Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 30, 2009


USA Today - Despite a lingering recession, state budget crises and widespread teacher hiring slowdowns, Teach For America has grown steadily, delighting supporters and giving critics a bad case of heartburn as it expands to new cities and builds a formidable alumni base of young people willing to teach for two years in some of the USA's toughest public schools. . .

Next week, more than 160 new TFAers arrive in Baltimore, up from 80 in 2007. They'll make up about one in four new hires.

Nationwide, about 7,300 young people are expected to teach under TFA's banner, up from 6,200 last year. . .

But critics say the growth in many cities is coming at the expense of experienced teachers who are losing their jobs - in some cases, they say, to make room for TFA, which brings in teachers at beginners' salary levels and underwrites training.

In Boston, TFA corps members replaced 20 pink-slipped teachers, says Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman. "These are people who have been trained, who are experienced and who have good evaluations, and are being replaced by brand-new employees."

This month, he met with about 18 other local union presidents, all of whom said they'd seen teachers laid off to make room for TFA members.

"I don't think you'll find a city that isn't laying off people to accommodate Teach For America," he says.

In March, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., schools Superintendent Peter Gorman told board members he was laying off hundreds of teachers but sparing 100 TFAers because the district "made a commitment to this program." . . .

John Wilson, executive director of the National Education Association, the USA's largest teachers union. . . says TFA hurts children by bringing "the least-prepared and the least-experienced teachers" into low-income schools and making them "the teacher of record."

TFA, he says, has "done a marvelous job of marketing their program and branding their program - you cannot take away from their business model. But what they're doing to poor children is malpractice."

Detroit teachers union President Keith Johnson also put it bluntly last April, calling TFAers "educational mercenaries" who "ride in on their white horses and for two years share the virtue of their knowledge as a pit stop on their way to becoming corporate executives."

Actually, only 4% eventually go into business, according to a 2008 survey. About two-thirds remain in education - mostly in administrative or political jobs or working with policy or charitable groups - though overall only 29% of alumni are still in the classroom. That's a bit lower than the USA's overall teaching force, about one-third of whom quit within the first few years. By the end of five years, recent research shows, nearly half of new teachers leave the profession, though overall about 40% of teachers' college graduates never enter the classroom - period. . .


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