Teach for America, not California

Teach for America, not California

Assembly bill would eliminate the successful TFA program in CA, a state which desperately needs more good teachers.

Assembly Bill 221 in California would prohibit school districts from entering into a contract with a third-party organization that employs teachers “who commit to teaching in the organization for less than five years.” This is an obvious bullet aimed at Teach For America, whose name was invoked but then removed from an earlier version of the bill.

Founded in 1990 by Princeton graduate Wendy Kopp, TFA chooses the best and the brightest college grads – only about 15 percent of applicants are accepted into the program – and trains them. These committed and enthusiastic young men and women who exhibit leadership qualities, get five weeks of teacher preparation, ongoing support once in the classroom, and must commit to teach for two years, typically in some the nation’s worst schools.

That’s not good enough for California’s teachers unions and their legislative toadies who, despite an ongoing whine about a teacher shortage, are angling to make it worse. California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt claims the shortage is due to low teacher pay, and, referencing TFA, contends that “placing transient, untrained professionals in the state’s most vulnerable communities will just exacerbate existing problems.”

However, the union boss’ comment is full of giant holes. First of all, how can continuing a program that has a solid track record with a history of positive studies to back up their claims “exacerbate existing problems?” A 2004 national study by Mathematica Policy Research showed that students of TFA teachers made more progress in a year in both reading and math than would typically be expected, and attained significantly greater gains in math compared with students of other teachers, including veteran and certified teachers. In 2015, a study of Miami-Dade county students found that those taught by TFA teachers demonstrated nearly two months of additional math growth, when compared with other teachers in the same schools.

In Texas, a study released earlier this year revealed that “students of TFA corps members and alumni are as likely or more likely than students of non-TFA-affiliated teachers to pass STAAR (the Texas standardized test) in the year that they have the TFA-affiliated teacher.” Additionally, while there was an advantage to having a TFA-affiliated teacher for students of all races, “the effect is strongest specifically for Black and Hispanic students who have a TFA alumni as their teacher.”

Furthermore, many TFAers stay in the field long after their two-year stint is up, whether it be in classrooms, school administration or serving on school boards. It’s also worth noting that about half their teachers are people of color.

As a group, TFA educators are certainly more qualified than the uncredentialed teachers who would be replacing them, not to mention they do a better job than many who receive certification the old-fashioned way. So why would legislators and teacher union leaders in California, a state that issued almost 8,000 emergency teaching permits last year, be trying to eliminate about 700 TFAers?

  1. The “problem” with TFA teachers is that they tend to be very idealistic and don’t fit into the cookie cutter mold that the education establishment insists on. TFA teachers really care about teaching and frequently cannot conform to the straitjacket rules inherent in every union contract.
  1. As independent teachers, many TFAers prefer to teach in charter schools, most of which give them freedom to teach and are rarely unionized.
  1. They avoid our schools of education after being exposed to all the typical politically correct crud, like “Culturally Responsive Education” that dominate these institutions. (CRE typically includes force-fed information on this ethnic group, that impoverished group, this sexually anomalous group, that under-represented group, etc.) The venerable Walter Williams accurately writes “Schools of education represent the academic slums of most any college. American education can benefit from slum removal.”

Then there is the issue of local control. Why does Sacramento feel the need to dictate how a school district hundreds of miles away handles its hiring affairs? As noted by four school board members in LA School Report, local school leaders know their students best and should be able to hire the state-certified teachers they want to staff their public schools. This is why AB 221 is opposed by a broad coalition of state organizations, “including the California School Boards Association, the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents and the Association of California School Administrators.”

While California is in the process of killing charter schools as we know them, the education establishment is now taking matters one step further by moving to eliminate TFA. If all the above come to pass, education in the Golden State – not exactly world-class now – will take a giant step back. And when that happens, all the usual suspects will demand – you guessed it – more money to fix it.

We really do not need more money in education, but would greatly benefit from a lot less big government/big union meddling. Killing AB 221 is an effective first step.

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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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