James Cersonsky

James Cersonsky is a labor and education reporter and an editor at StudentNation. E-mail him at jcersonsky@gmail.com or find him on Twitter @cersonsky.

Recent Articles

A Break in Teach for America’s Ranks

AP Photo/J Pat Carter
AP Photo/J Pat Carter T each for America is at universities, recruiting high-achieving graduates to teach in the nation’s underserved urban and rural areas. It's at school boards, lobbying districts to renew its contracts and import hundreds of its members. It's in corporate boardrooms, asking for tens of millions in funding. With more than 32,000 alumni, its former participants helm the majority of Achievement First charter schools, half of KIPP schools, and the superintendencies of D.C., Louisiana, and Tennessee. They dominate the well-funded, well-connected universe of charter schools and high-stakes testing advocacy. Teach for America is, increasingly, America. Now, it's facing a civil war. Last month, TFA alumni and members critical of the organization joined students, parents, and community activists at Chicago's Free Minds/Free People education conference for a summit titled “Organizing Resistance to Teach for America and Its Role in Privatization.” (The Education for...

Teach For America's Civil War

This summer, alumni and current teachers are launching the first ever national campaign against the organization.

AP Images/Todd Sumlin
AP Images/Todd Sumlin Twenty-four years running, the rap on Teach for America (TFA) is a sampled, re-sampled, burned-out record: The organization’s five-week training program is too short to prepare its recruits to teach, especially in chronically under-served urban and rural districts; corps members only have to commit to teach for two years, which destabilizes schools, undermines the teaching profession, and undercuts teachers unions; and TFA, with the help of its 501(c)4 spin-off, Leadership for Educational Equity, is a leading force in the movement to close “failing” schools, expand charter schools, and tie teachers’ job security to their students’ standardized test scores. Critics burn TFA in internet-effigy across the universe of teacher listservs and labor-friendly blogs. Last July, it earned Onion fame : an op-ed entitled “My Year Volunteering As A Teacher Helped Educate A New Generation Of Underprivileged Kids,” followed by a student’s take, “Can We Please, Just Once, Have A...

Pushing Arne Duncan to Fast-Forward

Activists demand that the Department of Education address discriminatory policies.

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
At a March 15, 2011, sit-down at the Children’s Defense Fund, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent an unequivocal message to black community and faith leaders. “What we’re desperately missing in this country is parents who will demand better for their children,” he said. “I wish to God I had parents knocking on my door every single day saying, go faster, you’re not moving fast enough.” On Tuesday, community activists from across the country did exactly that. Some 400 students and parents from as far as California descended on Department of Education headquarters to testify on the racialized impact of school closings, turnarounds, and other measures stipulated by federal education funding mandates. Statistically, actions like these tend to affect students of color more than their white counterparts in the same districts. Students displaced by school turnover are forced to cross myriad social boundaries, including gang lines , with little to no precedent of greater academic success...

Fighting Education Shock Therapy

With tools from 1964, community activists are pushing the White House to turn federal education policy around.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast Sixty-five-year-old John Washington pick up his great grandson, Rayshaun Cates, at Samuel Morse Elementary School, a Chicago school closed in 2006. T he watchword of austerity, “there is no alternative,” connotes painful cuts and layoffs adopted by fiscally shot local governments. In practice, though, this is a contradiction in terms: the politics of austerity are also a politics of imaginative restructuring, in which fiscal crisis is a cover for what Clintonites called “reinventing government” or, as partisans of Naomi Klein might prefer, “shock therapy.” The lie is starkest in the realm of education policy, where the Obama administration prescribes a slate of options for impoverished communities receiving federal School Improvement Grants. These range from “turnarounds,” which replace the principal and at least half of school staff, to charterization or outright closure. The catch with turnarounds and closings? Urban schools affected by them house more...

Teach for America’s Deep Bench

The education nonprofit is also training the next generation of politicians, who have very specific ideas on school reform.

(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
“Is this our Egypt moment? Will we seize the moment?” Former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein spoke those words at Teach for America’s 20th anniversary summit last summer. Coming from Klein , who is now a divisional leader at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, incitements to political uprising might raise some eyebrows. But at the summit for the nonprofit, which recruits college graduates to be teachers in poor school districts around the country, Klein was onto something that Nicholas Kristof and Thomas Friedman have ignored in their eight pro-TFA columns: behind the veil of well-funded , debate-worthy idealism, TFA is coordinating a political revolution. Since its founding, TFA has amassed some 28,000 alumni. Two have made Time ’s “Most Influential” list: its Chief Executive Officer and founder, Wendy Kopp, and former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor and StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee. Others have gained prominence as the leaders of massive charter operations, like KIPP...