Going through some old stuff I located a copy of an article from the New York Times on June 26, 1991, just after I arrived at the Los Angeles TFA institute to begin my training.
The headline was ‘For Freshman Teacher Corps, a Sobering Year’ and I located it on the New York Times archive which you can access here.
One part that resonates true today (which has some extra words that don’t fit at the end, and which are not on my original, so I cut out those.)
But Ms. Abell, along with some other Teach for America corps members and some school district officials, also believes the program promises more than it can deliver.
“I felt like to solve the problems in my classroom I would have had to solve the violence and poverty in the community,” said Ms. Abell, who now works in a center that aids Central American refugees. “Teach for America came to be 500 points of light, the idea that certain individuals with enthusiasm can help a troubled system. But I think much more profound changes are needed.”
Since TFA is all about numbers, one of the most telling numbers with regard to how well TFA trains its teachers is the attrition rate. Currently the attrition rate, they say, is about 8% the first year and 11% overall.
In the recent Steven Brill book, ‘Class Warfare’ he wrote (page 63) “One-third of those first 489 recriuts would not last through their two-year commitments.” Now Brill did not do a lot of fact checking for this book, but this statistic presumably came from TFA. If it did, it turns out to be inflated, maybe to make it seem like the current 11% attrition rate is a vast improvement. But according to the article:
Of the 489 teachers who walked into classrooms last fall, 53 have resigned. That is an attrition rate of almost 11 percent, slightly higher than the national rate for first-year teachers, but far lower than the 25 to 50 percent turnover rates in the school districts where most of the newcomers were placed.
Now the 25 to 50 percent turnover rate is an unfair comparison. Just because a school has turnover does not mean that the teachers have quit the profession, altogether. Also, that number, just like today, includes people who retired.
This statistic from the article means that the current attrition rate isn’t much lower than it was 21 years ago. To me that means that the training hasn’t improved that much.
There is, though, a reason for that. Back then there were no alumni yet so the institute hired a crack team of great veteran teachers and even principals. They didn’t have a unified ‘vision,’ which may have confused us a bit, but also maybe gave us a better picture of how complicated the reality was.