Teach for America will be co-hosting a discussion at Yale’s Afro-American Cultural Center on Thursday. The Facebook event says: “Join us for an honest discussion around the pressure to move yourself forward vs. paying it forward. Does it have to be a choice?” The fact that TFA is hosting this event is puzzling given the program’s practices and impact on racial minorities.

Diana Rosen_Karen TianTeach for America is a highly selective program that recruits college graduates to teach for two years without going through a traditional certification program. In recent years, TFA has greatly expanded in urban areas that do not exhibit teacher shortages. These areas tend to have large minority populations, including African Americans, yet the 2012 members of TFA are 62 percent white and only 13 percent African American. As the program expands in cities, laid-off veteran teachers are replaced by TFA members. In many cases, the laid-off teachers are black. For example, the number of black teachers in Chicago has declined by at least 43 percent since 1995. In 2000, TFA had 34 members in Chicago. This past year there were over 500. To summarize, TFA is helping replace experienced black teachers with young white teachers, many of whom will leave the profession after two years.

One Yale graduate, who asked to remain anonymous because of his current employment with a related organization, was recruited by TFA at Yale and accepted to the program. He went on to quit following the intense summer training out of frustration with the program and its ideology. He was assigned to Chicago, a city where over 1,000 teachers lost their jobs this summer, and many of his colleagues had zero interest in remaining in teaching after TFA. I had the opportunity to speak to some of them. They talked about how much they loved their Southside Chicago students. They also talked about how much they wanted to go to business school or become professors.

TFA takes jobs from minority teachers, but it also has detrimental effects on minority students. TFA members are trained in a mere five weeks, a practice that has been criticized by many. Studies conducted have generated conflicting conclusions about the performance of TFA members, but one thing that almost all studies conclude is that teachers with more experience produce higher performing students.

Members of TFA are far less likely to remain in the profession after their two-year commitment than their counterparts from traditional college teacher education programs. In New York City, 85 percent of TFA members had left the school district after four years while only 37 percent of the traditionally educated ones did. Many TFA members view the program as a stepping-stone to graduate school or careers outside of teaching. Fliers for the program at Fordham University even advertise, “Learn how joining TFA can help you gain admission to Stanford Business School.” Another contributing factor may be the tendency of teachers to “burn out” after two years of intense working conditions with little preparation.

These young, mostly-white TFA teachers are placed in minority-filled classrooms in the place of better-trained, more experienced teachers. The losers here are not only the teachers who no longer are employed, but also the students who will be taught by these less qualified TFA members. A humorous, but sad article in The Onion this summer satirically discussed TFA from the perspective of a student: “Just once, it would be nice to walk into a classroom and see a teacher who has a real, honest-to-God degree in education and not a twentysomething English graduate trying to bolster a middling GPA and a sparse law school application.”

It is very well possible that TFA was a well-intentioned program in its beginnings. In places where there are true shortages of teachers, bringing in college graduates to fill the gaps makes sense, even if they are less effective than traditionally trained teachers. But the reality today is that TFA is operating in many urban school districts that are laying off teachers by the hundreds and thousands.

I don’t think that students entering the program intend to create damage in minority communities — but with the recent media attention given to critics of TFA, these realities are becoming more and more difficult to ignore. TFA has a very large presence at Yale. Eighteen percent of graduating seniors in 2010 applied to the program. By junior year, students begin receiving emails from TFA recruiters inviting them to various events.

Given the elimination of Yale’s teacher certification program two years ago, Yale should actively encourage students to go into teaching — but Teach for America is not the right venue. Why not have a traditional teacher from a New Haven public school host this week’s discussion at the Af-Am House instead of a TFA representative? The discussion topic implies that TFA members “pay it forward” by teaching in low-income communities. It ignores the fact that many of these members do far more harm than good.

Diana Rosen is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact her at diana. rosen@yale.edu.

  • lakia

    America has basically a 15% black population. So 13% for TFA would be reasonable.

    • yale12

      Reasonable except for the fact that the population they are serving is way more than 15% black. I’d wager more like 65%.

      • lakia

        So, you are suggesting that only black teachers should educate black children and white teachers should educate white children? Hmmm that sounds vaguely familiar. Oh yes! Separate but equal. Great call.

        Here is another idea: most qualified candidate.

        • dgodon

          It’s well known that Black students benefit from having black teachers (both male and female). They can serve as powerful role models, often know the community better and are committed to schools for the long haul. Pushing out black teachers, as has happened in Chicago (and elsewhere), also hurts blacks (adults and children) by taking away decent local jobs. This doesn’t mean every teacher should be black.

          Interesting that you bring up the issue of “separate but equal”. The communities in Chicago (and many other cities) are suffering more segregation than any time since Jim Crow. There are multiple reasons for this, but policies being pushed by TFAers and its backers are making this worse (a recent UCLA report concluded that charters were civil rights disaster)

  • theantiyale

    “Teach for America is a highly selective program that recruits college graduates to teach for two years without going through a traditional certification program”

    Vermont permitted me to teach for 25 years (!) without going through a traditional certification program.

    I got my teaching certificate in a one-time-only offer passed by the legislature during a teacher shortage in 1985 which allowed qualified candidates to do an internship in Vermont schools for four months (without pay) and thereby circumvent taking the mickey-mouse “education courses” required of all public school teachers (I already had two master degrees in 1985 and would get a third from Middlebury in 1997). The one provision was that the master teacher you interned under in Vermont had to write a recommendation for you after the four month internship in order for you to be certified. My expenses during the four internship were paid for by 85-year old Miss Isabel Wilder, my friend and neighbor in Hamden Connecticut (‘our’ town) and sister of the author Thornton Wilder.

    Miss Wilder literally made me a teacher. As far as I know I am the only person to take advantage of Vermont’s 1985 one-time-only-offer.

    Without this one-time-only legislative offer I never would have gone back to school to take mickey-mouse education courses when I already had two master degrees. I was too proud, too stubborn, and too poor.

    America needs to loosen up its mickey-mouse certification requirements.

    Long Live Vermont

    M. Div. ’80
    M.A., M.Ed.

    • ldffly

      Amen. Very little good has come out of our colleges of education. Griswold and Brewster did good work in dismantling Yale’s College of Education.

      • theantiyale

        Griswold with the single stroke of a pen abolished Yale’s Graduate Department of Education declaring, “It is unnecessary to teach teachers how to teach.”
        (I agree.)

    • dgodon

      The highest performing countries ensure all teachers get ample training. They don’t allow anyone to teach with a mere 5 weeks of training. Certainly, there’s a place for alternative certifications, but we need to be strengthening teacher education not weakening it.

  • dgodon

    TFA is undermining the teaching profession and exacerbating the churn of inexperienced, ill-trained teachers in low-income, minority schools. Check out http://reconsideringtfa.wordpress.com/ for more.

  • Billy

    It’s almost like you took the union talking points and turned them into a column. These are tired, ill-supported arguments.

    It is a common claim that TFA teachers are “replacing” veteran educators but no one who has made the claim has ever cited evidence. In Chicago, for example, hundreds of teachers were laid off at the same time TFA teachers were being hired. It seems obvious, then, that the TFA teachers were replacing those laid off but when you dig into the details, you see that those being laid off did not have certification in the areas that CPS was hiring for (i.e. an art teacher was laid off while a different school needed a chemistry teacher–that art teacher could not have easily become the chemistry teacher).

    There are countless, independent, rigorous studies that show TFA teachers do much more good than harm–the latest from Mathematica that shows students making great progress under TFA teachers.

    Do you know who loves Teach For America teachers? THEIR PRINCIPALS! No one ever cites principal surveys related to TFA because the results are overwhelmingly positive.
    Saying “no” to something is a lot easier than being innovative, sticking your neck out and actually doing something. What exaclty is your plan to improve public education in this country?

    • Gwen Spurgat

      The art teacher could have become a chemistry teacher if they had 5 weeks of training.

      And the Mathmatica study? Not really comparing TFA to teachers entering into the profession in the traditional way (college education majors)

      The Effectiveness of Secondary Math Teachers from Teach For America and the Teaching Fellows Programs: Executive Summary

      one study finding: TFA teachers were more effective than the teachers with whom they were compared. On average, students assigned to TFA teachers scored 0.07 standard deviations higher on end-of-year math assessments than students assigned to comparison teachers, a statistically significant difference. This impact is equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide.

      Included in the document it says:
      TFA and The New Teacher Project (TNTP) Teaching Fellows programs take a distinctive approach to addressing the need for high-quality teachers of hard-to-staff subjects in high- poverty schools.1 Like other programs that offer alternative routes to teacher certification, both TFA and the Teaching Fellows programs aim to lower the barriers to entering the teaching profession; both programs recruit individuals without prior teaching experience and enable them to begin teaching before completing all of the training requirements for certification.

      ***However, unlike most programs providing alternative routes to certification that do not have restrictive selection criteria and admit most applicants (Walsh and Jacobs 2007; Mayer et al. 2003), TFA and the Teaching Fellows programs have highly selective admissions criteria designed to admit only applicants who have demonstrated a high level of achievement in academics or other endeavors and who possess characteristics that the programs view as being associated with effective teaching.

      Here is the study design: At the beginning of the school year, the study team
      assigned students who enrolled in an eligible middle or high school math course to either a class taught by a math teacher from the program being studied (TFA or Teaching Fellows) or to a similar math class in the same school taught by a teacher who did not participate in either of the programs studied. This latter teacher is referred to as the comparison teacher. The comparison teacher could have entered teaching after completing all certification requirements (the traditional route to certification) or ***through a less selective alternative route to certification.
      (didn’t they just say “most [other] programs providing alternative routes to certification do not have restrictive selection criteria and admit most applicants (Walsh and Jacobs 2007; Mayer et al. 2003)”?)

      Here the information about the sample of teachers, makes it clear: The “teachers with whom they were compared” are not traditional teachers.
      Forty-one percent of the comparison teachers in the TFA sample entered teaching through less selective alternative routes to certification, compared with 27 percent of the comparison teachers in the Teaching Fellows sample.

      This is the “proof” that is posted on our GOVERNMENT SITE that TFA is better than teachers?

      Don’t forget to check the IES “about us” page: With a budget of over $200 million and a staff of nearly 200 people, IES has helped raise the bar for all education research and evaluation by conducting peer-reviewed scientific studies, demanding high standards

      Yep, that is a HIGH BAR!

    • dgodon

      Check out the research on TFA at http://reconsideringtfa.wordpress.com/. There’s very little that shows much positive in terms of raising achievement and quite a bit that raises significant concern. There’s ample evidence, for instance, that TFA exacerbates the churn of teachers in high-needs schools. This does more harm than good.

      Regarding those supposedly glowing principal reviews, check out http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2011/07/20/putting-the-principals-survey-into-perspective/ makes such a claim quite questionable.

      Saying no to something is the right thing to do if that something is causing harm. No alternative needs to be provided. However, you’ve got your head in the sand if you think TFA critics have not proposed many research backed solutions. Check out Diane Ravitch’s new book Reign of Error for starters.

  • Jon

    So 500 TFA teachers are responsible for displacing 43 percent of Chicago’s black teachers? Here’s what one minute of googling found me: As of last school year, Chicago Public Schools employed more than 23,000 teachers (!), including more than 5,800 African-Americans. I really don’t think TFA’s measly two percent of the workforce could be solely responsible for the terrible damage you claim.

    Source: http://www.cps.edu/about_cps/at-a-glance/pages/stats_and_facts.aspx

    Do me a favor. The next time you write a post like this, about any subject, ask just one person to read it who has the complete opposite viewpoint from you. It’ll help your writing.

  • A “minority” you spoke for.

    “The discussion topic implies that TFA
    members “pay it forward” by teaching in low-income communities. It ignores the
    fact that many of these members do far more harm than good.”

    There are so many issues with this
    article. Aside from making extreme statements with a one-sided and very
    much misinformed interpretation of empirical data, I think it rests on the
    assumption that you, as the author, know what the intent behind the event is.
    Let me ask you a question, did you talk to the people planning the event?
    To the organization co-sponsoring it? I doubt, that an organization
    like the NAACP would ever agree that TFA is the only way of “paying it
    forward.” From just a cursory glance at the event description, it
    doesn’t seem like the event is trying to convince people that TFA is the only
    way to “pay it forward.” That seems like your interpretation.
    What it seems like the event is trying to do is address something that
    this article, and frankly even many critics of the organization’s
    “diversity” numbers fail to acknowledge: that there are some real
    structural and socially constructed barriers that make it nearly impossible for
    many people, and to be more specific, people of color who grew up in poverty,
    to jump on the service-oriented career bandwagon. It’s hard for someone
    with this background, especially after having been given the
    “privilege” of attending a place like Yale, to ignore the fact that
    in taking on a less “lucrative” job post-college you are essentially
    giving up the ability to financially support your family back home, which is
    still living in poverty. It’s a real pressure, something I wonder if you
    as the author can claim to really understand. Why is it that you even
    have to think of it as a choice? Why is it that we even have to operate within
    this very much monoculture definition of success that rests on this idea that
    money means everything? I respect the critical perspective you bring, I
    do. What I don’t respect is you trying to speak for others, make blanket
    statements without fact-checking, and adding the polarization of an issue that
    inevitably divides the efforts of so many people trying to do right by
    students, to do right by communities like mine. And that, to me, is doing
    more harm than good.

  • mcguire

    I was going to write a comment defending my own Teach For America experience and pointing out the (many, gaping) flaws in this argument, but it looks like the entire readership of the YDN has beaten me to it.

  • ernie

    A fine article and a necessary one, given TFA’s unjustified esteem on elite college campuses.