Is Teach for America Costing Experienced Teachers Their Jobs?

Some administrators and critics of the program say it's to blame when older teachers get pink slips.

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Teach for America, the alternative route to certification that places some of the brightest college graduates in the nation's neediest schools, has grown steadily in recent years, despite the recession and state budget crises. But it's starting to get some flak from critics, who say it's forcing more experienced teachers out of their jobs, USA Today reports.

No studies have been done that substantiate the alleged trend, but the argument voiced by some critics is that the program's growth—about 7,300 young people are expected to teach under its banner in 2009-10, up from 6,200 for the 2008-09 school year—comes at the expense of veteran teachers who are losing their jobs to make room for the recruits.

In Boston, TFA corps members replaced 20 pink-slipped teachers, Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman told USA Today. "These are people who have been trained, who are experienced, and who have good evaluations, and are being replaced by brand-new employees," he said.

Stutman says that he met with 18 other local union presidents this month and that all of them reported seeing teachers laid off to accommodate TFA hires, who enter the classroom at beginners' salary levels with TFA-underwritten training.

And in March, Peter Gorman, the superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system in North Carolina laid off hundreds of teachers but spared 100 TFAers because the district had "made a commitment to the program," he told USA Today.

TFA responded that it's a "mistaken notion" that corps members are displacing older teachers.

"In every region where we send teachers, we're just one source," says Kerci Marcello, a TFA spokeswoman. Corps members must interview for jobs in the districts where they are placed, just like anyone else.

John Wilson, executive director of the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union, takes the same position as Stutman and Gorman. In a memo in May 2008, Wilson said union leaders were beginning to see districts lay off teachers and then hire TFA members because of contracts the school systems had signed. He contends TFA hurts children by putting the "least prepared" and "least experienced" teachers in their classrooms.

But supporters see TFA's growth as a positive for low-income children. The nonprofit recruitment organization received 2,500 applicants when it was founded in 1990; this year it has received 35,000, including applications from 11 percent of seniors at Ivy League schools. TFA founder Wendy Kopp maintains that the program is mobilizing passionate individuals dedicated to changing the fact that where a child is born in the United States greatly determines his or her chances for success.

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