Teaching Profession

Teach For America Ends Pre-Training Pilot Focused on Cultural Competency

By Stephen Sawchuk — May 06, 2016 2 min read
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Teach For America has announced that it is winding down a pilot program that gave some of its recruits a year of additional training.

The Education for Justice pilot focused heavily on social justice topics and how teachers can better engage with the diverse communities TFA places them in. The 2015-16 school year was the first full year of E4J, as it was known in shorthand, though some TFA recruits had gone through an earlier iteration the year before. In all, TFA says about 125 of its recruits participated in some form of E4J.

The pilot’s cancellation comes close on the heels of the announcement that TFA would eliminate some 150 positions, including shuttering a national diversity office—a move that brought some pointed criticism. Still, this is somewhat surprising news. After all, the pilot was one that TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard announced in 2014 to great fanfare because it was viewed as a proof point that the organization was willing to entertain at least some changes to its structure.

I wrote about E4J earlier this year as part of a package of stories looking at the organization on its 25th anniversary. At the time, the organization said it was planning to study whether E4J led to improvements in how participants did later on the in classroom, compared to juniors who applied to the pilot but weren’t accepted.

The news of the cancellation has already brought some pushback from disappointed participants.

“Not only was Education 4 Justice teaching corps members amazing lessons with immeasurable value, it was the answer to a lot of the criticisms that TFA received,” writes Kailee Lewis, a participant, in an opinion blog hosted on edweek.org. Cancelling the program, she said, “is a disservice to the students who are going to have to attempt to learn from a corps member who can’t understand the community they have stepped into because TFA didn’t keep the programs to teach them how.”

TFA officials say that’s not so, because it’s expanding recruitment efforts among college juniors, and will incorporate some qualitative feedback from the pilot into those efforts.

“The E4J pilot allowed us to start answering critical design questions and test assumptions so we could be prepared to scale up effective development opportunities for more juniors going forward. We’ve learned that there is power in virtual and in-person learning cohorts. Additionally, we learned that pre-corps development can increase corps member readiness to engage effectively with students and families, and that providing a deeper focus on issues of systemic injustice and inequity in education in the pre-corps years is meaningful,” the organization said in a statement.

“In this next phase, our pre-corps development team is determining how to effectively transition from small-scale programming reaching around 1 percent of our corps to approaches that would reach 100 percent of our rapidly growing base of admitted underclassmen. They are engaging with teams across our organization—including our regional teams, admissions and recruitment—to ensure we are providing larger-scale and differentiated options for juniors that take the best practices from E4J and other pre-corps pilots,” it concluded.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.