Nashville Schools Recruiter Says She Can’t Do What Teach For America Can

Pictured is a TFA teacher working at a charter school in Pasadena, CA. In Tennessee, TFA corps members - as they're called - work in Nashville and Memphis. Two TFA'ers are in Cheatham County. Credit: Presidential Inaugural Committee via Flickr

Pictured is a TFA teacher working at a charter school in Pasadena, CA. In Tennessee, TFA corps members – as they’re called – work in Nashville and Memphis. Two TFA’ers are in Cheatham County. Credit: Presidential Inaugural Committee via Flickr

Roughly one in six new teachers in Nashville’s public schools come from the non-traditional training program Teach for America. And a contract approved by the Metro school board this week will maintain that hiring pace for at least another three years. 

Teach for America seeks out high achieving college students – often from top-tier universities – in majors other than education. The national organization trains them over a summer to be classroom instructors. Outside research has found they produce some of the most effective teachers in the state, even if most of them do see it as a short-term career move.

Still, TFA finds and develops better teachers than Metro Schools can, says director of talent strategy Katie Cour.

“Ideally we would be selecting and recruiting our own teachers internally if we had the capacity to do that in a way that provided highly effective teachers or effective teachers immediately,” she told the Metro Schools board of education. “That is not what we have the capacity to do currently, so that’s why we need the contract.”

The board approved spending $750,000 a year to bring in 75 new TFA teachers a year. Previously, this was paid for out of federal grant money from the Race to the Top program. The money helps fund their crash course in teaching as well as professional development while they’re in the classroom.

“We can’t sustain a model like this forever, so what we’re trying to do is learn from our TFA colleagues,” Cour said.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has championed TFA since bringing them to town in 2009. He has publicly encouraged the district to continue the affiliation into the foreseeable future.

But now that the money is coming out of their budget, school board members have begun questioning whether the district is getting a good deal. While the TFA instructors produce results, only about half stay any longer than their two-year commitment.

“Are the teachers staying long enough for us to get a benefit out of the investment we’ve put in them?” board member Amy Frogge asked at a meeting Tuesday.

Frogge suggests the district might also get more out of traditional teachers if it effectively spent $5,000 a year on their professional development. Currently, the state also chips in another $9,000 per TFA teacher.

“If we’re getting higher results from the TFA teacher,” she said, “might that not have something to do with how much money we’re putting into them?”

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