Caldwell, Nampa and Homedale school districts have agreed to work with Teach for America to fill open teaching positions.
A fourth Treasure Valley district has decided against working with the nonprofit, which recruits recent college graduates or young professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds to teach for at least two years. And critics have questioned TFA recruits’ credentials — since recruits do not typically study education in college or serve as student teachers, and go through TFA’s own teacher-prep program, a five-week summer training institute with additional time spent in regional orientations.
However, Homedale Superintendent Rob Sauer says his district entered into an agreement with TFA, since it needs all the help it can get finding candidates for hard-to-fill positions. Homedale has had teacher openings, usually in math and science, that have attracted just one candidate, and the district went a whole summer without a candidate for at least one open position.
“We struggle to find candidates so we are really looking at the recruiting aspect,” Sauer said. “Our board didn’t have any concerns about working with TFA because this gives us more candidates to find the right one.”
The Vallivue School District’s board did not enter a working relationship with TFA.
Tony Ashton, the managing director of Idaho’s Teach for America branch, discussed a working agreement with Vallivue Superintendent Pat Charlton and presented to the Vallivue trustees. TFA critics and the Vallivue teacher’s union argued against the idea.
“I have similar concerns that Durham Public Schools (North Carolina) school board members had in August 2014 when they chose to sever ties with TFA,” said Travis Manning, a Vallivue district teacher and the executive director of the Common Sense Democracy Foundation of Idaho. “Placing untrained teachers in high-needs schools — many Canyon County schools have high minority populations and are Title I schools; and TFA’s two-year commitment. Our schools need dedicated, long-term teachers willing to truly invest in our communities.”
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Charlton said he backed away from working with TFA because his district isn’t in desperate need for recruiting help yet but “we can see the day coming when that won’t be the case. I can see the pool dwindling with each passing year for candidates in math, science and special education.”
Caldwell, Nampa and Homedale entered non-binding agreements with TFA, which will provide candidates for teaching positions. TFA candidates would be interviewed like any other candidates and the district is not obligated to hire TFA recruits.
“It is our responsibility to recruit, train and support,” Ashton said. “It is the district that interviews and selects teachers.”
Under a TFA arrangement, school leaders share their hiring needs and the nonprofit goes on a nationwide search to find prospects who align with those needs. Once hired, TFA provides ongoing support for the brand new teachers.
TFA targets low-income communities or rural districts.
“Our mission is to directly serve high-needs schools,” Ashton said. “I’m excited about the great work that is happening in this state and I think we can be a partner and resource more than anything.”
TFA recruits are paid like any other teacher and hired like any other teacher. They commit to at least two years teaching in a public school. TFA seeks diversity. Its website claims that half of the 2014 corps identify as people of color; 47 percent come from a low-income background; 34 percent are the first in their family to attend college; and a third come to the corps from graduate school or with prior professional experience. About 11,000 U.S. teachers come from the TFA program.
The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation is funding and supporting TFA’s recent move into Idaho. Ashton hopes to have TFA teachers working in Idaho schools by the fall of 2015.
“We believe qualified teaching candidates from TFA can help fill the void and be an invaluable asset for students, schools and communities,” foundation Executive Director Roger Quarles wrote in his regular blog. “The program has been positively impacting schools for a quarter century and is one of the most studied teacher preparation programs in the nation.”
Disclaimer: Idaho Education News and Idaho’s Teach for America branch are both funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.