Teach for America, which has operated in the District since 1992, has 160 teachers working there this year. The number will grow to 250 in the fall, with 25 assigned to Prince George's schools. If the school systems agree, there could be 500 such teachers in the District and Prince George's by 2011, making Teach for America by far their largest supplier of new teachers. The expansion reflects what organization officials see as a new commitment to reform by the administration of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Prince George's officials.Of course Black is correct in saying that children in neighboring jurisdictions should not have such widely disparate education systems. No doubt TFA does some wonderful work, but like most people, I am skeptical of a two year stint doing the trick. If TFA can make progress with students in two years (which some studies have shown the ability to do so), imagine what would happen if the committment was four or five years long?
"Our mission is to close the achievement gap," said Amy Black, executive director of Teach for America-Metro D.C. "There is no reason an 8-year-old in D.C. should be two to three grade levels behind his counterpart in Fairfax County."
The NEA and others have made big political hey out of the fact that many TFA particiapnts don't stay in teaching and that turnover in teachers is highest in the 2-5 year range of experience. No doubt that the artificial TFA commitment of two years contributes to that turnover rate. However, it needn't be that way and here is where the "adults" in the educational system can help.
There needs to be incentives for TFA participants and other program alumni to stay with teaching for longer than two years. It as year two to four that a teacher learns the most about their craft and can make the most headway in actually helping their students. So to the lawmakers and bureaucrats, the challenge is now in your court. TFA has proven they can provide the staffing, now you need to provide the next step.
The best thing that government can do to induce these teachers to stay is to provide incentives like student loan forgiveness and/or tax breaks to induce TFA participants and others to stay in the the program for more than two years.
Such a move indicates that you value the work these young people do and sends a message that you care more about finding AND KEEPING quality teachers for the students than about political point scoring.