The Teach For America non-profit organization, whose mission is supplying college graduates an opportunity to teach in some of the nation’s most challenging schools, is about to change its training program. Lindsey Layton of the Washington Post reports that TFA has announced that participants will spend a year in classes that will include training in classroom management, teaching methods, and actual teacher-student classroom experience. There will also be “on the job” training and mentoring programs for TFA teachers already in the classroom to support them through their two year teaching contract.
Since TFA was started in 1990, they have provided only five weeks of training during the summer for recruits before they enter the classroom.
In recent years, former TFA corps members have been increasingly speaking up about problems with the program. A Web site “Students Resisting TFA” launched last year, and while TFA is active in many states, there has been some pushback. In May, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed an item in a bill that would have given $1.5 million to Teach for America over two years, saying he didn’t think the state should give tax dollars to an organization with assets of more than $350 million.
TFA teachers historically have quit the program before their two-year commitment is completed, according to Matt Kramer, Co-Head of Teachers for America. The numbers of college students joining the program is also diminishing due to nationwide economic improvement and the continued public education crisis.
TFA co-chairs Elisa Villanueva Beard and Matthew Kramer obliquely acknowledged that the drumbeat of criticism is having an impact. “With the vitriol that characterizes our public discussion of education these days, many of our most promising prospects are asking whether this is the right path for them, and wondering whether they should join this effort,” Kramer said.
The Las Vegas, Clark County School Board approved a contract that would add 150 TFA teachers to their school system next year. The vote was not passed easily. About one-half of TFA teachers in the Clark County School District stay for a third year after completing their two year obligation.
Clark County spends over $300,000 for training and recruiting of these teachers. That is money ill-spent, said some of the teachers and parents at the meeting. Supporters of TFA said that for every $1 that the county pays for training for the recruits, TFA spends $9.
Many Clark County business owners, politicians and education administrators praised the job that the organization’s teachers were doing in their district. “They represent, I think, a great idea of what new teachers should be and it’s exciting to have candidates like that in our School District,” said Stephen Augsburger, president of the district’s school administrators’ union.
The University of Southern California continues to show strong numbers for the Teachers for America organization. Last year 109 USC student were offered positions with TFA — that means that USC was offered more TFA opportunities that any other college in the U.S., writes Shelby Deweese of The Daily Trojan, and that TFA was the top postgraduate path taken by USC undergraduates.
Some of the students accepted into the program cited being a “part of the change for the future” as their reason for participating. The personal reward for being part of this organization was also echoed among those who have or will be a member of the Teac for America workforce.