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State audit of Teach for America: Effective teachers but too few to solve teacher shortage

A new state audit of Teach for America’s effectiveness in Georgia gives good marks to the teachers themselves, but cautions the program's limits make it an unlikely solution to Georgia's growing teacher shortage, which will be felt most in high poverty/Title 1 schools.

Teach For America is an alternative teacher program that recruits bright college grads to two-year classroom stints. While the highly selective program accepts about 15 percent of applicants, TFA is seeing a decline in applications as the improved economy offers top college grads higher-paying career options.

That decline mirrors a broader trend; the number of college students enrolled in teacher preparation programs has been falling nationwide and in Georgia. During the 2008-09 school year, more than 7,200 people completed Georgia teacher-preparation programs; three years later, that number fell to 6,405.

For the 2015-16 school year, 67 first-year TFA members were hired in APS, Fulton and Clayton schools. The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts talked to all three systems about whether TFA is critical to their staffing strategies, writing:

Because TFA comprises a small percentage of overall hires within partnering systems and is not always able to address hard-to-staff subject areas, staff for the Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County systems do not view TFA as a major tool for filling vacancies and prioritize other strategies. Clayton County staff, however, stated that they have a harder time attracting quality applicants and consider TFA a “key recruitment tool.” For the past two years, Clayton committed to pay for up to 60 new corps members each school year, but the availability of corps members limited the system to 46 in the 2014-15 school year and 30 in the 2015-16 school year

The detailed review of Teach for America’s role in Georgia concludes:

Additional school systems in Georgia may benefit from having TFA corps members in their classrooms given their positive impact on student achievement; however, the program should not be viewed as a strategy to eliminate vacancies because the limited number of corps members generally leave the classroom after fulfilling their two-year commitment…While TFA teachers may improve student achievement, they typically do not stay in the classroom longer than their two-year commitment. Approximately 38% of TFA corps members finished a third year of teaching in a Georgia school, compared to approximately 80% of non-TFA teachers who began teaching at Title I schools the same year as the corps members. However, this is consistent with TFA’s strategy of developing and mobilizing future leaders who will “strengthen the movement for educational equity” in all types of employment. State, district, and school leadership noted their concern over the retention rate, but they also stated the schools in which corps members teach may not have an effective teacher at all without the program. Significantly expanding TFA’s presence in Georgia is impacted by available funding and TFA’s national strategy which includes slowing new site expansion. Expanding the Metro Atlanta region beyond the three partnering districts would be hampered by the region’s operating budget, which has limited its allocation of corps members (the Metro-Atlanta corps has declined each year since 2011-12, when TFA received a portion of Georgia’s Race to the Top grant). For the 2015-16 school year, 67 first-year corps members were hired in three school systems, one of which requested and budgeted for more teachers than TFA was able to provide.

Released to the public today, the audit addresses:

•How effective is Georgia’s partnership with TFA at recruiting teachers?

•How effective is Georgia’s partnership with TFA at retaining teachers?

•What is the impact of TFA on student achievement?

•Is there sufficient evidence to support the expansion of TFA to other interested school systems in the state that may benefit from the program?

In response to the audit, TFA's leader in Georgia, J. DeLano Ford, said in an email:

We’re grateful for our local and state partnerships, and for the Georgia audit team’s efforts to ensure that the state is supporting work that positively impacts Georgia’s students. And we’re encouraged that the audit finds that TFA is beneficial to partner schools, particularly that TFA teachers are having a positive impact on student achievement.

We are in our 15th year in partnership with schools here in the Atlanta area and I just love talking with our alumni - over 1,200 of them are living and working here – and witnessing how they are individually and collectively impacting educational equity. Eighty percent of them are working in roles in education or with low-income communities, with a third teaching and others leading local schools and non-profits, working in districts, and as school system leaders. I’m proud of them, and I also know that we and our many partners in this work must do more to attract additional leaders to work across sectors to address educational equity, and to keep more great teachers in our highest-need classrooms. "


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.