Opinions, Editorials

The Problems Facing Teach For America

Among schools with 3,000 to 9,999 undergraduates, Boston College ranked No. 5 for the most Teach For America (TFA) recruits last year, placing 29 undergraduates in teaching positions at public and charter schools around the country. TFA is a highly selective program, with acceptance rates historically below 15 percent. Accepted applicants receive five weeks of training before being placed in some of the country’s most challenging classrooms. Those placed through TFA are required to accept their first assignment regardless of location, and are paid the same wage as starting teachers in the same district, plus the costs of relocation.

This funding for relocation means it costs more to place a TFA trainee in front of these classrooms than it would to place a graduate of the Lynch School of Education with four years of profession-specific training. Graduates placed through TFA have no bargaining power and no say over where they work, making it less attractive for TFA teachers to remain in their placements long-term. BC’s continued support of TFA is incongruous with its investment in the teaching profession, and is ultimately damaging the country’s already troubled public education system.

Because of the large fees associated with recruiting a TFA teacher, the costs of their training, as well as the lobbying TFA does at a national and local level to create spots for its teachers—often at the expense of positions for tenure-track professionals—employing TFA recruits is quite costly. The pecuniary cost to society of 100 TFA recruits is $8.2 million over five years, compared with the $2.2 million for traditional teachers, according to a 2014 report from the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Education and the Public Interest Center. Notably, only about 30 percent of TFA’s funding comes through tax dollars, per the same report, versus 70 percent from foundations, individuals, and corporations. Even taking this comparison into consideration, the taxpayer still bears a greater burden in the case of a TFA recruit than for a traditional educator.

The report goes on to detail that 28 percent of TFA recruits will remain public school teachers after five years, compared with 50 percent of traditional educators. Only 5 percent of TFA teachers are still in their initial placement after seven years. TFA’s goal to “eliminate educational inequity” is unlikely to be achieved with such unusually high attrition rates.

A 2013 study by Mathematica, now frequently cited by TFA, demonstrated that the achievement in mathematics for students in TFA classrooms was 2.6 months ahead of those in traditional settings. These figures, although initially somewhat compelling, begin to break down once it is pointed out that the study excludes the third of TFA teachers placed in charter schools, and the educators examined do not represent the diversity of the TFA corps—80 percent of the TFA teachers sampled in the study were white, compared to only 45 percent of the incoming corps members nationally. It also contradicts over a decade of research pointing to the inefficacy of TFA, according to a 2010 study from UC-Boulder’s Education and the Public Interest Center.

Furthermore, even if the Mathematica findings are taken at face value, investments in smaller class sizes may close the gap in student achievement far more cost-effectively than TFA.

Top BC graduates from all educational backgrounds should consider entering the teaching profession, and considering the strong focus on service here at BC, it is not surprising that 29 graduates from the Class of 2014 chose to join the TFA corps. Those interested in teaching and public education, however, would be better served working toward a master’s degree in education or pursuing their certification through avenues less costly to the nation. Long-term measures such as bringing down class size, reducing teacher turnover, and offering wages to educators competitive with those in industry are paramount in closing the achievement gap in our public schools.

BC would not tout its contributions to a program that placed graduates with five weeks’ accounting training in a major accounting firm—largely because the University values accounting as a profession, not as a service opportunity. Teaching in public schools is not a service opportunity. It is a career, and American universities should start treating it as such.

Featured Image courtesy of teachforamerica.org

September 21, 2014

2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Problems Facing Teach For America”

  1. Excellent piece. TFA takes advantage of well-meaning young people who sincerely want to serve. Unfortunately, despite the good intentions of its recruits, TFA functions as a Trojan army, stealthily advancing the privatization of education. This is why it is so heavily supported by the Walton family — the owners of that exemplar of corporate irresponsibility, Walmart.