Teach for America Provides 300 Teachers to Ohio, Other Groups Could Follow
Donald trump’s choice for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, promises a free market approach to education. That theory of opening up schools to competition from for-profit businesses already has a foothold in Ohio.
A break in the way teachers are trained may also be coming. State Impact Ohio’s Mark Urycki reports . .
You might think twice about going to a doctor who had only one-year of training. But Ohio could see more K-12 teachers with only 5 weeks of pedagogical preparation before they take over a classroom. It’s already happening with the non-profit group Teach for America which has 300 of its members teaching in Ohio.
State school board member Frank Pettigrew once trained teachers the old fashioned way. He was Dean of the College of Education at Ashland University.
“As a dean I was very much opposed to that just based on what we were doing as a preparation and what we thought Teach for America was. But all things change, right?”
Teach for America members have been allowed to work in Ohio since 2012. The executive director of TFA’s Southwest office, Ben Lindy, says they sign up students who are about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
“We recruit at college campuses around the country. Our recruitment team is looking for passionate leaders from all different backgrounds on college campuses. Racially diverse, socioeconomically diverse, academically diverse, who want to make a real commitment to impact the lives of kids in low income schools.”
TFA’s Executive Director in greater Cleveland, Holly Trifiro, says its teachers are only sent to districts with a large number of poor students.
“We’re in Cleveland, Maple Hts.City Schools, Lorain City Schools, we partner with the Breakthough charter schools as well as Stepstone Academy and in Cincinnati and Dayton. “
Lindy adds, “Were in the Cincinnati Public schools, Dayton Public Schools, a small number of charter schools and Head Start centers across Southwest Ohio.”
Teach for America members promise to spend two years in the classroom but in the early years the organization was criticized for having shell-shocked new teachers giving up early. But now TFA cites a 90% retention rate the first year and two-thirds remain in education afterwards.
Teacher unions have worried that conservative legislators are looking to hire less skilled educators to save money or get around teacher unions. Lindy says that’s not true.
“Our folks follow the same rules as any other new teacher in any other district. They interview for open positions alongside other qualified candidates, receive the same salary and benefits as other new teachers, and join the union and pay dues just like any other new teacher.”
Lindy says Teach for America members tend to staff hard-to-fill subject areas like math, science, and foreign languages. What’s more, he says, in Ohio 31% of TFA members are minorities, a greater percentage than teacher colleges produce and a sought-after demographic for many urban schools.
Former Dean of Education, Frank Pettigrew is not ready to say five weeks of training is enough but he says Ohio and most other states are suffering a teacher shortage so a TFA teacher is better than no teacher and they only work in low income districts.
" I’ve not come full circle yet but I’ve come half way around that circle. But having said that, I think their role is a restricted one.”
There are 100 thousand school teachers working in Ohio this year and less than 1% of them come from Teach for America.
But other groups may come knocking. Pettigrew says that the new education act passed by Congress permits states to use privatized teacher preparation academies and no longer have to rely on colleges.
“If it’s in law there’s going to be some pressure for Ohio legislators to open that door to these academies. So I actually foresee them coming into fruition within a few years. That’ll be a challenge to colleges of ed right now."
But today’s healthy economy and very low unemployment rate may affect that vision. Teach for America has seen a drop-off in college graduates willing to join up the last two years.