Las Vegas Sun

September 20, 2021

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Sun Editorial:

Relationship with Teach For America only helps Clark County students

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Steve Marcus

Eric Smith, a second-year Teach for America corps member, instructs students during a math class at O’Callaghan Middle School Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015.

At a time when it’s becoming harder and harder to find talented teachers for the nation’s public schools, the Clark County School District is fortunate to have a partner in Teach For America.

Every year, the nonprofit TFA brings in as many as 100 teachers to help fill the school district’s personnel pipeline. Those teachers agree to serve at least two years with CCSD, with the understanding that they’ll be steered toward the schools where they’re needed most — those in low-income areas where it’s particularly hard to fill vacancies. Many of the teachers provided by TFA also serve in hard-to-fill roles, such as special education and instructors of English as a second language.

So the partnership between CCSD and TFA has been beneficial to the community, especially during recent years as CCSD has battled an enormous teacher shortage. It’s also helped TFA’s teachers, who are paid in accordance with CCSD’s salary scale but also receive vouchers they can use toward payment of student loans, credentialing courses or tuition for further educational opportunities after they fulfill their commitment.

That being the case, it was a relief to hear that the CCSD board was reconsidering its decision late last month to not continue contracting with TFA.

The board’s recent vote to end CCSD’s relationship with the organization was unexpected and upsetting.

District administrators have solidly supported TFA, as has a large group of school principals and educators who have worked with the organization’s teachers.

Board members cited concerns over teachers leaving the district soon after completing their commitment, but supporters are rightfully confident that if given another chance to address those concerns, they can show that TFA is deserving of having its contract continued. Here are some of the benefits that TFA brings to the table:

• While it’s true that some teachers leave their positions soon after their two years are up, more than 300 have stayed in the community as teachers, in roles supporting education or in other capacities. Erica Mosca, for instance, started a local nonprofit called Leaders in Training that helps first-generation college students achieve success. Justin White is the co-founder of Data Insight Partners, a company specializing in education-related data that serves to help educators, administrators and advocacy groups tailor action plans for student success. Those are just two examples. According to TFA, 91 percent of the organization’s alumni hold positions that affect education, including 89 percent who are career educators.

• TFA has partnered with UNLV since 2004 to provide a pathway for its teachers to earn master’s degrees in education. In 2013, the organization and UNLV created a master’s program for those interested in school leadership. And today, TFA and UNLV are working to implement a “Top Gun” teacher institute designed to help Nevada recruit and develop top talent.

• For all of this, the district pays about $2,000 per teacher, in addition to that teacher’s base compensation and benefits. Given the challenges of finding teachers, especially for struggling schools, that’s a good value. TFA uses that money to provide its teachers with intensive training during the summer before they start school, and to provide professional development and support to them after they begin their teaching jobs. It’s also important to note that TFA wasn’t requesting an increase this year in its district funding, or any other changes in its contract.

For those reasons and more, it would be in the district’s best interests for the board to reverse its previous decision and keep TFA in local schools.

The challenge of recruiting ambitious, competent teachers isn’t going to get any easier. As baby boomer teachers continue to retire, the number of replacements coming from the nation’s colleges is dwindling.

Consider this: In 1975, 22 percent of college students majored in education. But that number shrunk to less than 10 percent by 2015.

Given the difficulty of finding teachers, and considering all of the positives that TFA brings to the district, the board should keep the relationship going — and growing.