This was written by Larry Lee, who led the study, “Lessons Learned from Rural Schools,” a look at 10 high-performing, high-poverty rural schools.  He can be reached at

By Larry Lee

 Using the logic of the Huntsville City Board of Education, University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban should only use his youngest, most inexperienced players when his team plays a Top Ten opponent.

 Anyone who pays attention to education knows that the most persistently poor-performing schools are those in impoverished neighborhoods.  For example, there are nine schools in the Huntsville system where more than 90 percent of students receive free-reduced lunches.  According to an analysis by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, none of these schools have reading and math scores where all grades (three through eight) are equal to or above state average. 

By comparison, of the five schools where all grades are above state average, free-reduced lunches range from 4 to 25 percent. 

But in spite of this, the Board of Education plans to hire 110 Teach for America teachers over the next three years and put them in schools in poor neighborhoods.  These are recent college graduates, most of whom got degrees in something other than education and will receive a five-week crash course in how to teach before being sent off to work in the city’s most challenging schools.

I don’t believe this is the way Coach Saban thinks. 

 But this rather convoluted logic is not the only concern raised by hiring Teach for America teachers.

 Earlier this year the Board of Education released a substantial number of employees, citing continuing budget concerns as the reason.  Yet in addition to paying the salaries of the TFA teachers, the board will also pay an additional $5,000 per teacher to the TFA organization.

Teachers across the state have just had their pay reduced by the Legislature; Gov. Robert Bentley announced a few days ago that the state’s education budget will be $108 million less next year than in the current year, money for classroom supplies have been slashed to the bone and educators are being asked every day to do more with less.

Yet the Huntsville City Board of Education is considering signing a contract for $550,000 with Teach for America.

What am I missing?

The new superintendent for Huntsville City says the TFA teachers will be the “best and the brightest.” 

However, no one mentions they will also be the most inexperienced and at their end of their two-year obligation most will move on to other careers, return to their home states or head off to grad or law school.

The Board of Education should look at “Teach For America: A Review of the Evidence ,” a 2010 report available on the website of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Here is what they will find:

“Studies indicate that the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and math than those of credentialed beginning teachers.

“The lack of a consistent impact, however, should indicate to policymakers that TFA is likely not the panacea that will reduce disparities in educational outcomes.

“A district whose primary goal is to improve achievement should explore and fund other educational reform that may have more promise such as universal pre-school, mentoring programs pairing novice and expert teachers, elimination of tracking and reduction in early grade class size.”

The report makes the following recommendations:

*Support TFA staffing only when the alternative hiring pool consists of uncertified and emergency teachers or substitutes.

*Consider the significant recurring costs of TFA, estimated at over $70,000 per recruit and press for a five-year commitment to improve achievement and reduce re-staffing.

*Invest strategically in evidence-based educational reform options that build long-term capacity in schools.

 In lieu of this, the board can always take a trip to Tuscaloosa and ask Coach Saban what he thinks.


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