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“Teach For America is an experiment, and the students in high poverty schools are the guinea pigs.”

-- Anthony Hart, 2012

Teach For America: Not a Solution for Failing Schools

America's Poorest Children in Public Schools Are Being Short-Changed
In New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina was a disaster that provided an opportunity for restructuring the public school system.  The entire corps of public school teachers was fired, the teachers union dismantled, tenure eliminated, and schools were largely privately or publicly chartered.  Schools not privately run were operated either by the Orleans Parish School Board or were subject to Louisiana Recovery School District regulation.  As the population returned to New Orleans, alleged teacher shortages were alleviated by inexperienced Teach For America recruits and Filipino teachers who were imported as low wage workers, even as many certified American teachers remained unemployed.  The process helped insure that the children of the city's neediest citizens would continue to remain under-educated and have limited future prospects.

Teach For America candidates who choose to work in New Orleans are new college graduates who take a scant five-week summer course in Atlanta before deploying to New Orleans.1  In exchange for a two-year commitment in the classroom, the young recruits are compensated with an average salary of $40,000 plus $4,585 for summer start-up costs, and $10,700 toward the repayment of student loans or other educational expenses upon completing their two-year commitment.1  Interest on major loans whose repayment is postponed during the two-year commitment is also paid.  It is an attractive first employment experience for new graduates at a time when national unemployment has been very high.  As indicated by the following three letters by veteran educators who have observed these often ill-prepared novices in practice, the Teach For America program is failing many of America's children, particularly those who are most in need of teachers with substantial professional training and experience.2-6  A competing program with similar goals is The New Teacher Project, which trains professionals (non-educators) to replace certified teachers in at-risk schools.7,8

La. gives Teach For America $1 million
October 27, 2011

Teach For America does not place top flight teachers in challenging school districts. Teach For America places young, enthusiastic liberal arts graduates in teaching positions in challenging school districts.

Teachers major in education, serve various internships and take multiple professional courses in pedagogy (the art and science of education) taught by qualified educators during a four-year degree program. Then, many go back to graduate school and get a master's degree because they want to be the best at what they do or to specialize in the type of student or subject they love to teach. Some go on to get national certification, a rigorous program very different from college, that teaches them to analyze their work and become even better. A few go further for an Ed.S. or Ph.D.

Teach For America gives college graduates with high grade-point averages a five-week crash course in teaching, then the school system is expected to mentor them and make them into teachers while they struggle to teach the most challenging students in Louisiana to read, write and do math. After two years, when they are beginning to know what they are doing, they leave. Some remain in education, but I would challenge anyone to find the percentage that stay in the troubled schools that trained and nurtured them.

A million dollars donated to Teach For America by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education seems extravagant and wasteful in a state where the K-12 budget has been frozen for three years, teachers have been laid off and important programs destroyed.

Gov. Bobby Jindal says Louisiana needs to do more with less, but he seems to have as much money as he needs to do whatever he wants. And something he seems to want really badly is to eliminate professional, experienced, highly-educated career teachers from Louisiana.

If Teach For America really wants to provide teachers, it needs to require a commitment of five years, not two, to the program. Since it takes three years to become a skilled teacher, that means the schools will get the benefits of a teacher who understands the basics by her third year and a quality teacher for the fourth and fifth. By then she also should be comfortable in her job and might decide to remain an educator in the public schools instead of chasing a career that pays more or offers prestige and respect. Maybe she discovers she has found her calling. The million dollars would be well spent if this happened, but not if TFA remains two years and gone. As is, the suddenly available $1 million would be better spent restoring slashed programs, helping truants find educational success or getting more little ones into pre-kindergarten.

Copyright 2011, The Advocate
Capital City Press LLC

From: Rhonda Browning, "La. gives Teach For America $1 million" [Letters], The Advocate, Baton Rouge, October 27, 2011, p. 8B.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.

Teachers must be prepared, not just gung-ho
February 26, 2012

Having taught in a New Orleans high school for more than 20 years, I have worked with in excess of 100 Teach For America teachers. I would like to debunk some of the myths associated with the program.

It is a fact that Teach For America turns out very enthusiastic graduates, but enthusiasm is a poor substitute for preparation. Is it credulous to assume that a five-week training program is sufficient to prepare a person with limited life experiences to teach in very challenging urban schools? Would the writer consent to surgery performed by a surgeon who completed a five-week training program, or be represented in court by a lawyer who breezed through a cram course titled "How to be a Lawyer in Six Easy Steps?" Is anyone willing to fly with the equivalent of a Teach For America pilot?

The writer lauds the fact that TFA teachers have degrees such as art history. What is one to teach in a public school with an art history degree — art, right?  In fact, art history majors may end up teaching geography or reading. TFA teachers often teach subjects in which they did not major; they are placed in areas where there is a critical need.

What is most problematic with Teach For America is that the program only requires a two-year commitment from the graduate. It takes several years for a person to begin to develop competency as a teacher. I have never seen a TFA remain long enough to transcend the novice level.

Teach For America is an experiment, and the students in high poverty schools are the guinea pigs.

Copyright 2012, The Times-Picayune
Publishing Corporation

From: Anthony Hart, "Teachers must be prepared, not just gung-ho" [Letters], The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, February 26, 2012, Metro, p. B-4.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.

Good teachers have training, experience
March 2, 2012

I am a very "enthusiastic" public school teacher, and I take great offense to people thinking that my years of schooling and experience don't count for anything. It is a complete blow to the gut that people think we should be replaced with Teach For America teachers.

I have wanted to be a teacher since I was in elementary school. I looked up to my teachers, and that made me want to be like them. I did not choose teaching because my SAT scores were not good enough to do something else. It is an insult to my profession to think you can just take a five-week cram course and be ready to teach children. Teach For America teachers only have to commit to this career for two years. I have committed my whole life.

The incentive for TFA teachers is to give two years, and you get student loans paid off. After 13 years of dedicated teaching to my area, I am still paying off my student loans.

A teacher needs to have knowledge of child development and age appropriate practices. A Tulane professor spoke at the Feb. 2 Jefferson Parish School Board meeting warning that every peer-reviewed study of TFA concluded they are less effective than first- or second-year traditionally trained teachers. Parents should be questioning the School Board on these decisions.

Teachers used to be respected in the community. It is bad enough that we are trying to teach while putting up with children's behaviors and the public's disrespect, but now we are defending ourselves to our own School Board.

Teachers are not magicians. We can only work with what we are given. The magic formula for school improvement is smaller class sizes and parents and teachers working hand-in-hand with the support of the board and administration. Teach For America is not the magic potion.

Copyright 2012, The Times-Picayune
Publishing Corporation

From: Laurie Billson, "Good teachers have training, experience" [Letters], The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, March 2, 2012, Metro, p. B-6.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.

End Note and References
  1. For further information about Teach For America, Inc. (a private, non-profit corporation), see its Web site: http://www.teachforamerica.org/..., accessed 03/06/2012.

  2. Darran Simon, "Teach for America to double numbers; Influx of new teachers will be coming to N.O." The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, May 14, 2008, Metro, p. 3.

  3. Sarah Carr, "Overtaxed teachers find resolve tested; Staff too often resorts to brutality, some say," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, June 28, 2009, National, p. 3.

  4. Sarah Carr, "Critics say veteran teachers are taking a big hit; They point fingers at Teach for America," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, August 18, 2009, National, p. 5.

  5. Julian Vasquez Heilig and Su Jin Jez, "Teach For America: A Review of the Evidence," Education and the Public Interest Center (Univ. Colorado, Boulder) and Education Policy Research Unit (Arizona State Univ., Tempe), June 2010.

  6. Andrew Hartman, "Teach For America: The Hidden Curriculum of Liberal Do-Gooders, Jacobin, Winter 2012, http://jacobinmag.com/winter-2012/teach-for-america/, accessed 03/09/2012.

  7. Barri Bronston, "Jeff to hire up to 15 teachers; New Teacher Project to get contract," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, March 13, 2012, Metro, p. 1.

  8. For further information about The New Teacher Project (a private, non-profit corporation), see its Web site: http://tntp.org/about-tntp, accessed 03/13/2012.





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