Teach for America grows, but . . .

Teach for America‘s expansion is raising questions, reports AP. With experienced teachers facing layoffs, do high-poverty schools need inexperienced teachers, however bright, who commit for only two years in the classroom?

“There’s no question that they’ve brought a huge number of really talented people in to the education profession,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, which advocates on behalf of low-income and minority children, and a longtime supporter of TFA.

But, she said, “Nobody should teach in a high poverty school without having already demonstrated that they are a fabulous teacher. For poor kids, education has to work every single year.”

High-poverty,  high-minority schools employ nearly twice as many teachers with fewer than three years’ experience, AP reports.

One third of TFA graduates are still teaching, according to the organization. Sixty percent work in education, including administration, starting new schools or developing policy.

In Why I did TFA and you shouldn’t, Gary Rubinstein explains why he no longer recruits for TFA. Twenty years ago, TFA recruits took “jobs that nobody else wanted,” he writes. The alternative to a “barely trained” TFA teacher was “a different substitute every day.”

The 2011 corps is nearly 6,000, twelve times as big as the cohorts from the early ’90s. Unfortunately, the landscape in education has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Instead of facing teacher shortages, we have teacher surpluses. There are regions where experienced teachers are being laid off to make room for incoming TFA corps members because the district has signed a contract with TFA, promising to hire their new people.

TFA has spawned arrogant education reformers who are “assisting in the destruction of public education,” Rubinstein charges.

In a follow-up post, he writes about how he’d fix TFA.

So here’s my plan: TFA becomes a three year program with the first year composed of training, student teaching, substitute teaching, and being paired up as an assistant to a corps member who is in her second year of the program, which is her first (of two) years of teaching.

First-year recruits would train at a university while grading papers, calling parents and subbing for a second-year TFA teacher, he proposes.

You will tutor kids after school. If necessary, you will cook dinner for the teacher you assist. First year teaching is a two-person job and you will be the behind the scenes person who does a lot of the dirty work so that the second year corps member can succeed. You will also be subbing throughout your city. Perhaps you have to sub twice a week. Do that for a year and you will have no trouble facing your actual classes in your second year.

With a year of preparation — and an assistant — the first year of teaching wouldn’t be so traumatic, he writes. Perhaps more people would want to remain as teachers, building on their first two years of experience.


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  1. “Nobody should teach in a high-poverty school without having already demonstrate that they are a fabulous teacher” – in what universe might that happen? There aren’t that many fabulous teachers in affluent suburban schools or most private schools; there aren’t that many fabulous teachers, period. Even if there were that many, the idea that significant numbers of them would be willing to teach in high-poverty schools is pie-in-the-sky ridiculous. Few do or will teach in schools in unsafe areas, filled with behavior problems and uninterested kids who are unwilling to pay attention and work hard.

  2. I agree with Mom –Haycock seems to be living in Aristophanes’ Cloud-cuckoo-land.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Just because something should be the case doesn’t mean it’s necessarily possible.

  4. The TFAers I know who left their original schools mostly went to teach at charters or private schools where the working conditions were significantly better. It wasn’t that they didn’t like teaching- it was that they didn’t like teaching in a dysfunctional environment.

  5. The word you should have used was “difficult” not dysfunctional. You also should have added they left the tough schools to the real professionals.

  6. Roger Sweeny says:

    Mike in Texas,

    I hope you are right about that difficult not dsyfunctional.

    Students learn significantly less at these difficult schools. If the teachers who are left are the true professionals, true professionals don’t seem to be very effective.

    Maybe nobody can be–but that leads to a boatload of basic questions about schools and schooling.

  7. Amy in Texas says:

    I think that difficult and dysfunctional are interchangeable.

    No intelligent, ambitious person will stay at such a school for long…that includes teachers, administrators and everyone else who actually has to work a shift in these classrooms.

    (Excluding the “facilitators” , “coordinators” and what all, who are not in direct contact with hundreds of these types of students daily.)

    In my experience, that leaves the worst people in charge of the worst schools.

  8. tim-10-ber says:

    Over all an extremely sad situation and the kids lose…just not good…

  9. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I don’t think it’s so easy to say where the “real professionals” are. A true professional doesn’t take on cases they believe, in their professional judgment, they simply can’t win.

    Good surgeons don’t do surgeries that they believe have no chance of success.
    Attorneys don’t take cases that they believe cannot be won.

    A good professional tells the client that their situation is untenable. There’s lots of stories out there about how someone had a case and took it to lawyer after lawyer who wouldn’t take it, but then finally found a lawyer who believed in him and won the case and moral vindication. But for every one of those you hear, there’s a couple of dozen dead-loser cases that were rejected by lawyer after lawyer, only to be taken up by some unscrupulous shyster and promptly lost, costing the client thousands of dollars.

    If a professional does take on a client, believing that the cause is hopeless, then they’re either committing a sort of fraud — taking the client’s money and hiding their own judgment about what’s going on — or they’re just indulging the whims of their client who feels like burning money on something, for whatever reason.

    In either case, it’s rather unprofessional behavior.

    The question with respect to professionalism and teachers is, then, whether a given teacher in an “underwonderful” school believes that he or she can, through the application of his or her professional know-how, bring about some degree of “success” in attaining the clients’ goals — i.e., educating the students.

    My guess is that some of them really do believe this, and so they take on what they see as the difficult case. Perhaps they are mistaken, and there is no way for an educator to effectively overcome demographic, economic, and other issues. Perhaps they aren’t mistaken, and they’re really making a difference. There’s lots and lots of anecdotal evidence for the view that one teacher can make a difference. (The statistical evidence is a little more depressing, but hardly conclusive.)

    Some of the teachers, though, probably don’t think there’s a chance. They think that the kids are pretty much not going to learn anything, and that school isn’t going to change their life much at all, at least not for the better.

    My further guess is that most of the ones that don’t are of the “fraud” variety, rather than the “This has no chance of working but I’ll indulge your fantasies and hopes anyway” variety. Parents, Administrators, and taxpayers at large don’t usually react well to that sort of attitude. Teachers who think they’re working a hopeless cause usually keep it to themselves, I’d wager.

    On the other hand, a teacher who sees the situation as hopeless and leaves it may very well be exercising tremendous professional judgment. Again, the question of whether his or her evaluation of the situation is right or not is an open question. And because we don’t actually really know how to answer it effectively — mostly because we don’t really know what we’re trying to do with our educational system (or at least we don’t agree) — it’s extremely difficult to determine whether the teachers who think that the situation is hopeless are right or not.

    Perhaps we should trust their professional judgment? I don’t know. But that’s why they call it a tough question.

  10. Maybe we should stop with the liberal agenda and start teaching again?? How about that. The liberal agenda got us right where we’re at, a big mess. It doesn’t work.