Over the past several years, Teach For America has become a highly controversial program as it has continued to spread throughout the United States. Much of that controversy stems from the idea that a 5-6 week program in the summer is not enough time to fully prepare teachers. Dean Renee Middleton, of the Ohio University College of Education and Human Services, was opposed to the launch of Teach For America in Ohio. In her testimony to the Ohio House of Representatives, she said that teachers needed to be “qualified,” and the Teach For America training was not adequate enough, because it was so short. Her thoughts echo that of the majority of Colleges of Education, and other leaders in education.
At least initially, I personally found it odd that colleges of education would oppose an effort like Teach For America to try and fill struggling schools with teachers. Most of the schools that Teach For America targets have an unbearably high turnover rate, and some of these schools have trouble filling these positions year after year. In many cases, Teach For America is filling positions that would have otherwise gone unfilled. Shouldn’t our education leaders want to try anything that might help to put competent teachers in the neediest of schools?
While they would never say so, I tend to think that education colleges are acting out of self-preservation. For one, any jobs that Teach For America takes are jobs that graduates from education colleges will not be able to have, in theory putting more people with education degrees out of work.
What may be even more frightening to education colleges is the prospect that Teach For America is actually working. Students taught by teachers from Teach For America have not shown a decrease in performance, and in some cases, they have actually shown an increase. Granted, I am hesitant to make any conclusions based on “performance,” since I think the ways we measure student performance are inadequate. That being said, I could not find any reliable data that currently points to Teach For America as being harmful for students.
Colleges of education have a monopoly on the training of teachers, and based on the current situation in education, the current training they provide is not the right path for everyone. While I have other reservations about Teach For America as an organization, they should not be punished for wanting to try something new to jumpstart our failing K-12 education system. It is already incredibly difficult to try and get talented individuals to enter the field of education because of the low salary and the bureaucratic tape one must jump through to be a teacher. Teach For America is able to bring in some of the brightest individuals to teach to our neediest schools, and while some training in basic pedagogy is necessary, I struggle with the assertion that one must major in education to be an excellent teacher.