The Collegian
Friday, August 14, 2020

Teach for America takes criticism

TFA's application numbers have dropped

Teach For America, an organization dedicated to placing highly educated teachers in low-income schools, has recently been criticized for its training methods and approach to education reform.

According to a recent article from The New York Times, “Applicants for the elite program have dropped, breaking a 15-year growth trend.”

Opponents of the organization have denounced TFA’s five-week summer program as a poor substitution for years of educator training. They said TFA corps members lacked the experience necessary to lead in a classroom. Some even argued that placing untested volunteers in some of the nation’s most troubled schools could cause “incalculable damage.”

Advocates of TFA’s mission defend its methods, citing classroom vacancies as a serious concern demanding a quick response.

“Teach for America has never claimed to be the ‘end-all be-all,’” said TFA recruiter Chery Sutjahjo over the phone. “Rather than trying to create these points of contention, we are really eager to work with other organizations and partner with people in order to solve this problem and to make sure that all kids get the education they deserve.”

Instead of citing criticism, Teach For America leaders have proposed that the end of the 2008 economic crisis is to blame for falling application numbers.

“I think that decline actually speaks to the current state of the economy,” Sutjahjo said. “The people we seek out, several years ago there might not have been as many job opportunities on the table as they do have now.”

The recruitment problems reported by The New York Times focused on a 10 percent drop in applications from college campuses. In 2014, TFA ranked University of Richmond as its third largest contributor of graduates among small schools.

Sutjahjo said college students should not be off-put by concerns regarding the brevity of their training program.

“Those five weeks of training are more about fine-tuning them and translating those skills into the classroom,” she said. “I think the people that we seek out and the people who get into Teach for America are those people who have a lot of skills and mindset already developed.”

Sutjahjo also said the preliminary summer program was not the only training available to corps members.

“The support system doesn’t just disappear overnight. There are still supports in place for those two years in the classroom and beyond, for those corps members who do choose to stay in the classroom,” she said.

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Despite more critiques, including those coming from former TFA corps members, co-chief executive Matt Kramer holds that struggling schools’ need for their teachers is as apparent as ever.

“The demand from districts is extremely high, and we’re not going to meet it this year,” he said.

TFA is not alone in the decline of applicants. According to federal statistics, there was a 12.3 percent decline in enrollment in teacher training programs nationwide between 2010 and 2013.

Contact reporter Adam Gibson at adam.gibson@richmond.edu

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