Students who attend schools with the most challenges don't have the luxury of waiting for the perfect education program to be developed and implemented. Every year they wait, they fall farther behind.
So even though Teach for America has detractors, the widely acclaimed program, which has been found effective in a number of independent studies and is much praised by principals, is worth trying in Charleston County public schools where what is happening now isn't working well enough.
The Charleston County School Board's recent decision to spend $240,000 during the next two years to place up to 30 Teach for America corps members in its most challenged schools is worthy for several reasons:
Still, some educators disagree. They say teaching experience, which TFA corps members lack, is important, and so is continuity. TFA teachers commit to only two years in a school, although two-thirds continue working full-time in education.
Corps members are selected because they are smart and energetic college graduates. They have majors in all fields of study and receive an intensive five weeks of training by TFA to teach in at-risk or failing schools. They tend to have what Charleston County School Superintendent Nancy McGinley calls "missionary zeal."
Initially, TFA recruited only at Ivy League schools, and even though it recruits broadly now, and about a third of TFA teachers are minorities, the unpopular elitist image has stuck.
Teacher unions have also expressed concern that teachers could lose their jobs to make room for TFA corps members. Fortunately, that's not an issue in Charleston County, where teachers aren't unionized.
No program is a panacea. But the district's neediest schools need attention, and TFA has a track record of success. For more than 20 years, Teach for America instructors have helped school scores improve.
Their enthusiasm and commitment, combined with their academic achievements, should be a welcome addition to Charleston County schools.