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Teach For America Finally Gets Real

Teach for America's decision to launch a pilot program requiring a year of classes in educational pedagogy and theory, together with actual classroom experience is long overdue ("Teach for America tests out more training," The Washington Post, Mar. 10).  I've never understood how five weeks of training in the summer before recruits begin teaching were adequate.  Yet until now, TFA defended its policy.

Although the change is being attributed to complaints by recruits that they were not well prepared for the realities of the classroom, I think there's another factor at play.  So far, TFA has received about 50,000 applications for the 2014-14 school year, a 12 percent decrease compared with last year's pool.  As the economy improves, I expect to see a further drop in the number of applicants.  That's because I've always believed much of the appeal of the program was the result of the dearth of jobs in the private sector.

But even before the economy turned sour, "Teach for America: A Return to the Evidence" concluded that participants as a whole were not meaningfully or consistently improving educational outcomes for their students.  In short, the program was being oversold.  In all fairness, however, traditionally licensed teachers as a whole can be accused of the same thing.  I think the difference pertains to which teachers are being compared.  TFA teachers do better than inexperienced, poorly trained teachers but not as well as fully prepared, experienced teachers.

No one who has not taught in a public school can possibly appreciate how hard teaching is.  There are no shortcuts to effectiveness. That's long been the case.  But today teachers are subjected to increasing demands, making the job more challenging than ever before.  I'm glad that TFA is making changes. It will be good for all stakeholders.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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