When I signed up for the New York City Teaching Fellows, I was a young, idealistic college student. I wanted to make a difference in the world, and NYCTF offered me that opportunity.
NYCTF is one of a number of local organizations run under the umbrella of The New Teacher Project, a sister organization of Teach For America. I'm not sure how the programs are run in other cities, but in NYC they focus on recruiting idealistic college students, young professionals, and mid-career switchers to fill some of the hardest to fill teaching jobs in the city (i.e. positions that certified teachers have chosen not to take). They do so through ads that emphasize how applicants can make the world a better place. Here are some of the slogans with which they cover subway cars and put on their website:
"What will New York be like in 20 years? Pick up the chalk and decide."
"Picture their eyes lighting up when you explain electricity."
"There are a million kids in NYC who could use your talents. Think outside the cubicle."
"Don’t think you can change the world? Spark the minds that will."
"You remember your first grade teacher’s name. Who will remember yours?"
So, when I signed up for NYCTF I had every reason to believe it was an organization similar to TFA -- one devoted to social change. Nothing in my training while in the organization indicated that I should think of it any differently. When I decided that I should pursue a different career path in education, I was still under this impression. And then I read their research reports.
Regardless of whether you think that their research is good, bad, valuable, worthless, or whatever, it strikes an odd chord with me. Their first research reports focused on the hiring systems in big cities -- more specifically, that too many teachers are hired too late. Their latest report, which is getting an awful lot of attention (see here, here, here, here, and here among others) focuses on the cost of NYC teachers who have been "excessed" (lost their job when a school shrunk or was closed) and remain on the payroll despite not having found another job.
I don't want to minimize the size of these problems, but is this really what TNTP is about? I thought they were an organization devoted to social change. That's what I signed up for. These reports, however, strongly indicate that they are a consulting firm devoted to streamlining bureaucracy, especially around hiring, in big-city school districts. Something about it strikes me as incongruous. This is not to say that you can't be in favor of both making the world a better place and dislike bureaucracy but, rather, that their research department and recruitment departments seem to be on different pages. And I can't help but wonder if I was duped. I'm no longer sure whether TNTP is a social organization or a business firm. In other words; do they really believe all those subway slogans, or is it just more efficient to hire talented idealists that way?