The Buffalo Public Schools may be onto something, with the quest to hire 30 teachers from the nationally recognized Teach for America program for the next school year, and another 30 the following year.
While it’s only a few dozen teachers in a vast district, and the program has its critics, done right it will add one more tool to the effort to turn around education in Buffalo. It’s a plan worthy of School Board support.
The organization recruits recent college graduates and mid-career professionals to teach in public schools with high concentrations of poverty. The recruits are not certified teachers, but undergo intensive training during the summer before they are placed in a school.
They get paid first-year teacher salaries. The district will also pay Teach for America $5,000 a year per teacher for the professional development provided by the organization.
The overall plan to recruit minority teachers to the district will also provide role models for the district’s largely minority student population. And hiring for areas that the district has trouble filling, such as special education, bilingual instruction, English as a second language and secondary math, also works in favor of the program.
Bringing Teach for America into Buffalo Public Schools comes at the suggestion of Robert G. Wilmers, chairman and CEO of M&T Bank. He has agreed to cover certain administrative costs for the program, including the salary of a Teach for America coordinator to be based in Buffalo. Wilmers led successful efforts in turning around the Westminster Community School, which is now the Westminster Community Charter School.
Superintendent Pamela C. Brown said the program is “nationally recognized for the quality of the candidates they’re able to attract. They particularly look for candidates who have a strong sense of mission as it relates to improving achievement in urban districts.”
On the face, there’s not much to dislike. Even Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore is on board: “If it will help the school district, I’m willing to give it a shot.”
These temporary teachers would also be temporary union members.
Critics of the program feel that the requirement to teach in a district for just two years might prove ineffective without a long-term commitment.
But a recent study reported in the trade journal Education Week found that 61 percent of Teach for America teachers continued teaching in public schools beyond their two-year obligation. And by the fifth year, 15 percent were still teaching in the school they had originally been assigned to.
It’s an idea that seems worth trying.