Teach for America—Hate it or love it?
On day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education, says Teach for America (TFA). As a national corps that is exclusively composed of outstanding college graduates and professionals, TFA strives to eliminate educational inequity. ‘Teach for America’ was first founded in 1989 by Wendy Kopp as her senior thesis at Princeton University. Since then, more than 20,000 corps members have completed their commitment. Now, the organization receives about 46,000 applications and selects 4,500 for its new members.
So why would anyone hate such good work? Of course, no one likes to take preemptive strike against an innocent non-profit organization. But when it strikes you first, you have to fight back. Likewise, non-TFA teachers in each district are struggling to lessen their chances of being laid off. The National Education Association sent a memo in May 2009 stating that union leaders are “beginning to see school systems lay off teachers and then hire Teach For America college grads due to a contract they sign.” This went on to point out that the teachers trained for TFA are “the least-prepared and the least experienced teachers”
The assertion that schools would exploit this chance to reduce their budget is reasonable. The spokesman of Teach For America, Kerci Marcello, remarked that it would be a mistaken notion to say that Teach For America corps members are displacing experienced teachers. She explained that, “In every region where we send teachers, we’re just one source. Once they land, corps members must interview for jobs just like everyone else.” However, looking at the case of Tulsa, Oklahoma, we can see that Kerci’s assertion does not make much difference when it comes to defending its organization from such criticism. For the third year in a row, Tulsa has been picked as one of the TFA’s training locations. “We bring 75 teachers a year into Tulsa and they commit to a two-year program, so they’re very important.” Said Dr. Keith Ballard, TPS Superintendent. However, if Tulsa is guaranteed to receive 75 teachers every year, there is absolutely no incentive left for schools to hire extra teachers from traditional sources. Teachers from TFA will leave after two years of receiving low salary and the school can save a huge sum of its budget if it continues to employ them.
But even so, what is wrong with hiring TFA teachers instead of non-TFAs? If the school can save its budget by hiring TFA teachers who perform just as well as non-TFA teachers, what is the problem? Critics say that while the study shows that students taught by TFA teachers perform better in math than those taught by non-TFA, the improvement is very small, and that furthermore there is no difference in reading performance between two groups. To me, this result doesn’t show much difference between the two. It only suggests that the school can be indifferent between the TFA teach and the non-TFA one in terms of their class quality. If the school can save extra money to spend expanding the library while providing the education of similar quality, would it not be better off?
Of course if TFA want to firmly establish its validity as a organization for education, it will need more substantial evidence to prove that it’s teachers can provide better education than the ones who get laid off. But for now, it is the haters who need to come up with better solutions to their problem instead of blaming in on TFA. In either case, both sides should cooperate to find a way to provide better education for students. It is their job to focus on the quality of students education, not to debate over each other’s validity.