To the Editor:
The Teach For America Act, introduced this spring by U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., would greatly expand funding for the Teach For America program. But while TFA intends to address the pressing concern of schools “facing significant shortages of qualified teachers,” to quote Sen. Clinton, its strategy only exacerbates the problem.
Teach For America places novice teachers in impoverished schools, putting recruits and students at a disadvantage. Five weeks of summer training prior to placement fails to equip TFA corps members with the skills needed for the profession. And TFA does not provide the continuous support necessary for beginning teachers to succeed.
As an education professor, I have taught TFA recruits concurrently enrolled in credentialing programs. While these students were eager, their commitment was fleeting. Corps members’ minimal two-year commitment is antithetical to the goal of providing children an excellent education through committed teachers.
Research demonstrates teachers’ significantly lowered effectiveness in their first two years of practice. From 70 percent to 100 percent of TFA recruits leave by their third year, resulting in from $15,000 to $20,000 lost per teacher in productivity and replacement costs. Corps members leaving to get a “real” job merely add to the instability and turnover that diminish quality education.
At least three published research studies describe the significantly worse performance in reading of TFA teachers’ students compared with those of certified beginning teachers. Districts waste money on a revolving door of ineffective teachers, when resources could be allocated toward the hiring of prepared, career-committed teachers who would improve learning and life outcomes.
Teach For America’s missionary approach is unprofessional and a disservice to children. This legislation—HR 1971 and S 959—is counteractive to the improvement of education. Instead, states should provide service scholarships and residency programs to fully equip teachers pledging a specified term of service in high-need schools. The result would be an effective long-term teaching force. Legislators should examine the research and craft policy in support of teacher education that will truly serve the nation’s most vulnerable.
Professor of Education