Ray V. Spain: What Teach For America participants add

December 14, 2013 

Regarding the Dec. 2 Point of View piece “Seasoned teachers worth so much more”: Midway through my 11th year as superintendent of Warren County Schools, I certainly appreciate Helen Ladd’s tribute to tenure. But this enthusiasm aside, the argument she puts forth risks obscuring both the challenges we face and the solutions on which we must focus if we are to build the outstanding force of public educators our children so deeply deserve.

Every year, I set out to give our principals access to the best pool of teacher talent I can muster. In a low-income, rural district like mine, this is no easy task. Far from the bustle of Raleigh or Chapel Hill, days for our educators are long, resources are scarce and students come to classrooms with challenges much deeper than their grasp on reading or math.

Every year we struggle both to retain teachers and attract new talent to fill the gaps they leave behind. Over the last 20 years, Teach For America has helped address these shortages and to enrich my own understanding of what makes an effective educator. Like in most district leaders, I continue to see the value of experience – both based on the research and my own view. But based on the same two factors, I am unwilling to cede time in the classroom as the singular predictor of excellence. Over the years, I’ve watched first- and second-year teachers lead their students to truly outstanding outcomes. And more and more, research supports the need for this differentiated view.

The good news is that we don’t have to choose between experienced educators and outstanding beginning teachers– most notably because, if we do this work well, one grows out of the other. We must work to create a diverse pipeline of educators from a wide range of backgrounds. Today, there are nearly 1,000 Teach For America alumni living in our state, including several hundred classroom teachers, and dozens of principals, assistant principals and deans, school-leaders-in-training and district officials.

I hope Dr. Ladd and her colleagues will continue to uncover important insights about how experience affects outcomes. I’d urge us not to lose sight of the complex realities we face – or to underestimate the contribution being made by those stepping up to address them every morning in our classrooms. Every year, 92 percent of first-year Teach For America corps members return for a second year of teaching compared with 82 percent of first-year teachers in high-poverty schools and 86 percent of all new teachers. This increasingly diverse group – over a quarter of whom are the first in their families to graduate from college – have the potential to be the experienced force of excellent educators for tomorrow. We must regard them as such.

Ray V. Spain

Superintendent, Warren County Schools

Warrenton

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the Point of View.

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