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Teach For America: Far-Left Critics Are ‘Nuts’

The CEO of embattled education non-profit Teach for America (TFA) fired back at the group’s critics on Wednesday, arguing that some of the common left-wing critiques of the group are “nuts.”

TFA co-CEO Elise Villanueva Beard spoke at the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday afternoon on TFA’s future, and used the appearance as an opportunity to rebut the attacks made on the organization’s methods and overall intentions.

At first glance, TFA appears to have impeccable progressive credentials, as the organization recruits some of the country’s highest-achieving college students and sends them to spend at least two years teaching in the nation’s poorest school districts. Despite praise from President Barack Obama, however, TFA has recently become a punching bag for many on the left, who accuse it of corporatizing education, undermining teacher’s unions, increasing teacher turnover, and pumping too many white teachers into minority-heavy schools. Campaigns at Harvard and other top schools have even campaigned to have TFA recruiters banished from campus, much like many abolished ROTC during the Vietnam War.

Those criticisms may be having an effect. After years of rapid growth, TFA has seen its application numbers fall for two consecutive years.

Villanueva attacked almost every major criticism leveled at TFA, and was particularly harsh toward claims that TFA represents corporate interests, rather than those of children.

“It’s sort of, I dunno, nuts,” Villanueva told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We don’t have one single source of funding that’s more than 5 percent of our budget except the federal government. These are folks who want to contribute improving schools, and this is how they can contribute.” She was similarly dismissive toward complaints regarding the close association between TFA alumni and many charter schools.

“I don’t think it undermines anything… such a small percentage of schools are charter schools, [and] I think that anybody that cares about education should care about making as many great schools as possible as quickly as possible. I’m agnostic, I don’t care if it’s a charter school or a traditional public school.”

Several other complaints, Villanueva said, are simply totally fictitious.

“We get critiqued sometimes that we’re these white, Ivy League folks that are culturally incompetent,” she said. “Fifty percent of [TFA’s] corps members are people of color.” The corps, she said, is actually the country’s biggest producer of minority teachers.

Villanueva said factual misconceptions were also to blame for complaints about TFA filling poor schools with novice teachers when those schools already struggle with a lack of experienced educators. Low-performing schools receive TFA corps members, she said, because experienced teachers are avoiding those schools.

“If we could find experienced teachers, or teachers that wanted to teach in the schools where we teach, [then] amen, brothers and sisters, amen,” she said. “Teachers are not running to teach in poor communities with Latino and African-American students.”

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