Thursday, November 14, 2013

TFA in Pittsburgh: Adding insult to injury

When contemplating the deployment of TFA forces in Pittsburgh, there's one other aspect of the PA education picture to keep in mind.

Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities have been experiencing tough times. The economic forces brought bear on them include budget moves by a governor who is not a friend of education, and simple demographics. The college-age population of PA has been shrinking, and most schools are suffering a corresponding decline in enrollment.

That has led to rumors of cuts, proposals for cuts, and actual cuts. For one example of how this has played out, we can look at the state university in my neighborhood, Clarion.

In August of 2013, Clarion sent out emails to incoming freshmen headed for the education department that their department was probably going to be axed. Their completion of the program was assured, but they would be the last. Later in the month, Clarion unveiled its "right-sizing" plan which did indeed include dissolving its education department. Since that time, University management has backed away from the original scope of the plan, but it is still unclear how much of the backing away represents real change and how much it represents trying to reframe with new, less-alarming language.

Clarion is a particularly disturbing case, because they started out as a "Normal" school; their core mission has always been training teachers. Now that mission is in doubt. (You can read some current news coverage here, and you can watch the whole mess unfold in real time here ) Similar dramas are unfolding across the system, each dealing with the financial pressures in their own way (the one common thread-- music programs are dropping like flies).

Let's hold this up against the backdrop of the TFA assault on Pittsburgh schools.

You're 18 years old and you are thinking about becoming a teacher. You look around at your state system, and you see an uncertain future. Maybe the program you want to (or can afford to) enroll in will still be there; maybe it won't. Maybe it will vanish out from under you midway through your college career.

But meanwhile, we are supposed to believe that Pittsburgh schools have a shortage of teachers, and that PA needs a TFA field office to help draw more non-teachers into teaching.

So as a future PA teacher, you have to wonder if you should even go into a teaching program, and if you do, will you need to compete for scarce jobs with well-connected ivy leaguers?

If there really is a teacher shortage in Pennsylvania, would it not make sense to work on the pipeline, to support and strengthen teacher training programs and give them the tools to recruit and thrive? If Pennsylvania needs teachers, why is Pennsylvania not trying to create more?

Where is the STEM initiative for educators? After all, nobody is saying, "Hey, we don't have enough scientists and engineers, so lets give graduates with humanities degrees a five week course and send them out to make sciency stuff." No, what we said was, "We need more people in this field, so lets beef up the support, funding, training, and recruiting."

TFA in Pittsburgh doesn't just hurt in the short run. In the long run, it exacerbates the very "shortage" it pretends to address. Combined with the downsizing of universities in PA, it send s a clear message to young Pennsylvanians-- "If you were thinking about becoming a teacher, you should probably think about something else instead."

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