Teach For Two Americas

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Teach for America, the creation of yesterday’s Left, is becoming the bete noire of today’s.

When it was created, free marketers questioned the value of paying volunteers. Meanwhile, conservatives argued that yet another federal program would give the political Left one more redoubt than the many it already had.

Audits of the program showed that their fears were not irrational. Nevertheless, a funny thing happened on the way to the millennium.

Genuine reformers, such as Washington, D. C. chancellor Michelle Rhee emerged from the program. Moreover, a staple of the modern American political Left, teacher’s unions, began to view the young TFA trainees with their comparatively modest federal stipends as low-wage competition.

Thus, the stage is set for an odd face-off. “Increasingly, however, critics say, the program’s good intentions are overpowered by its problems,” Kristi Eaton writes in the Summer 2010 issue of Campus Progress magazine. “According to some TFA alums, the organization often seems less like a ‘shining example’ and more like a way for school districts to replace experienced, more expensive teachers with people who will work for far less, most of whom end up leaving after their two-year commitment is up.”

Eaton points to a 43 percent retention rate among TFA alums found by the Harvard Graduate school of Education. “But the Harvard study that she cites actually found that statistic to be 61 percent, and TFA’s three-year retention rate for high-poverty schools exceeds that of non-TFA teachers,” Chris Myers Asch of the University of the District of Columbia claims in a response which the magazine printed. “Furthermore, because they ignore the alumni 9including myself) who leave the classroom but stay in education, discussing classroom retention rates when discussing TFA is a bit myopic.”

“Nearly two-thirds of all TFA alumni from the past 20 years work full-time in education—a staggering figure given that only about 10 percent of corps members say they would have considered education had they not done TFA.” Here’s an interesting sidelight: If, as expected, Rhee is asked to leave her post now that her patron lost the Democratic primary for mayor, she, too, could go down on the negative side of that retention statistic.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org