Teach for America does not place top flight teachers in challenging school districts. Teach for America places young, enthusiastic liberal arts graduates in teaching positions in challenging school districts.
Teachers major in education, serve various internships and take multiple professional courses in pedagogy (the art and science of education) taught by qualified educators during a four-year degree program. Then many go back to graduate school and get a master’s degree because they want to be the best at what they do or to specialize in the type of student or subject they love to teach. Some go on to get national certification, a rigorous program very different from college that teaches them to analyze their work and become even better. A few go further for an Ed.S or Ph.D.
Teach for America gives college graduates with high grade-point averages a five-week crash course in teaching, then the school system is expected to mentor them and make them into teachers while they struggle to teach the most challenging students in Louisiana to read, write and do math. After two years, when they are beginning to know what they are doing, they leave. Some remain in education, but I would challenge anyone to find the percentage that stay in the troubled schools that trained and nurtured them.
A million dollars donated to Teach for America by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education seems extravagant and wasteful in a state where the K-12 budget has been frozen for three years, teachers have been laid off and important programs destroyed.
Gov. Bobby Jindal says Louisiana needs to do more with less, but he seems to have as much money as he needs to do whatever he wants. And something he seems to want really badly is to eliminate professional, experienced, highly educated career teachers from Louisiana.
If Teach for America really wants to provide teachers, it needs to require a commitment of five years, not two, to the program. Since it takes three years to become a skilled teacher, that means the schools will get the benefits of a teacher who understands the basics by her third year and a quality teacher for the fourth and fifth. By then she also should be comfortable in her job and might decide to remain an educator in the public schools instead of chasing a career that pays more or offers prestige and respect. Maybe she discovers she has found her calling. The million dollars would be well spent if this happened, but not if TFA remains two years and gone. As is, the suddenly available $1 million would be better spent restoring slashed programs, helping truants find educational success or getting more little ones into pre-kindergarten.