Elitists aren't the best teachers

The fuss over Teach for America‘s Ivy League applicants — such as this New York Times story about “the chosen few” — frustrates Jamie Davies O’Leary, a TFA alum working for Fordham. What counts is commitment to low-income children, not SAT scores, writes O’Leary.

Teach For America screens heavily for humility, for evidence that one has the ability and drive to overcome significant obstacles, and above all for a commitment to kids in poor communities and a willingness to do whatever it takes to ensure that they learn.

TFA is recruiting at religious colleges, including outreach to evangelical Christians with a tradition of caring for “the least of these.” TFA should put more weight on racial and socioeconomic diversity in recruiting teachers, O’Leary writes.

The New York Times’ Room for Debate asks: Does Teach for America improve the teaching profession?

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Comments

  1. SuperSub says:

    I’m all with O’Leary except for his suggestion that race and socioeconomic status should be given extra weight. Nothing more will erode the reputation of the program than accepting candidates who would otherwise not be accepted simply due to their race or status.
    A teacher is an effective teacher no matter what race they are or where they grew up… and there is nothing wrong for minority students to have non-minority role models.

  2. What counts is the ability to teach content and obtain positive results, i.e., strong achievement. Nothing more.

  3. Ivies – and other schools – already use ethic/racial status in admissions. I just read recently that being black was worth 300 additional SAT points and being Hispanic was worth about 130-150.

  4. … because it’s balancing out prior diminished privilege, folks.

    Now, maybe we shouldn’t compensate for it. Maybe we should just say, “yeah, you had fewer opportunities, too bad so sad.”

    And from all I’ve heard, acceptance into TFA is pretty competitive right now. I doubt they’re accepting under-qualified candidates from any subgroup.

  5. Cynical says:

    maybe we shouldn’t compensate for it. Maybe we should just say, “yeah, you had fewer opportunities, too bad so sad.”

    Because making scapegoats of living innocents because most of the guilty parties are beyond reach (most of them long dead) is so much fairer than just treating everyone by their personal merits.

  6. Where did I say anything about assigning blame? The distant past has little to do with affirmative action; the point is to balance out reduced opportunities that THESE INDIVIDUALS have likely experienced as a result of being part of a marginalized group.

    The prior diminished privilege I’m talking about is what the candidates have experienced through their own lives, not about their ancestors.

  7. I strongly doubt that many “under-represented minorities” that make it into the Ivies have been marginalized or have experienced diminished opportunities; quite the contrary. Ivies aren’t admitting many kids with 6th-grade skills from the inner cities; they’re admitting kids with at least decent scores and grades. These kids are likely to have been raised in the leafy suburbs or come from private schools. As a classmate of my oldest son said; “I know I don’t have to take as many APs or have the same grades as you; I’ll get in anyway”. During the presidential campaign, Michelle Obama admitted that she didn’t have the same grades as her (white and Asian) college classmates had.

    According to a recent report, however, poor and rural whites are very unlikely to be admitted.

  8. SuperSub says:

    Having gone to an Ivy, I can tell you that I did not know a single minority student who came from a low socioeconomic status. In fact, while I don’t know their parents’ exact salaries, I’d say that most were better off than me given that their parents were doctors, lawyers, engineers, researchers, and high-ranking government employees.
    It was always nice when my friend’s father, a retired CIA employee who now worked for the State Dept., came to visit because he would take all of us (4 to 5) out to dinner at this one restaurant that had all entrees over $25. It was funny the first time we went because we all tried to order salads for dinner because no one wanted to be the person that ordered the expensive entree.
    Admittedly, I was in a science major and not liberal arts, so that might have skewed my experience with respect to the socioeconomic standing of my peers.
    On the other hand, I doubt TFA is hiring many individuals with “studies” degrees, and it likely instead is hiring individual with degrees in the sciences and classical liberal arts, so perhaps my experience is more representative of the candidates.

    Finally, any time you admit candidates for a reason other than ability to do the job, you are hiring underqualified candidates.

  9. Joanne, I think you menat to say “elites,” not “elitists.”

  10. momof4: did he get into an Ivy anyway?

  11. LS – I was wondering the same thing 😉

  12. Maya Anderson says:

    “The prior diminished privilege I’m talking about is what the candidates have experienced through their own lives, not about their ancestors.”

    I don’t understand. How is a low-income white student more privileged than a low-income black classmate at the same high school? What privileges does the white student hold TODAY in high school that the black one doesn’t, assuming they have the same family income and the same high school teachers, etc.?

  13. Because making scapegoats of living innocents because most of the guilty parties are beyond reach (most of them long dead) is so much fairer than just treating everyone by their personal merits.

    If everyone was treated simply by their personal merits, you’d have a point. Unfortunately, everyone isn’t; some people’s personal merits have a chance to shine because they’re born into privilege and given opportunities, and other people’s personal merits don’t ever get a chance because they’re born into poverty, have to deal with broken homes, or are otherwise set back through no fault of their own.

    To make recourse to the race metaphor – which is one I’m not fond of, but in a competitive situation like this it’s useful – it’s not a fair race when one person gets to start out 40 yards ahead of the other person. In such a race, you can’t honestly say that the faster runner won.

  14. He went to Stanford, which was his first choice, but was accepted by an Ivy and another top school.

  15. Ah, good for him.

  16. While an elite teaching corps is probably well qualified to close the achievement gap and equip the lower class with some of the tools to climb through the levels of stratification, are TFAers also qualified to create students of good moral character who value their local communities and culture? Elitism is not a quality I find particularly attractive in my neighbors, and have certainly felt alienated by TFAers for this very reason. It may also be useful to examine whether or not TFA justifies itself via some of the “questionable” attributes found in american education and american society in general: standardized assessment, improving test scores -> teaching to the test, the quantification of EVERYTHING in american education, boosting productivity

    I think Antionio Gramsci once wrote something as to the importance of having organic intellectuals serving the interests lower class… is this what TFA achieves?

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