Friday, May 15, 2009

A TFA Dilemma

Teach for America finds itself in a pretty tricky situation these days. On the one hand, they've got more applicants than ever before allowing them to be the most selective they've ever been. On the other hand, school districts around the country are facing major budget issues, causing some - like New York - to insitutue hiring freezes on new teachers. This, obviously, presents problems for TFA and their new recruits.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system in North Carolina has an interesting approach. They've decided to lay off "substandard" veteran teachers and hire new TFA corps members in their place. Let the battle begin.

On paper, the move makes a certain amount of sense. Cut out the worst of your teachers and bring in a group of highly motivated, highly educated new teachers to take their place. They don't have an established track record yet, but it's a pretty reasonable argument to say that no track record is preferable to a record of failure.

This move comes down to a gamble all around. CMS is betting that the new teachers will be better than the old ones. TFA is betting that the ill-will they create with this move won't fundamentally undercut their argument that they're not trying to replace the traditional paths into teaching. But when you follow up being called "educational mercenaries" with a move like this, people are going to start wondering.

To be sure, many of the new TFAers are going to do amazing things in their classrooms. Just as surely, many will not and will be just another set of mid-level struggling teachers. (Full disclosure: I was a TFA in New York and definitely fell into the second group.)

Ultimately, the question boils down to whether this is good for the kids or not. If it really is the worst teachers being removed from the system, I don't see that they're losing a lot with this. We'll see how much is actually gained.

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