"Give me two years" in the classroom, he says, and we will produce "citizens who will make a difference as CEOs, community leaders . . . forever think[ing] back on their experience in a public school.
"And when it comes to making resource decisions — taxes, quality of education — they will be articulate, first-person spokespeople," he says. "I think that's critical to the national fabric."
Among the most articulate in the burgeoning Rhode Island network is Jeremy Chiapetta, who taught middle school social studies in Harlem with TFA and now serves as executive director of Rhode Island Mayoral Academies Blackstone Valley, overseeing a pair of charter schools in Cumberland.
On a recent afternoon, he offered a tour of the two-year-old elementary school, which offers kindergarten and first grade classes at present, each room named after an institution of higher learning — the University of Michigan, the University of Rhode Island, Brown University.
The kids, many of them black and Latino, are addressed as "scholars" or, from time to time, as the college classes of 2026 and 2027. There is an intensity about the place. "Everyone who works at a mayoral academy is totally mission-driven to close the achievement gap and get kids to college," Chiapetta says.
This is a school infused with the TFA ethos — an emblem of its promise. Chiapetta says two in five staffers are current corps members or alums. And his own experience in a Harlem classroom clearly animates his work. "It was exhilarating, tiring, rewarding," he says, "and it absolutely forever changed how I viewed the world."
But for critics, the world view of many TFAers — and the education regime they would shape from their positions of influence — are of deep concern. Crowley, the teachers union official, says a system that would drop high-achieving teachers into a handful of classrooms or separate out a small contingent of students for a charter school education is, at its core, a two-tiered system that leaves too many behind.
"I'm concerned," he says, that the TFA agenda is "about education for the few."
It is a critique that most market-driven reformers dismiss out of hand: competition, they insist, is good for the whole system; they care about all kids. But it is, in the end, the central question that Teach for America and its allies must confront.
Yes, TFA is good. But how good is it if it can't get big?
David Scharfenberg can be reached at email@example.com.