Sent packing 

Detroit Public Schools and Teach For America, a national nonprofit that recruits recent college graduates to teach in “underserved” school districts for two-year stints, are going their separate ways.

With drastically declining enrollments, Detroit’s public schools are anything but “underserved” at this point. Instead of having trouble filling vacant teaching slots — the type of situation Teach for America is intended to address — the district is preparing to lay off as many as 450 teachers. Detroit Public Schools lost 6,000 students last year and is contending with a $78 million budget deficit.

Given that gloomy forecast, it didn’t make much sense for the district to continue using Teach For America’s 34 instructors, who have no teaching credentials.

“We’ve been very pleased with the program,” says district board chair William Brooks. “But the candidates are working in a system where we have enough teachers.”

He adds that, due to corps members’ lack of training, few can teach in areas of critical need like math, science and special education.

“It’s an honorable premise,” Janna Garrison, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, says of the nonprofit’s model, “and we believe that in an area where you find a shortage of teachers, TFA is helpful because it brings people into the area. But our preference is that our substitutes who have bachelor’s degrees and are in school working toward a (teaching) certificate, that our focus is on helping our own citizens first.”

Garrison says that it is also better to hire people who bring a desire to teach as a career, not a stint.

But there is something to be said for youth and the enthusiasm that comes with it, and the potential that experience in a classroom can change the lives of teachers as well as students.

Corps member Kiah Mitchell of Atlanta works at Cerveny Middle School, where she planned a February poetry program for students, and will coach track and field this spring.

“TFA has taught me that I’m not just dedicated for these two years,” says Mitchell, “but I can spend my life doing it. I’m having an impact.”

Maybe. But it’s an impact that will no longer be felt in Detroit.

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