Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Glorified Temp Agency

Julian Vasquez Heilig
Julian Vasquez Heilig is an associate professor of educational policy and planning and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He blogs at "Cloaking Inequity."
UPDATED AUGUST 31, 2012, 11:42 AM
To a casual observer, Teach for America's narrative is compelling: an array of feel-good stories profile fresh-faced college graduates choosing to teach. However, as hundreds of millions of public and private dollars flow into the program, a growing chorus of criticism surrounds it.
The program should start requiring longer commitments and certification if it wants to become more than a résumé builder.
It is telling that the intellectual elites that expound the virtues of Teach for America do not accept them in the communities that serve their own children. Recruits with five weeks of training are good enough for poor whites and students of color, but they are glaringly absent from affluent schools in places like Scarsdale, N.Y., or Westlake, Texas, districts seeking well-qualified career teachers for advantaged children.
Indeed, Teach for America is essentially a glorified temp agency. According to my calculations, more than 80 percent of the recruits leave for graduate school or another career before their fourth year, taking with them all the training and recruitment dollars taxpayers and universities have invested in them — as much as $70,000 a year. 
As I discuss in a 2010 National Education Policy Center research brief, the debate about whether these teachers produce gains or losses in their students' test scores rages on in academia. The high turnover among these temporary teachers undermines students' achievement at the schools where they are placed — a concern that civil rights and parent groups have raised repeatedly as Teach for America lobbies to have its teachers hired in the districts the critics' children attend, even when there are no shortages.
Sadly, Teach for America is a revolving door of inexperienced teachers for the students who most need a highly qualified one. As applications to the program at Harvard and other highly selective institutions of higher education are burgeoning, now is the time for the organization to start require corps members to make at least a five- to seven-year commitment and to become certified. Then Teach for America (and the districts that hire the group) would know which individuals are serious about making a difference in the classroom and which see a teaching stint with Teach for America as simply a résumé builder.

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