Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Teach for America: benefit for Rhode Island?

Earlier this week, the ProJo reported on Teach for America's Rhode Island debut, including 20 TFA-ers in the Providence Public Schools. Here's a link to Linda Borg's article, "R.I. Opens Doors to Teach for America," that includes a glamour shot of an incoming TFA-er. (Note to ProJo: make sure ongoing coverage of Rhode Island's teachers includes similar photography standards; not that our teachers are not beautiful and stunning on their own, but a little makeup and good lighting goes a long way after a long day in the classroom.)

Borg's article cites research demonstrating the effectiveness of TFA-trained teachers. True--and there's more to it. This Washington Post piece, also published this week, takes a more balanced approach, citing extensive reseach out of the University of Texas and California State University that finds that TFA teachers deliver mixed results for kids and create extra costs for districts. 

I am not here to bash TFA per se. However, I am here to ask questions about its benefits in our city's schools. As a Providence Public Schools parent, I'd like to see clear statements from the district and the Rhode Island Department of Education describing the anticipated impact of TFA on students' learning and well being. If we are using precious additional resources to establish a TFA presence here, why? What's the upside? The ProJo article emphasized what TFA can do for the young people enrolled in its program and about to be in front of our classrooms. Less clear are the ways our own, slightly younger, kids will benefit, and the ways our district--including those teachers who have been there before the TFA recruits arrived, who will be there long after they leave, and who will be spending time formally and informally mentoring the TFA-ers--will benefit. How does TFA fit into the overall strategic plan to deliver the best public education tp all students in all schools? How does this improve teaching and learning? Absent clear communication, I can imagine all kinds of ways TFA will bring sunshine, laughter, and learning to our students, and I can easily spin out a morass of gloomy scenarios. You can too--please have at it in the comments.

Bottom line: how will this addition help us? I'd like to understand the district and state's sense of how TFA helps our kids learn and thrive. I'd like to understand how TFA fits into plans for professional development and creating the best conditions for the kind of teaching that leads to professional satisfaction and student success.

A final note: the questions I ask about TFA don't apply solely to TFA. This is the shiny new object of the week (rather, it was, before the news of Rhode Island's Race to the Top award, which is indeed quite super-sparkly) about what's happening inside our kids' classrooms, so I'm paying attention, and asking questions on behalf of thousands of parents who want to know more about the adults our kids interact with every day at school, how those adults are helping our kids use their minds well. Clear communication and opportunties for understanding help us support our kids, and their educators.

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