Teach for America Is a Glorified Temp Agency

Teach for America Is a Glorified Temp Agency

Julian Vasquez Heilig… NY Times

(In all fairness, and in full honest disclosure, I have hired and worked with some of the best teachers I have ever met in my life, and they were TFA graduates; I should add that they are all in for teaching as a (more than 3 years) profession. And on the other hand, some of the worse teachers I have ever encountered in my professional life, came through a standard 4 year university school of education program. A great deal of time, support, mentoring, attention and professional development must be given to any first year teacher (actually the critical 1st-3rd year); and that would include graduates of traditional professional education programs. I have been saying for years that as a profession; we need a well-organized teacher-internship-transition program; not even a 1st year apprentice electrician is allowed to wire a house by themselves; and they definitely don’t get the most challenging wiring assignments!

Unfortunately (in this case) a lot of people in America attended a school; and as a result, like our misguided “reformers”, they think that teaching is easy. This author’s critique of the central TFA role in the faux “education reform” movement is totally on point, as it destroys the “education is easy” myth-narrative. The TFA teacher-participants are innocent in that sense. The guilty parties are the TFA leadership, and those “reformers” who look down, disregard and have little respect for experience and formal professional training. The other problem is their particular disrespect for educators and communities of color (oddly, during segregation, Black students were exposed to very talented, skilled and efficacious practicing Black teachers; even as these teachers were terribly underpaid and under resourced. This modern patronizing “reformers” belief that Black and Latino people don’t know how (or care) to educate Black and Latino children is really driven by a bad economy (lack of jobs for White college graduates), and the discovery of the huge amounts of money from private and public sources that could be had for the taking in public education; and specifically to be made in struggling communities of color; whose leadership is unclear and unaware, and/or could be easily bought off or compromised. This colonial educational approach devastates the students who are in the greatest need of the best educational practitioners. Its theme: “we will save the ignorant savages from themselves” attitude, is the height of arrogance. And sadly it is the school children of color in this nation who must pay the price for this philosophy of racial and cultural condescension.—MAJ)

Teach for America Is a Glorified Temp Agency

Julian Vasquez Heilig

To a casual observer, Teach for America’s narrative is compelling: an array of feel-good stories profile fresh-faced college graduates choosing to teach. However, as hundreds of millions of public and private dollars flow into the program, a growing chorus of criticism surrounds it.
The program should start requiring longer commitments and certification if it wants to become more than a résumé builder.

It is telling that the intellectual elites that expound the virtues of Teach for America do not accept them in the communities that serve their own children. Recruits with five weeks of training are good enough for poor whites and students of color, but they are glaringly absent from affluent schools in places like Scarsdale, N.Y., or Westlake, Texas, districts seeking well-qualified career teachers for advantaged children.

Indeed, 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.