Seattle Public Schools hiring list should include Teach for America instructors

THERE is more than one way to train a teacher. As Seattle Public Schools hires teachers for next year, it would do well to consider a national teachers corps earning high marks for placing top college graduates in challenging schools.

There is nothing sacrosanct about the old familiar routes. Too many traditional teacher-preparation programs are lacking, the harshest criticism reserved for those that are little more than diploma mills. Some universities have moved swiftly to address quality concerns but programs like Teach for America are stepping into the void.

Broadening the pipeline is critical, particularly in socioeconomically diverse communities where teacher faculties are weakest.

This is not a one-size-fits-all answer but a federal study suggests nontraditionally trained teachers have helped raise student performance.

A study of Teach for America’s impact in North Carolina between 2000 and 2006 found it had more impact on student performance than traditional teachers, as measured by end-of-course tests. Improvements were in several areas of science and was strongest in math.

Raising math and science achievement is a key goal in America’s classrooms.

Alternative certification programs also add diversity, bringing in more male teachers and more minorities than traditional programs, according to a report by the Urban Institute in Washington.

The K-12 teaching force, overwhelmingly white at 84 percent, could benefit from diversity that better reflects the changing faces of students.

Teach for America has been in the classroom for two decades. Currently, 9,300 TFA-trained teachers work nationwide in rural and urban settings and Indian reservations. Concern that most leave the classroom after their two-year commitment is fair, but ought to be broadened to include the low retention rates among all teachers.

The nonprofit’s strength may be in its recruiting. A New York Times article noted the program “has always carefully sifted through applicants’ grade-point averages and other data” for the strongest candidates. Oversight of these teachers, as with any teacher, provides a track record and lessons to learn from.

The Federal Way School District may also hire TFA candidates next fall. Other districts should follow suit. Good teachers come via many routes.