Tammy Ljungblad / Kansas City Star / MCT / Landov

Correcting the record on Teach for America

Do not let cherry-picked examples besmirch our growing legacy of success

April 8, 2014 3:00PM ET

Last week in an Al Jazeera America op-ed, Amy Dean commented on the decision made last year by the Pittsburgh Public School Board not to partner with Teach for America. She claims that democratically elected boards inherently have different opinions about Teach For America’s work than appointed boards. On the contrary, for the last 23 years Teach for America has partnered with hundreds of school districts across the country, including many with elected school boards. Just this past month, elected school boards in Las Vegas and Jacksonville, Fla.,  unanimously passed our partnership agreements. 

Teach for America collaborates with schools and districts on the basis of three things: the existence of educational disparities between low-income students and their more affluent peers, the ability to work alongside efforts already underway and broad community support that will enable the long-term success and sustainability of our teachers, alumni and partners.

These were the reasons we explored a partnership with Pittsburgh. The same democratically elected school board that Dean touts passed an agreement with Teach for America in November 2013 because it believed TFA would add an important source of diverse teaching talent for the district’s highest-need schools. Despite the support of the district leadership, principals and outgoing board members, newly elected members did not support the partnership and voted to recall the contract.  

Other claims Dean makes repeat inaccurate information that has been publicly addressed numerous times recently in the media and other public forums. For instance, she sets up a pernicious divide between traditionally and nontraditionally prepared teachers. Great teachers come via all pathways, and we need to stop pitting educators who share a passion for children against one another.

For decades, universities and colleges as well as states, districts and schools have recognized alternative pathways for teacher certification. In the 35 states where Teach for America has partnerships with schools and districts, our program meets or exceeds the teaching standards required for licensure and is recognized as one such alternative pathway. Our teachers all have undergraduate degrees at a minimum, participate in a licensure program and in clinical preservice training and receive continual coaching and support during their first two years in the classroom. And the research shows that our teachers are having a clear positive impact. 

While Dean anecdotally mentions three of our alumni, she ignores the other 32,000, including 10,000 teachers and another 10,000 who work directly in the field of education as principals, deans, district staffers and administrators. The remaining third work across multiple sectors, including 3 percent in government, policy or advocacy roles. We support the choices our alumni make about where to best apply their strengths and talents across the complex systems of education and poverty. Overall, 86 percent are doing mission-aligned work, either in education or with underresourced communities.

Our 11,000 corps members, our 10,000 alumni teachers and their hundreds of thousands of students deserve more than arguments that rely on false premises and comparisons to Waterloo. Committing to productive conversation and cooperation is what our students need.

For more facts and information about Teach for America, visit our website.

Nicole Brisbane is the managing director of new sites development at Teach For America and a former public school teacher.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

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