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Title: Teach for America and rural southern teacher labour supply : an exploratory case study of Teach for America as a supplement to teacher labour policies in the Mississippi-Arkansas Delta, 2008-2010
Author: Dwinal, Mallory A.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2739 269X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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The recent growth of Teach For America (TFA) has enabled it to substantially expand the teacher labour supply in many rural Southern communities, one of its largest and fastest-growing partnership subsets. Though it is generally accepted that these areas face more severe teacher shortages than most other regions in the country, there is little research as to how these staffing challenges arise or how they might be resolved; TFA’s potential to grow the rural Southern teacher supply thus signals a promising opportunity in need of further research. This work offers a case study of teacher labour outcomes in the Mississippi-Arkansas Delta, TFA’s oldest and largest rural Southern partnership site. In this region, local schools have experienced a 600 per-cent increase in corps member presence since 2008; consequently, TFA provided anywhere from a quarter to a half of the area’s new teacher labour supply each year from 2008 to 2010. A mixed-methods analysis illuminates both the causes of Delta teacher shortages and TFA’s potential to address these vacancies. Within the Delta, local schools face chronic teacher shortages because the communities they serve are overwhelmingly poor, geographically isolated, and racially segregated. TFA appears to have targeted the Delta communities where teacher labour policies have systematically fallen short, as it partners with districts bearing the greatest share of the region’s aggregate teacher vacancies. Additional statistical testing reveals that amongst these hard-to-staff districts, TFA has further focussed its resources into the schools that serve more rural, less educated, and/or predominantly African American populations. In this way, TFA funnels its corps members into the very districts where state reform efforts have struggled most, thus serving as a powerful resource for realigning ‘sticky’ outcomes in the most hard-to-staff Delta school districts. These findings notwithstanding, closer examination reveals significant drawbacks and limitations to current TFA outcomes in the rural Southern Delta. TFA does not saturate hard-to-staff school districts enough to produce statistically significant changes in local teacher vacancy rates. Instead, the programme appears to have established an unofficial threshold for the number of teachers placed per district; once this ceiling has been reached, additional corps members are funnelled into a new area regardless of the original district’s remaining need. Additionally, there is no long-term ‘exit strategy’ to help Delta districts employing TFA corps members to eventually cultivate their own high-quality teacher labour supply, thus leaving them perpetually dependent on TFA to staff their classrooms. Preliminary evidence suggests that state governments could address these shortcomings through 1) increased financial support for TFA to fully saturate vacancies in current partnership districts, as well as 2) the simultaneous development of grow-your-own teacher certification programmes in rural Delta districts. The evidence suggests that these two strategies would improve TFA as a targeted teacher recruitment strategy for hard-to-staff communities both in the Delta and across the programme’s nine other rural Southern partnership sites.
Supervisor: Furlong, John ; Mayhew, Ken Sponsor: Rhodes Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Economics and education ; Labour economics ; Education ; Teaching and teacher education ; Teach for America ; rural education ; US education ; teacher labour ; teacher recruitment and retention ; teacher attrition ; Mississippi Delta ; teacher shortages