Monday, August 5, 2013

Shortages or not, TFA is not the way for VA

Just a quick TFA post.

Today as I was watching & tweeting Governor McDonnell's K-12 Education Reform Summit, I got into some conversations with a TFA advocate (update: I have confirmed with Aaron that he is a TFA employee), W. Aaron French and Eva Colen who is the Managing Director, Community Engagement at Teach for America--she is based in Richmond.

I'm not going to repeat what I've already written, so if you want to see my previous thoughts on TFA, please read here and here. As TFA pertains to Virginia and the legislation that just passed, I wrote about that here:
You probably already know what I think. I have written about TFA before. It's my most popular piece. 
The only thing new I have to say is: Why does Virginia need TFA? There are budget and teaching positions being cut across the state and I hear it's hard for our college graduates to get teaching positions. Where is the evidence that there's a teacher shortage anywhere in Virginia? And if there is one, why don't we have a Teach for Virginia instead? Teachers who are being laid off could be given incentives to go and teach in hard to staff areas. Top students at Virginia colleges and universities, especially ones seeking a teacher's license, could also be granted incentives to start their careers in these supposedly "hard to staff" places. 
Otherwise, it doesn't seem like anyone's fighting it, so meh.
Aaron and Eva both claimed that in fact there was a shortage and cited this page from a VADOE website. Now, I don't know if that means these will likely filled with subs or worse-qualified candidates than TFA corps members. I do know that "shortages" like this are complex in explanation. Sometimes, it doesn't mean there aren't any qualified candidates to fill the shortages. Sometimes it only means that that's where the needs are greatest, where there are fewer applicants. But someone more knowledgeable than I am would have to address this. If you're reading this and you have some insights, please comment below.

If someone can demonstrate a clear and definite shortage in Virginia, if I am mistaken that there isn't one, then I apologize for misleading my readers and followers and I am glad to have been called on it by Aaron and Eva.

But I still don't think TFA in its current incarnation is a good model.

The shortages would likely be in high-poverty schools and in areas such as special education. I don't think that a TFA corps member, with very little training and no experience is equipped to do a good job in such positions. I also don't think it gets to the root of the problem. Why is there a shortage? Why are those positions hard to fill? Why don't adequately trained and/or experienced teachers want those jobs? Why are the students in schools with these shortages coming to school presenting such challenges?

If TFA changed so that their corps members would commit beyond two years and so they had more training, education, and something akin a year long apprenticeship first and/or if they worked to change the root of the problems in the American education system and those behind high teacher turnover and shortages, I would sing their praises, too.

UPDATE: Aaron also said that the TFA legislation passed unanimously in both houses, with major support across the state. Now, I know, as I said in my blog post cited above, that no one seemed to be fighting it and I know that the bill passed handily, but I'm not sure that it had "major support across the state" from the public and from Virginia education stakeholder groups. But maybe I'm wrong. Any thoughts, readers?


  1. Rachel,

    I am currently engaged in a group looking to revamp the teacher licensure process here in Colorado. An initial proposal suggested that if you have a BS, pass a minimal "teacher" exam (here in CO it is the PLACE exam), and pass a security check, you can enter the classroom. Support for this comes from research that presents minimal differences between traditional college ed prep programs and ones like TFA. Is this your read of the research?

    It is interesting to note whether there is a teacher shortage or if there is a "body" shortage in schools. There is a claim in CO that too many barriers exist to allow prospective teachers to enter the profession. Is there a shortage of teachers or students entering into teacher prep programs? As for turnover rates, one can argue teachers are not prepared properly, or that regardless of how you are prepared, teaching conditions are so poor it takes any and all new teachers and spits them out.

    1. @Mark Sass: Thanks for reading and commenting: If you read the very first piece I wrote about TFA, you'll see some research cited that doesn't exactly back that claim up but doesn't entirely refute it either. If you are referring to other research, then I'd have to see it and I'd also have to ask: based on what are there minimal differences? Test scores that were never meant to evaluate teacher effectiveness?

      Beyond any such research findings, I don't disagree that many teachers who come out of traditional teacher ed programs are poorly prepared--I also wrote about that in the TFA piece cited above. But there is a big difference between five weeks of education and student teaching and a year to two of it. I think that both TFA and traditional college teacher prep programs could use a revamping.

      I'm also with Linda Darling Hammond and some other folks on teacher preparation. I think it should be more rigorous (and longer than a moth or two), with more emphasis both on studying content and on hands-on experience. I'm not against alternative programs to university-based ones, though I think it's a wasted opportunity not to make use of the scholarship and infrastructure that a college or university can offer. So the program you describe in Colorado doesn't sound appealing to me.

      As for working conditions for teachers, you are absolutely right about that--that's what I was getting at in asking how shortages happen.

  2. As I read that VDOE webpage on "critical shortage areas," it would be easier to list the areas that don't have shortages. Given what I witnessed at yesterday's Ed Reform Conference, I can believe that is a politically-motivated list.

    I can believe that special education positions are hard to fill - it's almost amazing anyone still wants those jobs, given the concomitant paperwork demands. But TFAers are most definitely not the right choice to fill those positions.

  3. The Virginia Education Association along with our Ed coalition lobbied against TFA coming into VA. We believe that it takes more than 5 weeks to become a teacher. We believe that all children deserve a well- trained teacher who will be there more than a few years. Our neediest students deserve better. Just read what Rhee says about her teaching. She admits she was terrible and taped students mouths shut! I do not support TFA's principles. The Virginia School Board Association, the VA Superintendents Association, the Secondary Principals Association, the Elementary Principal Association and others are part of our coalition.

  4. It is attention-grabbing to notice whether or not there's an educator shortage or if there's a body shortage in colleges


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