DREAMers Get ‘Teach’ Jobs
When considering the Teach For America (TFA) program, it is common to think of those accepted to it as the best and brightest American college students, who after graduating from America’s most prestigious universities choose to teach for at least two years in urban or rural underserved communities.
But in some instances, schools are hiring TFA college graduates who have questionable immigration status. So-called “Dreamers,” illegal aliens who are temporarily free from being deported, are making inroads into the TFA program.
In Denver public schools, eleven TFA instructors hold Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status under a program announced by President Obama on June 15, 2012. DACA, which is based on the DREAM Act that Congress refused to pass, temporarily defers deportations from the U.S. for eligible “undocumented” youth and young adults, and grants them access to renewable two-year work permits and Social Security numbers.
Teach For America is a non-profit organization that receives financial support from individuals, businesses, and philanthropies. TFA has also won the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation grant competition.
The TFA program has been criticized for sending teachers into classrooms after only five weeks of training. Teachers unions are especially critical of the program. But in some cases, TFA teachers teach where no one else will.
The 2011 acceptance rate for Teach for America applicants was 11%, making the program more competitive to get into than undergraduate admission to Duke University or the University of Pennsylvania. (Washington Post, 3-18-13)
It is unknown whether TFA employment standards are the same for those holding DACA status as for other applicants.
TFA’s hiring of teachers with DACA status grew from two last year, to 40 this year “in classrooms across the country, including Arizona, California, and New Mexico.”
Other Colorado regions are considering following Denver’s lead. Vail’s superintendent “is considering hiring teachers with DACA status. Half the district’s 6,800 public school students are Hispanic, and 40% are learning English.”
The demand for bilingual teachers is growing. The chief human resources officer for Denver Public Schools says, “In the past, we have had to do extensive recruitment internationally and nationally to try and meet this demand.” (Associated Press, 4-4-15)
A former TFA teacher wrote in 2013 that he understood how the program gets results from students, saying, “after all, [TFA teachers] are recruited from a pool of the country’s hardest-working college students, and good teaching is nothing if not hard work.” The former TFA teacher explains that “only 23% of teachers from traditional or less-selective certification programs graduated from a selective college or university, while 81% of TFA teachers did.”
While some research has shown TFA teachers to be less effective, a 2013 U.S. Department of Education study “showed Teach for America teachers to be more effective than other teachers at their schools.” The “study included 4,573 students at middle and high schools across the country,” with a focus on secondary math education. The conclusion was that “students with TFA teachers scored higher on end-of-year exams than their peers in non-TFA classrooms.” The difference equaled 2.6 extra months of classroom time in math. (The Atlantic, 9-10-13 and 9-23-13)
Better Teachers = More Successful Students
Attracting the best students to teaching programs and giving them the best training is key to improving student learning and performance. The nation needs bright students to choose teaching careers.
Most U.S. education majors are those who have GPAs closer to the bottom than to the top of all students. But most countries that perform well on internationally benchmarked tests have in common that their best students become teachers. In those countries, students face a highly competitive acceptance process to enter schools of education and teachers are greatly respected by students, parents, and in the community. While international standardized test results, like TIMSS, PIRLS, and PISA, are not the only valid measure of a country’s education system, they can serve as one meaningful indicator of the adequacy of instruction.
The success the Teach For America program enjoys is a result of recruiting the highest achieving college graduates. If standards were to be lowered in order to accept illegal aliens as instructors simply because they are bilingual, the move could diminish whatever good the program may currently be contributing.