Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why TFA?

The Wall St. Journal has an editorial today extolling the virtues of Teach For America. I think TFA does far more good than harm, but I can't help but notice at least two glaring errors.

1.) Near the end they cite the problematic Urban Institute study as iron-clad proof that TFA teachers are better than regular teachers. Citing one study as definitive proof of anything will continue to annoy me, no matter what the circumstances. A handful of studies with larger sample sizes have been conducted, and they should have mentioned them.

2.) They seem to imply that the only reason people apply to TFA is because they can cut through the red tape. Here's the part of the editorial I'm talking about so that you can judge for yourself:

Unions keep saying the best people won't go into teaching unless we pay them what doctors and lawyers and CEOs make. Not only are Teach for America salaries significantly lower than what J.P. Morgan might offer, but these individuals go to some very rough classrooms. What's going on?

It seems that Teach for America offers smart young people something even better than money – the chance to avoid the vast education bureaucracy.

The chance to be put right in a classroom is certainly part of the allure of TFA and similar programs (without that opportunity I never would have applied to any of these programs), but it seems somewhat disingenuous to suggest that it's the only reason. I'm not sure if any studies have been done on the topic (please let me know if you've seen any), but I'm willing to bet that TFA applicants apply for all of the following reasons:

-the chance to "make the world a better place"
-the chance to move directly to the classroom without going through certification
-it looks darn good on a resume
-it's a good transition from college to the working world
-gives people two years to decide what they really want to do
-not a long-term commitment
-it's the cool thing to do

Additionally, TFA puts a lot of effort into recruiting people.

In conclusion: I hardly think that the fact that TFA attracts talented people proves that schools would have no problem attracting talented people if certification didn't exist.

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