Our Views: Keep TFA in Louisiana

There is no monopoly on talent in the Ivy League, or at California’s top universities. Most of Louisiana’s highly qualified teachers won’t come from those colleges, but from teacher education programs in our state universities. Still, doesn’t it make sense that Louisiana encourage some of those students from top schools to come to our state to teach?

Teach for America is a program that recruits top students in subjects outside traditional education majors. It is highly competitive, reaching into college majors such as mathematics, business or science that can be difficult to hire for public school teaching.

Incredibly, this is controversial in some quarters. Critics of TFA are part of the increasingly divisive debate that wrongly polarizes questions about education between self-styled reformers mostly at the state level, and traditionalists, often in local school systems and backed by teacher unions.

In exchange for prestige of selection, TFA teachers get the low starting salary of a Louisiana public-school teacher, a five-week boot camp in teaching, and the challenge of trying to make a difference in which TFA daintily calls “under-resourced” public schools.

The TFA teachers pledge to teach at least two years. As teacher unions and other critics complain, some might not make it two weeks. “Under-resourced” does not capture the level of culture shock.

There are also traditional education-school graduates dropping out, too. The problems of public education are substantial, but one of the strands of its turnaround is the recruitment — and we hope retention — of top teachers.

We commend the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for continuing state support for TFA in Louisiana. The state will spend $1.2 million for TFA’s recruiting of teachers to the state. That sum will be considerably exceeded by private donors who recognize the value of TFA. The latest: The Walton Family Foundation, contributing $3 million for teacher recruitment for New Orleans.

TFA teachers are not foisted on schools. Principals hire them, as they do “regular” teachers. A veteran school leader knows the upside and downside of young teachers, whatever their provenance.

Some of them, such as current state Superintendent John White, stay in either the classroom or in education administration. But even if TFA teachers leave the classroom for other fields, after doing a good job for a couple of years, they are apt to be advocates for public education in their future lives.

That is worth something, too. Public education needs all the support it can get.