Simmering tensions between the nation’s largest teachers’ union and a highly acclaimed national service program boiled over this week. The National Education Association vowed to “publicly oppose Teach for America (TFA) contracts when they are used in Districts where there is no teacher shortage or when Districts use TFA agreements to reduce teacher costs, silence union voices, or as a vehicle to bust unions.”
Teach for America is a nonprofit organization that recruits graduates from leading universities to teach for two years in some of the nation’s most impoverished school districts. Study after study shows that TFA’s dedicated teachers are effective in lifting achievement levels among the poor and minority students they serve. Why would the NEA want to deprive our neediest kids of good teachers?
NEA member Marianne Bratsanos of Washington, who proposed the anti-TFA resolution, complained that the volunteer group undermines schools of education and accepts money from foundations and other funders who are hostile to unions. The key complaint, however, seems to be that TFA volunteers are displacing more experienced teachers, even in districts with no teacher shortages.
Full disclosure: I’m a TFA alum. You may discount my views accordingly, but the NEA’s indictment is very far from the reality I encountered on the ground teaching Language Arts to inner city kids in Charlotte, N.C.