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TFA alums don't vote, and other half-truths

By Anna Weiss on Jan 15, 2010 01:11 PM
Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/3004476646/

A new study argues that TFA grads don't match their TFA-caliber peers in terms of voting and civic participation.

A week or so ago, I clicked on a link on a teacher friend's Facebook page and ended up on a New York Times article.  The article was informing me of something very strange. Apparently, working in education is no longer a civic duty!

That's right: according to a recent Stanford study, "In areas like voting, charitable giving and civic engagement, graduates of [Teach For America] lag behind those who were accepted but declined and those who dropped out before completing their two years."  

It's not the results of the study that rankle me.  Actually, I probably could have predicted that.  

A colleague of mine pointed out that TFA corps members tend to be quite transient in the years following their commitment; many have deferred other graduate programs to be in the corps, or they move back to where they came from, or perhaps their two years in a new and unfamiliar region imbues them with wanderlust.  (My colleague spent her first year after TFA traveling and teaching throughout South America.)  

Whatever their path, these life decisions present obstacles to establishing residency and permanence, two factors which go hand-in-hand with voting.  It's not an excuse, but it's a reason.  

Furthermore, on the subject of charitable giving, I'm still a teacher, and you may have heard that we don't exactly make a whole lot of money.  Particularly when you consider the additional grad school debt I'd accrued during my time in the corps.  I don't have piles of cash to donate to others.  I just don't.  I donate to UNICEF, the Red Cross, and the Salvation Army when I can, but after putting in a 60-70 hour workweek (par for the course in teaching), I have to take care of myself too.  Again, not an excuse, but it's a reason.  

But it's that third item on the list that I find most dumbfounding.  So let me get this right: the education-focused careers that many TFA graduates pursue after the close of their commitment is not considered a civic duty?  Lovely.  

The article goes on to quote Monica C. Higgins, a Harvard professor of education: “To find that Teach for America graduates are more involved in education but are not serving in soup kitchens is interesting but not surprising — it’s consistent with their current mission...They’re not trying to make global citizens. They’re focused on education.”

Higgins' words are controversial and, considering her background, baffling--almost to the point where I wonder how much of her original quote was actually used.  For a professor of education to suggest that being a global citizen and focusing on education are two separate actions is worrisome indeed.  Isn't contributing to a global community the entire point of educating our youth--at least, in theory?  We teach students to read, write, and manipulate data so that they may have these tools to become fully-functioning adult members of society.  How is this not performing a civic duty?  

I suppose I could use my free time to volunteer more.  But I look at it like this.  My cousin is a sous-chef in Vail.  She loves to cook--if she didn't, she wouldn't be a chef.  She is good at what she does.  But once she is at home, she is not cooking anything.  Because it's her job.

As a teacher, you are serving others' needs all day long: your administrators, the parents of your students--and of course, your students themselves.  A very dedicated teacher might even make herself or himself available to these people outside of their contracted hours.  I've accepted parent and student phone calls on my personal cell after 9 p.m., and one Friday, I stayed until 7 p.m. to help a student with an essay.  At the end of the day, I have to focus on myself and my own life.  My job is 70 hours a week of civic duty. How many people put in that much volunteer time a week at the soup kitchen?  

It's an important study. I will concede that.  The information it yields is valuable and I hope it leads to something exciting, whatever that is.  But it's also dangerous, because it unfairly tarnishes the image of public service. I worry that studies like this only give more ammo to those critics of public service initiatives, particularly at this time in American history. This article creates a brand-new forum for TFA criticism and scapegoating that should not exist in the first place.

By comparing and contrasting the data of TFA graduates and those who did not finish or accept their commitment, we heap negative attention upon a large group of individuals who deserve far more of our respect and thanks.  For the moment, set aside your personal feelings about TFA and the politics surrounding it.  You have to agree that the man who quits his well-paying desk job, the college senior who walks away from a $90k annual salary with a big-name i-banking firm, and the girl who puts off a promising stint at NYU's law school all to pitch in where they're needed at schools in need are some of the last people who should be the objects of our derision and scorn.  

Rather, we should be asking ourselves about that subsection of the population which does not ever apply to Teach For America or even think about teaching or education.  The article briefly mentions that "Teach for America graduates remain far more active than their peer group".  Rather than smirk at or squabble with each other over the merits of TFA as a leadership machine, let's focus on mobilizing to action those who are not mobilized at all. 

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Comments (26)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 15, 2010 1:36 pm

"Rather than smirk at or squabble with each other over the merits of TFA as a leadership machine, let's focus on mobilizing to action those who are not mobilized at all."

But, isn't this exactly what your article is doing?

So weary of the TFA high horse....

Submitted by Anna Weiss on January 15, 2010 3:35 pm

I sure do have a high horse!  Anyone who teaches should have one.  It's a hard and important job!  :)

Submitted by Jonathan (not verified) on January 15, 2010 2:23 pm

"You have to agree that the man who quits his well-paying desk job, the college senior who walks away from a $90k annual salary with a big-name i-banking firm, and the girl who puts off a promising stint at NYU's law school all to pitch in where they're needed at schools in need are some of the last people who should be the objects of our derision and scorn."

No, I do not have to agree. Our inner city schools, are neediest students, they need good teachers, qualified teachers. But they also need stability. And that is exactly what these resumé-builders deny them.

Submitted by Anna Weiss on January 15, 2010 3:37 pm

Jonathan, I agree with you, and it's why I sought out genuine professional development opportunites after completing my corps commitment--transferring to a school where I would receive more specific coaching, for instance, or spending my summers coaching other teachers. 

I also agree they're our neediest students, which is why I continue to teach in a Title I school and why I chose to teach in one in the first place.  The idea of looking for employment at a successful magnet school or smoothly-run suburban haven has never crossed my mind. 

But I have never understood why TFA opponents who share your view choose to train their distaste upon those who commit to teach.  I understand that TFA teachers of low-quality exist (just as non-TFA teachers of low-quality exist).  But if you read the article, I'm actually not talking about how TFA teachers are better than non-TFA teachers.  If the training is the issue, TFA corps members are not responsible for that; therefore, they are not the ones who should be receiving the bulk of the criticism.  In fact, I think many of them would agree with you that the students they teach deserve the best teachers possible, which is why they agree to work long hours in order to improve.  And why many of them, after realizing teaching is perhaps not their strength, choose to leave. 

Submitted by Jonathan (not verified) on January 15, 2010 4:50 pm

I am glad you agree our students need stability. But teachers who go into teaching, who we know in advance will likely leave after 2 years? They destabilize our schools, and our schools are often one of the more stable institutions in our neighborhoods.

A two year 'commitment' is not the sort of commitment we need. We don't need that sort of disruption.

Submitted by Ace (not verified) on January 15, 2010 8:25 pm

Two relentless years is far better than an eon of poor and abating service.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 16, 2010 4:27 pm

Jonathan, it's not as if TFA teachers are coming into schools and displacing building veterans; the organization only places its corps members where there is existing need. You can't "destabilize" a school that doesn't contain stability in the first place. The teaching portion of TFA's mission doesn't purport to be anything other than a Band-Aid on what is currently a gaping wound; if you want to be critical, aim your words at the underlying issues, like why there are so many vacancies that force school districts to turn to TFA in the first place.

Submitted by Jonathan (not verified) on January 16, 2010 6:19 pm

Actually, in New York that was very close to the actual situation. Veterans were displaced within their own buildings to make way for TFA. And in DC, teachers, real teachers, were fired in order to keep TFA teachers, who are only staying one more year anyhow.

Fortunately in NYC, TFA actually pulled out this year.

In previous years our "New York City Teaching Fellows" program placed brand new alternate-certification teachers in our schools - but with a much higher probability of becoming long-term teachers - and TFA certainly blocked some of them.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 17, 2010 2:16 pm

Jonathan,

TFA does look very different in different cities across the country and some cities probably need to re-examine the need. However, in Philadelphia, TFA corps members are not displacing veteran teachers as SDP opens yearly with vacancies across multiple subject areas and operates throughout the year with vacancies. Currently (approaching the 6th month of the school year), SDP has 40 + posted vacancies (http://www.phila.k12.pa.us/cgi-bin/profstaffing/vacancylist_summer.p)

This means that -- in Philadelphia -- 40 + classrooms throughout the city STILL do not have a teacher at all. In this case a dedicated teacher, if green and theoretically lacking in long term commitment, is likely better than the absence of a teacher and/or a revolving door of substitutes who have little to no training at all.

Not every district needs TFA in the same way that Philadelphia does. Students across Philly deserve the best teachers. Unfortunately, in many hard to staff schools TFA teachers ARE the best teachers available to fill these positions.

Additionally, I don't think that you can discount that many TFA teachers DO stay in the classroom long after their two year commitment. And, many traditionally certified teachers leave the district (or teaching all together) within five years as well.

TFA isn't perfect and it is worthwhile to question the model but it isn't the enemy either.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 17, 2010 9:14 pm

Based on the posting by the head of the TFA on this very website most TFAs DO leave the classroom after their two year obligation is up. A number stay on in administrative posts, but most leave the classroom. I think it was something like 30% stay after the two year limit is up. New teachers leave within the five year limit as most school district won't bother to look at any resumes from teachers that have more than five years invested in teaching. They are considering a luxury at that point compared to newbies that will work for peanuts straight out of school.

Submitted by Philly HS Teacher (not verified) on January 16, 2010 2:43 am

One core issue is whether teaching is a "charitable act" versus a "professional endeavor." TFA places people in a position for two years, markets it as "charitable" (e.g. put the "brightest" in the "hardest" schools, etc.), and then builds a huge network of "core members" who, in my experience, usually see it as a stepping stone to other careers. As a professional, I resent the notion that TFA "core members" are somehow "giving" more of themselves than a person who makes teaching a PROFESSIONAL career. TFA teachesr get paid a full salary/benefits - it is not "charitable" work (e.g. City Year, Peace Corp, or many religious based 2 - 3 year voluntary service). (There is also social change/justice work - which is not the mission of TFA and many charities - but that is another issue.)

Also, we know you and I work far more than our contractual hours. Ask my children - they know Mom works on the weekend and at nights doing "school work." (I doubt any of them will become a teacher because of the time it takes to do it right.) At the same time, yes, there are teachers who brag about taking no work home... But, I don't consider teaching my "civic" contribution or "charitable" act. That is patronizing. It is my profession and, like a professional, I put in the time, whether planning lessons, assessing work, taking classes, speaking with parents, creating professional development, etc., because I find meaning in my work and it is required of a professional. I'm not teaching for two years so I can go to law school, medical school, run a school, work in the Dept. of Ed., become a professor, etc.

TFA's philosophy is "top down" change - the "best and brightest" will get "experience" for two years and then pursue power positions to make "real change." I realize, Anna, that is not you and a few other TFA "core members" who I know, but it is the philosophy espoused by the leadership in TFA. I don't assume all "underlings" in an organization share the beliefs of the leadership - I certainly don't share the philosophy of the SDP leadership - but it is the message that gets TFA hundreds of millions a year in grants from large philanthropies and the federal government. That gives TFA an advantage most schools of education do not have.

Submitted by Anna Weiss on January 19, 2010 12:16 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful (and on-topic) comment, Philly HS Teacher. 

You make a lot of very solid points.  I wonder, however, why "charitable" is so often seen as separate from "professional"?  (Aside from the salaried standpoint.)  I'm not being very articulate right now--I'm in the last ten minutes of my lunch break!--but the point of my post, and unfortunately it looks like it may have been a bit lost, is that I don't view teaching as charity at all.  That would imply that all students are needy and disadvantaged, which is not true (even in many schools where one would think this to be the case). 

In fact, I take issue with the idea that teaching is seen as a charitable act to begin with.  That's part of the reason why teachers are paid peanuts compared to, say, a doctor.  You mention that it is your profession and you get paid for it--and you should.  I don't think anyone should have to martyr themselves to give back to the community.  In fact, I think if more people were rewarded handsomely for it, a lot more people would be inclined to do so.  Perhaps that's part of our problem. 

Submitted by f (not verified) on January 16, 2010 11:55 am

Originally the Teach for America (TFA) model was purported to be a temporary staffing strategy that was intended to deal with the personnel shortages in some resource poor schools. Students need to have a teacher in their classroom while districts figure out how to attract and hold onto certified and effective teachers. It (TFA) provides immediate relief to children in classrooms without a teacher.

It seems now that the TFA model is becoming the convenient solution for addressing hard to fill teaching positions. As a result school districts that employ the TFA model have less of an incentive to seek permanent solutions to their staffing shortages.

It takes an enormous amount of energy and focus on the part of a school team to support a novice teacher. In addition it requires years of practice, reflection, commitment to continuing education, and life experience for a teacher to become an effective educator. It makes little sense given this perspective to hire someone who plans on remaining at a school for only two years.

An equally important reason for not utilizing this potential staffing pool (TFA) as a long-term solution is a concern for the well being of students who live in low resource communities. Many children who are served by the professional teaching staff of the school district of Philadelphia have suffered too often from the lost of an adult who they have grown to trust. How well would we serve our children who need stability in relationships as well as environment to set them up for yet another potential sad lost when the TFA teacher moves onto another educational pathway or other career?

Every child not matter where he or she lives is entitled to a quality publicly funded educational experience. Good intentions and volunteer efforts are not good enough for the students who attend schools located in affluent communities. They are also not good enough for the children who are most in need of access to competent teachers and well-resourced schools.

I respect the determination of TFA fellows to have a positive impact on our public schools. After all school is one of our societies key social institutions. However I do question whether participation in the TFA model is an effective civic engagement strategy. The existence of this organization enables our public school systems to avoid fulfilling one of their core responsibilities.
Every school district should be focused on recruiting highly qualified individuals who are committed to a career as an educator. Doing anything less than that is irresponsible and a dereliction of duty

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 16, 2010 4:03 pm

So, on whom are you casting the blame here- TFA or the school districts that utilize it? I am a TFA alum who agrees with you 100% about the "dereliction of duty" on behalf of lazy school districts, but until those superintendents and principals make their districts more welcoming environments for young, motivated, career teachers, none of them are going to bother! People seem to think TFA is out to take over the world; it's a temporary fix, and unfortunately a long-term solution isn't right around the corner.

And as to your point about stable relationships, students generally only have their teachers for one year, so I'm not sure the emotional impact of "losing a caring adult" is a valid criticism for the two (full) year TFA commitment. I would understand your point if it referred to teachers who quit mid-year, but leaving after two full years doesn't necessarily mean the foundations of trusting adult relationships crumble away; there aren't that many students who visit their old teachers. And for those teachers who do establish longer-term mentoring relationships with their students, God created email and cell phones. I have a number of former students with whom I still contact regularly, even though I'm not teaching anymore.

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on January 16, 2010 6:47 pm

TFA is a temporary fix that is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It's not TFA's "fault" that it's still around, but it certainly makes the crisis in teaching less pressing when you can tap such a robust network/organization to fill hard to staff positions, even just temporarily.

I find this sort of issue crops up everywhere, and I've never figured out a good answer to it. For example, with health care the current bill before Congress does not provide universal health care, but it will help cover most of the people who are uninsured right now. Great! They need insurance. But, you also lose some of the urgency for real, universal health care reform when you have fewer people intensely affected by the status quo. Does that mean you do nothing until you can do something great, and let people suffer in the meantime? It's hard to answer yes to that. But I don't think accepting that path means you can't still complain about it and agitate for more comprehensive change.

In regard to time, you may only have a student for one year, but teachers coming and going is hugely destabilizing to the school community. You may not talk to many of your students again, but you're also not there 2yrs later when their sibling comes through, or around as part of a friendly, reliable school community. It's not about the time spent with the individual students so much as the continuity and community. It's definitely true the school communities TFA teachers serve are destabilized already. It's just hard to get past seeing teaching as a term of employment and not as a career (though  this is another thing that is true in the field at large as well, it's just amplified by that 2yr expiration date many TFA teachers have). 

In regard to the comment below, TFA definitely affects a corps member's post teaching life. That's such a huge part of TFA's mission! TFA doesn't change your LSAT score, but I'm sure that alumni network helps build connections for summer firm placements and jobs. Also, since TFA is a very elite program, acceptance to it tells admissions committees that you don't just have strong scores, but also have a lot of personality traits most academic programs would appreciate. Plus, numerous grad programs have scholarships specifically for TFA alumni. TFA bills itself as a stepping stone. It's not a career teacher recruitment organization by design. As I understand it, TFA wants to create a network of people in a variety of fields who care about education, but I wouldn't say caring is the same thing as being in education. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 16, 2010 6:50 pm

"Does that mean you do nothing until you can do something great, and let people suffer in the meantime? It's hard to answer yes to that. But I don't think accepting that path means you can't still complain about it and agitate for more comprehensive change."

I agree with everything except the part about the complaining. All it does is take the focus away from "more comprehensive change". Accept the fact that, at least for the moment, TFA is necessary; if it weren't, it wouldn't be "celebrating its 20th anniversary". Let's all work toward the day when it ISN'T necessary and I'll be right there with you saying goodbye. Except I'll be saying "thanks", too.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 16, 2010 4:11 pm

While there are certainly merits to the criticisms of TFA's 2-year commitment, many of them are quite mis-informed. Those who deride it as a "stepping stone" are, in most cases simply wrong. Law school admissions, for example, are determined almost entirely by LSAT scores and college GPA. Factors like specific work experience are typically very weak considerations, only making a difference for borderline candidates. Medical school is similarly driven by academic credentials. So while teaching through TFA for two years may marginally improve an application, anyone doing it as a resumé builder is probably wasting their time (and, in many cases, drops out before stepping in to a classroom of their own). And for those doing it with an eye on public policy or education leadership careers in the future, it seems like a logical career choice. Wouldn't it be better if the people making important decisions that impact education policy had experience in the classroom?

At its core, TFA is about taking individuals who have built records that would allow them to do any number of things after college, and channeling them into education. Some stay, some don't. (And, in Philly more TFA teachers are in schools at the end of two years than non-TFA teachers). Many would stay in teaching longer if the conditions in schools allowed teachers to be more effective, rather than constantly burdening them with bureaucratic insanity. And many would stay in public schools if the path to school leadership was based on effectiveness and managerial skills rather than seniority and political connections. At the end of two years, TFA teachers have a Masters from UPenn, as well as two years of teaching experience in very difficult schools, so they have credentials and experience that would theoretically be the type of profile a District would try to retain as long as possible. But the District treats TFA teachers the same way as any other teacher -- "Do what we say, don't ask questions, and don't you dare act like you might know how to do your job better than someone in a cubicle 440. And if you don't like it--take your things and don't let the door hit you on the way out." So most (though not as many as you might expect) do the logical thing -- search out other ways to be personally and professional satisfied. For some this means moving to a charter school, for others it means taking the experiences gained in two years in a classroom to another profession.

Submitted by Philly HS Teacher (not verified) on January 16, 2010 7:06 pm

"But the District treats TFA teachers the same way as any other teacher"

Why should TFA teachers be treated differently than any other SDP teacher? Does a degree from Penn make a teacher more qualified than a teacher from a state school? What about a teacher who went through the traditional Penn teacher education track? You statement, again, reveals the arrogance of the TFA organization - the "best and brightest" mantra that doesn't fly in many classrooms.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 17, 2010 3:26 pm

Read what the person wrote again. He/She is saying that SDP treats ALL teachers badly and doesn't value them or make them partners in school improvement. He/She isn't saying that TFA teachers should be treated better but rather that ALL teachers should be treated better.

The chip on your shoulder is showing.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 17, 2010 5:14 pm

Ve vill find Philly HS...and ve vill act akkordingly...

Ve vill fix "the chip" on Philly's shoulder...;)

Submitted by f (not verified) on January 17, 2010 5:21 pm

Forty vacant positions mid way through the school year sounds like a troubled school district. I took your advice and examined the school districts vacancy list. After doing so, I once again contemplated how deceptive the use of numbers and percentages can be when describing any situation.

According to my count the district is listing the following 39 vacancies:

• There are 19 vacancies that are resulting from sabbatical leaves that will begin in February.

• There are 4 part time and 1 full time prep positions. These are teaching positions that are not assigned to a particular group of student’s full time. Part time positions are hard to staff.

• There is 1 supplemental position available. This is an extra teacher who is assigned to a school to act basically as a substitute teacher as needed.

• There are 2 part time special education positions available. These positions were created in order to release two current full time special education teachers for some portion of the day for other duties.

• There are 2 long term illness positions.

• There are 2 full time vocal music teacher positions. These are prep teacher positions. Vocal music positions are hard to staff.

• There is 1 full time reading teacher position. This position does not sound as though it is assigned to a particular group of children.

• There is 1 Alternative (disciplinary school) high school position.

• There are 2 full time high school English positions.

• There is 1 middle school full time English position.

• There is 1 middle school Social Studies / Science position. Split certification positions such as this one are hard to staff.

• There is 1 full time grade teacher position.

• There is 1 full time Special Education Life Skill Teacher position.

In September the school district hired a large number of supplemental teachers who were assigned to schools as extra support. These teachers are available to fill positions at other schools in the district as the need occurs. It sounds dramatic to state that there are forty vacant teaching positions but in reality there are only seven classrooms that are in need of a teacher. There is a pool of teachers already hired who can fill these positions. This is not a rational for the use of TFA fellows in Philadelphia.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 17, 2010 7:05 pm

You are right and perhaps my use of 40 + vacancies in January was overly dramatic. I didn't do the deeper breakdown you did - I simply counted the postings. Yours is more accurate. Thank you.

However, ALL of those supplemental teachers you mention have since been placed in permanent positions to fill vacancies as enrollment numbers were adjusted, and resignations and retirements were received. There are no longer any supplemental teachers left to use to fill those slots. No matter what the number of current vacancies, the point is that there still ARE some as late as January -- maybe not 40 full time positions and that's great but vacancies even with the 100 - 150 + TFA corps members who started the school year and the 100 - 150 that started the previous year. That's 200 - 300 positions. Without those TFA teachers and the ones who came before them and DID stay and are still in a permanent position, SDP would have an even more serious staffing problem. It is conceivable that SDP would then have 107 vacancies instead of 7.

My point was that certified teachers are not being turned away at the door. When we reach the point that they are, we can then talk about if TFA is still necessary. This HAS happened in other cities and it is something that should be talked about when we get there. At this point, TFA is necessary in Philadelphia. And, if TFA isn't what we want to use, then we have to find a different way to attract the same number of teachers from another source.

I think a more productive conversation would be about how we can attract the best teachers with the most experience to these hard to staff schools and then create an environment where they feel successful and want to stay. Until then, SDP will still have to continue to fill the hole in the bucket as teachers leave in droves each year whether it is with TFA teachers who may leave after their two year commitment, traditionally certified teachers who may choose to leave for a more supportive environment after a year or two, or long term subs or some other source.

Vilifying TFA isn't productive. I think there is a lot to discuss about how TFA and other alternate route teachers are trained and supported and how SDP can work to create the environment I mention above.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 17, 2010 9:22 pm

Many supplemental teachers were assigned to permanent classrooms within the first two weeks of school. I saw our two disappear after the first week. When I was hired back in the day I was 300 on a list of teachers. I figured I might heard something by the end of the year if I was lucky. They were calling me the first week of Oct. to come in and teach. That is how many people they were burning out in the first month of school. Things have changed little since then. The pool you speak of was drained the first month of school. Most of those excess hires were put into classrooms before Halloween.

Submitted by Alt Route Philly Teacher (not verified) on January 17, 2010 10:07 pm

I didn't take offense at the article. I'm an alternate route teacher in Philly, as my name suggests. I think the article actually makes a good case for teaching as a profession rather than a charitable act.

I know that I have chosen to approach it as a profession and not a charitable act. I'm not particularly concerned about whether my colleagues, as a group, give money or volunteer their limited free time. I'm sure they have their reasons.

"Apparently, working in education is no longer a civic duty!
That's right: according to a recent Stanford study, 'In areas like voting, charitable giving and civic engagement, graduates of [Teach For America] lag behind those who were accepted but declined and those who dropped out before completing their two years.' "

So, the article basically says graduates of TFA tend to be less involved in philanthropy and volunteer work after their TFA service. That's OK. They are still quite accomplished people, no one is saying otherwise.

"But a new study has found that their dedication to improving society at large does not necessarily extend beyond their Teach for America service."

OK. If you cured cancer and someone said you never did anything except cure cancer, that would be alright. TFA isn't curing cancer, but if you value TFA service, then it would be alright to only do that, right? No one is Superman.

In fact, the article suggests some likely-sounding reasons: "The reasons for the lower rates of civic involvement, Professor McAdam said, include not only exhaustion and burnout, but also disillusionment with Teach for America’s approach to the issue of educational inequity, among other factors."

"'To find that Teach for America graduates are more involved in education but are not serving in soup kitchens is interesting but not surprising — it’s consistent with their current mission,' said Monica C. Higgins, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard who studies organizational behavior. 'They’re not trying to make global citizens. They’re focused on education.'"

TFA grads may be still teaching or still "working in education" in another capacity. The study just says they tend to be less involved in philanthropy and volunteer work, and voting. I vote. I don't volunteer much. I don't give money much. I gave to a couple Congressional campaigns in 2008 and to a canvasser who came to my door last winter and was verbally abused by my neighbor. (It was the least I could do.)

I think this article contains information and was interesting. I'm fine with it.

Submitted by f (not verified) on January 18, 2010 8:57 am

By the start of the 2009-2010 school year the School Districts’ Human Resource Department had filled nearly all of the typical vacancies that occur from year to year. In addition to these regular hires, additional certified elementary teachers were hired in order to reduce class size in grades K-3. Additional secondary certified teachers in a variety of content areas were also hired in order to create common planning times in the neighborhood high schools. Finally more than 150 supplemental teachers were hired to fill vacancies as they developed during the school year. There wasn’t any hard to staff positions this year. The availability of extra Title One Funds, Special Education Funds, and Stimulus Funds allowed the district to hire these teachers before they took jobs in other districts or gave up on finding a teaching position. This is an instance where money does make a difference. This same difference could have been made twenty years ago when Teach For America was first started, if elected government officials had seen fit to properly fund all public schools. That was not the case however and the poorer districts have been making due for far too long.

It is not my intention to vilify TFA. As I have already stated I respect the commitment and work of the many young people who have chosen to teach as TFA fellows. My point is that the good work of these individuals is being exploited. The elected government leaders who control our distressed school districts see models such as TFA as just another easy fix to one of the many problems that face under resourced schools. That is correct elected officials do determine the fate of our schools. They control the purse strings or in some cases directly manage the school district, as the state of Pennsylvania manages Philadelphia.

Instead of providing funding in a timely manner to meet the staffing needs of districts such as Philadelphia these officials have been avoiding their responsibilities to provide an adequate and equal educational experience for every child. Temporary hires such as TFA fellows assure a constant stream of entry pay level employees. There isn’t much in the way of training cost either, since The TFA organization takes care of it. In the long run they do not generate any cost for the state pension system.

TFA fellows would be far more helpful if they were deployed to schools as enrichment teachers or as co-teachers who are paired with master teachers. The master teachers in turn could be released during part of the school day to support and develop new teachers.
Providing enrichment opportunities to students as well as basic skill instruction in math and reading would provide more opportunities for students to be engaged in school.

Using TFA fellows in this manner would have a positive effect on school climate and provide the kind of support necessary to positively effect teacher retention. In this capacity TFA fellows would see the positive and productive side of public schools. Later in their careers when they continue to be interested in educational issues, they could draw on the memory of a positive public school teaching experience to inspire their continued civic activism.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2010 9:50 am

Let's get one thing straight: to the person who said "TFA is not out to take over the world" - that's not quite right. TFA is a political organization. And like other political organizations, it has a strategy that it advances of places its members in high places and key positions. When TFA mobilized against the potential appointment of Linda Darling Hammond as education secretary, that was a political act. TFA has a theory of change and a strategy for getting there. They are seeding schools, districts, and institutions with folks who agree with their line, much like the Broad Superintendents Academy.

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