TFA Detroit: the
(b iv !f ,
A two-year crash course
By Caitlin Huston
quality and that's going
to outweigh everything," -° , x cl d t rW
In Detroit, Teach for America corps
members have a chance to make an
impact on one of the country's most
disadvantaged school districts.
The school district is in such finan-
cial disrepair that last May Republican
Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an emer-
gency manager, Roy Roberts, to over-
see the school district's use of funds.
Despite the lack of resources,
Detroit schools that choose to partner
with Teach for America pay the orga-
nization an average of $3,000 for each
TFA corps member employed, in addi-
tion to paying corps members a start-
ing teacher's salary.
TFA spokesperson Rebecca Neale
wrote in an e-mail interview that TFA
uses the $3,000 in Detroit to cover the
program's recruitment, its training
program and to support its teachers.
Nationally, schools partnered with
Teach for America paid an average of
$2,700 per corps member employed
last year, according to Neale.
Keith Johnson, the head of the
Detroit Federation of Teachers - the
union representing Detroit Public
School teachers - questions why the
schools don't use the extra money to
give students access to more educa-
"Wouldn't that $3,000 be better
served buying some additional books
or supplemental material?" he asked.
David Patterson, chief administra-
tive officer at Woodward Academy -
a pre-K through eighth grade gated
charter school in Detroit - said his
district decided to hire four corps.
members last year and three more this
year. For him, the decision was made
based on quality rather than cost.
"Every penny has some weight on a
decision, but we're really looking for
But as Joh
more on pro
not an organi
"I have no
choose to d
nson sees it, ,tttas
viding for the children, antee placement for corps members,
ization. according to Ify Offor, TFA's vice pres-
idea why schools would ident of new site development.
Io that," Johnson said. Today, TFA corps members teach in
alutely no justification for 55 schools across the area, reaching a
total of 10,000 students.
it Public Schools Office of Seventy percent of TFA Detroit
ions failed to respond to teachers work in public charter
one and e-mail attempts. schools, while the rest are in tradi-
etroit public schools are tional public schools. Forty-five of the
ed to speak without per- schools are located in metro Detroit.
mission from the com- Though public schools and charter
munications office. schools both receive public funding,
students have to apply to attend char-
Charter versus ter schools. Charter schools also often
public have longer school days and a central
theme, such as leadership or justice.
TFA returned to One of the goals of TFA Detroit is to
Detroit in 2010 after have more than a 90 percent citywide
a seven year absence high school graduation rate by 2020,
from the city. The orga- Annis Brown, executive director of
nization originally left TFA Detroit, said.
Detroit in 2003 when it At the University Preparatory
could no longer guar- See DETROIT, Page 6B
Applicants to Teach for America hear
about how the program looks for
the best and brightest in student leaders.
They hear about how leadership has been
carefully studied and proven to produce
effective teachers in underprivileged dis-
tricts in the country.
What they hear less about is what hap-
pens when corps members actually enter
The past two years represent a peak in
University applicants to TFA, with 461
students applying to the program in 2011
But complaints from former corps
members have been aired in terms of
training, alack of support and a two-year
teaching commitment that community
leaders say doesn't help schools in need.
How prepared are
the corps members?
After a five-week intensive training
period in one of Teach for America's insti-
tutes across the country, corps members
are sent to their placement schools to
The corps members have had, on aver-
age, one hour of classroom experience
every day during the five weeks, in addi-
tion to workshops and coaching from
peers or TFA staff members.
For many corps members, this is their
first training in formal education.
In 2011, only 4 percent of e
incoming corps members
were education majors,
while 34 percent majored lp
in social sciences.
The inexperience that
comes with the program is something
that TFA founder and CEO Wendy Kopp
called an "incredible advantage" for the
program in a Jan. 19 speech she gave at
"One of the reasons Teach for America
works is because we do take people who
ask crazy questions and do crazy things
that anyone who knows what they're
doing would never do," Kopp said.
But some feel that entering an inner
city classroom after five weeks of training
does a disservice to the students.
Keith Johnson, head of the Detroit
Federation of Teachers, the union repre-
senting Detroit Public School teachers,
said he feels TFA members entering into a
classroom "marginalizes the profession"
since other teachers have to go through
formal training before they can teach.
"Why should we settle for some-
one that's providing instruction simply
because they were a math whiz or a sci-
ence whiz or even a foreign language
whiz?" Johnson asked.-
Former corps members admitted to
feeling unprepared for the initial transi-
tion into the classroom.
University alum Mike Dobbs, a 2007
Washington D.C. corps member, said he
struggled to teach in classrooms where
he had to purchase his own copy paper.
"A month is not enough to know how
to set (a classroom) up, particularly in a
place where resources are scarce," Dobbs
University alum Rachel Rickard, a 2011
Baton Rouge corps member who left her
assigned school after two months, said
she faced unexpectedly large classroom
sizes 'and was unprepared to
manage 20 or 21-year-old high
school students who were so e
close to her own age.
"The discipline was some-
thing that I struggled with,"Q
Rickard said. "And when you
have 40 kids in the classroom,
everything that I struggled I
with was magnified." 10
Rickard said she was under
extenuating circumstances, 0
however, because she was ini- ( E
tially hired at a middle school
but then got laid off before the ( C
school year began. Therefore,
she had to quickly search for a
See TWO YEARS, Page 6B
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