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N.C. District Votes to End Relationship With Teach For America

By guest blogger Madeline Will

A school board in Durham, N.C., voted to end its relationship with Teach For America, criticizing the organization's two-year commitment requirement and its placement of inexperienced teachers in high-needs schools.

In a 6-1 vote, the Durham Public School board decided to honor its current commitments with the teacher-training program, but not pursue any new relationships beyond the 2015-16 school year, when the last TFA teachers will have finished their two-year commitments. Five TFA recruits were hired to work in the district this year, and seven others in the district are starting their second year with the program, according to the Durham Herald-Sun.

The Herald-Sun reports that school board members were concerned about the brevity of the two-year commitment and the teachers' inexperience while working with students in high-needs schools.

"It feels like despite the best intention and the efforts, this has potential to do harm to some of our neediest students," said school board member Natalie Beyer, according to the Herald-Sun.

Another board member, Mike Lee, was quoted as saying:  "I have a problem with the two years and gone, using it like community service."

In a blog post, Robyn Fehrman, executive director of Teach For America of Eastern North Carolina, said she was concerned about the implications of the decision, since schools serving low-income students often struggle to attract enough talent to fill classrooms. In the 33,000-student Durham school district, there are 50 positions left unfilled as the school year starts, she wrote.

"In the days ahead, I hope we can all come together to think seriously about what it means to cut off a source of educational talent for Durham—whether TFA or any other program working to develop and retain educators and educational advocates for our state," she wrote.

Research shows that 44 percent of TFA teachers stayed in their initial schools for longer than the two-year commitment. Sixty-one percent remained in the teaching profession for longer than two years.

Teach For America recruits academically strong college graduates and other individuals and places them in high-need public schools. The program's preparation efforts have been controversial, despite research showing that TFA teachers do about as well as—or in some grades and subjects, slightly better than—other novice teachers.

Recently, Teach For America announced plans to provide a year of upfront training for a subset of its recruits. Currently, corps members go through a five-week "institute" before teaching, which critics argue is insufficient, especially since TFA targets high-needs schools.

Teach For America also started a pilot program this summer to address teacher retention by offering support for alumni in their third through fifth years of teaching. Though there have been calls to formally extend the two-year obligation, the organization has said that requiring a longer commitment would lower the quality and diversity of its applicant pool.

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