Teach for America and teacher shortages

The war on Teach for America (TFA) has a new player. Last week,the United Student Against Sweatshops sent a letter that, among other things, demanded TFA "only operate in areas where there are teacher shortages." In their response, TFA claims that"In many of our partner districts, this demand stems from a severe shortage of available candidates for low-income schools generally. In others, the shortages are specific to certain subject areas or grade levels." 

I can't speak for TFA's involvement in all districts, but I know quite a bit about their role in Cleveland. During my time withthe Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), I was a Data Strategist based in its Human Relations Department. In the Spring of 2014, the Chief Talent Officer tasked me with projecting teacher need for the 14-15 school year and updating those projections throughout the hiring process until my Fellowship with the district ended in August. 

In the Fall of 2013, the local press blasted the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) for a shortage of about 80 teachers at the beginning of the 13-14 school year. Part of the justification CMSD offered is that they did not have enough qualified applicants and refused to hire candidates who were grossly unprepared for positions that either required high subject-matter expertise or potential to foster student growth in an urban environment.

As of July 15th, CMSD had hired 36 teachers from TFA for the 2014-15 school year. Of those 36, 13 were hired to teach special education, foreign language, science, or math, positions that CMSD and many other urban districts usually find among the hardest to fill. The vast majority of the remainder were sent to the schools that scored the lowest on almost every indicator of student success. In previous years, CMSD had a very difficult time filling open positions in such schools, so many were either filled by permanent substitutes or not filled at all.

On August 20th, CMSD opened school with all teaching positions fully staffed for the first time in recent memory.

In my opinion, CMSD could not have started the school year fully staffed without TFA. In previous years, the district had relied only on traditional hiring pipelines and faced a problem all too familiar to urban districts. These traditional pipelines did not produce enough candidates who were qualified to teach hard-to-staff subjects or willing to teach in hard-to-staff schools. 

In short, for the current school year, TFA filled a need that CMSD had been previously unable to fill, ensuring that every student in every classroom had a full-time, qualified teacher.

Elizabeth Fuqua