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DeRay McKesson has the distinction of being a candidate for mayor of Baltimore and an alumnus of Teach for America. He has gained considerable celebrity for his role in Black Lives Matter and protests in Baltimore and Ferguson.
The media has fastened on him, and the TFA PR machine has amplified his role.
“But for all the attention he’s received in the last year-and-a-half, Mckesson’s ties to Teach For America (TFA) have largely escaped scrutiny. Mckesson is an alumnus of the 501(c)3 nonprofit founded by Wendy Kopp in 1990, which education policy experts today regard as the vanguard of the school privatization movement. It is also a media juggernaut in its own right, known for deploying a remarkably sophisticated public relations arsenal to advance an agenda focused on crushing teachers’ unions and privatizing public school systems.
“TFA’s funders—including the Waltons, Bill and Melinda Gates, and top Fortune 500 corporations—all have plenty to gain from the commodification of public goods and the destruction of public service unions, and its 11,000 corps members provide a valuable service to that end.
“There are plenty of examples in TFA’s 25-year history to draw from. When 7,500 (overwhelmingly black) New Orleans teachers were illegally fired in the desperate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, TFA marshalled its ranks to fill the void. The fired teachers had belonged to a union, which might have resisted later campaigns to privatize the city’s schools.
“The same applies to the mass firings and school closures that have taken place in other cities, including New York, Chicago, D.C., and Baltimore. Wherever there’s a teachers’ union that needs busting, TFA is ready to supply its army of freshly-groomed recruits to serve as scabs.
“DeRay’s decision to run for mayor of Baltimore therefore demands a closer look at his relationship with TFA. His platform contains some good proposals, such as a $15 minimum wage and loan forgiveness for low-income college students. But not only is the rest consistent with the regressive policies advocated by the network of foundations and policymakers associated with it, some of the people linked to his campaign hail from that same background—like his treasurer, Nakeia Drummond, who previously worked as a public school administrator in Baltimore. Her LinkedIn profile identifies her as an “education reform strategist.”
“What’s more, there is even some evidence that TFA utilized its PR apparatus to fuel Mckesson’s meteoric rise to national prominence in the first place.
“Accountability and Transparency”
“The first sign of Teach For America’s agenda finding expression in Mckesson’s platform was his online campaign announcement. The text is rife with neoliberal buzzwords like “accountability” and “transparency”—not bad concepts by themselves, until you remember what TFA’s brand of accountability means for public school teachers, and then apply it to Mckesson’s proposals.
“We deserve to know where our city services — from housing and sanitation, to schools and police — are doing well and falling short,” Mckesson declared in his campaign announcement. “To this end, we must invest in a broad range of systems and structures of accountability and transparency, including the release of the internal audits of the Baltimore City Public School System along with annual and timely audits of all city agencies.”
TFA is ambitious. Why not take control of Baltimore?