If Teach for America cannot accept Harvard graduates accepted to UVA law school then I know a good use for stimulus dollars

Michael Winerip at the New York Times:
Alneada Biggers, Harvard class of 2010, was amazed this past year when she discovered that getting into the nation’s top law schools and grad programs could be easier than being accepted for a starting teaching job with Teach for America.

Ms. Biggers says that of 15 to 20 Harvard friends who applied to Teach for America, only three or four got in. “This wasn’t last minute — a lot applied in August 2009, they’d been student leaders and volunteered,” Ms. Biggers said. She says one of her closest friends wanted to do Teach for America, but was rejected and had to “settle” for University of Virginia Law School.
So.  Here's the question:  If as a society we could borrow money at zero percent interest to fund states so they could hire a lot more Teach for America Students from Harvard, and thus increase the quality of education in inner cities currently struggling amid savage budget cuts, do you think it would be worth it?  Do you think the rewards for society would be worth the expense?

Before you answer, please note that a lot of economics research suggests (a) there are very few investments that pay as well as education does, just in terms of the wages paid (see the review by David Card); and (b) a lot more recent economics research (much of it by Enrico Moretti) that shows additional benefits to society from higher education, including (i) reduced crime; and (ii) knowledge spillovers in the workplace that increase wages for everyone; (iii) intergenerational effects that cause the children of educated parents more likely to become more educated themselves, all of which could easily double the already high private returns to education.   Now consider that today we can buy higher quality teachers cheaper than probably any time since World War II.  And we can borrow the money to do this at [almost] ZERO PERCENT.

This is something we can do right now.  But unfortunately it is currently politically unacceptable to do it because people seem to think that government deficit spending on public goods like education is equivalent to a feckless household who over spent during the boom times maxing out another credit card on frivolities at 20 percent interest.

Okay.  So you know how I feel about this.  But if you have a coherent argument for why the government should not further increase the debt to hire a lot more Teach for America (and other) teachers, then please explain in the comments section.

Update:  It may not have been clear in my post, but I'm not saying Harvard grads make better teachers than others or that TFA teachers are better than standard credentialed teachers.  I'm merely saying that if Harvard grads are having a tough time getting into TFA it suggests that schools can buy good recent grads cheap.  It wasn't like this just a few years ago.  When the job market was tight and teacher pay was poor schools were begging for teachers.  Now the creme de la creme, or close to it, are begging to become teachers.  Given that, and the tremendous public good provided by a more educated public, I'd say the cost-benefit calculation here is pretty clear: more stimulus dollars for more and better teachers, please.  The easy way to do this is for the Feds to provide money to states and let the states spend it.


  1. A friend of mine got into TFA a few years ago, she went to Ithaca College and she wasn't an academic super-star even there but she was really good with kids and had a background with special needs students. She was a top candidate for TFA although she probably wouldn't have gotten into UVA law. Point being, I'm not sure Harvard students are necessarily the top pics at TFA. I'm also not sure the program is easily scaled up.

  2. The impression I have is that the job market is a lot worse now than it was a few years ago, which means TFA can be a lot more picky about the people they select. So the general point is that recession makes for good buying opportunities for talent that can be used to enhance public goods. And at least to me, education is at the top of list of public goods. It has less to do with TFA in particular--it's an argument for spending more on education now when there are lot of smart talented people interested in teaching and government borrowing costs are low. I can't imagine a better recession-busting, growth-building strategy for the economy.

  3. Why do you assume that Harvard law grads make better teachers than others? Your post argues for more of them working for TFA, not more TFA teachers.


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