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Lessons From Teach for America

Teach for America is experiencing recruitment problems ("Fewer Top Graduates Want to Join Teach for America," The New York Times, Feb. 6).  For an organization that has known virtually unbroken growth in the number of applications since it began in 1990, a decline for two consecutive years is worthy of a closer look.

It's easy to attribute the drop strictly to an improving economy, where better paying jobs for graduates from elite colleges are now available.  But I think a better reason is that Teach for America's graduates are finding out first-hand that five weeks of training are hardly sufficient to prepare them for the realities of the classroom. Although that has always been the case since its inception, the demands on classroom teachers today are unprecedented.  As a result, even veteran teachers are finding it hard to do what is now required of them.  It's little wonder that teachers with only five weeks of training are completely overwhelmed.

News travels rapidly through the grapevine.  Yet Teach for America persists in its model of preparation.  Negative coverage is countered by the nearly $3.5 million in advertising and promotion that it has spent over the past three years ("This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach for America," The Nation, Oct. 29, 2014). I realize that every organization wants to portray a positive image, but honest criticism is indispensable if students are to be well educated.  Public relations has no place in evaluation.

I don't doubt that Teach for America has been successful in some schools.  But studies have concluded that the results overall are mixed ("Report Examines Teach For America," National Education Policy Center, Jan. 7, 2014).  Nevertheless, I expect to see Teach for America receiving ever-increasing funding from corporations.

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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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