3 min read

The Worst Idea of All Time

The Worst Idea of All Time

To fix policing, we need Matthew Yglesias.

Matthew Yglesias wrote a post for his Slow Boring newsletter called Police for America. In it he suggests that we can fix our country's broken policing system by creating a Teach for America for law enforcement. As a Teach for America alumni, I can tell you that this is the worst idea of all time.

The key problem with Yglesias's thinking is that it supposes that the problem that needs fixing is that there aren't enough of the right people entering the police force particularly in high-poverty communities. The right people are of course graduates of America's top universities - the people recruited into the ranks of Teach for America.

The real problem with the American policing system is that there is a significant discrepancy between actual threats to safety, the types of people targeted by cops, and the crime police are most equipped and inclined to solve.

While I did watch The Wire all the way through once and all the way through season 4 a second time, I'm not going to assert that I have a lot to say about criminal justice reform. As a Teach for America alum, however, I'm happy to rant about the shortcomings of the reformist approach as I experienced it.

Yglesias would have us believe that really what police forces need are less training and higher attrition rates, which for the uninitiated is part of the Teach for America package.

Since the start of Teach for America in the early 90s, the training corp members receive comprises of 6-8 weeks of classes and summer school classroom instruction.

Imagine if your child's school required that your child receive an additional eight weeks of summer instruction in order to meet the standards that they could not demonstrate proficiency over throughout the regular school year. I would want a crack team of instructional experts to catch my kid up.

Then imagine finding out that in lieu of the requisite instructional superheroes, your child, who is already behind academically, is being offered up as a guinea pig to a 21 year-old who couldn't get a job at McKinsey straight out of undergrad. Again, speaking from first hand experience here.

This is precisely the situation Teach for America has perpetuated through its training model since its inception. Kids who are far below grade level are offered up as fodder because society is unwilling to pay the price to properly educate all children.

Yglesias writes:

Police for America would address the same issue from the opposite direction, creating a centralized mechanism for increasing the supply of educated officers available to work in high-poverty communities.

Being a cop is a notoriously easy job without much stress or serious consequences for making a mistake. Surely cutting back on training and trusting collegiate pedigree is the solution.

Yglesias even acknowledges that Teach For America attrition is higher than average, writing:

TFA teachers do have somewhat higher rates of long-term attrition than normal teachers

According to Yglesias lack of training and higher attrition is besides the point. The genius of Teach For America's founder, Wendy Kopp, was finding a way to hack the prestige of the teaching profession and to some extent he is correct.

TFA rapidly became a reasonable thing for ambitious people to apply to because people in the know regarded a TFA line on the resume as a perfectly solid credential.


... that’s why TFA seems like a promising model — you can really create prestige out of thin air with a little money, savvy, and media hype.

On paper, the idea that picking youthful meritocrats and dropping them in challenging situations with only their ambition to rely on is probably a reasonable sell in the mahogany appointed studies and wine caves of Teach For America's donors.

The post-Obama era cynic in me has a different theory. What if you secretly resented having to pay taxes to educate other people's kids? If instead of reforming education in the United States you actually wanted to undermine it by de-professionalizing teaching (even Hunter with his 168 LSAT score can do it!), and delay making investments in educational physical infrastructure and human capital for as long as possible, Teach for America is actually a perfect solution.

Teach for America is about defunding the education of the kids its donors pretend to care about. Yglesias's piece is also about undermining the safety of people he doesn't particularly care about.

There are no shortcuts. To get the actual public good of an educated and safe society we are going to need to force the richest and least taxed members of society to pay for it instead of funding their vanity X for America projects du jour.