Lately, I have been reading numbers of articles about Teach For America (TFA) written by former participants in the program as well as by researchers and investigative reporters. It appears that there is general consensus that TFA is not the answer to teacher shortages, closing achievement gaps, or eliminating poverty in this country. Most of the writers agree that the program is using public schools and poor children to develop a network of new leaders who will advance a corporate reform agenda. Great harm has been done in school districts and states where these new TFA leaders have emerged. Who bears the greatest portion of responsibility for what is happening?
The biggest enabler of this perversion of the teaching profession rests at the feet of local school districts that enter into contracts heavily favoring the TFA agenda. I have examined as many of these contracts as I can locate on the internet. Of course, they are all public information easily found by good investigative reporters, but most reporters have focused on only the contracts developed by school districts of their subscribers.
A review of these contracts reveals that school districts have not done their due diligence, have not advocated for a better deal, and have been oblivious to the duplicative support that state and federal governments have given to TFA. Based on my research, I am sharing my top ten reasons local school districts should examine their contractual obligations more closely.
Before I do this, let me make it clear that my disagreement is with the business model of TFA. I honor the few young men and women who enter this program to create a career in teaching, and I acknowledge that they make great teachers when they complete the academic preparation that other teachers must complete. I respect also the majority of TFA participants who see their two-year stints as public service before they move on to other career choices, but I know that having these young people, however dedicated they may be, as “teacher of record” is not best for our most challenging students. Finally, I worry about those who are using this program as a steppingstone to non-teaching jobs in education because they take with them to those jobs superficial knowledge and limited experience for making important decisions about the future of public schools. Now, here are my top ten reasons not to contract with Teach For America.
Reason Ten: Paying a fee for a TFA recruit is a misuse of taxpayer funds when state and federal governments have given millions to this organization. The higher the fee the more a district is exploited.
Reason Nine: Allowing placement in elementary school positions where there is no shortage of skilled teachers is a ploy to assure that you will have no choice but to honor the agreed upon number of TFA recruits.
Reason Eight: Locking yourself into a contract with no escape clause assures that your potential career teachers who are more qualified cannot receive preference in hiring.
Reason Seven: Contracting for out-of-state TFA recruits undermines opportunities for local graduates of teacher education programs and diminishes loyalty in the community.
Reason Six: Once you commit to a number of TFA positions, TFA owns those positions for the duration of the contract. You lose the power to hire the best applicants for your district.
Reason Five: Follow the money trail. While TFA is a non-profit, they operate like a for-profit with a large network of staff to market the program. TFA staff are expected to raise funds at the local and state level. In addition, the organization has a huge financial commitment to branding and political/legislative operations.
Reason Four: The TFA business model thrives on turnover, a dynamic that spells instability for a school district. Good teachers hit their stride after 4-5 years, but less that 20% of TFA recruits stay that long.
Reason Three: TFA is a short-term response to long-term needs. Unwittingly, they undermine the political will to invest in teachers and the profession. Districts entering into contracts with TFA become co-conspirators.
Reason Two: The limited preparation that Teach For America provides to recruits does not adequately prepare them for classroom management, understanding of curriculum, lesson plan alignment, special education needs, parental involvement, teamwork, and collaboration. Content knowledge without appropriate pedagogy will never equal accomplished teaching.
Number One Reason: Poor and minority children need and deserve the most prepared and most experienced teachers. To give them less is malpractice.
I hope this blog has made you more aware of the power that local school districts have in determining the kind of teachers that our students will have and the impact that their decisions make on the teaching profession. I urge all my readers to scrutinize local contracts and challenge them when they are not in the best interests of the children to be served. Shine that bright light so change will occur.
The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.