News, On Campus, Academics

BC Listed Among Top Contributors To Teach For America

Boston College is once again among the top universities contributing alumni to Teach for America (TFA), a non-profit that places recent graduates in high-need school districts across the country, according to an August report released by TFA.

Twenty-nine members of the 2014 graduating class joined TFA after they received their diplomas in mid-May. Although the same number of BC graduates joined the corps the year before, this year BC contributed the fifth-most alumni to TFA among medium-sized schools (between 3,000 and 9,999 undergraduates). Only Howard University, Vanderbilt University, George Washington University, and Harvard sent more graduates.

Other top-contributing Jesuit schools include Georgetown (27) and Saint Louis University (17). In total, 5,300 new graduates from 850 colleges and universities joined TFA over the summer and have begun teaching in high-need classrooms across the nation.

According to the Office of News and Public Affairs, about 400 Boston College alumni have served in TFA since its founding in 1990.

Teach for America is a nonprofit that aims to “eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach.” Individuals apply to the program through a competitive application process and, if accepted, commit to teaching for two years in a low-income community in one of 50 regions across the country.

New corps members begin with five weeks of intensive training in the summer. During four of those weeks, they teach summer school courses alongside experienced teachers who provide coaching and feedback. Additionally, TFA hosts lesson-planning clinics and curriculum sessions designed to help corps members develop effective teaching methods.

Corps members are placed in high-need districts, but are not required to have a teaching certificate, as district-hired teachers are. Members receive the same pay and benefits as beginning teachers in the district, in addition to transitional funding packages to help ease members’ transition into their placement.

Currently 10,600 individuals serve in TFA in high-need schools in 35 states and the District of Columbia. About two-thirds of those in the corps are graduating seniors, while the other third come from a professional background.

Since its creation in the early ’90s, TFA has been the subject of great praise and criticisms. In a recent op-ed published in The Washington Post, Wendy Kopp, founder and chairwoman of TFA, responded to criticisms that TFA teachers don’t help students learn, a common concern often voiced by district-hired teachers.

Because TFA teachers are not required to have a teaching certification, many in the education community—especially non-TFA teachers, who must complete two-year certification programs before being permitted to teach—argue that TFA teachers are neither qualified nor prepared to teach in America’s toughest schools.

“In my experience Harvard students have increasingly acknowledged that TFA drastically underprepares its recruits for the reality of teaching,” wrote recent Harvard graduate Sandra Y.L. Korn in a column published in The Washington Post.

Korn was asked to join the corps a number of times by TFA campus recruiters, but she declined.
In her op-ed, Kopp argues that TFA’s summer program and its network of support suffices in preparing teachers for the classroom, and she points to a 2013 study by Mathematica Policy Research that found “TFA members moved their students forward an estimated 2.6 months during one school year” as evidence that the organization benefits students.

Beyond the debate about classroom preparedness, criticism about TFA’s retention rates has also put Kopp on the defensive. According to Education Week, within five years, only 15 percent of TFA teachers remain in their original placements. Kopp argues, though, that 64 percent of alumni currently work full-time in education.

In March, the organization unveiled a pilot program intended to provide a limited number of teachers with a year of training before they enter the classroom and to emphasize the importance of teachers staying in the classroom beyond their two-year placements.

“We need to keep our minds open to change and innovation as we continue to find new and better ways to do right by kids,” TFA CEO Matthew Kramer recently told Education Week. “Teaching beyond two years cannot be a backup plan—it has to be the main plan.”

Featured Image by Daniel Lee / Heights Senior Staff

September 21, 2014