The purpose of this blog is to know and understand the teacher's perspective concerning current issues on education reform and the teaching profession. Inputs from the ones who probably knows what is best for students academically -- the teachers -- are rarely considered in decision making of policies. Yet, these so-called education experts and lawmakers dictate how we do our jobs and what we should teach. That's not right!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

TFA - Giving Back or Moving Up?

Since its inception in 1990, there has been intense debate on the effectiveness of Teach for America [TFA], an non-profit organization that recruit recent graduates from selective colleges and universities to commit two years into teaching in low-performing schools, urban or rural. It is like the Peace Corps for education. It is great to see young people who are willing to sacrifice jump-starting their careers in their respective fields to work in hard-to-staff schools with low pay and under challenging conditions. However educating children should be a life-long investment of personal time, money, and effort, not a temporal charity gig to make your resume look good. While its intentions are good and it does supplement additions to an already-struggling teaching workforce, TFA is deeply tied to the current education reform movement as a cost-effective, simple means to train and hired future teachers.

How effective are TFA recruits in the classrooms? Several research studies over the years showed mixed results. However, it doesn't matter to me. TFA recruits are required to teach for ONLY two years. For most teachers, they are still going through the blues of surviving the kids, while learning and improving in their craft. In addition, most TFA recruits leave the classroom after their two-year commitment expires. So whatever impact they did make in the classroom will be short-lived. Ironically, several TFA alumni, such as the darling of education reform, former DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee; her replacement, Kaya Henderson; and Mike Feinberg and David Levin, founders of the famous KIPP network of charter schools; have stayed in the education arena by moving up the ladder after fulfilling their two-year commitment. With its TFA connections, New Leaders for New Schools [NLNS], a non-profit organization that trains educators and non-educators to become principals. Although NLNS residents are required to make a six-year commitment to the program, the bulk of their training begins with a four-week intense sessions of coursework over the summer before they start their on-the-job training residency in an assigned school, which includes two week-long seminars on leadership skills throughout the school year; the remaining years of their residency consist of continual on-the-job training and seminars, as well as completion of portfolio-like projects and leadership assessment. Plus, many NLNS alumni become principals of charter schools.

If TFA alumni who leave the classroom do not pursue educational leadership positions, they go back to pursue a career they graduated in, particularly in corporate America. More than ever, I believe this to be evident in light of the recent recruitment notification explicitly for recent TFA recruits to work for famed investment banking firm, Goldman-Sachs. With an offer to work for a prestigious employer for a very lucrative salary, why would a TFA alumnus stay in the teaching profession long-term? Wait! I thought TFA was supposed to ease the current teacher shortages. Yet, I digress!
So why joined TFA to begin with? To give back to the community by educating our most challenging students? Or to use the TFA experience as a stepping stone to a better career? So has the teaching profession become a charity case? Did I and many other educators who underwent years of formal training and dedicated our lives to educating children do so in vain? And while it is common knowledge that nearly half of traditionally- or alternative-certified teachers leave the profession within their first five years, why complicate the problem by creating another revolving door via TFA? Even within the current education reform debate, there is little to no talk of ways of retaining existing teachers. While it is cheaper to keep her (or him) in the classroom, compensation for years of experiences and credential for that teacher is still more expensive than compensation for an uncertified TFA recruit. Therefore, all of this goes back to cutting cost and making money, at the expense of our children's future.

One final note: Last week, education historian and critic of the current education reform movement, Diane Ravitch, gave a "tough love" speech on education reform to a large audience on onlookers, including KIPP and TFA officials. Below is the video clip of her entire speech.

REEP, KIPP and TFA Lecture Series from Jon Paul Estrada on Vimeo.

In addition, TFA alumnus, Jesse Hagopian, wrote an candid op-ed , which is also featured in a recent article, on his "not-so-prepared" experiences in TFA and made a case for why the Seattle School Board should not bring the TFA program there in its city and schools. Unfortunately, the school board voted for it.

UPDATE: Another TFAer, Eric Maroney, speaks out; click here on what he has to say about a TFA fundraising dinner he recently attend. It gets no plainer than this...

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