Teach for America is responding to widespread criticism of its controversial teacher preparation program which attracts recent college graduates, provides a six-week summer training program, places them in high-needs schools across the country and requires a two-year teaching commitment. Critics have argued that TFA has encouraged high levels of teacher turnover by requiring only a two year commitment and has irresponsibly placed unprepared teachers into communities vastly different from their own. However, it seems that TFA is listening to and using these critiques to better their program and the education of the students they serve. Two new TFA co-CEOs, Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard, are beginning to implement major changes to the well-established TFA model. Here are some highlights of the reforms:
- Providing a full year pre-training program for early decision applicants: This full year pre-training program will mainly consist of online sessions focused around the history of inequality in the United States, classroom training techniques and may give these prospective teachers opportunity to visit classrooms in high-poverty communities.
- Placing teachers in communities where they have personal ties
- Encouraging teachers to commit to five years instead of two
- Continuing instructional coaching during the five year commitment and providing stipends to pursue graduate studies in education
While it is admirable that TFA is responding to criticism, the main question is whether or not these changes will lead to more qualified and better prepared TFA teachers. Will this year of online preparation with some classroom visits be sufficient preparation for these teachers? Learning about poverty and classroom techniques online is surely different from knowing how to apply this knowledge in a classroom filled with underserved children. Parents of public school children believe the answer lies in more rigorous and longer teacher preparation and training. In the recently released PDK/Gallup poll “The Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” 75% of public school parents replied that teachers should spend one year or more “practicing teaching under the guidance of a certified teacher before assuming responsibility of his or her own classroom.” TFA needs to continue to make changes in its program but should work to align these changes with the wishes of public school parents who demand better prepared teachers for their children.