Is Teach for America improving public education?

Michael Darmas
In this photo taken Sept. 1, 2011, Michael Darmas "high fives" a student at Holmes Elementary School in Miami. In a distressed neighborhood north of Miami's gleaming downtown, a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced instructors from Teach for America is trying to make progress where more veteran teachers have had difficulty: raising students' reading and math scores.
J Pat Carter/AP

Teach for America is one of the largest service programs in the country, with more than 10,000 corps members teaching in schools across 36 states. The program recently received an $8 million grant from the Education Department, and has been heralded by lawmakers as a positive vehicle for social change.

The program has also received quite a bit of push back from teachers and individuals who believe that the program is contributing to the demise of American schools. These individuals argue that TFA fails to adequately prepare corps members for classrooms with high needs, that it doesn't promote lifelong teachers and that it's merely a stepping stone for young people looking to go to grad school or work in administration. Is TFA failing at its main goals?

Gary Rubenstein, a teacher as Stuyvesant High School and a former TFA corps member, will join The Daily Circuit Monday to talk about the program.

"Teach for America has only five weeks of training, and I actually think that it could be enough time, but I don't think they use the time wisely," Rubenstein said on NPR's Tell Me More. "These student teachers sometimes only - they only teach for 12 days, one hour a day, and the classes often only have maybe 10 or 12 students in them. Some classes have as few as four students. So this is not a realistic training model, and you need to practice teaching to get good at it."

John Kaczorek, a former TFA member and a middle school principal at Adelante College Prep, will also join the discussion.

"The role of TFA and other education alternatives is to explore different ways to educate, to get folks involved in education who weren't set on that path to begin with," he said. "In my experience there are a lot of folks who wouldn't be in the classroom if it weren't for TFA but they have interesting backgrounds and a lot of great experiences to share with their students. Is it the answer to all the problems? No, it isn't. But, is it something that can join the discussion? Absolutely."


We heard from a number of TFA alumni who had a lot of suggestions on how to make the program better.

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