Seattle Schools Under Siege

Seattle public schools are under attack by Teach for America (TFA). I have been corresponding with Dora, a writer for the Seattle, Washington blog Seattle Education 2010 .  They have some great posts–well-written and provocative. Check it out.

TFA is doing their darnedest to move into the Seattle schools. They have support from the superintendent, board members, and some other very powerful and WEALTHY locals like Eli Broad and Bill Gates. Parents and teachers are up in arms about this. Sounds like it is one hot mess.

My sister, Anne, lives in Seattle–one of my very favorite parts of the country.  So, I am especially interested in their school situation.  Meanwhile, I have a few thoughts about TFA.

Please understand, my complaints are really aimed at the organization and its school reform affiliatiates, NOT with the individuals who happen to work in our schools.

Two months before resigning, our former superintendent signed a three-year contract with TFA for 12 corps members–a parting shot intended to get back at the local teacher union and/or to gain favor with some of the powers that be in the state.  By the end of next year, it will have cost my district, at minimum, an EXTRA $240,000 above and beyond the teacher salaires and full benefits packages for twelve teachers.  That’s twelve perfectly fine teachers that they could have had for just the regular employment costs–salaries, benefits, and OEC’s. So, what is all this money for? Why would anyone pay extra money for 12 nominally unqualified, inexperienced, uncertified, unlicensed teachers when another 12 teachers from an accredited university with a College of Education could be had for no extra fees?  GOOD QUESTION.

I wrote to Dora:  I responded to one of your posts about TFA a few weeks ago.  We have 12 TFA in my school district this year. It will cost us a total $240,000 EXTRA for three years of TFA corps members, not to mention their full teacher salary and full teacher benefit package. It is absolutely infuriating to have had this happen.  We have no shortage of teachers. We have no genuine shortage of teachers willing to work in our city schools. We have since discovered that getting TFA here was all part of the plan to “WIN” Race-to-the-Top.  Delaware and Tennessee were the first big “winners.”

Dora writes back:  I read your comment and was amazed that these kids get a Masters in Education Policy.  So, it seems like the deal is, get these recruits in a classroom for two years so that they can say that they have taught, then on to policy making and continuing the “ideals” of TFA/RTT for the next generation.  Scary thought.

All I have to say is, “Obviously, Dora gets it!”  So, I write back to Dora:

Dora:  You are absolutely correct.  The master’s degree is only one of the things that is paid by the $10,000 per corps member per year; it includes TFA administrative and staffing costs, plus a nice little $$ package for the local university that signs on to provide the master’s degree program.  In our case, Wilmington University is providing the program.  Apparently, WU sees no conflict in interest between running a program for TFAers and running another for the fully trained, certified, and experienced teachers that their undergraduate program graduates.  The fact that the TFA folks might be taking teaching jobs away from their other trained graduates seems to trouble them not one iota.  [I wonder what the parents of recent teaching program graduates would think about this. My dad would have been pissed. ]

Suzy graduates from Prestigious U. with a degree in English Literature, has no job prospects, signs up with TFA, and gets a job teaching third grade in an urban school system.  She knows nothing about child development or third grade or reading instruction, but, heck, she did some babysitting for a few years. The school district actually holds positions open for whatever number of TFA corps members they have signed for in the contract.  Suzy does not have to worry about job-hunting—she has “found” a job.

Suzy has absolutely no college training in education—whereas education majors have had college coursework (e.g., ed. psychology, philosophy of education, childhood development, curriculum and instruction, reading methodology) for three years, instruction in content material, plus three years of exposure to and experience in our schools like the folowing:

  • early teaching practicum (20-40 hours of classroom observations and a bit of actual teaching) in sophomore year
  • full teaching practicum (70 hours in a school with lots of observations and teaching several complete lessons) in junior year
  • 6-8 weeks of student teaching, with a full week or two of “solo” teaching in senior year.

Instead Suzy gets a 5-9 week summer boot camp training regimen with small groups of summer school students in a city near her assigned school district.  The training is intense but it seems to cover all of the right stuff: best practice, integrating technology, positive discipline, and all of the latest educational buzz words.  I have attended some of the classes and have seen the primary materials that they use.  The training runs for many hours every day—7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.  After day two, it must all become very overwhelming, primarily because there is almost no context for the instruction that these folks are receiving.  It has been years since they were in a 5th grade classroom, for example.  All of the corps members get the same training with little differentiation for members assigned to teach 1st grade, 7th grade or high school levels.  I tried to explain this to the local trainer—one cannot talk about teaching skills and strategies, and expect understanding and integration without the context of a real classroom, without involving real kids.  Summer school just ain’t the same.  And, there is almost no time for reflection or implementation of teaching concepts.  However, the TFAers do get certain messages drilled into them.  All kids can learn—test scores are the ultimate proof of learning.  Do whatever you can to boost those test scores and be able to show “growth.” Very specific, very focused—they call it a laser-like focus.

If Suzy is bright, motivated, and fairly intuitive about teaching, she will probably succeed in her TFA goals.  She could possibly be fairly successful over her 2-3 years in the classroom, if you go by the data collected. Maybe she’ll be lucky, effective, and want to keep teaching for a while.

However, most TFA folks leave the classroom after 2-3 years.  TFA’s hype about a high percentage of TFAers staying in education is bunk—their numbers include as many administrative types or people marginally involved in education policy–not remaining in education as actual long-time, career TEACHERS.  Train ’em up, move ’em in, push ’em on, burn ’em out–Rawhide!  Yee-haw.

Besides that, while in the classroom, Suzy will get full salary, full benefits, on-going training by TFA staff, and that nifty little master’s degree in ed. leadership.  When the two years are over, she might remain in the classroom, but is more likely to move on, taking her $8-9000 stipend with her, so she can further her education–translation: so she can get on with her life and career–the career she was really seeking all along.  [An aside: in the local newspaper, fluff pieces last year about TFAers frequently and repeatedly referred to them as VOLUNTEERS.  Volunteers, my Aunt Fanny!]

Suzy now decides to leave teaching—heck, she never really wanted to be a teacher, but “it is so hard to find a job these days, and I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do”, so,…  She decides to go on to law school, med school, or gets an MBA, or completes an advanced degree in public policy, urban policy, education leadership, education policy, or in any of a myriad of other fields.  TFA boasts that it is beneficial that now we have a bastion of “movers and shakers” who have a genuine understanding of public schools and teaching and learning—they see this as an enhancement of the member’s future career.  They believe that the country will benefit from having people in charge who have minimal teaching experience.

This is not how working teachers see this little scenario.

Dora and I are more than a bit jaded.  I see it as a way to mold and manipulate the future of public schools and the system of public education—to take educational decision-making out of the hands of education professionals.  Call me crazy, but this picture is becoming clearer every day.

The local NPR station now runs an ad for the Broad Foundation’s education leadership academy to turn successful CEO’s into district superintendents.  I feel that we are under direct attack; they are mounting the siege ladders, and readying the battering rams.

Me? I’m boiling oil.

Be sure to thoroughly check out the TFA website.  Poke around in all the pages, sidebars, links. Very revealing if you dig around.



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One Response to Seattle Schools Under Siege

  1. kilroysdelaware says:

    Does Teach For America help with student loans and/or future educational expenses?*
    Because Teach For America is currently a member of AmeriCorps, our corps members who (1) have not served previously as AmeriCorps members and (2) are U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or nationals are eligible for the following AmeriCorps benefits:

    •Loan forbearance (a period of time during the repayment period in which the borrower is permitted to temporarily postpone making regular monthly payments)and interest payments on qualified student loans during their two years of service.
    •An education award of $5,350 at the end of each year of service (a total of $10,700 over the two years), which may be used toward future educational expenses or to repay qualified student loans.**

    The above is from TFA website. Do make note this $10,700.00 comes from the federal taxpayers. So we get hit twice once by Red Clay local taxyers and then by federal taxes.

    Also make note, TFA teachers won’t be around long enough to be rated effective or ineffective. Just like our SES prviders, they just keep coming and no accountablity.

    I prefer teachers who make long term commitments to our community and we need to reward them by providing good pay and benefits.

    Thank God for Red Clay’s new board who just put the Sole Source contract provision back under their control. No longer can a Red Clay super sign so-called sole source contracts over $50,000.00 without board review. This was only to be becuase Red Clay teachers, parents and board members questioned thi sole source practice and is a good example of real shared decision-making. Other boards need to follow this Red Clay lead.

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