An Open Letter to Teach for America Regarding Teacher Strikes

[UPDATE, Thurs 3/21/19: I have submitted this letter, finally, with 51 signatures on it. If you still happen upon it and want to endorse it, I’ll keep adding people until we get a satisfactory response. –SK]

Dear Ms. Villanueva Beard, CEO, Teach for America:

The current wave of teacher strikes across the United States leads us to request that Teach for America leadership rethink your organization’s stance towards your members’ participation in those strikes.

An Associated Press article (“Teach for America Slammed over Oakland Strike”, Feb 12) indicates that your advice to TFA members in the event of a strike is to do what they think is right, but to understand that joining the strike may come at substantial financial cost to them. To be fair, your spokesperson hints that TFA “is exploring if it could help supplement an AmeriCorps education award if a teacher loses it.”

This advice is troubling for three reasons. First, it’s textbook coercion to lay a decision and the penalty for making it alongside each other while acting like you don’t mean to connect the dots. The fact that AmeriCorps has a policy preventing participants in its programs from striking doesn’t make the threat less of a threat. That is, it’s no less coercive by virtue of being accurate.

Second, there’s a conflict between the fact that your members are fully faculty at the schools where they teach, including their right to become members of the union, and your policy that they face penalties for participating in perfectly legal activities attached to their membership. They’re allowed to pay dues; they’re allowed to file grievances; they’re allowed to vote in union elections; but they are penalized for striking. It’s difficult to see any logic in which those propositions are consistent.

Finally, TFA’s claim not to have a position on strikes rings awfully hollow in the context of your support for and collaboration with publicly anti-union forces; this piece from Gary Rubinstein names just a handful, and anyone who has followed TFA over the years is likely familiar with more.

We understand you’re trying to thread a needle: recognizing the right of your members to participate in legal activity while recognizing a policy of your partner organization. To be candid, we would be more sympathetic to the difficulty of that position if TFA hadn’t been so unfriendly to teacher unions–and the entire reason that we need them, which is to stabilize the teaching workforce instead of exponentially increasing turnover.

With all that in mind, we are therefore asking Teach for America for two actions.

  1. Shorter term: follow through on the suggestion in the AP article linked above to “supplement” any financial harm to TFA members if they engage in legally protected activity. Not to put too fine a point on it, TFA has access to resources (private benefactors in addition to federal dollars) to replace the subsidies without really missing any of it. We’re confident you could make up the difference without much struggle.

 

  1. Longer term: encourage AmeriCorps to change its policy regarding eligibility for loan-repayment or tuition assistance based on participation in legally protected activity.

As long as striking is legal, and as long as TFA members can join unions, it is unethical for TFA to discourage participation in strikes, and more so while pretending not to be doing it. Furthermore, although many supporters of teacher unions and public education are troubled by TFA in principle, your organization could earn kudos by doing the right thing here.

Sincerely, Concerned Teachers/Faculty/Union Members (you don’t have to be a union member to endorse–I meant that to include union folks who aren’t also teachers)

To add your endorsement, please CLICK HERE; this link takes you to a Google Form. I’ll update this post periodically with new signatures.

***
Seth Kahn, PhD
Professor of English, West Chester University of PA
Member of APSCUF (Association of PA State College and University Faculties)

Steven Singer
English Language Arts Teacher in Western Pennsylvania
Edublogger – Gadflyonthewallblog.com
Blogger & Research Director at the Badass Teachers Association
Member of NEA

Rosemary Pearce
Teacher
Bayport-Blue Point UFSD
Bayport-Blue Point Teachers’ Association

Anne Nguyen
Teacher
Hartford Public Schools
AFT &HFT

Laurie Ann Lawrence
Gifted Support Teacher
Henry County BOE
NEA/GAE/HCEA

Gregory Sampson
Teacher
Duval County Public Schools
Grumpy Old Teacher
Duval Teachers United

Lisa Konigsberg
Instructor
West Chester University of PA
APSCUF

Susan Schorn
Writing Coordinator
University of Texas-Austin
Texas State Employees Union

Liliana Naydan
Assistant Professor of English
Penn State University-Abington
Former LEO Michigan union leader

Michael Flanagan, Ed.D.
Teacher, UFT Union Rep
NYC Department of Education
Badass Teachers Association Executive Board
UFT, NYSUT, AFT

Craig Crowder
Graduate Instructor
University of Kentucky

Caprice Lawless
Adjunct Faculty
Front Range Community College

Carolyn Betensky
Professor of English
University of Rhode Island
URI-AAUP

Anne Frances Wysocki
Associate Professor Emeritus of English
Department of English
University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

Galen Leonhardy
Professor of English
Blackhawk College
IFT Local 1836

Heather Schell
Assistant Professor
George Washington University

Joe Berry
Retired teacher and professor
Retired City College of San Francisco and U of IL, presently Ton Duc Thang U, Viet Nam
AFT 2121 at CCSF (and NEA, AAUP, NWU/UAW, and IWW)

Don Unger
Assistant Professor
University of Mississippi
UCW-CWA

Darin Jensen
English Instructor
Des Moines Area Community College
NEA

Drew M. Loewe
Associate Professor, Writing and Rhetoric
St. Edward’s University
www.drewloewe.net 

Leslie Bary
Department of Modern Languages
University of Louisiana-Lafayette
AAUP

Dr. Sheila Addison
Researcher, consultant, trainer
Margin to Center Consulting
http://www.drsheilaaddison.com

Mercedes K. Schneider, Oh.D.
Classroom teacher
St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana
deutsch29.wordpress.com
St. Tammany Federation of Teachers

Eliza Noh
Professor
California State University-Fullerton
California Faculty Association

Karen Kirkpatrick
Teacher
Madison Elementary
CTA/NEA

Liberty Stanavage
Associate Professor
SUNY Potsdam
UUP

Nora Bacon
Professor Emerita
University of Nebraska at Omaha
AAUP

Frances L. Pierce, M Ed
PSEA-NEA UniServ Director, Retired
Retired
PSEA-NEA Retired

Donald Eismann
Retired School Administrator
Sumner Bonney Lake School District

Jennifer Beech
Professor of English
Univ. TN@ Chattanooga
UCWA

Sherri Craig
Assistant Professor
West Chester University of PA
APSCUF

Dawn M. Armfield, PhD
Assistant Professor
Minnesota State University, Mankato
IFO

Amy Lynch-Biniek
Professor
Kutztown University
APSCUF

Ashley Patriarca
Associate Professor, English
West Chester University of Pennsylvania
APSCUF

Lydia Snow
Music Education Instructor
Northeastern Illinois University
Illinois Federation of Teachers

Megan Berkobien
Graduate Worker
University of Michigan
GEO3550

Marjorie Stewart
Associate Professor of English
Glenville State College

Jennifer Johnson
Lecturer
University of California, Santa Barbara
UC – AFT

Nancy Mack
Professor of English Emeritus
Wright State University
Engaging Writers with Multigenre Research
AAUP

Paulette Stevenson
Instructor
Arizona State University

Karen Mitchell
Elementary Teacher, Retired; English Instructor, Retired Juneau, AK School District; University of AK SR
Former member NEA, AFT

Jerry Carbo
Professor
Shippensburg University
APSCUF

Amy Wan
Associate Professor of English
Queens College, CUNY
PSC-CUNY

Ann Green
Professor
Saint Joseph’s University

T J Geiger
Assistant Professor of English
Baylor University

Darci Thoune
Associate Professor of English/First-Year Writing Program Coordinator
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
AFT-UAPUWL Local 6502

Miriam Reumann
Teaching Professor, Dept. of History
University of Rhode Island
AAUP

Thomas Ultican
Retired Teacher
Mar Vista High School
tultican.com
SEA

Lynne Formigli
6th grade science teacher
Cabrillo middle school SCUSD
NBPTS EA Science
UTSC

Delia Poey
Professor of Spanish
Florida State University

Peter Greene
Retired teacher

 

 

 

 

 

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