Elisa Villanueva Beard and Matthew Kramer

Read about Teach For America's Leadership Team.

All Posts by Elisa Villanueva Beard

Like many of our Teach For America colleagues, we were watching television and following social media as St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown.

The entire situation in Ferguson that led up to Michael Brown’s untimely death and the face-offs between protesters and police in recent months have been tragic, and watching the reactions to the announcement last night brought that into stark relief. It also shined a powerful spotlight on the ways in which we are deeply divided as a nation.

At Teach For America, we work alongside our many partners to grow and strengthen the movement to end educational inequity, and we believe deeply in the power of people coming together from all walks of life to contribute to building the society that we hope for. We know the power that people who share the racial and economic background of our students can bring to this effort, as role models for students and as leaders in the effort leveraging the perspectives and credibility that grow out of their life experiences. We also know that people who have benefited from racial and economic privilege are critical to the effort. Because we need everyone, we have to be a community where people can work effectively with each other despite differences in background and perspective.

Yesterday, we had the chance to sit down with five college students, along with a staff member for United Students Against Sweatshops. Those of you who follow this blog closely know we’ve been engaging with this group for a few months now, and may have read about it here and here. The conversation offered a welcome chance to connect face to face, and to share more about the difficult, inspiring, essential work of our corps members, alumni, their students, and communities.

We first heard from USAS last spring, when they issued a press release to announce their “TFA Truth Tour” – an effort to dissuade students at their colleges from joining our work. This fall, it re-emerged with an administrator-facing twist, making the case to college and university presidents that cutting ties with our organization would do the most good for low-income students in underserved schools. As our 10,000+ corps members and 11,000 alumni teachers went back to school, the campaign stood in strange contrast to their tremendous grit, humility, diversity, and commitment to equity. And so, we were eager to talk.

Last night, we got to spend some time together to try to bridge this gap. Our conversation confirmed that our two organizations have a lot of common beliefs. All of us feel that as long as skin color and family income continue to determine a child’s access to a high quality public education, our nation isn’t living into its promise. We agree that the burdens of poverty make the work of public education much, much more difficult. We share the conviction that standing up for what you believe in matters a great deal.

Yesterday we received the following letter from the group United Students Against Sweatshops via email. The letter raised important issues and concerns and so we felt it was critical to share both their letter and our email back for all of those interested.

Our email response to USAS:

Last week, we read Dana Goldstein’s piece in Vox about the evolution of Teach For America. We’ve posted some reflections below, and would love to continue the dialogue here on Pass The Chalk. Please share your own thoughts and reactions—your voice helps us get better.

Yesterday, we gathered with nearly 1,000 members of our community in Las Vegas, Nevada at our annual Educators Conference for a special town hall event. Joining us were many others across the country who tuned into the broadcast online. We spoke about the current moment in our movement for educational equity, and the role our broad community of corps members, alumni, staff, and partners can play in moving it forward. 

We also had the opportunity to answer questions from the audience. Each of us came away from the event feeling truly energized by the dedicated educators around us, and we were reminded just how powerful this movement is.
Below is a video of the livestream, as well as the text of our speeches.


To our community:

Today, we want to honor the life of an incredible leader, writer, and advocate: Maya Angelou. She once said:

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.

We want to celebrate that love today, and we want to remember the work and wisdom of Dr. Angelou, who has inspired both of us with the power of her words. Throughout her life, Dr. Angelou’s writing addressed issues of justice and equity with a power that few possess. Her words will live on, and her legacy will continue to inspire us—she reminds us of the impact that teachers, families, and communities can have when we unite in our shared love of children and our shared commitment to what they deserve.

On March 4, we had the privilege of addressing several thousand members of our Teach For America community during our first ever “What’s Next At Teach For America” event, livestreamed from Nashville, Tennessee.  In our speeches and Q&A, we talked about where we are as an organization after 24 years, where we’re headed, announced some new initiatives to increase our impact, and reaffirmed the core commitments that unite us.  Most importantly, we celebrated the work of our corps members and alums, our staff and our broader communities. Thank you so much for your hard work.

You can see video of our speeches and read the transcript below.

In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama used the very first words of his speech to recognize the critical work of teachers:

“Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.”

Every day, millions of teachers in this country are working hard for their students – opening doors of possibility, exposing them to new ideas and helping to lay a foundation for their futures.  We see this from our 11,000 corps members, from the over 10,000 Teach For America alumni teachers, and in the thousands of educators nationwide who mentor and work alongside them.  

Several members of our Teach For America family were involved in the address. We are humbled by their inclusion, and are proud of their contribution to expanding educational opportunity in our country.

Our nation’s children want to be astronauts. They want to be artists, entrepreneurs, or the President. They want to be teachers and they want to be doctors. As adults, it’s our job to help them get there, and in America we put our public education system at the crux of our efforts to do so.   

Our children’s high hopes deserve the high expectations required to make them reality—that’s why, today, we’re proud to affirm Teach For America’s support of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). These standards continue what excellent teachers nationwide have always done—believe in the capacity of all students to achieve great things, and then help them get there. We’ve seen schools that set a high bar, even in tough circumstances, find better student outcomes than schools that don’t; more students succeed in class, graduate from high school, and go on to college. Common Core helps all schools raise their bars to help children succeed.

We are really proud of our alumni. This diverse group includes thousands of people fighting for educational equity in many different ways.  We hear so many stories of hope from our alumni across the education landscape that we wish we could share them all.  We’ll definitely be sharing more of them, more often – here at Pass the Chalk, and on Twitter (@VillanuevaBeard, @kramer_matt, and @OneDayAllKids).

About Us

We believe education is the most pressing issue facing our nation. On Pass the Chalk, we'll share our takes on the issues of the day, join the online conversation about education, and tell stories from classrooms, schools, and communities around the nation.

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The thoughts, ideas, and opinions expressed on Pass the Chalk are the responsibility of individual bloggers. Unless explicitly stated, blog posts do not represent the views of Teach For America as an organization. 

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