The Daily Record reports that over the next five years 40% of Morris County’s teaching force will retire. Some districts – Chester, East Hanover, Mine Hill, Netcong, Washington Township – could lose half their staff as baby boomers reach age 55 and, after 25 years, are eligible for pensions.
Of course, there’s much concern about finding replacement faculty, especially in hard-to-fill subjects like math, science, and special education.
Let’s think out of the box, because this is a state-wide issue (country-wide too, but let’s stick closer to home. Worth noting, though, that nationally 50% of teachers leave their jobs after five years). What if New Jersey started recruiting new teachers from the mold of Teach For America instructors, the organization that takes top-notch college graduates and places them in public schools? What if we rethought our model of teaching as a lifelong career and, instead, embraced a model that echoes the global shift towards a series of careers?
What if we had a school system where our best instructors served as master teachers –got paid like full-time professionals, maybe worked 12 months a year — and a significant portion of the rest of the staff was composed of well-trained and energetic people who stayed for four or five years? We’d lower our payroll and pension obligations significantly. We’d cull the best for long-term commitments. And we’d be right in step with the shift in career patterns of young people. With higher education becoming outright unaffordable, New Jersey could offer scholarships to students who pledged to take education courses, fulfill various requirements, and teach within the state for, say, four years after graduating. Who knows? They might even stick around.
A major roadblock, of course, would be the leadership of NJEA, which regards the TFA model as a threat to the union model. Eduwonk just posted a memo from the NEA Executive Director to state presidents warning that “TFA recruits are significantly less effective in their first two years than beginning teachers who are fully prepared and certified – and beginning teachers in general are less effective than experienced teachers.”
However, Eduwonk counters with a new study released by Mathematica Policy Research on the effectiveness of TFA instructors. Here’s Eduwonk’s synopsis:
Here is the punchline: The study — examining TFA teachers in six regions (Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Delta region) used random assignment to gather data from 17 schools, 100 classrooms, and about 2000 students — found that TFA teachers were as effective as the general population of teachers in these districts in teaching reading and more effective in teaching math. Make no mistake, TFA teachers are not outpacing all other teachers by leaps and bounds, yet this study confirms that there is not a downside (and probably an upside) to hiring TFA teachers in the present context of these communities.
Paul Decker, the lead researcher, put it this way, “TFA teachers not only had more success than other novice teachers but they had more success than teachers with an average of six years of experience in the classroom.”
In other words, it might help the kids. True, a suggestion like this hits hot buttons like merit pay and tenure, but the best NJEA members, the true educators, might welcome a staffing model that acknowledges a changing work force and supports a sustainable school system.