for those who do not have a voice with which to speak. I believe in standing up for my beliefs even if it means that everyone stands against me.

      Those, Mr. Mullendore, are my true colors.

      Again, thank you for sharing your opinion.

      1. Unless Mullendore’s student is poor, black, brown or attends a majority black school he won’t be able to request a TFA teacher for his student.

  5. http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/62740946

    The above link is for a policy brief concerning Teach for America. It is a bit lengthy but the executive summary is only 2 pages. The researchers offer insight into the program. In addition, they give recommendations for district policymakers to consider before signing a contract with Teach for America.

    Let me know what you think about it?

    1. Thanks for the link Carolyn.

      The brief was prepared by The Education and Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Bolder and The Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University, written by two professors at the University of Texas at Austin and California State University at Sacramento. The brief is funded by the Greater Great Lakes Center for Educational Research and Practice. Click on the link for the Board members

      The first paragraph of the brief says it’s the goal of TFA to address teacher shortages….there are no teacher shortages…at least their weren’t until the reduction in force.

      The third paragraph states student performance did not improve with novice teachers.

      The brief also states:, the high turnover of TFA teachers is costly. Re-cruiting and training replacements for teachers who leave involves financial costs

      Enough said.

      1. I have a cousin that taught through Teach for America for one year a few years ago. No, he did not have an education degree, and No, he did not have a degree in the subject that he taught to the elementary students he was in charge of for the one year he was in the program. He is a very bright person (almost making a perfect score in his SAT), did go to college on a full ride, but wanted to give back for one year before going to law school. He did say, however, that most of the persons that are involved in Teach for America are just as this brief suggests, only there for a year or two, to get their student loans either paid for or greatly reduced, and then leave. Most were not qualified and couldn’t really handle the kids and the situations they were given. I know I personally don’t want that in my children’s classrooms. I can only imagine the moral level that must exist with the current teachers knowing that their leader can’t wait to get rid of them to replace them with persons that aren’t qualified and don’t really care about the kids. How would you feel if your boss starting replacing all of the positions at your place of work with perons that would only be around for a year or two so that it cut down on costs, but didn’t really care about the end product. Guess you wouldn’t be happy either. We are talking about the future of our children and they only get one shot at this.

        1. I’m convinced that moves like this are specific designed to lower the morale of our teachers. That’s a big part of the reason these decisions are sailing through.

    2. Carolyn,

      Thank you for the link and the evidence. I appreciate you taking the time to do the research and provide it here. I will reference it more completely in the future when I write about TFA again. I wish that our board would consider this, but I have a feeling from Dr. Robinson’s vigorous nodding of approval last Thursday during the TFA presentation that their minds are already made up.

  6. There is no success in demeaning your current work force. Dr. W has consistently looked for “excellence” in other states (Colorado) instead of training and professionally developing his current work force. To add insult to this injury, he insists on hiring companies to vet candidates….these companies and the money it costs to hire them arent necessary. Specialists, and directors at the central office and at the building level have the skills and responsibility of doing this. Dr. W hires these companies because he doesn’t know what a good educator is. He needs help identifying them himself. None of his desicions have been student focused. A system in deep debt should evaluate it’s own resources before tossing money out of the window. The state of HCS is currently very sad!!!

    1. Let’s recap

      How to tell if your School District is Infected by the Broad Virus

      Schools in your district are suddenly closed.

      Even top-performing schools, alternative and schools for the gifted, are inexplicably and suddenly targeted for closure or mergers.

      Repetition of the phrases “the achievement gap” and “closing the achievement gap” in district documents and public statements.

      Repeated use of the terms “excellence” and “best practices” and “data-driven decisions.” (Coupled with a noted absence of any of the above.)

      The production of “data” that is false or cherry-picked, and then used to justify reforms.

      Power is centralized.

      Decision-making is top down.

      Local autonomy of schools is taken away.

      Principals are treated like pawns by the superintendent, relocated, rewarded and punished at will.

      Culture of fear of reprisal develops in which teachers, principals, staff, even parents feel afraid to speak up against the policies of the district or the superintendent.

      Ballooning of the central office at the same time superintendent makes painful cuts to schools and classrooms.

      Sudden increase in number of paid outside consultants.

      Increase in the number of public schools turned into privately-run charters.

      Weak math text adopted (most likely Everyday Math). Possibly weak language arts too, or Writer’s Workshop. District pushes to standard the curriculum.

      Superintendent attempts to sidestep labor laws and union contracts.

      Teachers are no longer referred to as people, educators, colleagues, staff, or even “human resources,” but as “human capital.”

      A (self-anointed, politically connected) group called NCTQ comes to town a few months before your teachers’ contract is up for negotiation and writes a Mad Libs evaluation of your districts’ teachers (for about $14,000) that reaches the predetermined conclusion that teachers are lazy and need merit pay. [“The (NAME OF CITY) School District has too many (NEGATIVE ADJ) teachers. Therefore they need a new (POSITIVE ADJ.) data-based evaluation system tied to test scores…”]

      The district leadership declares that the single most significant problem in the district is suddenly: teachers!

      Teachers are no longer expected to be creative, passionate, inspired, but merely “effective.”

      Superintendent lays off teachers for questionable reasons.

      Excessive amounts of testing introduced and imposed on your kids.

      Teach for America, Inc., novices are suddenly brought into the district, despite no shortage of fully qualified teachers.

      The district hires a number of “Broad Residents” at about $90,000 apiece, also trained by the Broad Foundation, who are placed in strategically important positions like overseeing the test that is used to evaluate teachers or school report cards. They in turn provide — or fabricate — data that support the superintendent’s ed reform agenda (factual accuracy not required).

      Strange data appears that seems to contradict what you know (gut level) to be true about your own district.

      There is a strange sense of sabotage going on.

      Dolores Umbridge — Broad Academy Class of ????
      You start to feel you are trapped in the nightmarish Book Five of the Harry Potter series and the evilly vindictive Dolores Umbridge is running your school district. (Seek centaurs and Forbidden Forest immediately!)

      Superintendent behaves as if s/he is beyond reproach.

      Superintendent reads Blackberry (Goodloe-Johnson, also see comments ) or sends texts (Brizard, see comments) while parents and teachers are giving public testimony at school board meetings, blatantly ignoring public input.

      A rash of Astroturf groups appear claiming to represent “the community” or “parents” and all advocate for the exact same corporate ed reforms that your superintendent supports — merit pay, standardized testing, charter schools, alternative credentialing for teachers. Of course, none of these are genuine grassroots community organizations.

      Or, existing groups suddenly become fervidly in favor of teacher-bashing, merit pay or charter schools. Don’t be surprised to find that these groups may have received grant money from the corporate ed reform foundations like Gates or Broad.

      The superintendent receives the highest salary ever paid to a superintendent in your town’s history (plus benefits and car allowance) – possibly more than your mayor or governor — and the community is told “that is the national, competitive rate for a city of this size.”

      Your school board starts to show signs of Stockholm Syndrome. They vote in lockstep with the superintendent. Apparently lobotomized by periodic “school board retreat/Broad training” sessions headed by someone from Broad, your school board stops listening to parents and starts to treat them as the enemy. (If you still have a school board, that is — Broad ideally prefers no pesky democratically elected representatives to get in the way of their supts and agendas.)

      Superintendent bypasses school board entirely and keeps them out of the loop on significant or all issues.

      School board candidates receive unprecedented amounts of campaign money from business interests.

      Annual superintendent evaluation is overseen by a fellow named Tom Payzant.

      Stand for Children appears in town and claims to be grassroots. (It is actually based in Portland, Ore., and is funded by the Gates Foundation.) It may invite superintendent to be keynote speaker at a political fundraising event. It will likely lobby your state government for corporate ed reform laws.

      Grants appear from the Broad and Gates foundations in support of the superintendent, and her/his “Strategic Plan.”

      The Gates Foundation gives your district grants for technical things related to STEM and/or teacher “effectiveness” or studies on charter schools.

      Local newspaper fails to report on much of this.

      Local newspaper never mentions the words “Broad Foundation.”

      Broad and Gates Foundations give money to local public radio stations which in turn become strangely silent about the presence and influence of the Broad and Gates Foundation in your school district.

    1. Speak out. Support our teachers. Hold the board accountable for their decisions. Hold the superintendent accountable for his decisions. Vote.

  7. Redeye thanks for the post, but more importantly for not identifying yourself; your credibility is supported by your continued anonymity. If you would listen to our Superintendent you would know he is against charters, and school closers. The buzz words such as “best practices” are not bad, in case you didn’t know. And betsy I’m sure your “cousin” was quite real and so were his / her experience. If teach for America and our teachers are so good, why are so many school districts using them and why are we 49th in the nation in achievement. I know, it’s because our system is inbred and our students become our teachers from Alabama A&M! Look at our test scores and them tell me about our”great” teachers Russell.

    1. Dr. Wardynski is in the process of closing Providence Middle School. He is in the process of combining Whitesburg Elementary with Whitesburg Middle, thereby closing another school. He is in the process of combining Mt. Gap Elementary and Mt. Gap Middle, thereby closing yet another school.

      It would be helpful, Mr. Mullendore, if you would verify your facts before posting. I would also appreciate it if you could refrain from implying that people who post here are lying.

      Along those lines, could you cite your source for the ranking of the state’s “achievement?” A quick google search has turned up a match that says that Alabama is 49th in educational spending, but I haven’t found one that specifically shows where the state falls in “achievement.” Please feel free to post a link below.

      BTW, did you bother to read the link concerning TFA performance that Carolyn posted above? (Here it is again, if you missed it. http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/62740946) It states: “The question for most districts, however, is whether TFA teachers do as well as or better than credentialed non-TFA teachers with whom school districts aim to staff their schools. On this question, studies indicate that the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers.”

      Thanks, and thank you for sharing your opinion.

  8. Yeah support our teachers such as Jo Anne Thompson at Davis Hills, a teacher who decided to take off the first week of school and desert our children. I’m glad you want support people such as these Russell.

    1. Mr. Mullendore,

      If you don’t believe that our teachers deserve support, that’s fine. It’s sad, but it’s fine. I do believe that they deserve our support, and I will support them regardless of your opinion. My children’s teachers have been among the best teachers I have ever had the privilege of knowing. They are dedicated, professional, and absolutely committed to providing an unparalleled educational experience for their students.

      I do not know Ms. Thompson, and I have not spoken about her case in any way. Her case is, so far as I am aware, still pending.

      Thanks for attempting to put words in my mouth. Would you like to discuss anything I have actually said?

  9. “Vendetta”, “agenda” , “statements based on emotion and not cohesive and cogent thought” – sounds like Mr Mullendore to me. So all local teachers are bad because of two; and Alabama A&M produces “inbred” teachers? What a bigoted and irrational man he sounds like! Also ill-informed. If I remember correctly, the teach for America spokesman stated that “they” have a presence on that college campus.

    So Mr. Mullendore, perhaps you are in a position to give your name because of your blind support to this superintendent. Maybe it’ll help your child be given better grades or get whatever you want/need for him.

    I know of no teachers who dare to speak out about what’s happening in our school system. They are to afraid of consequences for disagreeing with the man.

    If the “silent majority” of whom you speak really exists why are they being so silent?

    I really don’t want to stoop to your level of name-calling and disrespet; but in defense of Mr. Geek Palaver I am moved to say, Mr. Mullendore you appear to be a blind fool!

    Keep up the good work, Geek – and maybe you really shhould consider runnin for school board. – you’d have my vote! !!

    1. Helen,

      Thanks for your kind words of support, but as I mentioned to Mr. Mullendore, I’m not interested in running for any office.

      Also, the “Geek Palaver” is just the silly name for the site. My name is Russell Winn. Feel free to call me Russell or just Russ. I’m happy with either.

      Thanks for reading.

  10. Hey everyone:

    I’m well aware that people are passionate about these issues, but as a favor to me, can we keep the name calling to a minimum. I don’t mind anyone calling me any name at all. Many of them are quite apt. But I would appreciate it if we could just discuss the issues in a rational way without resorting to name calling.

    Thanks y’all. And in case I haven’t said it enough of late, thanks for reading.


  11. I guess I can call *myself* a name, can’t I Russ? 😉

    A few thoughts based on what I’ve read:

    1) It’s foolish of Mr. Mullendore to continually speak as though all teachers are from A&M, and all teachers who ARE from A&M are bad, and all teachers in general are bad. Mr. Mullendore, there ARE bad teachers, I’ll grant you that. I’ve been exposed to them and they need to be rooted out of the system. I couldn’t possibly suggest that they constitute a large percentage of teachers because I haven’t personally interviewed or experienced every teacher. I doubt you have either. I can only say that the overwhelming majority of teachers that have taught my daughter have done a quite admirable job. From that limited sample I could infer that school-wide the majority of teachers also do an admirable job. I can also say that you don’t need a degree from Duke, Yale, or Harvard to be a good teacher. Being a good teacher has more to do with your personal commitment to and like of children than it does the quality of the institution from which they got their degree.

    2) Speaking of commitment to children….what kind of commitment to children could you expect from a transitory teacher? I’d much rather have a local teacher who’s in it for the long-haul and shares my values than anyone from an Ivy league school who happens to want to throw two years of service our way. Thanks, but you can keep it.

    3) I think it is equally foolish to compare the Super’s education to Russ’ education, especially with no first-hand knowledge of either person’s education. For all you know, Mr. Mullendore, Russ HAS a degree from Harvard. Stick to facts, Mr. Mullendore, and you’ll be fine whether you agree with me, Russ, or anyone else on this post. My personal opinion is that both Dr. Wardynski and Russ are equally trained for the roles they play in the school system. I don’t question Dr. Wardynski’s qualifications to be a school superintendent even if I don’t agree with some or many of his decisions. Admittedly, several of his decisions have me scratching my head. I also don’t question Russ’ qualifications to teach. I know first-hand his love of children and his love for teaching. You may be infatuated with the name of the institution that shows up on a piece of paper, but as I’ve said the qualities I know Russell has is far more important to public education.

    4) It is also foolish for a cash-strapped school system to spend extra money “finding” good teachers. You don’t need to spend money to find teachers, they are all around. It wouldn’t take long to ask teachers and parents and you’ll quickly have a fairly accurate list of good and bad teachers. We all know who they are and you don’t have to pay us to get the answers.


      1. “AAMU grads” is code for African American teachers.

        Teachers need to conquer their fear and speak out for the sake of the students and by the looks of it the sake of their jobs.

        Russ the students and taxpayers need people who care about them, who believe in them and who will fight for them on the school board.

        1. I agree with your assessment there, Redeye.

          But I also understand why teachers aren’t speaking out right now. Hopefully those “cagey” ones who are planning to retire will refuse to go quietly.

            1. I’ve been disappointed with the timid response that AEA has offered to both him and the board for the past year. They are not, in my opinion, doing nearly enough to stand up for their rights of their membership. It’s going to hurt them when they have a membership drive, I’m afraid.

  12. I have to wonder if the AEA is afraid too. And if they are…what does that say about the climate and the future of public education in our city, our state, and our nation?

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