How Teach for America Could Have Been Useful – But Wasn’t

Imagine if Wendy Kopp had taken a different tack.

Instead of throwing untrained elite, newby college grads into an inner-city classroom with virtually no connection between what they studied at their university and what they were teaching, with the promise that once they had those 2 years under their belt, they could then get all their college loans paid off and go on to make big bucks coasting on their resume — while having in fact been AT BEST only vaguely successful (in other words, “Teach For Awhile”)

Instead of that:

Recruiting bright young college sophomores and juniors to seriously consider teaching AS A CAREER, and to take courses on educational theory and practice along with whatever subject they are already interested in;

Making sure that they had a full year, post-graduation, of student teaching and observation, as well as intensive grad-school courses that further promote their understanding of teaching as a craft and of how to teach their own chosen subject matter;

Getting them to commit to at least five years in the Title I classroom, not two, since we know that it takes at least three years to begin to become an effective classroom teacher, and it’s bad to have constant teacher turnover, and it’s wasteful to do all this training and have it all be thrown away;

Encouraging these college grads NOT to become derivative traders, mortgage bankers, corporate lawyers, or educational shucksters, but instead, real, practicing teachers and leaders in that profession;

Then we could have said that Wendy Koop had done something positive for the youth of America.

Instead, we have had a colossal con job foisted on our public educational system.

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Right on. Trying to fix schools in a backasswards way seems to be the agenda for so many “education reform” projects.

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  2. Guy I think it is a little more subtle than that. The original idea for TFA was how to get people to enter the classroom fast, through a non-traditional path to schools who couldn’t find enough credentialed teachers. Not to replace traditional teacher training, but to supplement it. I think they lost their way. TFA does provide a source of good people for when schools can’t find people with credentials, the problem became when they started thinking they were as good or better than experienced professionals. Duct tape is great for a temporary fix at home, but find a new garage when it is the first thing a “mechanic” pulls out to fix your car at a garage. TFA is duct tape, when you don’t have the right tool, it is better than none.

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    • As a person who enjoys fixing and building things, I take the position that duct tape is aout the very worst thing you can use to fix anything. It’s not even any good for sealing duct work!

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      • I have some engineer friends that have built stuff with it for demonstration, but I get your point. I still think that TFA is a problem not because they provide nothing of value, but provide something of limited value and promote it as a cure-all. Also it is way too expensive for what it provides, temporary teachers. To launch into mixed metaphors, most businesses hire temps for much less than they hire permanent workers, but for TFA teachers, the school districts pay full pay and benefits and TFA gives them free tuition for a second degree.

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      • In addition, the school district pays a hefty fee per temp to TFA. So it’s an extraordinary rate to pay for what are, as you correctly point out, something like long-term subs.

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