“The American system of education is broken,” writes Donna Foote, author of Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America, in Newsweek.
It’s the teachers, stupid! The single most important factor in student achievement is the quality of the teacher. And yet, we have no effective system to attract, train, retain and promote high-caliber candidates for our schools. Today’s teachers score in the lowest quartile of college grads and too many of the schools that train them are diploma mills. By making its program highly selective and attaching status to the job, Teach For America has proved that it is possible to get the best and the brightest into our classrooms. But no one â€” not TFA, not the districts, not the unions â€” has figured out how to keep them there. TFA’s most recent alumni survey indicates that one third of former corps members are still teaching Kâ€“12. Critics charge that the recruits’ short forays into the classroom exacerbate the critical issue of staff churning in our neediest schools and gibe that TFA really stands for Teach For Awhile. But the truth is, up to half of all the country’s 3.5 million teachers bail within five years.
To write about Teach for America novices, Foote became an “embedded reporter” at LA’s Locke High School. “At Locke, 1,000 ninth graders were enrolled in 2001,” she writes. “Of the 240 who graduated four years later, only 30 were eligible to apply to a California state campus.” Locke’s frustrated teachers voted to turn it into a charter school. Several of the TFA teachers in her book left Locke to teach at charters.
Some of TFA’s ex-teachers are rising to leadership positions, Foote writes. “Teach For America recruits can’t close the achievement gap, but its alumni might.”
Update: By the way, I’ve added Gary Rubinstein’s TFA Blog to the blogroll. An early TFA corps member, he has provocative advice for new teachers.
Update II: USA Today has an interview with Foote.