Saturday, June 17, 2006

Teach For America Continues To Attract Recruits

It's the strongest job market in years for new college graduates, with salaries and perks rising accordingly. But one of the country's hottest recruiters this spring promised low wages, exhausting labor and only a brief break before the work begins.


Teach for America is surging in popularity. At sites around the country, the 17-year-old nonprofit has begun training about 2,400 recent graduates for two-year teaching stints in disadvantaged schools, nearly triple the figure in 2000. Nearly 19,000 college seniors applied — and more than four in five were turned down. At Notre Dame, Spelman, Dartmouth and Yale, more than 10 percent of seniors applied...

TFA recruits, trains and helps get the new teachers alternative certification, then schools pay their salaries.


The organization says it has proved the model can work. Now it is trying to build a critical mass of alumni who — even if they move onto other fields like law or politics — share the experience of having taught in low-income areas and may use those experiences to influence education policy...


Some critics note fewer than one-third stay in the classroom following their two-year stints. But TFA says about two-thirds have remained directly involved in education — if not as teachers, then in research, policy and in many cases starting charter schools. TFA counts 10 alumni in elective office, including Natasha Kamrani, recently elected to Houston's school board. The goal is 100 alumni in public office by 2010...


The challenge is both quantity and quality. TFA spends about $12,000 on each corps member per year, and about $4,000 of that goes into recruiting applicants, then evaluating whom to hire through a rigorous interview process. Program officials say they could find teaching slots for more than the 17 percent of applicants accepted last year, but they want to pick only candidates who will succeed. Even so, about 15 percent fail to complete their two-year commitment...

The program's rapid growth has made it a bigger target for some critics, who worry TFA is geared more toward the experience of the teachers than that of their students. Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford education professor, has argued that the failure of TFA teachers to go through regular certification hurts their effectiveness.


Some principals, meanwhile, have concluded bringing in TFA teachers isn't worth it, because most leave after two years.


The cost seems rather high. To compare, Project Pipeline, an alternative credential program through which I got my credential, currently costs about $7800 for the two-year program. The article quoted above states that TFA spends $12,000 per year on each recruit, but a quick search of the TFA website didn't turn up the cost that each recruit must pay in order to be in the program, although there is a section called "Financial Aid and Transitional Expenses".


One question that critics often bring up, given how many TFA alumni stay in teaching: is this program geared more for the experience of the teachers or for their students? The question in response would be: if they do good work while they're there for two years, does it really matter?

1 comment:

Jason said...

As an alumnus of Teach For America I have to say I have heard many of the knocks people oustide of Teach For America have for the organization. The major arguements are that Teach For America corps members are underqualified and that too many serve two year commitments and leave.
I believe the underlying assumption in both of those arguements is that they are somehow taking the place of more qualified and career-oriented teachers. That is simply not the case. In almost all cases they are serving in areas and schools that simply cannot fill their schools. In many cases this leads to overcrowded classrooms and underqualified people teaching kids. Teach For America teachers enter those spots that no one else wants and in most cases outperform the experienced teachers in the classroom. It is true that many leave after two years, but the main question should be: "Did those children for those two years get a better education because that TFA teacher was there?" In almost every case the answer is yes. And your final point is very true. As TFA grows, there will always be a new teacher ready to step in when the teacher before him or her has finished their two years. We should be focused more on the education these underprivleged children are receiving. Over 90% of principles in these schools want more TFA teachers. I say, let them have their wish.