North Carolina District Breaks Ties With Teach For America

The school board in Durham, N.C., voted 6-1 to end its relationship with Teach For America, after the current crop of teachers finish out their stints. Board members cited the lack of experience and the limited commitment of these young teachers in the district's "high-needs" schools. Education reporter Reema Khrais of WUNC explains the situation.

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This year, Teach For America has sent more than 10,000 recent college grads into high-need schools around the country. In North Carolina, the nonprofit partners with 18 school districts, but soon it'll be down to 17. The city of Durham is backing out once the newest crop of teachers finished their two-year assignments. From member station WUNC, Reema Khrais reports.

REEMA KHRAIS, BYLINE: At Neal Middle School in Durham, students shuffle through the hallways, making their way to second period. About 15 eighth-graders file into their English class. Their teacher, Jackie Batts, wastes no time handing out an assignment.

JACKIE BATTS: So remember, you are reading excerpt three. It is called "Same Old Same Old." It is by Donovan (ph). He is 13-year-old...

KHRAIS: this is Batts's third year at Neal Middle School. Teach For America sent her here in 2012, and she says she didn't know what to expect.

BATTS: I will say that I was horrified. I'm not going to lie because - like, I grew up on the South side of Chicago, and so the stories that I heard were horror stories.

KHRAIS: But the reality wasn't so scary.

BATTS: This school, I would say, is the most challenging job I've ever had, but it's also the most rewarding.

KHRAIS: So rewarding that she's decided to stay on beyond the two-year commitment. But Durham school officials say there are too few examples like Jackie Batts to justify keeping the program.

NATALIE BEYER: Teach For America has a very short training program, and we're concerned with getting the highest quality educators in front of our students.

KHRAIS: Natalie Beyer is on the Durham School Board. She says the district has been weighing their relationship with TFA for the last few years.

BEYER: And the Teach For America program only has teachers commit for two years. So there's a lot of turnover. It's almost like creating a revolving door.

KHRAIS: There have been questions about TFA since the start, but the program has continued to grow over the years. And while Durham is pulling out, North Carolina has set aside about $12 million is to expand TFA's presence. Teach For America officials argued that the program plays a huge role in communities where there aren't enough teachers. Robyn Fehrman heads the TFA chapter in eastern North Carolina. She says Durham's decision is shortsighted.

ROBYN FEHRMAN: The partnership with Teach For America was simply giving principals in Durham who need it most an important additional tool to fill vital classroom positions.

KHRAIS: And she says those positions were filled with TFA corp members who've made huge impacts on the community.

FEHRMAN: I think the data around our teachers's classroom impact is undeniable. UNC Chapel Hill has found time and again that Teach For America is one of the state's sources for our most effective beginning teachers.

KHRAIS: But Durham officials worry that too few TFA teachers are still in the public schools after five years.

BATTS: OK, so that's your bell. I know that a lot of you are not finished, but before you leave...

KHRAIS: At Lee Middle School in Durham, Jackie Batts says she plans to buck that trend, and make a career in education.

BATTS: Yes, oh my gosh. I knew I wanted to be a teacher forever. I am definitely going to be teaching next year. I will either be teaching eighth great here or high school somewhere else.

KHRAIS: But right now she's more concerned about making sure her eighth-graders finish their assignments on time, so they're ready for next week's quiz. For NPR News, I'm Reema Khrais in Durham, North Carolina.

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