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Teach for America fields political candidates

Former Massachusetts Gov. and Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney (C) and music producer and educator Kenneth Gamble (R) tour Universal Bluford Charter School on May 24, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pa. Romney took part in a roundtable discussion and toured classrooms.

Stacey Vanek Smith: Teach for America -- the program that recruits recent college grads to work in underperforming schools -- is making a push into the political arena. Former TFA grads, as they're known, have won seats in state houses and on local school boards.

WPLN's Blake Farmer has more on a tight race in Nashville.


Blake Famer: Teach for America has all the ingredients to become a political powerhouse. There are thousands of bright, young college grads -- often from elite universities -- who can be tapped as campaign foot soldiers.

At a recent candidate forum in Nashville, current and former corps members pass out T-shirts supporting one of their own. Candidate John Haubenreich worked for TFA in Newark, N.J. He’s now an attorney who sees public office as an extension of his time teaching high school English.

John Haubenreich: It’s producing a generation of leaders who know what it’s like to teach in an urban classroom like that.

Teach for America is encouraging its alums to run. In 2008, the organization spun off Leadership for Educational Equity. The separate non-profit prepares former corps members for public office, and it’s had some success in the Colorado and Maryland state legislatures.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time, but now Teach for America is fielding enough candidates that two have shown up in the same race.

Haubenreich: As an official organization, they’re having an interesting policy quandary as to what to do.

In a campaign to unseat Nashville’s school board chair, Haubenreich is joined by Elissa Kim, who taught in New Orleans. She stayed on with TFA and is now the chief recruiter. She’s gotten fundraising help from her TFA colleagues, including the CEO herself. But she downplays the affiliation.

Elissa Kim: At the end of the day, right, like what I’m for are great schools.

Kim is not the first TFA employee to run for school board, but her day job does create a potential conflict. In the more than 40 cities where TFA works, school boards pay the organization to come to town. Kim says she has nothing to do with those contracts.

Kim: Regardless I would recuse myself from any discussion or decision involving Teach for America because Teach for America will stand on its own merits, or not.

So far, the local school system has been impressed with TFA, increasing the number of recruits it hires each year. But hiring more Teach for America alums for public office, that’s up to the voters.

In Nashville, I’m Blake Farmer for Marketplace. 

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I think it's funny that TFA applicants are part of the 'corps' like they're doing something wonderful when in reality they're padding their resumes. Most TFA teachers don't stay in the schools they work in. Anyone who knows anything about teaching knows teacher turnover is bad for schools/students. This country always hires the lowest bidder...that might work for somethings but not with the education of our kids. We need experienced, well trained experts in education teaching our kids. Anything else is unacceptable for the future of our children and our country. TFA is a bandaid on a gaping wound. The short time these bright people are trained is no match for what they encounter in some of the worst schools in the nation. And, if one of these bright young people does connect with a child so what; they leave and take the child's heart and trust with them while they pursue public office and the almighty dollar. The wound remains. Romney is so out of touch with the average American it's ridiculous. The charter school/testing mania in the US is yet another bipartisan plan to pad corporate and political pockets. Shame on our elected officials for supporting this malpractice in schools.

Actually there is a growing backlash for Teach for America in Democratic states where Third Way politicians disguised as Democrats are being 'outed'. Here in Maryland Governor O'Malley has quite literally forced charters and Teach for America on schools and future elections will focus on reversing this trend. So I think you'll see it in states that have always pushed for privatizing public education, but Democratic states that were caught off-guard by wayward politicians will simply vote this movement away!

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