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Does ‘Teach for America’ harm low income schools? We debate a bill that would ban the program from CA

A teacher in a classroom with students
A teacher in a classroom with students
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Teach For America (TFA) is a non-profit program that trains recent grads to teach in low income schools for at least two years. And while it may seem this wouldn’t be cause for controversy, one California assemblymember is arguing that the program actually harms the students that it aims to serve.

Introduced by Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), AB 221 would effectively ban the 30 year old organization from California. According to Garcia, TFA provides low-income students with inexperienced teachers who won’t stick around for the long haul; a band-aid fix, that exacerbates the inequality between low income and wealthier school districts and doesn’t address teacher shortages in a meaningful way.

Proponents of TFA say that it does fill the educator gap and that TFA teachers have comparable results to traditional teachers. That TFA provides help to the communities that need it most, as well as  for training young people of color who want to be educators.

A new amendment to the legislation no longer specifies that it targets TFA, instead taking a broader strokes approach by prohibiting school districts from contracting with a third-party organization whose teachers are committed to less than five years of teaching. The bill comes at a time when California unions are fighting to curb charter schools. And nearly a third of TFA teachers work at charters, which is worrying to critics who feel that members form skewed opinions about education reform.

We debate the bill. Plus, if you worked as a teacher through TFA, what did you think of the program? If you had a TFA teacher, did you feel that they were an effective educator? Should TFA be banned or forced to change?

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Julian Vasquez Heilig, professor of educational leadership and policy studies and the director of the doctorate in educational leadership at California State University Sacramento; he serves as the California NAACP Education Chair

Nick Melvoin, LAUSD Board Vice President; he represents Board District 4, which stretches from the Westside to the west valley to Hollywood; he is also a Teach for America alumnus