Teach for America is not the answer
by WVEA President Dale Lee - October 5, 2012
Let me see if I understand the recent discussion for bringing the Teach for America (TFA) program to West Virginia. The WVBE believes that student achievement suffers because West Virginia has a large number of classroom teaching positions that we are not able to fill with fully certified teachers. Their answer is to bring in non-certified graduates from out of state to fill them. What am I missing here?
There is nothing magical about the participants in the Teach for America program. TFA students are no more qualified for the positions than the non-certified West Virginians that are currently filling those positions.
TFA recruits recent college graduates to commit to teach for a minimum of two years in high-need, low-income schools throughout the country reminiscent of Vista workers in the 1960s or current day Peace Corp members.
The vast majority of recruits have no prior teaching experience, no university based courses in education, nor certification before entry into the program. TFA corps members are trained during a five-week summer institute prior to their placement. Upon placement, they receive their teaching salary plus a stipend from TFA.
The impact of these graduates is hotly debated. TFA, of course, gives high marks to their corps members. Independent research, however, is not as kind. Well known education researchers (Darling-Hammond, Holtzman, Gatlin & Heilig; Laczko-Kerr & Berliner) have concluded the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers.
The good news is experience has a positive effect for both TFA and non-TFA teachers. However; since more than 50% of TFA teachers leave after two years, and more than 80% leave after three years, their students never benefit from the improvement in their teaching.
More recently, a 2006 study found that between 10% and 15% of each TFA corps class leaves before completing their two-year commitment (Boyd, et. al., 2006). A comparison study of New York City (NYC) teachers found that 90% of TFA recruits left by year four. In contrast, just over 40% of "regular certified" teachers left in the same time period (Kane, et. al., 2006). Bringing in TFA teachers for one or two years does nothing to solve our problems.
West Virginia currently has programs to work with non-certified college graduates which enable them to fill our classrooms.Many of the individuals who go through those state programs are state natives who cannot find employment in other areas. Why would we not want our own college graduates to go though our state alternative certification program to fill vacant positions?
West Virginia natives will be far more likely to remain in teaching positions past the 2 years of TFA members and are going to receive far more training than a 5 week crash course. Ultimately, our alternative certification programs will result in a certified teacher with a commitment to teach in our state. Something that has not been proven to be the case with TFA graduates.
Study after study finds students perform better when taught by fully certified teachers. Teachers are trained professionals. They have gone to college to perfect their craft and have gained wisdom with their experience. Lowering standards to bring in non-certified teachers is not going to improve public education in our state.
A few years ago when West Virginia experienced a shortage of physicians, we didn’t look to lower standards for our doctors and allow college grads without medical degrees to open offices in our state to practice medicine.
Instead, we made a concerted effort to entice those in the medical profession to stay in state. The exact opposite is true for educators. We constantly criticize teachers and blame them for all the ills of public education and then we wonder why we can’t fill our teaching vacancies.
Let’s be honest. Teach for America is not the answer to teacher shortages in our state. We already have non-certified teachers in classroom positions. Simply bringing in more non-certified teachers through another program doesn’t solve any of our problems.
TFA and other similar programs are simply band-aids. Let’s get serious and talk about ways to fix the problem and do what is best for West Virginia’s students.
Dale Lee is a special education teacher at Princeton Senior High School in Mercer County with 22 years of classroom experience. He is currently on leave serving as the elected president of the WVEA.