Teach for America social innovation or stopgap?


Teach for America social innovation or stopgap?

Teach for America sends bright young people into tough classes, where they get about the same results as other bright young people in similar classes, but leave the profession sooner. Each year, Teach for America sends out newly minted young teachers — with five weeks of training — and states or districts agree to pay $2,000 or $5,000 for each teacher, as well as their salaries. Some districts agree to underwrite the cost of courses that Teach for America members must take in order to obtain any kind of state certification. They agree to stay for only two years. When compared with beginning teachers who are credentialed, Teach for America teachers perform significantly less well in most subject areas.

No first-year teacher is prepared for the challenges of a class filled with boisterous students in our poorest communities. Teach for America teachers are no substitute for informed and well-trained educators who choose to make education their profession. Attrition and turnover of Teach for America teachers is costly. Although Teach for America alumni are often influential people, successful in many walks of life, it is debatable whether those same people are advancing the cause of public education and advocating for children in poverty and best practices in our educational system.

The most successful educational systems in the world pay their teachers a satisfactory living wage, recruit the best and brightest from high schools, train them for a minimum of 5 years, offer them professional autonomy, and support them with mentors and academic scaffolding for an extended period of time. Teach for America is no substitute for thoughtful, long-term, federal and state policies to transform the recruitment, preparation and retention of career teachers. Teach for America reinforces the misguided public perception that “anyone will do, anyone can teach.”

Teachers are professionals: pay them accordingly, recruit the best and brightest, make education colleges rigorous institutions, demand master’s degrees and show teachers the respect that professionals deserve.

Would you take your child to a medical professional with five weeks training, seek legal expertise from a lawyer with five weeks training, or drive over a bridge built under the direction of an engineer with five weeks training?

Teach for America does not have the silver bullet.

Joan M. Parker

Career public school teacher