Friday, November 17, 2006

Partnership Between TFA and Higher Education ?!?

This posting is a response to a piece published today in InsideHigherEd. I have also posted it as a comment in the thread of that article.

Dr. Porterfield is certainly correct that TFA should be supported. I think it offers an excellent opportunity for undergraduate students not in the traditional teacher education pipeline to become classroom teachers through a fairly comprehensive, “fast track”, alternative pathway. (And contra Ira and Jeremy, these are not either/or scenarios. There are already not enough “committed” teachers out there; that is why TFA exists. And while UCLA has a great program, it does not produce anywhere near the number of teachers that TFA does.) But this is exactly where Dr. Porterfield’s argument falls off the track. His fundamental argument is that higher education should partner with TFA to, among other things, better support prospective candidates such that they will become better candidates and better future teachers. But higher education already does that. It’s called teacher education. Georgetown University, Dr. Porterfield’s university, does not have a teacher education program. But they do have an excellent center called CNDLS—the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship—that already supports graduate students and faculty in the teaching and learning process. And I dare say that there are multiple institutions in the greater DC area such that Georgetown students can get some very good teacher education courses under their belt. To suggest that higher education should somehow “partner” with TFA is to presume that there’s nobody out there already preparing teachers for urban and rural teaching. That is just plain silly. This line of reasoning falls squarely into the reductive and useless bickering over what it means to be a “highly qualified teacher.” One side says high standards and an infrastructure of professionalism; the other side says pretty much anything goes so long as candidates have high SAT scores and no criminal record (I know, I know, I’m simplifying. But anyone can do the research and get the details.) Moreover, Dr. Porterfield misses the critical point that TFA is explicitly not looking for teacher education candidates. So his suggestion for “partnerships” almost goes against TFA’s recruitment strategy. I might suggest, instead, that we more legitimately begin talking about partnerships between teacher education and TFA. Now that would be novel.

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