Student Activist Group Calls on Faust To Sever Ties with TFA

A dozen members of the Student Labor Action Movement assembled outside Massachusetts Hall on Friday afternoon to deliver a letter to University President Drew G. Faust, imploring Harvard to cut ties with Teach For America if it does not make several key changes to its program by Oct. 8.

The effort is part of a larger national movement started by United Students Against Sweatshops that criticizes Teach For America, a nation-wide program that recruits college graduates to teach in low-income communities for at least two years, for undermining the quality of public education.

SLAM TFA Protest
Chanting "education not privatization," Gabriel H. Bayard '15 and Hannah L. McShea '18 protest Teach For America on Friday, Sept. 26 outside Massachusetts Hall.

“We’re calling on Harvard to support and provide the resources for people who want want to have lifelong careers in public education, not people who want to teach for a couple of years and then go to law school or business school,” said Blake A. McGhghy ’17, a SLAM member who spearheaded the Harvard branch of the campaign.

The letter to Faust addresses three areas in which students hope to see reforms to Teach For America: demanding the organization only send students to areas in which there is a teaching shortage, providing corps members more education and training, and cutting ties with corporations the students think threaten teachers unions such as Exxon Mobil and JPMorgan Chase.

If the changes are not made, the letter asks that Faust sever ties with the organization, including breaking partnerships such as the Principal Leadership Pipeline through the Graduate School of Education, deferrals and scholarships to Harvard’s graduate schools for TFA alumni, and the recruitment of undergraduates.

Harvard has a long relationship with Teach For America—the organization recruits heavily on-campus and receives support from many faculty members and students, according to Teach For America recruiter Tess Nicholson who was on hand for the assembly. Twenty-nine College graduates joined the corps last year, she added.

Nicholson, a Boston College alumna who just finished teaching as a corps member in East Harlem, New York, watched the event from the side. Nicholson said she saw promotions about the event on social media and decided to attend to reach out to SLAM members in hopes of finding common ground.

“I think if anything this is going to be a starting point for constructive conversation about education reform,” Nicholson said. “I think there’s a lot we agree on, and I’m excited to start there and continue the conversation from there.”

Nicholson said that despite the outcry from Harvard students and other national activists, Teach For America stands by its mission to ensure excellent education for all children. In a letter responding to the activists of the national movement, Teach For America co-CEO Matthew Kramer defended the organization, pointing out that nearly 90 percent of TFA’s 37,000 alumni work in education or in low-income communities. Nicholson said she is confident the organization will continue to be successful in recruiting Harvard students who value education.

“In order to one day end educational inequity, we need to be fostering leaders in all fields related to education,” Nicholson said. “People at Harvard care about education, and the need for dialogue is here.”

SLAM plans to more aggressively urge the University to cut ties with Teach For America if the organization fails to undergo the reforms SLAM members and other advocates across the country deem crucial.

“We don’t say there should be no TFA, we say that major reforms are necessary,” SLAM member Hannah L. McShea ’18 said.

At the rally on Friday, SLAM members waved signs reading “Cut Ties with TFA!” and chanted “education justice.” A few passersby offered members of the group high fives, but few joined in.

—Staff writer Mariel A. Klein can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mariel_klein.