Four BOE Candidates are Teach for America Alums – Is this a Problem? Does Not Appear So Based on Their Public Positions

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.

5 Responses to Four BOE Candidates are Teach for America Alums – Is this a Problem? Does Not Appear So Based on Their Public Positions

  1. The Parent Educator says:

    Mr. Stockwell, it sounds like you are endorsing these candidates. I would like to ask you to provide equitable opportunities for all candidate’s stance and response to an agenda related to Charter Schools. There are other candidates who oppose them as well as support them, those who sit on boards of them and those whose children have only attended them. Not to defend Matthew, however when we look at the board as a true board and not individual candidates, we must factor in the implications this could have on traditional public school as well as the future of teachers in Atlanta.

    • Quite to the contrary – I am not endorsing any of the candidates – simply publishing their public positions on charter schools which stand in direct contrast to the misleading innuendo contained in Mr. Cardinale’s article. In addition, I welcome all candidates to provide updates and additional information on their position on all issues – and have asked them to do so. When I receive them, I will publish them in their entirety (see today’s post on Eshe’ Collins). Also, I believe that you are right that we must consider what the BOE might look like from a policy standpoint given whatever mix is ultimately elected. However, at this point, my sense is that the candidate pool is mostly composed of reasonable individuals that have the best interests of the students in mind.

  2. Juan says:

    Robert, it’s interesting how you use the typical language of the reformers a la Michelle Rhee or Tony Bennett when discussing these candidates. The rhetoric of fake altruism is frankly getting old (for the kids, for their interests, students first, etc…). I’m sure these candidates have their own egos and interests to promote and perhaps those of people who profit from educating children. Do you really not see how laughable it seems to those of us who have been in the classroom for more than a brief stint of 2-3 years how these corps members seem? These TFA characters have a definite agenda that ought to be questioned more deeply than you pretend to do in your article. Instead of echoing their platitudes and empty rhetoric, one that is so offensive to my colleagues and those of us who plan to stay teaching and not assume it’s a trampoline for self-interest, you should ask them a simple question:
    What could possibly qualify you to be a candidate to such an important position considering you have so little experience in the classroom? (By the way, being in charge of curriculum or other made up charter school positions do not translate into classroom experience.)

    Of course, I have heard the responses and believe me the responses they’ll give can be googled, especially considering how they have the corporate PR TFA team helping them through their honorable (it’s for the kids) challenge.

  3. Active Voter says:

    I have met some awesome TFA teachers and I also come from an alternative program. BUT I have seen more TFA teachers “run” from the classroom than stay. Unfortunately, the overall agenda seems to be to stay for two years to fulfill obligation and get my loans paid off and go to law school. It is laughable (2-3 years of classroom experience) because they have no legitimacy to me. A few of these candidates also have been backed by corporations and/or work for companies who back charter school to the point of profit would probably like to see APS come a charter school system. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not against charter schools and their intentions. I am against the people with the wrong intentions that make the charter schools system seem segregated; believe that the public schools are the worst place in the world to have your children; and who want to rush in putting up any type of charter school. Just think if these people would put the same energy as I do in my children’s non-chartered school and see the results they will have. Again, all are needed to fill gaps because one type does not fit ALL. Finally, please confirm for me that one of the KIPP’s founders is the husband of the founder/leader of TFA. As a note, I am on my 11th year from a different program that didn’t offer all these benefits like TFA and I feel that it was a better screening process because we didn’t have the promise of paying our student loans.

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