Sunday, February 10, 2013

Point/Counterpoint: Let's invest in real solutions

Gruber is president of the Virginia Education Association.

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In our weekly Point/Counterpoint feature, we invite knowledgeable people (usually two) to express their views on a current topic. After reading each other's columns, our guests then write rebuttals on the RoundTable blog, where readers can join in the conversation.

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Let's invest in real solutions

I applaud Morgan Saxby's commitment to students and his chosen profession; public education needs to recruit and retain many more such talented individuals.

However, evidence suggests that, among graduates of Teach for America, his experience is uncommon. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of TFA graduates leave their teaching jobs after three years. Where does that leave the high-needs schools where they were placed?

I would argue that the Peace Corps model of TFA, with its two-year commitment, cannot result in the stable and committed faculties that such schools so desperately require.

Virginia faces a huge challenge to find and retain the best-qualified teachers. But TFA itself is responsible for only some 10,000 teachers (estimates vary) in a nationwide teaching force of 3.2 million. That's fewer than one-hundredth of 1percent. Anyone proposing that TFA is the answer to providing highly qualified teachers to communities in need is not consulting the facts. We need bigger solutions, and a commitment to match.

And the fact remains that TFA candidates enter classrooms after just a few weeks of training and preparation in how to teach effectively. The best training available cannot prepare one to teach in today's complex schools in one short summer crash course.

Shortcuts are not the solution for staffing our schools with the most highly qualified and dedicated teachers we can find. We need to strengthen standards for entering teaching, make teaching a more desirable career and provide support for teachers once they're on the job.

TFA has raised the profile of teaching among talented prospects, and that's commendable. But our students deserve teachers who are sufficiently prepared before they ever stand in front of their own class, and who have a real interest in making teaching their career. That's the challenge Virginia must tackle.

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