Monday, October 14, 2013

Does Teach for America Work?

The problems of the American public education system are not a mystery to anyone - poverty equates to miserable school performance, and schools have been woefully inadequate in teaching children to succeed in spite of all the factors working against them.  One organization that seeks to address the inequity and improve student achievement in spite of poverty and all the associate social ills is Teach for America. TFA is the brainchild of education reform darling Wendy Kopp, and it has a very basic premise: recruit the top minds from colleges and train them to go into the toughest and lowest performing schools in the country and teach kids to be successful.  This is, of course, a gross simplification of what TFA does. And, of course, many veteran teachers and educators would claim that TFA's model is a gross simplification of what education is all about.

Plenty of controversy surrounds the model of TFA, and the most notable is that the demands on teachers are unsustainable - a reality born out by the fact that few TFA teachers remain in the classroom beyond their two-year commitment. This particular issue has been born out many times in blogs and columns and newspaper op-eds. The most recent piece to catch critics's attention is Olivia Blanchard's piece for The Atlantic, I Quit Teach for America.  This dark secret has been born out in other places such as Peter Hirzel's piece for Salon, Teaching Ate Me Alive. Hirzel's piece was one of the first to pull back the curtain on the corporate school reform movement.  However, I'm not one to quickly turn on this organization that is making a good faith effort to at least provide an opportunity for a few kids at a time.

The question we have to ask ourselves, as people like Blanchard and Hirzel offer their criticism, is whether Teach for America does any good. For, despite the hardships and struggle, there are many TFA teachers working hard every day - even if it's only for a year or two.  That's the story this month in The Atlantic from Eleanor Barkhorn who admits I Almost Quit Teach for America. But she didn't. And that can't be bad, right?

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