I missed the interview with Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, Inc., on KUOW today although I can imagine all the sound bites and glorification of what has become a multimillion dollar business. It now seems like an appropriate time to bring up a study that was done by the Great Lakes Center, Teach for America: A Review of the Evidence. Below are excerpts from the:

 Executive Summary

 (Notes in italics are mine.)

 Teach For America (TFA) aims to address teacher shortages (which we do not have in Seattle with three colleges of education and graduates from these universities teaching part-time as substitute teachers in hopes of teaching in our Seattle Public School system) by sending graduates from elite colleges, most of whom do not have a background in education, to teach in low-income rural and urban schools for a two-year commitment. The impact of these graduates (churn) is hotly debated by those who, on the one hand, see this as a way to improve the supply of teachers by enticing some of America’s top students into teaching (which we already have graduates in education from the University of Washington, Pacific University and Seattle University) and those who, on the other hand, see the program as a harmful dalliance into the lives of low-income students who most need highly trained and highly skilled teachers.

The question for most districts, however, is whether TFA teachers do as well as or better than credentialed non-TFA teachers with whom school districts aim to staff their schools. On this question, studies indicate that the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers. (Oops!)

From a school-wide perspective, the high turnover (two years as agreed to by the Seattle Public School District) of TFA teachers is costly. Recruiting and training replacements for teachers who leave (Leaving? Who’s leaving? We have schools stuffed to the gills in the north and west ends of Seattle as well as Garfield High School in the Central District, and trained teachers waiting in the wings to take the place of those retiring.) involves financial costs ($4,000 per TFA recruit per year plus their salary), and the higher achievement gains associated with experienced teachers and lower turnover may be lost as well.

The evidence suggests that districts may benefit from using TFA personnel to fill teacher shortages when the available labor pool consists of temporary or substitute teachers or other novice alternatively and provisionally certified teachers likely to leave in a few years (which is not the case in Seattle). Nevertheless, if educational leaders plan to use TFA teachers as a solution to the problem of shortages (which is not the case in Seattle), they should be prepared for constant attrition (which none of our school communities need) and the associated costs of ongoing recruitment and training (which our district does not need).

A district whose primary goal is to improve achievement should explore and fund other educational reform that may have more promise such as universal preschool, mentoring programs pairing novice and expert teachers (which we have now in terms of teaching assistants as required to receive certification in the state of Washington), elimination of tracking, and reduction in early grade class size.

It is therefore recommended that policymakers and districts:

  • Support TFA staffing only when the alternative hiring pool consists of uncertified and emergency teachers or substitutes (which is not the case in Seattle).
  • Consider the significant recurring costs of TFA, estimated at over $70,000 per recruit, and press for a five-year commitment to improve achievement and reduce re-staffing.
  • Invest strategically in evidence-based educational reform options that build long-term capacity in schools (and not in the latest fad that makes others ridiculously rich).

Based on the evidence and common sense, it is obvious that we don’t need TFA recruits in Seattle and they would cause more harm than good.

Please contact our interim superintendent, Susan Enfield, and our school board of directors and let them know what you think.

The plan is to rif, layoff, teachers in May due to “under-enrollment” (another subject worthy of a post) and bring in TFA recruits to replace our teachers in the fall.

Do you think that this the best strategy to educate our children?

Dora