More TFA

There has already been plenty of blogging about Timesman Sam Dillon’s puffer on education reform’s first family, Wendy Kopp and Richard Barth. In my view they’re pretty amazing people so the praise is deserved.

What surprised me in the article was this really out of date quote from Teach For America critic David Berliner:

David C. Berliner, an education professor at Arizona State University, said Teach for America recruits brought a missionary zeal to classrooms but were unprepared for teaching. “They think, ‘We can solve the problems of urban education because we’re smarter than everybody else,’ “ Professor Berliner said. “There’s some arrogance there.”

The reality is that TFA today is not just about smart kids from top schools. Instead, they’ve developed a very effective recruitment strategy and a screening process for the non-test score, non-GPA, etc…characteristics of effective teachers. That doesn’t mean that training doesn’t matter, too, but a healthier field would be building on this mousetrap rather than attacking it.

8 Replies to “More TFA”

  1. Being accused of arrogance by David Berliner is like being accused of self-promotion by Al Sharpton.

  2. Really, now. Is that an appropriate way to speak of NYC Chancellor Joel Klein’s new partner?

  3. OK, but if it’s just about recruiting graduates of the top schools into teaching…if that’s how to improve education, then how do we do it? No one has yet addressed the elitism of TFA, and the credentials that being selected gives to its members. For example, how many TFAers use it as stepping stone to get into law school? Surely being selected is a resume builder. How do we get these kinds of recruits into teaching without the prestige factor?

    Or, does TFA train its recruits to do something that Ed Schools don’t do? If there’s something special about the TFA training that makes the teachers so good, the organization should be sharing that with as many new teachers as possible, rather than denying all children the chance to have that kind of instruction.

  4. Recruitment means dangling carrots in front of hungry rabbits. What carrots does public education have to dangle? Money? Prestige? Innovation?

    TFA has modified the “make a difference” carrot by adding “with limited commitment”. What’s wrong with that? I’m not sure how long it will be a viable motivator. Does anyone join the Peace Corps anymore? At any rate, many Ed programs are producing one- and two-year teachers anyway. TFA provides a context and purpose for the burnout that new teachers face. When a TFAer leaves, he can at least advocate for public education knowledgeably, rather than simply carrying a chip on his shoulder to his assistant manager job at the local big box store.

    The kicker: my brother is a TFA alum at an underperforming school in AZ (cue the inspiring battle march). He could have left this year for a different profession, or a suburban school, but he’s sticking with it. Not only that, but he’s rallying his fellow teachers around an internet forum to discuss school issues, challenges, and how best to support the new admins he hasn’t even met yet. TFA invested in him, and he’s multiplying their investment. Heck, even if he’d left education, he’d still be multiplying his investment, because that’s what he does. He just needed the right carrot to lure him to education.

  5. Anonymous writes, “How do we get these kinds of recruits into teaching without the prestige factor?”

    To me, the point is that there should be a prestige factor, and we shouldn’t be asking teachers entering the field to sacrifice it. People like to say that teaching is the most important profession, yet teachers aren’t treated like it. The more TFA-like candidates in our classrooms, meaning candidates who are high-achievers and skilled and who fully expect the benefits that those qualities should provide for them, the more likely that the prestige of teaching will increase.

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