APN’s Matthew Charles Cardinale issued an article yesterday on the connections between four of the current BOE candidates – Courtney English (I-AL7), Jason Esteves (AL-9), Matt Westmoreland (D-3) and Eshe’ Collins (D-6) – and Teach for America. All four candidates, at one time in their careers, served as teachers with the TFA group. Cardinale notes,
Overall, the four are a largely pro-charter school group. If all four are elected, TFA alumni will constitute a near-majority voting bloc on the BOE.
And then goes on to ask the question,
So, what does this mean for APS, and how might a TFA voting bloc impact educational policy for APS teachers, parents, students, and other stakeholders?
In an attempt to answer the question posed, Cardinale relies on quotes from Julina Vasques Heilig, an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning at the University of Texas at Austin, who says,
In recent years, they’ve [TFA] aligned themselves with the corporate reformer movement. That means vouchers, charter schools, parent trigger, anti-union…You see the Teach for America alum leading out in this movement to corporatize education. What that means, take education out of the public space. They [charter schools] are no longer democratically controlled… What TFA has done over the last few years, is aligned themselves with a variety of faces in the reform movement that are taking democratic control away from communities, and they seek to privatize many functions,” he said.
Heilig goes on to say,
The voters have to decide if they like what TFA is selling.
I found this last quote to be quite interesting. While Heilig claims TFA is leading an effort to “take democratic control away from communities”, he then acknowledges that voters will make the decision on who will represent them on the BOE. That sounds an awful lot like democracy in action to me.
And if you are interested in more innuendo and guilt by association, go ahead and read the whole article here.
However, a look at the candidate’s actual positions is likely a better way to determine the impact of electing these four candidates on future school policy. From what I have been able to gather, here are their stated positions:
Courtney D. English (I – AL-7) – during the last two years, the BOE has approved a charter petition for Atlanta Christian Academy and the expansion of the highly successful Drew Charter School. In addition, the BOE denied at least 10 charter applications and allowed one charter school to close. Mr. English has also indicated that he is a proponent of not-for-profit charter schools if they can show that they will improve student outcomes.
Jason Esteves – Jason served as a TFA teacher for three years, went to law school and now practices law at McKenna, Long, LLC. Per Cardinale’s article, Esteves said,
My experience teaching in the classroom really impacted my outlook on life, and made me realize there are a lot of things that needed to be done policy-wise…I consider myself a strong teacher supporter. … We can’t have a strong school system without our teachers being empowered, he said.
Matt Westmoreland (D-3) – Westmoreland served as a TFA teacher here in Atlanta and is currently a teacher at Carver Early College High School. In recent interviews, Mr. Westmoreland said,
Charter schools are not themselves the solution, [and in another article, he said] he did not have any other agenda besides better choices for children in their lives,
Eshe’ Collins (D-6) – Collins served as a teacher in APS, then went on to earn a Master’s in education and a law degree. She currently serves as the Project Director for Jumpstart at Georgia State University, an early education, non-profit organization that delivers a high-quality curriculum to preschool children in low-income neighborhoods. Ms. Collins has provided support to KIPP Charter schools in the past. However, it is interesting to note that nowhere on her website are charter schools even mentioned.
The espoused views and actions of the four BOE candidates’ with TFA experience do not seem to represent a “cabal” for school privatization.
Instead, they sound reasonable, and they have a desire to add their voices to the decision process that will improve student outcomes.