Diversity and Teach for America

by Jonathan Halabi
(documents from Seattle battle with TfA are at the bottom, below the fold)

Last Monday I tried to amend an Exec Board resolution about increasing diversity in the workplace. I was concerned about how the resolution handled Teach for America.  I’ll explain:

For the last 10 years, as alternate certification through the New York City Teaching Fellows and Teach for America has gone up, the number of new Black and Hispanic educators has gone down. Decades of progress has been undone. New Action helped get the Economic and Social Justice Committee working on this. A report was generated; a resolution crafted. The final statement read:

Be It Further Resolved that the UFT through its own efforts and in conjunction with the Department of Education persuade the Teach for America program to expand its pool of potential teachers to include more teachers of diverse backgrounds and advocate that both Teach for America and the NYC Teaching Fellows actively recruit more African-American and Latino teachers.

Now, the rest of the resolution says that we will “demand” of the DoE or use “all of [our] resources to compel…” But here we were going to make nice with them, and persuade TfA? Just an objection to tone, right?

More seriously, the resolution misunderstands what Teach for America is.  TfA is an ideologically-driven, anti-union club. It draws, mostly, from elite colleges and universities. Its recruits in the majority teach only for two years, not because they can’t hack it, but by design. They move on to education policy, education administration, charter schools, foundations, etc, etc, by design.  With a two-year career, they also model burnout-pace test-prep, sometimes boosting scores, always adding instability, often cheating real learning.

AND THEY DISPLACE LOCAL RECRUITS, far more likely to make long-term commitments to our students and their schools, and far more likely to be Black or Hispanic. Teach for America whitens the teaching force by design. We have numbers in New York City that support this point. In 1990 new teacher recruitment was under 30% Black and Hispanic. From 1994 – 2001 it was up over 40%. But under Klein it fell immediately back down to 1 in 4. This coincides with TfA coming to NYC, persuasively.

Teach for America was part of a discussion about teacher shortage. Districts, including NYC, pay a bounty of thousands of dollars for each TfA (temporary) teacher. But TfA has been muscling into districts with no shortage of teacher. Sacramento just turned them down, good on them. But the latest is Seattle, where a very public debate occurred before the district agreed to pay Michelle Rhee’s corps $4 thousand per teacher to reduce minority hiring.

My amendment (to remove the above-quoted resolved) was defeated. There may have been some confusion with the Teaching Fellows, my fault. We may have some leaders who mistakenly want to engage TfA. But the problem remains in front of us: We should not be discussing with Teach for America how to recruit better, we should be planning how to keep them out of New York. Our commitment to our schools, to our students, and to diversity demands that of us.

A few Seattle documents, the union reaction, a teacher’s reaction, a parent’s reaction, and a link to a long discussion, are below the fold:

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Teachers Union Says Teach For America Is Not Welcome In Seattle

Posted by Riya Bhattacharjee on Thu, Nov 4, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Will Teach For America be good or bad for Seattle’s public schools? Depending on who you listened to at last night’s school board meeting, it could be either. Members of the Seattle teachers union, the Seattle Education Association, lambasted the Seattle school district for their plans to contract with TFA, which would allow their recruits to apply to Seattle schools next spring.

The SEA’s qualms? They feel there’s no dearth of qualified teachers right here in Seattle. “A five-week crash course with emergency certification is not a way to ensure quality education,” said SEA President Olga Addae, attacking TFA’s training process.

Addae stressed that 83 percent of TFA members go on to pursue professions outside classrooms after their two-year commitment to teach at a high-poverty school is over, which she said puts a big question mark on their longevity.

But the district’s Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Susan Enfield, said that TFA members would create a more diverse pool of applicants.

Calling TFA an employment agency for private colleges, some SEA members recited studies and statistics skeptical of TFA’s track record on improving student achievement. “To assign underqualified teachers to low-income schools is discrimination,” said Dora Taylor, who co-edits the Seattle Education 2010 blog.

TFA alumni, who now teach in Seattle Public Schools and are SEA members (TFA recruits are treated exactly the same as any other teacher when they join a school), vociferously praised the program. Many stressed the need to close the achievement gap in Seattle. “We don’t believe that [TFA] is a single solution, but hope it can be a powerful tool in the fight,” said TFA alum Stephanie Foreman.

“I am really taken aback,” said school board director Harium Martin-Morris. “We are looking at America’s best and brightest and saying don’t come here?” But board director Betty Patu said that many district teachers were “working in fear of their jobs,” given all the budget cuts. “Bringing in other teachers into the district is almost a slap on the face of our teaching professionals,” she said.

Other school board members were concerned about how TFA would be handling confidential student data to drive teacher development and asked TFA to clarify that further.

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Guest columnist

Seattle Public Schools should avoid ‘Teach for Awhile’ program

The Seattle School Board is considering whether to bring the Teach for America program to Seattle. Guest columnist Jesse Hagopian, a former TFA teacher, cautions the board to invest in experienced teachers rather than recruits from a program that has become known as “Teach for Awhile.”

By Jesse Hagopian

Special to The Times

FROM 2001 to 2003, I “taught for America.”

After graduating from college, I headed for the Bronx, N.Y., where I underwent Teach for America’s (TFA) “teacher boot camp.” With just five sleepless weeks of on-the-job training teaching summer school to fourth-graders, team meetings and night classes, I was given the stamp of approval and shipped off to Washington, D.C.

The Seattle School Board is expected to vote Wednesday whether to bring TFA to our school district, and before they decide, they should consider the lessons of my experience.

At 21, I found myself in a public elementary school in the ghetto of South East Washington, D.C. — in a classroom with a hole in the ceiling that caused my room to flood, destroying the first American history project I ever assigned the students.

One lasting memory came on my third day of teaching sixth grade.

I had asked the students to bring a meaningful object from home for a show-and-tell activity. We gathered in a circle and the kids sat eagerly waiting to share their mementos. One after another, each and every hand came out of those crumpled brown lunch sacks, clutching a photo of a close family member — usually a dad or an uncle — who was either dead or in jail.

By the time it was my turn, all I could do was stare stupidly at the baseball I pulled out and pick nervously at the red stitches.

Working in the “other America” was a personally powerful experience and made me decide to dedicate my life to finding a solution to transform public education and the broader society that would allow such neglect to occur.

But while TFA allowed me this window into the problems of our country, it didn’t prepare me to address these challenges. With only five weeks of training, it wasn’t just that I was not equipped to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of students with a wide range of ability levels, create portfolios that accurately assessed student progress, or cultivate qualities of civic courage — it was that I didn’t even know that these things were indispensable components of an effective education.

As well, TFA often overemphasizes the importance of test scores, driving corps members to narrow the curriculum to what’s on the test to prove that they are effective teachers. Yet even by this measure, TFA-ers don’t make the grade.

Consider a six-year study of TFA out of Stanford University that looked at more than 4,000 teachers and 132,000 students on six different tests and found not one case where TFA educators performed as well as certified teachers.

Moreover, TFA’s own statistics show that a mere 33 percent continue teaching after their two-year commitment — creating high turnover in the very schools that most need the continuity and stability.

Seattle has an abundance of teachers with teaching certificates and master’s degrees struggling to get a teaching position in the local public schools — West Seattle Elementary School, a target school for TFA, had some 800 applicants for a single job. Why bring in undertrained TFA recruits when we have so many young teachers in Seattle who have spent years developing their skills?

TFA is being presented as a solution to the problems in our public schools. But the reality is, in this era of cash-strapped school districts, officials are lured not by the quality of TFA-ers but by the fact that young teachers who leave the district and make room for more young teachers provide an inexpensive alternative to investing in more experienced teachers who will earn a higher salary.

Yet, if the Seattle school district truly wants “excellence for all,” it will need highly trained teachers who have a lasting commitment to the profession — not the revolving door that has come to be known as “Teach for Awhile.”

Jesse Hagopian teaches history at Garfield High School and is a founding member of the Social Equality Educators (SEE).

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Testimony Regarding Teach for America

(by a Seattle parent)

This is testimony that I gave at a school board meeting last week about an item on the board’s agenda regarding signing a contract with Teach for America, Inc.

I will provide details of that meeting later today because it is important for Seattle to see just how limited “community engagement” goes with our superintendent and the school board and how  little of the democratic process is seen in terms of the action of our superintend and the school board.

To follow was my testimony:

There were five full time openings for teachers as advertised on the SPS web page this morning.

We have four colleges of education here in Seattle between Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University and the  University of Washington and a remaining pool of rifed teachers in our district.

Why are you now considering hiring TFA, Inc. recruits at an additional $4,000 per recruit per year to staff our schools?

The Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University in conjunction with the School of Education at the University of Colorado recently published a study looking at the performance of TFA, Inc. recruits with that of their certified counterparts. They found that “the students of novice TFA teachers performed significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers”.  And in a large-scale Houston study headed by Stanford University, in which the researchers controlled for experience and teachers’ certification status, standard certified teachers consistently outperformed uncertified TFA, Inc. teachers of comparable experience levels in similar settings.

Links to these studies are provided in an e-mail that I sent to you today.

Another relevant piece of information is that a federal appeals panel in California agreed recently with low-income students and community organizations that teachers still in training are not “highly qualified” under federal education law. The effect of that decision is that teachers in training must be fairly spread across classrooms, and parents notified when their student has one of these teachers.

Hiring teachers, particularly for schools in low-income communities can destabilize a community even more. Students bond with their teachers and expect to see them at their school everyday. It provides a sense of continuity and stability that some students might not otherwise have. To bring in young recruits, fresh out of college, provide them with five weeks of “training” and then place them in the most low-performing schools defies logic. Then after two years, when their contract is up, most of these recruits move on, leaving the students and the community behind. This is called churn and is unfair to struggling students who develop bonds with their teachers just to see them leave after two years.

Director Patu, if you are concerned about the quality of teachers in the schools that you represent, then I would suggest that you have the district actively recruit the best and the brightest from our local four colleges of education who are more than willing to make a commitment to those communities over the long haul.

I would also suggest that you consider hiring older professionals such as myself who have the experience not only in terms of what we do professionally but who have also mentored and taught on a volunteer basis. There is a large pool of professionals in the fields of science, engineering and the arts who are semi-retired, unemployed or lightly employed who would love nothing better than to work full-time as teachers, providing additional wisdom, experience and knowledge in the fields of math, science, history and the arts. I am not suggesting displacing any qualified teachers, far from it, but if you are looking at alternatives, then think farther than Teach for America, Inc. which has simply become an employment agency for charter schools.

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From Seattle Public Schools Community Blog (something like our NYC Public School Parents Blog) a long post with a very long set of comments – interesting, but too long to post here:  Teach for America – you may want to pay attention. If you have time, click over and drop down to the comments.

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Seattle Education 2010 covers the aftermath – TfA backed by Gates money, beat the parents and teachers (for now)

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The Bronx’s own Reflective Educator, a refugee from Rhee’s DC, has written on Seattle as well.

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