Teach for America Receives Widespread Controversy

The United States is in need of significant education reform, and there have been many initiatives to resolve the myriad of issues in the public school system. One such organization is Teach For America, which places skilled and motivated college graduates in urban public schools in an effort to revitalize some of the more impoverished areas of the US.

Image via Teach for America/Facebook.

Image via Teach for America/Facebook.

However, much criticism has surfaced of TFA’s model and implementation. Many, including former TFA teachers, have spoken out against the lack of training and experience of college students, despite the “crash course” that the organization implements in an effort to prepare young men and women for such a demanding job.

Sandra Korn, a student at Harvard University, believes that “TFA drastically underprepares its recruits for the reality of teaching,” according to the Huffington Post. Furthermore, critics believe that Teach for America is not benefiting the public school system at all, but rather destroying it. Principals of public schools are more likely to hire TFA teachers whose salary is less than a full time teacher. Many TFA recruits may also be put off by the animosity of full-time teachers in their school placements.

Criticisms, shortcomings and issues are implicit in new reforms and it should have only been expected in a program such as TFA. Many teacher unions and parents are concerned with the political nature of the organization and its unclear agenda.

Image via cybrarian77/Flickr.

Image via cybrarian77/Flickr.

Some believe TFA to be more concerned with its own progression and the achievements of its alumni than with actual education reform. It is true that TFA has many strong political connections and its significance in Washington is clear. The non-profit receives ample funding and program support from employees on Capitol Hill.

Despite the room for improvement, Teach For America has a clear and positive mission: to bring inspired, excited and determined young men and women to underappreciated youth in urban areas. Many entrepreneurs and visionaries, however, have pointed to the lack of faith put in the students of impoverished cities.

Bill Strickland, in his book Make the Impossible Possible, discusses the startling number of written-off and dejected youth in his own hometown community in Pittsburgh. Children are not given the respect and commitment they deserve -- regardless of the age of the teacher, students need role models and educators who will give them time and trust.

Educational attainment from 2003 Census data. Image via BrendelSignature/Wikimedia Commons.

Educational attainment inequality and corresponding income inequality from 2003 Census data.
Image via BrendelSignature/Wikimedia Commons.

Teach For America can grant this through its motivated, young and maybe a little idealistic teachers. Boston College is home to such men and women who are willing to give of themselves and commit to improving the lives of young, undervalued students.

Andy Hu, A&S ’14, is one senior who is inspired by Teach For America’s mission. “The most exciting part of teaching for me is building relationships with children and helping them realize their potential,” he said. “I firmly believe that education is the only path that leads to a more mobile, more equitable and more efficient society.”

Hu does note the deficiencies in TFA, particularly, as others have mentioned, in training. “As TFA expands, it should implement a better mentorship system so that second year TFA teachers can mentor first years in the same school. A longer training period or being a TA for some time first will definitely help as well.”

Teach For America could potentially change the way education works in the United States and one can only hope the enthusiasm surrounding this program pushes it towards greater achievements. Criticisms are bound to arise, but all reforms have their share of opposition. Sometimes controversy simply points to future—and widespread—improvement.

Featured image via CT Senate Democrats/Flickr.

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