Friday, October 5, 2012

Teach for America: A Glorified Temp Agency (NYTimes)

Some readers are already aware that I am anti-Teach for America (TFA). For liberal arts graduates, TFA sounds good on paper: the brightest college graduates from the best colleges serve a two-year commitment to teach disadvantaged students in the nation's most struggling school districts). However, TFA actually weakens pubilc-sector unions and public education in general. In college, I saw TFA heavily recruit my classmates and promote the (false) advantages of charter schools. But my problem with current urban education policy began before I started college.

Here is my story: In 2000, the Michigan state legislature (at the time, John Engler was governor) voted to dissolve the union that represented school administrators (assistant principals and principals) in Detroit Public Schools. Essentially, DPS school administrators became at-will employees who lost 10 percent of their salary (under DPS superintendent Kenneth Burnley) and paid a higher percentage towards their health premiums. The passage of this law had negative consequences for my mother, who began her career as a teacher and became a school administrator through promotions. By losing the right to form a union, my mother and her colleagues lost their voice--they lost the power to protect themselves in the workplace. I was just a high school student, but I witnessed first-hand how a union-busting law could potentially hurt middle-class families. (You can read more about the Detroit case in Collective Bargaining in the Public Sector: The Experience of Eight States by Joyce M. Najita, James L. Stern.)

The New York Times opinion by Julian Heilig, associate professor of educational policy and planning and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin, eloquently states how I feel about TFA.

Teach for America is essentially a glorified temp agency. According to my calculations, more than 80 percent of the recruits leave for graduate school or another career before their fourth year, taking with them all the training and recruitment dollars taxpayers and universities have invested in them — as much as $70,000 a year. As I discuss in a 2010 National Education Policy Center research brief, the debate about whether these teachers produce gains or losses in their students' test scores rages on in academia. The high turnover among these temporary teachers undermines students' achievement at the schools where they are placed — a concern that civil rights and parent groups have raised repeatedly as Teach for America lobbies to have its teachers hired in the districts the critics' children attend, even when there are no shortages.

Sadly, Teach for America is a revolving door of inexperienced teachers for the students who most need a highly qualified one. As applications to the program at Harvard and other highly selective institutions of higher education are burgeoning, now is the time for the organization to start require corps members to make at least a five- to seven-year commitment and to become certified. Then Teach for America (and the districts that hire the group) would know which individuals are serious about making a difference in the classroom and which see a teaching stint with Teach for America as simply a résumé builder.

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