Rachel M. Cohen writes in “The American Prospect” about the true cost of Teach for America and its impact on urban schools.


She notes that districts Re required to pay a finder’s fee to TFA for every recruit they hire, typically between $2,000-$5,000 per year.


“To put the finder’s fees in perspective: If one city’s TFA cohort, consisting of 200 corps members, comes with an annual finder’s fee of $4,250 for each teacher recruited from the organization—then that cohort’s two-year commitment will cost the district an additional $1,700,000 in dues to the organization. This is not a trivial sum for school districts experiencing massive budget shortfalls.”


Why are districts willing to pay a finder’s fee when they could hire a traditionally trained teacher or a veteran teacher with no finder’s fee? The research does not show a marked superiority for TFA over regular teachers. Some states and districts have TFA alumni in charge or on the school board. But others see an advantage in hiring young teachers who will leave in 2-3 years: they are at the bottom of the salary scale and will not be around long enough to get paid more or to collect a pension.


The long-term harm of the TFA model is that it popularizes the belief that “great teachers” need only five weeks of training. TFA would work well if their recruits entered schools as “teaching assistants” or paraprofessionals. To call them “teachers” after five weeks of training undermines teaching as a profession. No profession requires so little specialized education. Except, as a reader reminded me recently, “the oldest profession.” In every other real profession, experience is considered a plus. Who would go to a brand-new “lawyer” who had only five weeks training when they could hire a senior partner for the same fee? Who would see a “doctor” with five weeks training instead of an experienced surgeon? Is teaching a profession or a trade?