Editorial: Teach for America not a solution for Pittsburgh’s educational issues

By The Pitt News Editorial Staff

Pittsburgh public schools have faced low test scores, and now they think they’ve found a solution.

Beginning next school year, Pittsburgh public schools are considering hiring up to 30 secondary education teachers from Teach for America to fill vacant positions in the schools for the next three years. These positions would fill the spots of furloughed teachers. Teach for America recruits commit themselves to two years of teaching after college graduation, and the schools that are most in need of teachers are often the schools that require stability for their students. Because of this, Pittsburgh public schools should not replace their teachers with Teach for America recruits.

Bringing in Teach for America recruits, who often do not have teaching degrees or certifications, to teach for only two years might be a short-term solution, but it is not a long-term solution for Pittsburgh.

Teach for America trains its recruits for the classroom, regardless of their educational background. The recruits are then sent to teach in areas where there is a high demand for teachers, which tend to be urban and rural areas.

In order to have recruits sent to Pittsburgh, the city would pay Teach for America $750,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in order to hire teachers. In 2009, the foundation granted the city $40 million to finance an $85 million dollar program focused on improving the way teachers are hired, paid and evaluated. But this money should go toward strengthening the school district in the long term.

It is true that studies have shown that Teach for America teachers were more effective than others at their schools, contributing to marked increases on students’ standardized test scores, particularly in math. Pittsburgh public schools might see this as a reason to consider hiring Teach for America instructors, but school districts must consider the qualitative aspects of a successful classroom and how these aspects impact long-term effectiveness.

Students need to be able to forge relationships with their teachers, especially during high school. Placing students in an environment with a high teacher turnover rate is not conducive to establishing these relationships.

Students in Pittsburgh public schools often come from low-income and unstable homes, and teachers have the opportunity to become a constant in these students’ lives. Having someone there to encourage these students through their secondary education is important to the students’ everyday lives, as well as their collegiate success.

If Pittsburgh wants to produce successful, college-ready students, it must invest in strengthening the city’s public schools for more than just two years at a time.