The Washington Post ran an article that slipped under the radar of excitement generated by HB 165.  Correct me if I’m wrong but I didn’t see it in any of the usual places.

This article ponders a blog post by a Teach For America teachers, who are contributing to the pile of teachers who resign after 2 or 3 years.  After using Teach for America to pay down their college loans, they are going to law school.

It really puts the argument over how best to educate in its proper perspective….  Remember the person advocating for the dissolution of Teach For America is one themselves….

The salient points……

“Consider TFA’s two original missions: first to help understaffed school districts fill teaching positions with talented, energized college graduates, and second to create a broader education advocacy and awareness movement. On both counts, TFA has had an impact, but ironically as TFA continues to grow, in many ways its impact is fading.”

Point One:  The Teachers for America (TFA) now is being used to replace veteran teachers who are being let go because of test scores.  Two:  these teachers do not stay in a  school  Everything they learn over two years goes with them out the door as they exit,   Therefore in two years, again, it is all new recruits learning the ropes and using our students as their guinea pigs.  At this point a veteran teacher would be well into her most effective phase…

There is no way TFA’s are better than veteran teachers.  Perhaps they are a little better than a non-educationally trained substitute hired off the street, but against a veteran teacher, no way.

All of Markell’s investments made into Teachers for America”s seminars, training, summer sessions, go right out the door as that teacher leaves.  The routine goes like this.  A TFA is hired right out of graduation.  They do a 5 week course and get plopped into the most neediest school.  After the first year they do seminars over the summer.  They actually might be rather decent their second year, but too bad, they are gone…  It’s really a waste of money.  Especially when its the veteran teachers are being fired, creating these positions.

TFA’s are thrown into classes far less prepared than current Delaware graduates of Delaware’s teaching schools.  Their five week training program teaches 4 days a week (its summer school), not 5.  The classes are well behaved, and have 10 students per class.  There is no teaching done in the first week.  In all, 16 hours are spent before a class room teaching, with as many adults in the room as children.

Not a typical class experience.

TFA’s follow-up coaching and development of teachers is non existent. Managers of Teacher Leadership and Development (MTLDs)  of first year teacher’s stop by once a month for a half hour pep talk and are out the door as fast as they came in.   Second year it is down to 15 minute observations with  the pep talk being left on a post-it note…. “keep up the good work”…

There IS a lot of development though.  It comes from regular union tenured teachers with pension plans working along side them in the same school, who actually have the knowledge, tools and time to help these teachers survive being thrown to the wolves.

If it was your money…. would you invest in TFA ?     No.

TFA is now massive, with annual expenses (pdf) at $220 million in fiscal year 2011. According to the charity site Give Well, TFA’s budget 2009 budget came to a stunning $38,046 spent per corps member who started teaching; this was a more than twofold increase from 2005. (Corps member spending by TFA does not include corps members’ salaries, which are paid for by their respective school district. School districts also pay TFA a fee for each corps member hired.)

Consider some of the main items in TFA’s budget recruiting and selecting corps members (18%), management and general (9%), alumni support (8%). None of these makes corps members effective teachers. “Corps member development” (39%) and institute training (17%), on the other hand, purportedly do. Reality, as is its wont, is not so simple.

All that said ,the TFA has reached a critical mass on this point. With an “alumni network” of nearly 28,000 it’s difficult to see how pumping in several thousand additional corps members each year won’t lead to diminishing returns. Indeed, when among jobs in education policy, large numbers of TFA alumni are interviewed for a single spot. In the educational world, TFA alumni have become a dime a dozen.

Educational dollars are scarce… It the TFA the best investment we can be doing with what little we have?