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article imageOp-Ed: Decline of Teach for America warns of impending education woes

By Calvin Wolf     Feb 10, 2015 in Politics
For the first time, Teach for America is experiencing a significant decrease in applications. While much of this is likely due to an improving economy, it heralds tough times ahead for public K-12 education.
I graduated with a Master's degree in Public Administration in May 2009, when the Great Recession was at its worst. In the public sector, where I was seeking employment, hiring freezes fell across the land. For the few jobs available, there was intense competition...including competition from experienced veterans of those fields. What was a 24-year-old with little full-time work experience to do when competing for entry-level work against 35-year-olds with full resumes? To make it even tougher, I was from out of state, meaning I was usually competing with experienced 35-year-olds who already knew someone on the hiring team.
Yeah, I considered applying with Teach for America.
Ultimately, I did not apply. Instead, I was accepted into a graduate program at a university and went there. After a year, I left that program and got my post-baccalaureate teacher certification from the same university, which took a semester of full-time coursework and a semester of student-teaching at a local high school. While I did the coursework, I substitute-taught during the day at local high schools and junior highs. Now, I am in my fourth year as a high school economics teacher.
As a "traditionally trained" teacher, I have my criticisms of Teach for America. However, the recent news about the organizations declining enrollment, as explained by The Washington Post, makes me concerned for all of public K-12 education. While many critics may contend that Teach for America is too separate from traditional teacher training to be analogous, I disagree. As goes Teach for America, goes teacher training in general. We should all be looking to lessons learned in the recent decline of Teach for America.
With the U.S. economy finally showing real improvement, fewer college graduates feel the need to apply with Teach for America. Stripping away the economic necessity of becoming a teacher, a public sector job that is considered more secure than private sector employment, how many young Americans still want to go into teaching? Does our society make teaching worth it?
Sadly, many argue that the current state of affairs in public education has made teaching unattractive to our higher-performing young folk. Teachers today lack autonomy, have their performance (and thus, job security and compensation) based on factors outside their control, and are often poorly paid. A cultural shift has made the teacher, and not the student, responsible for grades. Many teachers feel underappreciated and besieged.
Teacher for America is the canary in the coal mine. If the idealists who considered Teach for America a noble and viable option now feel differently, the pragmatists who populate traditional teacher training programs and colleges of education may soon follow. An improving economy will begin to chip away at the number of college students willing to consider careers in education. If America is heading toward a boom, why put up with the slings and arrows of public school teaching?
Policymakers need to get moving to ensure that public school teaching remains a viable career option for high-performing young people. Otherwise, we're a nation doomed to mediocrity.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about teach for america, Education, Teacher, Economy, real wages
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