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Confusion at the NEA Over Teach For America


There seems to be an awful lot of confusion among the 9,000 delegates at the National Education Association's Representative Assembly over how the Teach For America program works.

The catalyst for this discussion: A new business item that would have directed the NEA to encourage TFA to increase its corps members' commitment from two to three years and to require such members to complete a certified teacher-preparation program.

Nearly 45 minutes of discussion ensued. Some delegates asserted that the program contained a loan-forgiveness element, and NEA Executive Director John Wilson had to step up to the microphone to tell them that participating in TFA has nothing to do with loans.

Other delegates wanted to know the retention rates for corps members after their two-year commitments were up. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel put the figure at 33 percent, attributing the figure to TFA founder Wendy Kopp. (Can someone from TFA let us all know if that's correct?)

Another interesting tidbit: A Delaware delegate said that districts in his state are laying off teachers and hiring TFAers. I wrote about a similar situation in North Carolina, but hadn't heard anything about Delaware. Have you?

The item, in any case, failed to pass.


over 60% of tfa corp members stay on in education. the idea that the number is far lower is a large piece of misinformation. i can assure you wendy kopp never said it was 33%.

over 60% of tfa corp members stay on in education. the idea that the number is far lower is a large piece of misinformation. i can assure you wendy kopp never said it was 33%.

From the TFA wiki site:
Between 10 and 15 percent of each Teach For America corps class leaves before completing their two-year commitment.[8] Nationally, 16.8 percent of teachers leave their positions each year. In the urban areas where most Teach for America corps members serve the teacher turnover rate is above 20 percent.[9]
In the past much of the organization's efforts have been tightly focused on recruitment, but are now shifting to boost the retention rate. TFA also reports that 34 percent of alumni teach at their placement schools for a third year. Many others go on to teach elsewhere, especially at KIPP charter schools and other schools founded by TFA alumni. Still others train for administrative positions, and TFA now reports that 63 percent of its alumni are working or studying in education.[10]

Contrary to what is implied in this post, being a part of TFA does impact one's indebtedness regarding higher education. After successfully completing each year in TFA, members recieve $4,750 (for a total of $9,500) from Americorp that must be applied to prior student loans, current, or future education. These numbers may even be increasing given the boost in funding Americorp recieved in the public service bill that Obama signed into law earlier this year.

According to a relatively new Harvard study, 61% of TFAers teacher a third year, and about a third remain in teaching long term. So, Van Roekel was right if he meant long-term teaching.

I wonder if any delegates considered asking that all teacher prep program grads commit to teaching five years?

Although many TFA members choose to leave the classroom after their 2-year teaching commitment, many (more than 60%) stay involved in education.

The reearch on TfA is mixed, to be sure. And the whole notion of "stay in education" is skewed. Do these folks become prinicpals? Do they start their own schools? Do they sign on to work for TfA? The notion that recent college grads can read a bunch of books over the summer, take an education course or two and then are prepared to work with children is absurd. And we have to put a stop to it. Teaching isn't a layover until something better comes along--it is demanding work! Until teachers make that fact known,TfA will stay in business.

Highly compressed training (not really a program) leads to learning tricks or recipes for survival instead of learning the who, what, how, and why of teaching. What really concerns me is the push at the state governmental level to permit and encourage this type of teacher training at the expense of nationally accredited teacher preparation programs. If the purpose is to provide minimally trained individuals in emergency situations where a qualified teacher is not available, then states have such provisions already in their administrative rules. There are already enough teachers being certified each year to meet the need with few exceptions. Maybe NEA could develop a national data base or become a clearing house for newly certified teachers, so qualified teachers could be matched with local openings without sacrificing the education of our children. I certainly do not want my children practiced-on by someone who took a 5-6 week crash course in teaching during the summer with no deep understanding of development, learning styles, differentiation, curriculum, etc., and then expect them to excel on those other mandated high-stakes tests. Seems to me it is really about saving money.

I have worked with several TfA teachers who are not prepared for the hard work and deeper understanding of data driven instruction. Its impossible to teach the heart of excellent teaching in such a short period of time. I also believe that its an insult to those who have completed a four year degree or Masters in Education to be considered equals to a 5-6 week crash course. When we refer to retention of TfAs, are we also considering the calliber of teaching and whether schools want to retain those individuals who may not have proven to be high quality teachers?

TFA teachers helped turn around my school in a poor, rural area. Without them, many of our students would not be college-bound. They brought new ideas, skills, and enthusiasm to the profession, which was contagious. We need more of these young people teaching in our classrooms, whether or not they ultimately stay in the school. It often has a positive impact not only on their students, but I think on the entire school morale and effectiveness.

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