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Teach for America alumni bring criticism to Chicago

  • Morgan Mackovjak (cq) works with students in her fifth grade class at the UNO Charter School, 2744 W. Pershing Rd. in Chicago on Monday, September 27, 2010. UNO Charter School Network and Teach for America (TFA) announced a partnership to work with each other. Mackovjak is a TFA teacher in her first year of service. (Jos M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)
Morgan Mackovjak (cq) works with students in her fifth grade class at the… (Jos? M. Osorio / Chicago…)
July 10, 2013|By Megan Crepeau, @crepeau | RedEye

Teach for America is no stranger to criticism--but not quite like this.

On Sunday, for the first time on a national stage, former TFA corps members will openly criticize the way they see TFA headed. And they're doing it in Chicago, where the future of public education has been hotly debated in recent months.

At the "Free Minds, Free People" education conference in Uptown, the group plans to address TFA's focus on what panel coordinator Beth Sondel calls "corporate reform." The panel of parents, teachers and activists bills itself as "Organizing Resistance to Teach for America and Its Role in Privatization."

"We originally joined [TFA] because of our commitment to justice and equity," said Sondel, who was a TFA teacher in Baton Rouge, La.

"The reform movement that Teach for America is currently involved in, corporate financers of the organization, support and implementation of charter reform, and their promotion of the deregulation of teacher education--these are not the things that are working towards truly just education," she said.

Teach for America recruits young adults across the country, gives them five weeks of teacher training and then places them in two-year assignments in under-served areas.

In Chicago, 570 TFA corps members will be teaching during the upcoming school year, said TFA spokeswoman Becky O'Neill.

About 60 percent of those teachers will be working in charter schools, with 40 percent in traditional public schools, according to O'Neill's preliminary data.

O'Neill said TFA has been in contact with the "Organizing Resistance" critics.

"We have definitely been in touch and are eager to hear their takeaways from the conference," O'Neill said. She declined to elaborate on how conversations between TFA and its critics have gone.

"We haven't received any demands from them, and again, they're just going into these conversations with an open mind," she said.

O'Neill said she couldn't be sure if TFA representatives would attend Sunday's panel, though she does expect some to attend the main conference.

The panel mainly hopes to start a network of like-minded TFA alums and activists.

"I think another one of the goals is just to inform the participants," Sondel said. "It's important that people are able to understand and articulate how Teach for America is engaged with corporate reform."

In a statement regarding the panel, TFA said its members "welcome a diversity of opinion and rely on feedback from alumni, corps members, parents, principals and community leaders to help us continually strengthen our program and deepen our impact."

mcrepeau@tribune.com 

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