lower hires

City’s incoming Teach for America class hits five-year low

The share of new teachers stepping out of Teach for America training and into New York City classrooms is continuing to shrink.

The organization, which places new teachers in hard-to-staff public schools, said Tuesday that it will send 230 teachers into city schools this fall. That’s down from 400 teachers last year and the lowest number since 2010, a decline that reflects the recruiting difficulties Teach for America has faced this year as the job market for college graduates has improved and criticism of the organization’s preparation has persisted.

“We are certainly feeling it,” TFA New York director Charissa Fernandez said of the national recruitment challenge, adding that the group is also shrinking to allow TFA to improve the support it offers to city teachers. “Our partner schools are feeling it.”

In other parts of the country, other job prospects from the improved economy has led to teacher shortages, a trend detailed by the New York Times this week. In New York City, the latest recruitment numbers for Teach for America come as the organization continues to reorient itself, putting a new focus on encouraging teachers to stay in the classroom beyond their initial two-year commitments and recruiting more people of color into its ranks.

All told, the city will have about 5,500 new hires this fall, 100 of which will come from TFA, according to education department spokesman Jason Fink. NYC Teaching Fellows, another alternative certification program, will account for roughly 1,000. (Another 20 incoming TFA teachers will work in community-based organizations as part of the city’s expansion of pre-kindergarten, and an estimated 100 more will teach at charter schools.)

TFA has placed teachers in New York City schools for 25 years and is now the country’s top supplier of public school teachers. Over that time, the organization grew in prominence by attracting top college graduates to work in education with a clear formula: An intensive summer training program, followed by a teaching position in a high-poverty school and a two-year commitment. As recently as 2008, TFA was placing more than 500 teachers in New York City schools at a time, though the size of its presence has fluctuated.

Applications to Teach for America have declined in the past two years after a 15-year growth streak. Still, 44,000 people applied for the 4,100 open slots nationwide this year, which a spokeswoman noted was twice as many applications as they received in 2007.

Its growth has also fueled intense criticism. TFA corps members are more likely than teachers who come through other programs to stop teaching after two years, and detractors say that the organization doesn’t do enough to reduce the steady churn in schools that rely on TFA teachers. Meanwhile, independent research has found that TFA teachers are equal to, or do slightly better than, their non-TFA counterparts in boosting student learning.

“I don’t know if it’s an outright rejection of the TFA model, but I’ve certainly noticed an uptick in former TFA-ers who are speaking out about it,” said Joshua Starr, former superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland and the current CEO of PDK International, a professional association for educators. “The reputation might be a little bit more tarnished than it has been in the past.”

Responding to that criticism has been a focus of TFA’s new leaders, who have begun new initiatives to improve training and increase teacher retention and diversity.

Two-thirds of TFA’s incoming New York City teachers identify as people of color, up from 60 percent last year, making this year’s group the most diverse in the organization’s history. That’s also more diverse than the city’s overall teaching force, which is about 58 percent white, while 70 percent of students are black or Hispanic.

Having a smaller group of incoming teachers will allow TFA New York to focus on supporting alumni and improving the experience teachers have in their first two years, encouraging more of them to stay in the classroom, Fernandez said.

“Once we have rolled some of those changes out, we want to grow again,” Fernandez said.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.