Is Teach for America helping or hurting our Black schools?

Ingram: “It’s more like an itinerant workforce”

D. Kevin McNeir | 8/22/2013, noon
In an educational environment where teachers are often compelled to prepare students for standardized tests rather than employing more creative ...

Weisman says the team of TFAs in Miami are among the most diverse in the U.S., with Black TFAs at an estimated 24 percent.

Pros and cons

T. Willard Fair, president and CEO, Urban League of Greater Miami, Inc., says he’s talked to many principals who seems to be “extremely satisfied” with their TFA instructors.

“One principal at a Liberty City elementary school told me they were the best he’s ever had,” Fair said. “I believe the bag is mixed because we have some teachers in the District that have been here for many years — yet our kids are still failing. Does that mean we should blame that teacher? Should we blame TFAs corp members when their students fail? What we need to do is to better document to what extent experience and training impact our objective, negatively or positively, to turn our schools around.”

UTD President Federick Ingram says that while the TFA program has merits, it is “far from being a panacea for public education.”

“From the data we’ve seen, some 80 to 90 percent of those in TFA leave the profession after serving their two years,” he said. “They’re very much like a blue collar work force — like itinerant workers. But trying to follow a business model in public education is the wrong idea. School districts like TFA because they don’t have to worry about raising wages or providing benefits like health care to those young teachers. The bottom line is that far too many of our Black schools are understaffed and under-resourced. That impacts schools whether the teachers are experienced or new to the field like TFA corp members.”

Ceresta Smith, 59, and a 25-year teaching veteran with M-DCPS says Blacks in Miami need the best and most experienced teachers if they are going to ever perform at academic levels equivalent to whites.

“I disagree with throwing young people into classroom with very little training and no experience,” she said. “They are just rotating in and out. From what I can see, TFA is no more than a temp service and it needs to either be fixed or replaced. How can someone from the other end of the U.S. be expected to really teach Hispanic or Haitian children whose cultures are so different and who speak English as their second language?”