Dallas Independent School District (DISD) has teamed up with Teach For America (TFA) for the upcoming school year. Two goals of partnering with this unique group of teachers are to assist students in getting a good education and to combat the district’s teacher staffing shortage.
TFA comprises a network of leaders, college graduates, and professionals from all walks of life who elect to teach at schools in partner districts. While many TFA members have a background in teaching or education, others do not, but their expertise in math, science, reading, or writing serves as a valuable resource as they teach students.
Through the program, these incoming, largely alternatively-certified teachers partner with veteran DISD teachers who will train and prepare them for the classroom.
“With this partnership, Dallas ISD is able to provide [TFA] newcomers with the opportunity to have a real-world experience,” Dallas ISD Director of Recruitment Steven Jackson told CBS News.
Dallas ISD veteran teacher Aden Morgan says the Teach For America curriculum is similar to what the new teachers will experience at their schools.
For the upcoming academic year, the local DFW chapter of Teach For America will have about 700 teachers working in North Texas, including both returning and new instructors. Nearly 100 new teachers who will start working in local classrooms this fall are being trained by Dallas ISD.
The new hires will help offset the district’s shortage in the classroom. Data from the Texas Performance Reporting System (TPRS) shows Dallas ISD had a teacher turnover rate of 13.8% for the 2020-2021 school year.
TFA specifically targets schools in “low-income, underserved” neighborhoods, where members commit to teaching for at least two years.
In DISD’s “underserved” communities, TPRS data shows that 16.9% of economically disadvantaged students (students who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program) did not graduate high school on time during the 2019-2020 school year; 10.6% of such students dropped out.
Regarding students in DISD overall, 1.9% of 7th and 8th graders dropped out, which is 280% greater than the average statewide. The dropout rate for 9th through 12th-grade students during the 2019-2020 school year was 3.9%, or 144% greater than the state average.
A massive 11.4% of the class of 2020’s students dropped out during their four-year high school career, more than double the average in the state.
DISD is one of the poorest performing school districts of the over 1,000 school districts in the State of Texas.
Triniti Morse is one incoming DISD teacher who is a part of the program. She said she sympathizes with students because she came from a similar environment.
“I grew up in a home where sometimes we didn’t have food,” Morse told CBS News. “I grew up in a home where sometimes I was holding a baby on my chest while I was writing a paper. I grew up in a home that was hard sometimes.”
She explained that school served as a sanctuary for her because of the relationships she had with some of her teachers.
Incoming TFA teachers are learning to teach in realistic settings, working with students taking summer courses. Working with veteran teachers in DISD classrooms will help them get familiar with the communities, students, and teachers in Dallas.
However, that is not the case for some teachers who have participated in the program. Teach For America has come under fire from those who believe the program replaces experienced teachers with new staff members who have only received five weeks of training over the summer and are paid at entry-level salaries.
TEI “defines and evaluates teacher excellence through three lenses: performance, student achievement, and student experience surveys that encourage and reward excellence in the classroom and beyond.”
DISD uses TEI rather than seniority to determine teachers’ raises and bonuses, but newly hired teachers are offered incentive bonuses to teach specific subjects and reimbursements for certifications. Trustee Foreman pointed to this as a flawed system.
“[We] raise the amount (of incentivizing factors) for new teachers, but we don’t talk about how we need to incentivize tenured teachers. I want us to take a look at that because there is a reason why no one else has picked up TEI,” said Foreman. “One of the things we have to figure out is how do we keep good employees by incentivizing them just as we want to incentive new people coming in?”
Meanwhile, the National Education Association’s executive director, John Wilson, wrote in a memo to union leaders in May 2009 that school systems were “starting to lay off teachers and then hire Teach For America college grads due to a contract they signed.”
Wilson went on to say that Teach For America brings “the least-prepared and the least-experienced teachers” into low-income schools and makes them “the teacher of record.”
An unexpected result may be found in a 2018 American Political Science Review study that found that ‘advantaged’ individuals who teach as part of TFA “adopt beliefs that are closer to those of disadvantaged Americans” due to their TFA participation.