This blog will be on vacation for a couple of weeks. There will be a new post on January 5. All good wishes for the holidays!
In Education Week, Stephen Sawchuk reports that Teach for America (TFA) is closing its New York City and Los Angeles Institutes this summer. These are the five-week summer programs where TFA claims to prepare recent college graduates to step in to lead classrooms without any previous coursework in education theory and without the kind of supervised student teaching that college majors in education must undertake in order to achieve full certification.
Valerie Strauss reprints the letter TFA has sent to the school districts with which the agency partners to provide new teachers. In its letter TFA predicts that next fall, “we could fall short of our partners’ overall needs by more than 25 percent.” The organization blames the drop in applications on the tough education climate in America today including, “an increasingly polarized public conversation around education coupled with shaky district budgets.” There is, says TFA, “decreased interest in entering the field nationwide.” TFA includes in its letter sample language—for social media, letters to the editor, blurb for newsletters, letter to your listserve—that partnering school districts might use to help TFA fill its ranks.
Valerie Strauss comments: “Critics of TFA are likely to… say that TFA itself is partly responsible for a perception that teaching is not a stable profession. TFA, which has received millions of dollars from the Obama administration, has come under increasing criticism in the last few years for its longtime practice of recruiting new college graduates, giving them only five weeks of summer training and then placing them in classrooms in some of America’s most needy schools. Furthermore, TFA only requires a two-year commitment from its corps members to stay in the classroom—which some corps members don’t meet—creating a great deal of turnover in classrooms with students who most need stability. TFA says it has filled an important need by placing teachers in hard-to-fill positions though critics note that in many cases corps members have replaced veteran teachers.” Strauss adds that lobbying by TFA has added to the No Child Left Behind Act a Teach-for-America-exemption that permits teachers-in-training in its five week summer programs and other such alternative certification programs to be labeled “highly qualified” teachers despite that they are not fully certified.
Interestingly Jessica Williams, a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, also picked up the original story from a December 12 report in Chalkbeat New York. Williams reports on the closing of the New York training center and adds that today TFA corps members teach one of every five students in New Orleans. Her analysis reflects what has been said by New Orleans parents over the years since TFA came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, when the Recovery School District permanently laid off its entire professional teaching staff and the mass charterization of the district began: “The group has long faced criticism for placing rookie teachers in front of needy public school children; these teachers often have trouble understanding local cultures and rarely are of the same race, ethnicity or socio-economic background of the children they serve, critics charge.” Williams adds that TFA has been trying in recent years to respond to the criticism by bringing in more minority recruits and students who have received Pell Grants.
TFA’s diminished recruiting numbers for next school year reflect that all these concerns about TFA are being discussed on the college campuses where TFA does its recruiting. It is good to see that, despite TFA’s elaborate public relations pitches, young people are increasingly considering the value of professional training and what ought to be the definition of preparedness to serve the children in our poorest communities.