Panel debates efficacy of Teach For America

February 9, 2018

In “Is ‘Teach For America’ for America?” the Brandeis Academic Debate and Speech Society sponsored a panel of Marya Levenson, Director of the Brandeis Education Department, and Josh Biber, the Executive Director of Teach For America in Massachusetts to discuss the effectiveness of the national nonprofit.

Teach For America selects graduates from top universities to teach a K-12 classroom for a minimum of two years in one of the 52 low-income communities the organization serves. The panel, mediated by B.A.D.A.S.S. Public Relations Coordinator Renee Korgood ’20, debated whether Teach For America trains the college graduates for a sufficient period before sending them into classrooms, as well as the efficacy of standardized testing in measuring student growth and whether the two-year minimum is enough to make a significant change.

Both Levenson and Biber spoke passionately about their beliefs to the crowd in Schwartz Hall. After graduating Brown University, Biber taught a 5th grade class in Arizona through the nonprofit and said that he loved every second of his experience. He said that although 90 percent of Teach For America applicants have no interest in teaching, about 66 percent pursue careers in the field of education after completing their time in the program.

Levenson taught in the Boston Public School system and was involved in the founding of Madison Park High School, a magnet school created as a part of desegregation. In the discussion, she raised concerns about the methods of Teach For America, saying that the turnover period of two years is not long enough for teachers to apply what they learn in their first year of teaching. She also criticized the intent of some graduates entering the program, saying that they may lack respect for the field of education and use the program as a stepping stone to get into graduate schools in more prestigious fields.

The panel debated in front of nearly 40 students and answered questions from the audience after the main discussion. ’DEIS Impact Events will continue through Sunday, Feb. 11.

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