Is Teach for America Helping or Hurting Our Black Schools?

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    In an educational environment where teachers are often compelled to prepare students for standardized tests rather than employing more creative ways to teach the basic skills, the task of a classroom instructor has become more stressful and difficult.

    In Florida, even things like promotions, raises and continued employment are often linked to how well students do on the FCAT and now on the Common Core exams. But consider those young men and women who are leading a class for the very first time — fresh out of college with no experience in classroom management, instructional methods or the general art of teaching — often referred to as “pedagogy.”

    That’s the situation facing some 340 first- or second-year teachers in Miami-Dade County Public Schools [M-DCPS] that are corp members in a program called Teach For America [TFA]. The program, founded by Wendy Kropp in 1990 and based on her Princeton University undergraduate thesis, recruits recent college graduates and professionals to teach for two years in urban and rural communities throughout the U.S. TFA’s stated goal, for its corp members [teachers], according to its website, is to make both a short- and long-term impact by leading their students to reach their “full potential and becoming lifelong leaders for educational equity.”

    However, as some experts point out, and as data confirms, many TFA instructors fulfill their two-year commitment and then move on to other professions. Thus, the question arises if students, particularly those who are Black or Hispanic and are in schools that are struggling to reach academic parity with white students, actually benefit from having a TFA corp member as their instructor.

    A closer look at TFA Miami

    TFA Miami is led by executive director Maxeme Tuchman, a M-DCPS graduate who began her career with TFA as a corp member in Miami-Dade. She was unavailable for comment as this article went to press but the organization’s local website gave the following information: TFA Miami started in 2003 with 35 corp members; this year its numbers are 340, spread among 38 public schools and reaching an estimated 24,000 students.

    Enid Weisman, chief human capital officer, M-DCPS, says the District follows the rubrics of a federal grant that specifies organizations like TFA [and City Year] where by young career teachers are placed in “fragile or critically low-performing schools in cohort so that they are there to support one another.”

    “They attend a six-week boot camp — training supplied by TFA — and it’s an investment that taxpayers do not have to shoulder,” she said. “Some have issues with stability because as we know, not all of these young teachers stay after fulfilling their contract. But two years of high content teaching is still two years of teaching. If they don’t work out, principals have the final say — and yes, sometimes they don’t work out. One thing we’ve noticed in recent years is that more TFA corp members are choosing to remain with us. I can’t say whether that’s because of the economy or not. This year we have a lot of TFAs from Miami and that’s a plus because they are returning to their home schools and already have roots in the community.”

     

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