Let me see if I understand the recent discussion for bringing the Teach for America program to West Virginia. The state Board of Education believes that student achievement suffers because West Virginia has a large number of classroom teaching positions that we are not able to fill with fully certified teachers. Their answer is to bring in non-certified graduates from out of state to fill them. What am I missing here?
There is nothing magical about the participants in Teach for America. TFA students are no more qualified for the positions than the non-certified West Virginians who are currently filling those positions.
Teach for America recruits recent college graduates to commit to a minimum of two years in high-need, low-income schools throughout the country. It is reminiscent of Vista workers in the 1960s or the Peace Corp.
Most recruits have no prior teaching experience, no university-based courses in education, nor certification before entry into the program. TFA corps members are trained during a five-week summer institute prior to their placement. Upon placement, they receive their teaching salary plus a stipend from TFA.
The impact of these graduates is hotly debated. TFA, of course, gives high marks to their corps members. Independent research, however, is not as kind. Well known education researchers (Darling-Hammond, Holtzman, Gatlin & Heilig; Laczko-Kerr & Berliner) have concluded the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and math than students of credentialed beginning teachers.
The good news is experience has a positive effect for both TFA and non-TFA teachers. However, since more than 50 percent of TFA teachers leave after two years, and more than 80 percent leave after three years, their students never benefit from the improvement in their teaching.
More recently, a 2006 study found that between 10 and 15 percent of each TFA class leaves before completing the two-year commitment. A comparison study of New York City teachers found that 90 percent of TFA recruits left by year four. In contrast, just over 40 percent of "regular certified" teachers left in the same time period. Bringing in TFA teachers for one or two years does nothing to solve our problems.
West Virginia has programs to work with non-certified college graduates, which enable them to fill our classrooms. Many who go through those state programs are state natives who cannot find employment in other areas. Why would we not want our own college graduates to go though our state alternative certification program to fill vacant positions?