Is Virginia right to welcome Teach for America into public schools?
Corp teachers receive top-notch training and support
Saxby, a 2005 Teach for America alumnus, teaches fifth grade at A.M. Davis Elementary, a Title I school in Chesterfield County. He is a member of the Virginia Education Association.
Teach for America trains more teachers for low-income communities than any other organization or institution in the nation. It is also among the most studied teacher preparation programs.
North Carolina, Louisiana and Tennesseehave conducted statewide studies on the correlation between teacher preparation programs and teacher effectiveness. All three concluded that TFA teachers had a greater impact on student achievement than other new teachers. The answer is yes to the basic question, “Are TFA teachers effective?”
There are a few reasons why TFA teachers are largely effective. First, TFA’s professional development is top-notch. It was the best professional development I’ve ever had, and included intensive pre-service training, one-on-one instructional coaching and frequent classroom observations and feedback. This exceptional professional development was what I missed most once I completed the program.
Second, TFA painstakingly selects corps members based on character traits and experience that predict success for teachers in low-income communities, including a deep belief in the potential of all kids, demonstrated leadership, past achievement, perseverance in the face of challenges and humility. These traits drive corps members to quickly figure out what they need to bolster student learning.
As a study from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the University of Connecticut demonstrates, 61 percent of TFA teachers stay in the classroom for at least a third year. Many of the others go on to assume high-impact roles in education outside the classroom, including careers as school leaders, within school districts or in public policy.
There is no magic in TFA’s method. Rather, it is a well-researched mix of selection and training that results in effective teaching and a long-term commitment to educational excellence and equity. It is neither wise nor fair to exclude teachers coming through alternative programs with proven records of success. Fighting educational inequality is a fight for all of us, and I’m proud of TFA’s role in it.
Let’s invest in real solutions
Gruber is president of the Virginia Education Association.
I applaud Morgan Saxby’s commitment to students and his chosen profession; public education needs to recruit and retain many more such talented individuals.
However, evidence suggests that, among graduates of Teach for America, his experience is uncommon. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of TFA graduates leave their teaching jobs after three years. Where does that leave the high-needs schools where they were placed?
I would argue that the Peace Corps model of TFA, with its two-year commitment, cannot result in the stable and committed faculties that such schools so desperately require.
Virginia faces a huge challenge to find and retain the best-qualified teachers. But TFA itself is responsible for only some 10,000 teachers (estimates vary) in a nationwide teaching force of 3.2 million. That’s fewer than one-hundredth of 1 percent. Anyone proposing that TFA is the answer to providing highly qualified teachers to communities in need is not consulting the facts. We need bigger solutions, and a commitment to match.
And the fact remains that TFA candidates enter classrooms after just a few weeks of training and preparation in how to teach effectively. The best training available cannot prepare one to teach in today’s complex schools in one short summer crash course.
Shortcuts are not the solution for staffing our schools with the most highly qualified and dedicated teachers we can find. We need to strengthen standards for entering teaching, make teaching a more desirable career and provide support for teachers once they’re on the job.
TFA has raised the profile of teaching among talented prospects, and that’s commendable. But our students deserve teachers who are sufficiently prepared before they ever stand in front of their own class, and who have a real interest in making teaching their career. That’s the challenge Virginia must tackle.