APS board gets Teach for America infusion

It appears Atlanta voters are not concerned about school board candidates with Teach for America credentials.

Voters elected TFA alum Tuesday, teacher Matt Westmoreland, who had no opposition in his bid for the District 3 seat, and re-elected alum and District 7 incumbent Courtney English.

Two other TFA veterans, Eshe Collins in District 6 and Jason Esteves in District 9, are in runoffs. A Georgia State University program director, Collins will face off now with investment property manager Dell Byrd. Attorney Esteves will compete against education business owner and educator Lori James.

If Atlanta ends up with three or four TFA alums running its schools, expect some strong debate.

Education historian and activist Diane Ravitch foreshadowed that debate Friday at two appearances in Atlanta. She condemned Teach for America and its candidate slates as part of “full-bore attack on urban education… They portray themselves in ways that make them look like heroes while they destroy the public square.”

Ravitch’s Network for Public Education, an advocacy group that opposes high-stakes testing, mass school closures and the privatization of schools, endorsed in the APS school board contests. Only one of the candidates endorsed by Ravitch’s group was leading, Mary Palmer in District 5.

Voters apparently did not see an insidious plot in the Teach for America candidates. Voters likely regarded their Teach for America stints as a measure of their commitment to kids. Certainly, all four show a personal commitment to the value of an education.

English earned his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and his graduate degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. Collins holds a B.A. from Spelman College, an M.S. in Urban Teacher Leadership from Georgia State University and a law degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law.

Westmoreland is a Princeton grad who teaches history at Carver Early College High School in Southeast Atlanta. After he left inner-city teaching, Esteves graduated Emory School of Law.

A Peace Corps model transferred to America’s most challenging classrooms, Teach for America places bright college graduates into urban schools after an intense summer boot camp.

But Ravitch argues that Teach for America affirms the myth that traditionally trained teachers are failing and allows politicians to ignore what is really undermining inner city schools, poverty. (She explores this theme in her best-selling new book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.”)

“I am seeing a two-prong attack,” she told her Atlanta audiences. “Privatize education, dismantle it and open it as an emerging market. Then, dismantle the profession and hire young kids with no training.”

Teach for America admits greater ambitions than placing teachers in the classroom; it acknowledges that it also seeks to place its alumni in state houses and education administration. In Atlanta two years ago, Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp said, “We have 3.7 million teachers. The notion that we can do this by just changing teachers is not realistic. We have to develop a leadership pipeline of extraordinary leaders.”