Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Teach For America - You Might Want to Pay Attention

I'm still doing research on Teach for America. I'm going to try to do a two-part thread on it and somewhat in reverse because of the urgency I feel about the situation. I'll do the facts and stats later but I want to try to get to the meat of the issue now. But first...

What is the problem that TFA is trying to solve?

You go to their website and they talk about the lack "educational equity" for low-income students. This is true and most would not dispute it. Okay, but why create a teaching corps?

What is TFA's "approach?"

Teach For America provides a critical source of well-trained teachers who are helping break the cycle of educational inequity. These teachers, called corps members, commit to teach for two years in one of 39 urban and rural regions across the country, going above and beyond traditional expectations to help their students to achieve at high levels.

Under History, they state:

We have become one of the nation’s largest providers of teachers for low-income communities, and we have been recognized for building a pipeline of leaders committed to educational equity and excellence.

She (Wendy Kopp) was convinced that many in her generation were searching for a way to assume a significant responsibility that would make a real difference in the world and that top college students would choose teaching over more lucrative opportunities if a prominent teacher corps existed.

Under Growth Plan:

We feel an imperative to grow given the enormity of the problem we’re addressing. Every additional recruit is another corps member who has the potential to have a life-changing impact in the lives of children growing up today and another alumna/us who can be a lifelong leader for fundamental change. Moreover, attaining critical mass within communities increases our leverage and fosters a sense of collective impact that motivates corps members and alumni to do still more. (bold mine)

I went and read and read about TFA at many websites. I have to tell you that it is not often that instead of feeling inspired or confused or angry, I felt my blood run cold. Why do I feel that way?

1) Nowhere did I find the answer to my question: what is the problem they are trying to solve? To answer that question, they need to explain why TFA was created. Ms. Kopp says so her generation could assume a large responsibility to make a difference in the world and she chose teaching. Nowhere does she say to help low-income students. And, more importantly, she started for her peers, not for those she wanted to help. As well, I can't find at their website any information on what gap they filled, if school districts had been asking for this help, and how many teaching positions were going unfilled at districts with low-income students.

2) What did I find that worried me? An awful lot of backbiting, in-fighting, confusion over what they are trying to achieve, pride in TFA as well as defensiveness.

3) What I can say for certain is that TFA is not about being apprentice teachers or being student teachers with a mentor teacher. That, I think, would be wonderful because you would help these new teachers (with only 5 weeks of training and a bachelor's degree) learn from a mentor teacher but also be an inspiration in the classroom to the students AND help reduce class size.

But that is NOT any part of what TFA is.

4) Again, more research needed but what is clear is that districts sign some kind of MOU with TFA and money is exchanged (district to TFA). Why would any district pay extra (on top of the TFA teacher's salary) for a under-trained first year teacher?

5) Some of the comments from TFA teachers, present and past:

I think the real key to addressing the very difficult question teacher preparation is to provide multiple pathways. Don't dog TFA just because it isn't a cure-all.

Here in DC, Michelle Rhee conflates “high quality teachers” with new TFA recruits. Not so – you may be excellent teachers someday, but not yet. But thanks in large part to TFA PR, the public doesn’t know this. Instead, they think “Isn’t it noble – the best and the brightest, willing to help the least amongst us.” It’s demeaning to the kids and to the regular teachers and puts the focus on YOU, where you know it doesn’t belong.

I’m not against TFA; I’m against the glorification of TFA.

I too would probably take a TFAer over some of the waiting-for-retirement teachers I've seen. What scares me is that TFA is clearly making a concerted effort to hype their product as something that it's not. And this is relatively new. There was a time when TFA acknowledged its shortcomings. Now it's saying that TFA teachers are not only just as good, but better than any other teachers, regardless of experience. And because of that TFA wants to continue to expand, possibly doubling its size in six years. Really? Why do they need to expand?

There are legions of certified, qualified, experienced substitute teachers trying to break into the ranks of full-time classroom teachers. Many have subbed for years in hopes of developing contacts that could lead to jobs. Please don't dismiss all subs as lousy teachers. It's not true. School districts would do well to consider many of their subs for full-time jobs before they turn to inexperienced TFA grads.

I found an interesting but troubling article at a oddly named website, Blue Avocado. From their article comes my concern laid out better than I can write it:

But as the nation moves toward defining social innovation and handing over the federal Social Innovation Program to private foundations, it cannot hurt to recognize TFA and other vaunted models for what they are: real-life nonprofit organizations with lots of good things going for them, but not without limitations, controversies, and trade-offs in what they purport to achieve.

The overall, unfolding story of TFA is not contained in its funding, its political prowess, the odd negative audit finding, or even the stories -- some inspiring, some disillusioning -- from its participants. It will be played out as the nation defines social innovation and how socially innovative nonprofits supplement, revolutionize, subvert, or instigate social change.

Folks, this could be a simultaneous good/bad thing. That TFA is hell-bent on expansion and having more of their alums move into management and leadership seems to point to a bigger agenda than helping low-income students succeed.

That our district has at least 1 (maybe more) TFA teachers and seems to be lining up to allow more and that the Seattle Foundation is all lined up to help is concerning because of one factor. Where was the public discussion about this? This is not whose building gets maintained or who gets what program - this is about the people in your child's classroom. Parents are not part of hiring or firing but yes, I think discussion over whether you want someone with 5 weeks training in charge of teaching your child IS within your rights to discussion.

Why would our School Board not tell us about this? Why is this suddenly upon us? It makes me very worried and I just have this gut instinct that somehow this district is really transforming quickly and without much discussion. Don't let it be that way - write your Board member today and ask, "What is the district's stance on Teach for America and why aren't we ALL talking about it?"

153 comments:

Eric M said...

TFA: Teach For Awhile.

Some of them will be sorta good. Some of them will try real hard. Some of them will suck. Some of them won't try very hard. All of them will be shocked at how hard the job is and how little support they'll get.

And statistically, 65% will leave teaching by the end of the 2 year stint.

The point is to put these inexperienced bozos in front of poor kids, so that it costs even less to "educate" poor kids.

Next step: robot teachers.

Anonymous said...

Let TFA enter the worst classrooms in Seattle and try to make it without the collaborative support of well-trained colleagues. No teacher in his/her right mind would give anything away for free to a TFA scab under this new contract. Every education innovation or idea now has a price tag in the new SPS market economy of education.

MG-J wants a dog-eat-dog market place...well now she's got it. The TFA union busters can take a hike (unless they have something to offer in the way of compensation worthy innovations).

Signed...No Free Lunch for Scabs

anonymom said...

"The point is to put these inexperienced bozos in front of poor kids, so that it costs even less to "educate" poor kids."

Actually, Eric, from what I read it appears that a TFA teacher may cost the district more than a new SPS teacher would cost. In addition to TFA teachers being paid a comparable salary and benefits as a new SPS teacher, SPS has to pay a "placement" fee to TFA, and of course SPS has to pay all of the costs associated with a new hire, but for a short term employee.

TFA teachers don't look like any bargain to me.

anonymom said...
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anonymom said...
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anonymom said...

Melissa thanks for researching TFA, and for daylighting the TFA placeholder on the board agenda. I'd never even heard of TFA prior to this week so I spent a lot of time researching the organization myself. I found myself running in circles, and I found a lot of biased (on both sides) and conflicting information. It was very confusing.

Thanks to Dora though (who I owe an apology to), and her blog, I found this excellent peer review. It was the best source of honest and unbiased information that I could find on TFA.

Take a look at it, it is well worth reading.

http://www.greatlakescenter.org
/docs/Policy_Briefs/Heilig_
TeachForAmerica.pdf

wseadawg said...

I think it pays to think about what TFA is all about. A 2 year commitment of paid public service, which displaces or fills positions that traditional career-minded teacher candidates could be, and should be filling (if we value experienced teachers, that is) in exchange for the nice notes on the TFA person's resume and maybe helping a few kids. Is a 2 year commitment really "all about the kids," as reformers wax on about, or is it really "all about the TFA teacher (or just TFA)?" How committed is a person to saving struggling kids if they bail out in 2 or 3 years, versus someone who goes through college and graduates intending to teach for 30 or 40 years? And what's the cost of retraining a new teacher every 2 or 3 years with TFA? Is this a sound fiscal policy?

And does everyone appreciate the paradox that is TFA, in light of all the Teacher Quality dialogue, which supposedly centers around finding, developing, and retaining the best quality teachers? Doesn't TFA, by definition, cut against the "developing and retaining" part of the TQ movement, if they move on after 2 or 3 years?

Maybe I'm unique, but my kids best teachers have all had some gray hair. Oh, I've had young, energetic ones too, but the more experienced teachers have, overall, been the best for my kids.

I'm not saying TFA is the boogeyman dressed up as a teacher. But I am saying we should really think through a proposal like this, look forward a few years, and ask ourselves whether this really makes any sense, when we really aren't in a crisis of teacher shortages, nor are parents or communities clamoring for TFA or any other Alt-Cert teachers, when what people have been asking and pleading for, district-wide, is to not RIF any teachers.

I can't get behind TFA because it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and simply smacks of a huge, paternalistic bias that a bunch of top performing college grads are ipso facto better at anything than a traditionally educated professional from say, CWU or Western.

Look no further than Wall Street to see where most top performing college grads from the Ivy League schools hone their skills. It shouldn't fill anyone with confidence. Quite the opposite.

ttln said...

as someone who has been there- 23, fresh out of my senior year at UW, going to become a teacher, etc.- I hold the belief that if part of a teacher's job is to help kids prepare to live in the 'real world,' then they should live and work in it for a while. They need to know life outside of school.

At 23, I did my preservice observation at Roosevelt. During my time with a mentor who laughed as she told me she 'couldn't wait to pop a kid's bubble when' they came to her with what they thought was good idea, I got hit on by a kid I tutored- expected, I've seen the 'Saved by the Bell' episodes. But when a 9th grader asked me out because, 'dude, I thought you were a student here,' I had to take a step back and reassess my readiness to jump from college straight into teaching. I realized that not only did I look young, but I was young. How could I help guide kids to their 'real world' if I hadn't lived in it? So I withdrew from the program and waited. I knew I was ready to teach when I stopped getting carded. I promptly enrolled in a cert program, met my husband at ed school, got my MAEd., did my student teaching at Cleveland HS, subbed for a while, and then my job. If I didn't do some real life, I wouldn't have made it through student teaching, those kids would have eaten me alive.
Real life gives a teacher some street cred. TFA teachers will have to fight against their lack of real life experience. It will undermine every good intention and make their experience a tough one.

TechyMom said...
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TechyMom said...

Here's what I remember about TFA from when I considered doing it in the early 1990s.

President Clinton was talking about building a national service system, where young adults would do 1-2 years of service in exchange for college tuition. That service could be military, or Peace Corps, but it could also be working with poor and disadvantaged people in the US. Volunteers of America, California Conservation Corps, and a variety of startup organizations were the buzz in the papers, in the coffee houses, and on college campuses.

Youth unemployment was quite high, even among educated youth. Under-employment -- degreed young people working in restaurants and retail -- was even higher. The GenX generation was disillusioned and their boomer parents didn't understand why they weren't marching to change the world like they had in the 1960s. There was great concern about the 1980's "Reagan Youth" and making sure that the next cohort of young people wasn't shallow and materialistic in the same way. Every college professor I can remember talked about social responsibility, giving back, changing the world.

Public schools in the 1970s and 1980s were far worse than they are now. In Oakland, where I grew up, 40 student elementary classes were common.

Into this environment came Teach for America, an organization founded by Ivy League grads in their early 20's, to be the Peace Corps for a new generation. Is that grandiose and naive? Of course it is. Everyone involved was 20 years old and had gone to Harvard, Yale, and all the private K-12 schools that lead up to admission to those institutions.

On a practical level, if you can hire a TFA teacher, and split that class of 40 2nd graders into two classes of 20, even if one of them has a rookie teacher, that is probably a good thing on balance. At the time, the salaries were very low for TFA volunteers (they were called volunteers). TFA provided dorm-style housing and food, and there was a very small stipend ($200/mo? something like that). There was supposed to be really great peer and mentor support in the dorm. You could learn to be a teacher on the job, and come out of it certified. This was very much modeled on the Clinton proposal. I think they were expecting to be supported by a combination of government and donations, rather than school system salaries.

The message was simple: You are the best and brightest. This is your country, and you can help it. (The application had a pull quote from President Kennedy.) Give the underprivileged the benefit of your fancy education, your big brain, your 1500 SAT score. Show them that there is a world outside their ghetto or small town. Maybe they've never met anyone who went to Stanford, and just knowing that these places exist will inspire them. Make a difference. Change the world. Do something interesting and important instead of running the cash register at the book store. And, when you're done, you'll have a teaching certificate that's good anywhere in the country. You can keep doing good work, and you don't have to go back to grad school (since you're probably kind of burnt out on school after 17 years of pressure to set the curve).

OK, it sounds dumb now, but when I was 22, it sounded, well, AWESOME.

Former Idealist said...

TTLN,

Thanks for that perspective. I've been struggling with what to make of TfA and my problem has been that I empathize with recent college grads who want to do something to help. At that age, many of us have struggled with how to make a difference and I can really see the appeal.

For that reason, and here is where I would call for a little more compassion than "No Free Lunch for Scabs" shows, I think it is important to question the structure, mission, organization (etc.) of Teach for American without attacking the people who sign up. We should only assume that they want to help, they just are not aware of the unintended consequences of their 2-year stint in TfA.

TechyMom said...

wseadawg, I think you have to remember that 2 years seems like a long time when you're 21 years old. The kids who sign up for TFA (and I mean the TFA teachers, not their students) are making what, to them, is a big-deal commitment.

dan dempsey said...

Maybe when it comes to Street Cred TfA does not want any. I believe 85% of their teachers are real newbie's fresh out of college or a year out at most.

When my then 37 year old NYC actor son, with an NYU GPA of 3.5 in theater (Which included "A"s in a year long General Chem course for pre-Meds etc: All A grades in his philosophy minor) applied for TfA, even though he had spent his Frosh year tutoring in Harlem, he was rejected.

He also spent a year in Sri Lanka teaching for 4 months in a Sri Lankan school at the middle school level. He was in Sri Lanka and found the job while there. They offered him a contract for the following year but he declined.

Also taught a college evening acting course in Sri Lanka.

It does not appear the real world experience is a plus in an application for TfA.

dan dempsey said...

Two years is almost half their "supposedly" adult lives.

That is nearly forever.

dan dempsey said...

OK so as of 2 PM on 10/5 agenda the TfA proposal has lines through it.

So they dumped it for Wednesday ....
... but will it return later on?

Do you suppose the Admin actually gets the arguments against?

It could be the dawning of a new era --- where evidence counts in decision making. (more likely public pressure)

This TfA idea was right up there with minimum GPA to graduate 1.0

ParentofThree said...

I have a couple of questions about teacher hiring. TFA's would be hired during Phase III. What is Phase III hiring? What teachers would TFAs be competeting with for the positions? And where do the district transfers fit into teacher placement? Could TFAs be used to bump this catagory of teacher?

Appreciate the clarification.

Anonymous said...

How many teachers have posted on this blog that they do not wish to teach in "challenging schools"... usually something along the lines of "been there, done that, won't do it again"? TFAs were created at a time of teacher shortage. Combine those 2 factors, (teacher shortage, and teachers not wanting challenges), and you have a reason for TFA. How many teachers have their hands up for a position at WSE? If TFA has a low retention rate, it isn't much different than any other route to teaching.

Signed... Some Lunch is Better than No Lunch.

Melissa Westbrook said...

ttln, thanks for sharing that story.

Techy Mom, how do you split the class in half? There's no extra room for more classes and TFA doesn't do class-sharing (I didn't find any references to it but I'm calling them today to ask some questions).

I'm not saying that the TFA doesn't have good intentions or didn't start from heart. It does seem to be evolving into more of an army than a corps.

In answer to your question, Dan, here's what Director Sundquist said in an e-mail:

"This agenda item has been removed from tomorrow's Legislative Meeting Agenda, but it will likely come up again soon."

Central Mom said...

Anonymom...Thank you for rebroadcasting Dora's link:

http://www.greatlakescenter.org
/docs/Policy_Briefs/Heilig_
TeachForAmerica.pdf

I just read it myself just now and it is eye opening. *OUR SCHOOL BOARD NEEDS TO READ IT. WHO IS GOING TO SEND IT TO THEM?*

It does contain nuances, and talks about when TFA is appropriate..

But here's the overall crux:

"A district whose primary goal is to improve achievement should explore and fund
other educational reform that may have more promise such as universal preschool,
mentoring programs pairing novice and expert teachers, elimination of
tracking, and reduction in early grade class size.

It is therefore recommended that policymakers and districts:

 Support TFA staffing only when the alternative hiring pool consists of uncertified
and emergency teachers or substitutes.

 Consider the significant recurring costs of TFA, estimated at over $70,000 per
recruit, and press for a five-year commitment to improve achievement and reduce
re-staffing.

 Invest strategically in evidence-based educational reform options that build
long-term capacity in schools."

anonymom said...
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another mom said...

Central Mom- I sent the Board the link in my email to them last night. I would suggest others do the same. I do hope that they take the time to read it. It seems like a balanced piece. If this is an issue that you care about, write to the Board about it. While I no longer have children in the system, I am still a taxpayer. To me, TFA looks to be another new line item in the budget.

Melissa's question ought to frame the Board's discussion, "What is the problem that TFA is trying to solve?"

TechyMom said...

Melissa,
That was my thinking about Oakland 20-30 years ago when TFA was founded. There was lots of space, but no funding for teachers. They used to turn the heat off to save money too. Seattle in 2010 is a different place with different issues.

Some of our schools, actually the ones that TFA would be most interested in, do have empty classrooms. But, if TFA teachers aren't free to the district (which was the claim when I looked at it), then they are no longer a cheap way to cut class sizes. Also, MJG doesn't seem to think cutting class sizes (on the cheap or otherwise) matters. So, TFA of 2010 is very different than TFA of 1993, and may not be a good match for Seattle in 2010.

I still believe that it was started with the best of intentions, that the people involved (from the founder to the kids who sign up) believe they are doing a good thing in the world, and that it is not primarily a way to break the union.

anonymom said...

" What is Phase III hiring? What teachers would TFAs be competeting with for the positions?"

Phase I: all internal teachers apply for positions, interview, and are selected by schools.

Phase II: All super-seniority placements are made.

Phase III: New teachers are considered, as well as current SPS teachers remaining in the displaced pool.

TFA teachers compete in phase III with any other new teachers, and current SPS teachers that are in the displaced pool.

On a different note I think anonymous at 8:09A has a point in that a lot of experienced teachers do not want to teach at challenging schools. New teachers with no seniority are generally forced to take those positions and in a few years, or as soon as they can, they transfer to "better" schools. It's a revolving door. That doesn't seem much better than the 2 year TFA commitment.

Lot's to think about and compare

wseadawg said...

Techymom: I don't fault anyone who joins TFA, and I believe their intentions are noble. I don't even fault TFA, but in recent years, they've become very aggressive as an organization, and willingly supplant teachers with their somewhat naive foot soldiers. (Why do you think our military is so young? And no, I'm not bashing soldiers. It's easier to recruit from that age group.)

Anonymous: Your point is well taken. There may be some places where TFA could make a difference, and that was the idea when TFA began: To fill shortages, make a difference, and provide meaningful public service opportunities for the best & brightest. That's all good. But that's not what is going on now. What is going on now is all about power and the pervasive belief that "those kids" can be turned around if we break them of their bad habits and make them "more like us" - the bright, well-off, high-achieving, success story types. It's overly paternalistic, naive, mostly unsuccessful, and fails to meet kids where they are and educate them to be the best they can be, instead of trying to make them all clones of the ivy league types.

A good series that covered TFA in New Orleans is Learning Matters by John Merrow. Google it and watch the podcasts to get a better, objective look at how TFA operates on the ground. Then, compare New Orleans to Seattle and ask, is that what we need here? Why? How?

There's plenty of information available on TFA that should answer most questions and give people a good idea of what they are about.

I don't want TFA taking jobs from potential career teachers, period. And that's a lot of what they do, leaving schools in limbo every 2 to 3 years.

another mom said...
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another mom said...

@Some lunch is better than none-

"If TFA has a low retention rate, it isn't much different than any other route to teaching."

Except that most who enter teaching do so at their own expense. TFA interns do not bear any of the financial burden to "earn" their teaching certificate. The local colleges, universities, and school districts front that expense. Again, the taxpayers are on the hook for something that has a painfully small return.

Plus, it has been my experience -as the parent of two -that when a child/student/adult invests a bit of thier own money in pursuit of something, they are more apt to see it as a real commitment. TFA interns are let off the hook after two years -in many cases they don't last the two years.

wseadawg said...

And while I'm at it, I think it's uncalled for to refer the TFA teachers bozos and such, or to fault young people who really want to help. Sure, many are cocky, arrogant, and naive, but we all were at some point in our lives, weren't we? And any new teacher is going to flounder and struggle for a few years before they find their footing. The difference is, with career teachers, once they find their footing, they become valuable assets to the school, while, at the same time, most of the TFA folks move on.

And I don't know where folks are getting those low turnover percentages. When I researched this 2 years ago, the percentage of TFA grads that became teachers was in the single digits. Many do stay longer than their original 2 year commitment, so maybe that is skewing the data.

ParentofThree said...

Thanks for the teacher placement info. I am still wondering, when do the district transfer teachers get placed. I am wondering if TFAs would get a placement over a district transfer, or is this where seniority comes into play?

Charlie Mas said...

Teach for America makes sense - solves a problem - only in those schools where the District is unable to recruit a qualified career teacher. That is the case is a number of places around the country, but not here in Seattle.

It is true that, on the whole, teachers prefer to work in more affluent schools. It is true that, as a consequence, the teachers in low-income communities tend to be less experienced and have higher turnover.

The solution to this problem, however, is not to insert inexperienced teachers with no intention of staying more than two years. That would seem to exacerbate the problem.

Rather, the solution would be for the District to take steps to improve the working conditions at schools in low-income communities. Provide the teachers with better security, reduce class sizes, fund enrichment activities, provide additional classroom support, appoint teacher-friendly principals, provide mentoring from experienced teachers. These are the changes that will address the problem.

Finally, the nasty secret that no one wants to say out loud but which provides the underpinning for Teach for America - different from any other alternative certification program or process - is the elitist belief that TfA volunteers, because they come exclusively from highly competitive colleges, are just better people (smarter, harder working, more dedicated) than the bulk of teachers who get their certificate through the normal process. They don't like to say it directly, but they say it indirectly ALL THE TIME. They rely on the presumption that a graduate from Stanford, Brown or Princeton is inherently superior to a graduate from Washington State or Western Washington.

Other funky smells around Teach for America include the unmistakable tang of the "White Man's Burden". These privileged elites are condenscending to bring the gift of enlightenment to the brown-skinned poor. Speaking of privilege, these folks don't see why they - elite as they obviously are - should have to comply with the teacher certification rules intended to filter the riff-raff. Those rules aren't meant for them.

So long as we have enough real teachers to staff our classrooms we don't need Teach for America. If there is trouble attracting teachers to some schools, then the District should take steps to address the reasons for that - not evade doing that work by exploiting a naive and self-satisfied elite.

zb said...

Here's what I think is good about the TFA concept (I'm pretty uncomfortable with its execution, which has become co-opted by a certain kind of not-for-profit entitlement mindset that I think undermines the idealistic theory).

1) encouraging "elite" students to consider education. Many of them will not commit to a 2 year + cost teachers degree, especially when they don't really understand what they'll learn there. Having an internship model will encourage some to enter the field (and I know of one, now on her 20th year teaching) who is an example.

2) encouraging a real re-thinking of the certification requirements for teaching. I believe there should be certification, but the certification should be tied to the qualities we want in a teacher, not as a guild gate-keeping mechanism to reduce the size of the labor pool. I'm not against labor protections, but they shouldn't certification shouldn't be the method through which they are produced. Certification should depend on teachers performance & skills.

3) encouraging volunteerism/knowledge that flows into other activities. A internal Job Corp program has always had opposition for unions (and, I understand why -- they've often been motivated by a desire for cheap under-paid labor). But, I do think there's value in interns, even if they do go on to other work. In my mind, though, it requires that they be closely supervised during their teaching, and that's going to increase their cost. I'd pay that cost to the experienced teacher who is supervising them.

anonymom said...

"when do the district transfer teachers get placed. "

Phase I is when current SPS teachers can apply for new positions/transfers. TFA doesn't compete with them at this level.

Patrick said...

wseadawg, it's been my experience also that (while all my daughter's teachers have been good) the one who helped her the most had about 30 years of teaching experience and a master's. The one who had the most trouble with her was a long-term substitute on his first teaching assignment.

Why does TFA think their teachers should be assigned their own classrooms? A beginning teacher should be paired with a more experienced teacher, both to help the kids and to help the new teacher learn.

anonymom said...

After a lot of research, I have come to the conclusion that I don't believe TFA teachers should be placed in Seattle schools. We have no teacher shortage, and just don't need them.

Further, TFA teachers are costly. More costly than a new, non TFA, certified teacher.

TFA would charge SPS a $2500 placement fee. Then SPS would incur all of the costs associated with a new hire, however we only get a two year commitment from that new hire. And their salaries are no bargain either, they are compensated comparably to a new, non TFA, teacher.

So what's the benefit of hiring a TFA teacher? None as I see it, unless a district has a teacher shortage, which SPS does not.

I don't see how we could, or why we would, justify hiring TFA teachers at this time.

Sahila said...

wseadawg said"A good series that covered TFA in New Orleans is Learning Matters by John Merrow. Google it and watch the podcasts to get a better, objective look at how TFA operates on the ground. Then, compare New Orleans to Seattle and ask, is that what we need here? Why? How?


On NBC's recent Education Nation propaganda extravaganza, there was a panel discussion that had initially been titled something to the effect that what national education needed was another Hurricane Katrina... that Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to New Orleans public education

http://www.change.org/petitions/view/letter_to_nbc_news_protesting_the_one-sided_presentation_of_education_nation

As Diane Ravitch pointed out last night, Katrina destroyed the public education system in New Orleans, and charter schools operators rushed in to fill the gap... now 60% of New Orleans kids go to charter schools and the 40% who dont are the ones who were rejected by those charter schools - and they're mired in the dregs of what's left of public school education....

From TFA's website:

"...education reform agencies, including Teach For America, stepped up to put in the hard work necessary to begin the rebuilding of this region.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, an unprecedented opportunity arose to create a new public education system in the Greater New Orleans area. Community leaders are literally rebuilding the education system from the ground up...

n our pledge to be a part of the rebuilding process, Teach For America has rapidly scaled up our presence. In total, we have quadrupled the total historic corps size in Greater New Orleans. Teach For America is providing a much-needed influx of leaders who will positively shape the future of Greater New Orleans by making a significant impact in the classroom as well as serve as future school, district, and community leaders at all levels of the region’s revitalization...

...This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to .... be a pioneer in shaping the education reform movement in our country."

Sahila said...

So, we have non-education discipline Teach for America recruits in classrooms after 5 weeks of training, we have business-degreed Broad fellows and residents in senior school district management, we have military and corporate experienced Broad superintendents, and very soon (within the next 10 years), we shall have 50,000 Bush Institute trained principals, drawn from the sports, military and business arenas...

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/09/29/06principals.h30.html?tkn=WWRFvQSx4ihcYqM8zUe9k3n05FlXcC9GHB0V&cmp=clp-ascd

"Laura Bush, Hinojosa and others stressed that the effort should not be interpreted as a threat to educators who want to become principals through traditional channels. But they said they will actively search for job candidates with business, military and sports backgrounds.

"Make no mistake, there are good principals and teachers today," said James Glassman, executive director of the Bush Institute. "Our work will examine what made these people successful."

The collaboration, called the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership, is the first major initiative of the Bush Institute.

School districts in Dallas, Fort Worth and Plano are among the six initial pilot sites. Bush Institute officials say they expect to have 25 sites across the country by 2012. And they aim to have half the country's principals – roughly 50,000 – trained in the new curriculum by 2020."


http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/DN-edannounce_30met.ART.Central.Edition1.333874d.html

what of public education will be free of corporate influence?

Jessica said...

Wow - most of these comments are so cynical! "Inexperienced bozos"? So many of you gripe about the quality of SPS -- and you actually think TFA is going to make the system worse?

TFA is a program that puts smart, well-educated 20-somethings into classrooms that need good teachers. There are many more applicants than TFA spots - in other words, it's not easy to get a TFA job. And for thousands of graduates who might otherwise go into banking or advertising or profit-centric professions, TFA is a positive opportunity to -try- to improve American education.

I'm not saying that teachers who went to Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Brown, etc, are automatically better than other teachers. But these people - gray hair or not - are motivated to help children in communities and schools that need help, and they might actually improve the classroom experience for some children.

Why are so many of you so critical about that? Is an inexperienced TFA teacher going to be worse than an experienced crummy teacher?

Dora Taylor said...

Anonymom,

I am glad that you were able to find information on SeattleEd.

Last night we had an excellent discussion with Diane Ravitch on the subject of TFA at the forum "Race to Where?". Jesse Hagopian who was a panelist for the event was a TFA recruit who worked in DC and his insight was invaluable.

There should be by Friday a video of the event that you can watch of the forum to receive additional information about TFA at: http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/.

Zaide said...

I agree with Jessica! I'd love to see TFA here. Welcome TFA!

ParentofThree said...

RE: District Transfers. I am referring to the teachers who, have a lot of seniority, but for whatever reasons are no longer welcomed in their current school. They are transferred to another school and become the problem of that principal, until he/she can move them to another school.

Has anybody had this experience and understands what I am talking about?

What I am trying to understand is would a TFA applicant be placed in a classroom before a teacher I have described above.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Some Lunch, could you clarify a bit on the teacher shortage? TFA was created 20 years ago and there was a teacher shortage then? Was that nationwide? I couldn't find any info like that at their website.

Jessica, those are good questions and I did point this out in the thread. But again, the issue is what problem are we trying to solve?

The new teachers contract with a new evaluation system should help weed out/help low-performing teachers. We have a poor economy with lots of teachers (young ones probably) looking for jobs. So there isn't a shortage of teachers.

I would rather help/get rid of low-performing teachers and hire a teacher with a real certificate and experience in teaching rather than our district paying more money (over and above a salary) to hire someone who had 5 weeks of training.

cascade said...

People...forget the philosophical pros and cons of TFA. Repeat after me: OUR DISTRICT HAS NO MONEY. WE CANNOT AFFORD TO KEEP ADDING LINE ITEMS THAT WILL BRING NEW REOCCURING COSTS.

Bottom line, unless the District shows differently, TFA is one of those new reoccuring costs.

Reformers want to run the District as a business? Then do it already. Balance the friggin checkbook. Stop cutting our services. Fix our physical plants. Pay our contractual salary obligations. Do a good job operating the programs that we have. (JSCEE STINKS at it presently.)

THEN come back and talk about TFA.

NO NEW PROJECTS UNTIL YOU CAN DEMONSTRATE FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY AND OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE WITH OUR CURRENT PROJECTS.

Kathy said...

Jessica...

....and your thoughts regarding a certificated teacher, teacher with Masters of Education vs "Smart, well educated 20 something.."?

Charlie Mas said...

I'm sure that there are places that need Teach for America volunteers and other types of teachers with alternative or emergrency credentials. We don't.

We are not experiencing any shortage of credentialed teachers, so we don't need Teach for America.

There are communities that do need TfA, so let's not deprive them of that help by re-directing a TfA here to Seattle.

Charlie Mas said...

The choice here in Seattle is not a smart, motivated Teach for America volunteer or an empty classroom.

The choice here in Seattle is not a smart, motivated Teach for America volunteer or a series of long-term subs.

The choice here in Seattle is not a smart, motivated Teach for America volunteer or a crummy experienced teacher.

The choice here in Seattle is a smart, motivated Teach for America volunteer or a smart, motivated credentialed teacher. With that choice, I will take the credentialed teacher who might stay more than two years and who has expressed a greater dedication to the work of helping children in communities and schools that need help.

Dora Taylor said...

Jessica,

Fortunately, my daughter has not experienced an "inexperienced crummy teacher". If there are teachers like that, they have the opportunity and in fact they are required to take classes referred to as "professional development training". Because teachers who go to college and prepare to be teachers and then go through the accreditation process have made a commitment to a career, for most of them it is a lifelong commitment, they will develop their skills whereas TFA teachers will not go through that process for any length of time if at all.

TFA recruits are also expensive in the sense that a school trains one of these recruits and gets them acquainted with how things work, the TFA recruit leaves and then another one has to be trained. This type of training takes time and therefore money.

It is a no win situation for the school and the community.

I want a school where the teachers have made the commitment to be there, be a part of my child's life and the life of the school community for the long haul.

We really don't need them in Seattle.

ParentofThree said...

"I would rather help/get rid of low-performing teachers and hire a teacher with a real certificate and experience in teaching rather than our district paying more money (over and above a salary) to hire someone who had 5 weeks of training."

I agree, I am just wondering if the discrict is setting things up so that TFA teachers replace district transfer quickly and in their minds efficiently...becuase it seems like if TFAs get hired in Phase III, new more qualified teachers will be shoved asided. And I cannot imagine the union would allow that? Is there anything in the newly inked contract that opens the doors for TFA?

Kathy said...

@Parent of Three..I can't help but to wonder if you are right on. Myself, I am wondering if the District is planning on mass teacher exodus with TFA waiting in the sidelines. The mass exodus of teachers would result from lack of MAP results in underperforming schools.

Dora Taylor said...

http://epicpolicy.org/newsletter/2010/06/teach-america-false-promise

This is report regarding TFA that compares their performance with certified teachers.

zb said...

"
....and your thoughts regarding a certificated teacher, teacher with Masters of Education vs "Smart, well educated 20 something.."? "

Honestly (not Jessica), but, I don't know how I feel about this comparison. I think a substantial and extensive knowledge of subject matter might weigh favorably against a Masters. What I don't think it comes near replacing is experience. I'd take the teacher with more experience over the one with less in everything but the most fluffy of classes (i.e. classes in which the children don't have to learn something, but might have fun). Masters do come with experience, though, and I think that matters.

And, I don't think there's a shortage of capable, well-educated, and experienced teachers in Seattle.

I do think there's something else people are hoping to get from TFA interns: 80+ hour workweeks. The TFA teachers will be less qualified and less capable, but if they're willing to dedicate all their waking hours to the school, people will feel like they're getting something.

ParentofThree said...

Actually, I really don't know why out of the blue SPS is looking to bring in TFA? I don't see a mass exit of teachers, in this economy anyway. I also don't see where a TFA would get a position in SPS, given that we have a teachers union that doesn't even allow for a parent to help kids with college apps, can't imagine they would just step aside and let TFAs take union positions.

So, that is where I am starting to think that the only way to get a TFA into a school is by having them take a position opened by a teacher who, for whatever reason, is no longer welcomed at a school.

Anyway, just wondering is all.

I do think it is interesting that the topic got pulled from tonights agenda...and that Melissa appears to be the "go-to gal" by reporters looking for sources! (just based on two other recent threads she has posted.)

Poor ole SPS cannot ignore her or this blog any longer.

Yeah for us!

Melissa Westbrook said...

So yes, there is a clause in the SEA contract on this issue (it's Section B, Chapter 41.59 - yes, of course I knew that right off the top of my head...not).

SEA is the "exclusive rep" of certificated teacher, sub, PT, Speech, vocational ed, traffic instruction, audiologist,etc.

All duties of the kind customarily performed by thecertificated non-supervisory educational employees operating under the direction/supervision of SPS
personnel shall be performed only by SEA bargaining unit personnel, except by mutual agreement of the SPS andthe SEA, provided, however, a Principal or Assistant Principal may fill in when a substitute is
not available or they may conduct a class of their own as long as the duties do not become a primary part of their job or performing the work displaces an existing certificated nonsupervisory educational employee.

Clearly certificated is the key word here and TFA is not, I believe, certificated.

This section also talks about "individual contracts" being in conformance with different RCS. And, "the personnel rules, regulations and procedures contained in the individual contracts for employees shall not be in conflict with the provisions of this Agreement."

I find it odd that Seattle Foundation is pushing this so hard so my thought is that somewhere there is a loophole. (Clearly there is as we know of one TFA teacher in the district.) But I think to get the numbers that the Seattle Foundation is talking about (300 in 3 years), there would need to be more than a loophole.

I can't get the SPS HR person to call me back to find out how many TFA teachers we have. I find it very annoying I have to go via public disclosure to find out basic information. But, as my Tennessee granny used to say, there's more than one way to skin a dead cat.

Melissa Westbrook said...

On ZB's point, many TFA teachers teach in charter schools where (1) no union to deal with and (2) to ZB's point, they work longer hours.

WenD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WenD said...

I wish the anonmyous poster (Dismayed, TFA alum, still teaching) from the previous TFA thread would post again, or would it be ok to repost here? Their experience is very illuminating.

What I do think needs to be addressed is that Seattle lies in a region with qualified, unemployed teachers. Personally, I have friends in Ohio, both well credentialed teachers who can't get a job. Ohio has a glut of qualified teachers. They actually - want - to work will kids that need the extra mile, so to "lunch," whatever. I think the fact that you've gone the distance of getting your teaching certs means you want a challenge, you're not expecting an easy ride. This also brings up the issue of paying teachers MORE MONEY as they progress in their career, instead of replacing them. (Dcctor MG-J? Any words of wisdom?)

The other factor concerns students that are deemed failing, for whatever reason. Do you really think an inexperienced, untrained TFA teacher is the best teacher for a high-need student? Really? We have the opposite. We have a market full of well-qualified teachers.

Contrast with our movement superintendent who believes her well-qualified teachers are a problem. Myself? I don't buy this noise. I think the anonymous TFA teacher explained the rationale for TFA, from the perspective of a TFA survivor who continues to teach in spite of their initial experience, which isn't designed to support a long-term teaching career.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Some Clarity said...

I'd like to respond to the Great Lakes study that has been posted pretty frequently to question the effectiveness of Teach For America. I recommend you visit the Eduwonk post in response (it includes counter studies and speaks more to the peer review piece). And before people scream "Eduwonk is owned by reformers," I'd like to point out that the board of the Great Lakes Center is made of leaders of people opposed to TFA.

Read it, laugh at the comments, and get more context. There is more to this story than the traditional "us versus the reform crowd" argument.

http://www.eduwonk.com/2010/07/teach-for-america-and-the-problem-of-study-laundering.htmlI'd like to respond to the Great Lakes study that has been posted pretty frequently to question the effectiveness of Teach For America. I recommend you visit the Eduwonk post in response (it includes counter studies and speaks more to the peer review piece). And before people scream "Eduwonk is owned by reformers," I'd like to point out that the board of the Great Lakes Center is made of leaders of people opposed to TFA.

Read it, laugh at the comments, and get more context. There is more to this story than the traditional "us versus the reform crowd" argument.

http://www.eduwonk.com/2010/07/teach-for-america-and-the-problem-of-study-laundering.html

WenD said...

Anony teacher: Rather than throw down and challenge what you don't like, it would be helpful to hear about what you see as positive in TFA. If you're new, understanding some of the POV you read here comes from experience with SPS leaders and schools. What's your experience?

BTW, lack of a name or a signature makes it difficult to converse with you.

Some Clarity said...

Urg, sorry for the double post above. Poor form.

Patrick said...

Anonymous of 1:09 PM wrote:

1) Why are the subscribers of this blog up in arms about Teach For America and not the achievement gap growing in the district?

Why are you presenting this as an either/or choice? Are you implying that TFA is a cure for the achievement gap, and if so what is your evidence?

Bird said...

I have seen corps members and alumni of Teach For America yield remarkable success in communities all over the country where kids were failing persistently.

Do you have some concrete data that illustrates this?

I'm new to the TFA debate, but I haven't so far seen the evidence for any widespread "remarkable success" of TFA teachers and alums. Maybe it exists, and I'm honestly interested if you have something that is more than annecdotal.


1) Why are the subscribers of this blog up in arms about Teach For America and not the achievement gap growing in the district?


Folks on this blog are "up in arms" about the achievement gap in th district.

I'm angry about it. I'm particularly angry that the district leadership pours a lot of effort and scarce resources into things that are unlikely to have a serious effect on it.

Maria Goodloe-Johnson has been with us three years and hasn't so far done anything to turn things around, and, I don't see how her current initiatives will have an notable effect in the next two years.

When someone can't show progress on the biggest problem in the district in 3 years or more, I doubt they have the faintest idea how to approach the problem. I'm going to "finger point" on this.

Go ahead and consider it negative. It is. I need better performance than this from the Sup and from the Board. I'm a voter. I'm a parent. Finger pointing and negativity is my job when a house cleaning is what is required.

There are things that the district could start doing to address the achievement gap today. Things that are known to work. I don't get any sense that TFA fits significantly into this work.

As near as I can tell, TFA is mainly about sending young, bright, but inexperienced teachers into schools that are the most in need of strong, experienced, well-proven teachers.

The weakest schools in the district already have very high turnover of young teachers. They need more stability, continuity and teachers with substantial experience. I don't see where TFA fits into this problem in a positive way. If you can make it clear in a more concrete way than platitudes, have at it.

You sound like you might have personal experience with TFA. If so, make it plain. I think we'd all be interested in hearing about first hand experiences.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sorry. I realize there is now some discussion around the teacher who posted who feels this forum is negative, finger-pointing and we ignore the issue of the achievement gap (actually, I'll have thread on that shortly).

Teacher, if you would like to repost and use a NAME (moniker, whatever), great. But we don't accept anonymous posts.

ParentofThree said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Melissa, can you get a Seattle Foundation person to talk?

And SomeLunch, Jessica, etc: The independent studies show that TFA teachers perform about the same as the teachers that otherwise teach in those schools. (The subtext is that they DON'T perform as well as say View Ridge teachers.) i.e. hardly any improvement on the crappy lunch. So to turn your "why nots" around, "why?" It's not to save money anymore either...To make these 20-somethings feel good about themselves? (and I don't mean to bash them, I'm bashing Wendy Kopp in particular, who was probably in it initially to feel good about her contribution to society but the way it has played out she has clearly been co-opted (and made rich) by the reform/anti-union movement.

Charlie is right on in asking how to get the REALLY good teachers where we need them. I don't know, why don't we ask 'em what it would take? Of course, this still presumes that a teacher can fix POVERTY, doesn't it, hmmm.

Sahila said...

the achievement gap has not grown.... its decreased considerably since 1973...
see here:
nation's Report Card - Long Term Trend

and all ethnic groups are doing better on test scores... in the category of 9 year olds, whites by 25 points, blacks by 36 points and hispanics by 32 points...

Nation's Report Card Black & Hispanic Gains Greater than Whites

You ought not to believe everything the deformists put out there to justify their take over of public education and their demonising of teachers...

Bird said...

Oh come on, Sahila.

The achievement gap may have improved since the 70's, but by your NAEP data it hasn't moved appreciably in the last 20 (according to your linked 9 year old math data 1990: white 235, black 208, 2008: white 235, black 224)

The gap is large and awful.

I've been shot down on this blog for saying this before, but if you are serious about fighting "reform", you best set aside a substantial amount of your effort towards working on closing that gap.

It's the motor behind reform - not to mention that it's completely appalling all by itself.

Jessica said...

I'll try to address some issues raised by my earlier post. The biggest question seems to be "why TFA"? Because in my view, the education problem is enormous. Decades of an achievement gap, teacher quality, school funding, poverty, family distress: it's an endless parade of difficulties for urban public schools.

So I prefer an "all of the above" approach that might make progress. We shouldn't have to choose between certificated teachers and TFA. We need motivated, energetic people in our classrooms, wherever they can be found. (Private schools, which have good and bad teachers, typically don't require certification but they can hire and fire at will.)

New York City launched a "teaching fellows" program that brought all sorts of second-career types into the system. It was an attempt to be creative with hiring, even if it didn't work 100 pct of the time.

Education needs new ideas and new energy. And constantly viewing or framing the debate through a "union" vs. "Michelle Rhee" lens isn't going to move schools and students very far ahead of where we are. Experiment, look at hiring options, look at curriculum options, measure results, and repeat.

formerteacher said...

Melissa wrote:

"But I think to get the numbers that the Seattle Foundation is talking about (300 in 3 years), there would need to be more than a loophole."

My question is: how would SPS create these open positions in the first place? It sounds like firings or layoffs to me. Another possibility is that SPS is considering converting its lowest performing schools to charters or charter-like schools. The contract has a clause about "innovation schools" (Article II, Section B, 9) that can have "broad exceptions from SPS policies and collective bargaining agreements."

Melissa Westbrook said...

Chris, I am going to try to talk to a Seattle Foundation person but here's what they say at their website (partial):

"Until now, political and regulatory barriers have prevented TFA from establishing a presence in Washington State. Recent K-12 education reforms adopted by the state legislature, coupled with heightened community interest and support, have opened the door to TFA's launch of a Puget Sound program."

Clearly something slipped through the Legislature, unnoticed by most of us, because SF sounds quite sure of itself. And what "heightened community interest?" Hmm.

This seems to be a pet program of Rep. Rueven Carlyle. He said on Sept. 20th

"While we have yet to make sufficient progress by opening the door more actively, there is clearly a growing appreciation for the role of vibrant programs such as Teach for America in our state."

"Last year’s Race to the Top legislation included an element that is a modest but important first step. The legislation now allows our state to welcome Teach for America and other non-higher education organization to participate in teacher pre-service training. It is important to note that the standards and requirements are the same so it won’t necessarily be an easier route for candidates."

I'll have to write more about what he says because it's pretty much a valentine to TFA.

Also, I confirmed there is also a TFA teacher at Mercer middle school as well as West Seattle Elementary. They both encourage people to visit their classes. Great, I will.

The cred that some say TFA has is that they can bring more bilingual teachers, math and science teachers (in 5 weeks they're ready to teach math and science and all of them majored in either field?), and bring large numbers of teachers of color.

cascade said...

That infamous Our Schools Coalition poll keeps on giving and giving. Guess what I just found on the Alliance 4 Ed page as the last question in last year's poll:

9. The teaching profession in Seattle should be opened up to attract additional talent, including through programs such as Teach for America.
(Polling shows 72% of taxpayers, 60% of parents and 51% of teachers agree.)

Sahila said...

Bird - by the figures you quote, white progress has stood still, while black progress has climbed 16 points, and is now only 9 points behind white scores...

How can you say that is hardly any improvement? That's huge... especially given that white standards of living have continued to improve at a faster rate than black standards of living (with all the problems that come with that?)...

"Over most of the twentieth
century, the least well-off in America – notably the rural, Southern, and black poor – made the
greatest economic gains and contributed the most to narrowing differences. But, those
differences widened noticeably in the last three decades of the century;
even Americans’
subjective sense of their economic well-being had diverged. In particular, the wealthy and the
college-educated drew farther away from the rest. The two world wars, the Great Depression,
and the New Deal welfare state had combined to substantially level economic distinctions by
mid-century. But the new economy, the new family patterns, and the new politics that emerged
in the 1970s re-widened economic difference.
"


http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:DU5HOYcY87sJ:citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download%3Fdoi%3D10.1.1.8.3833%26rep%3Drep1%26type%3Dpdf+white+black+standards+of+living+20th+Century+comparison+US&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESiFVckgwuRCZSaGLvRURiJ7JNUEH2c3PSljj3UWkPhMiEICordTG6t4XFo9UAMmDMT_-sMzT79NcIU_NUg0jZTI-SMU6NC5JCMLkL6a7898x33X_bOY6AOnixDZYlHxkpA4JKwT&sig=AHIEtbRLU8gojnqQLZFO_o-3vnag_DX7ew

and in this recession, black standards of living have fallen faster than white standards of living...
"Between 2007 and 2008, the real median income of non-Hispanic white households declined 2.6 percent (to $55,530); for blacks, it declined 2.8 percent (to $34,218); for Asians, it declined 4.4 percent (to $65,637); and for Hispanics, it declined 5.6 percent (to $37,913). Except for the difference between the declines for non-Hispanic white and Hispanic households, all other differences between the declines were not statistically significant."

http://www.parapundit.com/archives/cat_economics_living_standards.html

I'm not saying the state of the achievement gap is great... I'm saying its not as horrible as the reformists want you to believe... they're spinning lies...

Anonymous said...

If you want to read random thoughts of TFA teachers, go to the "TeachForUs" blog:

http://wessie.teachforus.org/2010/10/05/just-for-the-record/

-A reader

Bird said...

Bird - by the figures you quote, white progress has stood still, while black progress has climbed 16 points, and is now only 9 points behind white scores...

My bad. That was a typo. Taken from the data you link the figures are 1990: white 235, black 208, 2008: white 250, black 224. So gap in 1990 27, gap in 2008 26.

I really have to disagree with you on this. The current situation is as appalling as the reformists make out.

Just looking at the not that great data we have from SPS schools there are some quite horrific numbers out there. For example, less than 20% of Black SPS 10th grade students meet the state standard for math. That's awful.

If you look at those kind of numbers and say, "Well, it's not as bad as reformers want you to believe. They lie. ", then you lose a fair amount of credibility in my eyes.

The gap is a huge problem. It has to be addressed. Saying "it's not as bad as you might think" is not the compelling argument you think it is.

Charlie Mas said...

What if I were to say that hopping up and down on one foot for five minutes at the beginning of each day would close the academic achievement gap, improve school discipline and clear teenage skin.

You could dispute it. You could show me a lot of facts and studies that suggest that hopping up and down on one foot has no impact at all. But I will continue to believe it and I will say that we should take an "All of the Above" approach that might make progress. We shouldn't have to choose between early and effective interventions and hopping up and down.

seattle citizen said...

Bird, there IS a gap. In some ways it has grown smaller, in other ways larger.

First, I might suggest we keep in mind what is used to measure students to gain statistics that tell us about "the gap," and then we can move on to questions about what to do about it.

IQ tests, a hundred years ago, were taken out of context and put to use solidifying the idea that race mattered, that non-whites were inherently dumber than Northern European whites. And women were dumber. Everybody was dumber.

Now we have various standardized tests, different ones each decade or less (for instance, will we be able to use the new HSPE/MAP tests to compare to the old WASL test and say that percentages have grown or shrank? They are different tests. "They" tell us they correlate, but do they?

So we still have tests being used to perpetuate racist classifications.

We still have these extremely narrow tests that ignore vast swathes of human experience, culture and history, and make what they DO test is narrowed into its narrowist quantifiable form...

So, as you might see, I'm no fan of these disastorous tests.

But they show a gap, which leads me to the question: What causes it? Is it the horrible education system? If so, is it racist teachers? Why do, for instance, Blacks get lower scores on the HSPE? Is it because teachers are racist?

Or is it that teachers don't address some amorphously described "Black culture" when they teach?

Or is is something besides education completely, say, higher poverty rates? It is often said that POVERTY is the biggest predictor of educucational success, and I agree.

So I ask you: What causes the gap?

dan dempsey said...

The WASL MSP HSPE measured huge achievement gaps are a problem. In math for African American students it is enormous and the UW experts have managed to make it wider when the bring concentrated help.

A change is needed ... but not just any ill considered change.

As Diane Ravitch pointed out last night: most of what is advocated by the "reform movement" has no evidence to support the "reform direction". The evidence shows most of the reform proposals are ineffective or counter-productive.

Kathy said...

I believe "formerteacher's" assertions are correct. It sure makes sense.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Jessica, the district has made cuts in our schools and more are coming. So,,where do we find the money for TFA teachers since they come with a price tag?

We have a brand-new teachers contract with a new evaluation system and money for it (at least for teachers at low-performing schools which is exactly where TFA teachers go). Are we not going to see how that works first before we spend more money?

Sahila said...

Bird -

I went back to the first link and looked at the white-black math gap figures for the three age groups:

Age 9 1973 35 points
2008 26 points
Improvement of 9 points

Age 13 1973 46 points
2008 28 points
Improvement of 16 points

Age 17 1973 40 points
2008 26 points
Improvement of 14 points

Its not great, but it is an improvement and encouraging, considering black poverty has been increasing at a greater rate than white poverty over those three decades...

I'm saying that, contrary to the reformers myth-building, schools and teachers are doing something right... maybe not as much as we would all hope for but there is an upward trend, IN SPITE OF societal influences...

Eric M said...

I stand corrected about the actual long-term cost of TFAs. Interesting that they might cost more. Is this another way to open up SPS to the creation of revenue streams for private corporations? Looks like.

But I stand by my "inexperienced bozos" description.

Nobody, I mean nobody, is an even slightly good teacher after 5 weeks of training, especially in a classroom/school with an above average level of pathologies.

Nobody.

Teachers get to be pretty effective after about 5 YEARS on the job. That's the research.

As far as young people being smart and energetic, well, some are and some aren't. No more so than the regular population.

The assumption that somehow experience doesn't matter in teaching, and it does matter in any other job you can name, is just loco. The assumption that it helps to be really young and "energetic" as a teacher is just loco. It's a really, really hard, weird, complex, time-sucking job, and it takes a truckload of experience to begin to master it and make it really happen for students.

I'm 51 years old, and have WAY more energy for teaching than my current student teacher. I get there way earlier, stay way later, work with way more students, get way more done. Except for Ebay shopping - he always manages to get more of that done during school hours than me.

FYI, as far as not wanting to teach in a low-performing school, I applied for a job at Cleveland last spring. 25 years experience, National Board Certification, teaching awards, outstanding evaluations, etc, etc. Didn't get an interview. That's interesting, huh ?

ttln said...

I believe former teacher is almost correct. Innovation Schools are meant to be more like NOVA which needs to sign waivers for certain parts of the contract in order to do what they do. That said, I am sure the language can be used to fit what ever need it to in order to further their "vision."

In the new contract we see two clues that may help us with the answer: (1)Tier I and (2)Tier II school designation will have "SPS Interventions" and be put on PG and E evaluation with the student growth measures tied to every teacher in the building.

No growth or low growth and follow the rest of the path down to "bye-bye" teachers and a newly created shortage and newly found need for TFA.

I believe this contract has it all in there. Even if the levy passes, the score generation and designations still exist.

as an aside: one of my kids asked me if I was a robot yesterday. I wonder if I could "blend in" to the new teacher corps?

Jessica said...

In this discussion, there are various hints that hiring TFA is "a slippery slope" toward the day when TFA replaces more expensive, senior teachers or. That isn't going to happen; tenure and the professional teacher corps endures for the most part.

The real slippery slope is that education programs in other countries are eating our lunch (and dinner). And yet we're arguing that Ivy-educated newcomers are the real threat?

Melissa, it's a good question: should the district wait before importing TFA? I say, no, don't wait. Especially in failing classrooms, where the current system hasn't worked, I don't see the harm in hiring a TFA teacher who wants to be there.

Eric M, why does any discussion about TFA have to lead to a comparison about your quality as a teacher? If you're an excellent teacher, then I don't think it's an insult to you to send a TFA person to a low-performing school or a low-performing classroom.

Of course you're right that it takes experience to be a good teacher. But school districts hire legions of freshly minted grads from teaching programs. How is a TFA teacher worse than that other newcomer - and what if they're better? This is a risk (if it is a risk) worth taking.

seattle citizen said...

No it's not, Jessica. The risk is not worth taking, for it is not a risk: TFA has already proven to not be a good thing - most TFAers leave after two years - That in itself is very, very bad. Eric, if I can speak for him, is insulted because he was not even offered an interview at Cleveland, a troubled school, even tho' he is a master teacher. They will turn away master teachers in favor of teachers with five weeks training? Why?

As has been pointed out, there are plenty of teachers looking for jobs in this area. We just laid a bunch off. Many of those were rehired, but there are some who did not. Why not offer them their jobs back?

It is apparent to many that TFA is an attempt to insert a whole new hiring model in: Charters, fire-at-will, TFA short-termers (thereby "saving" thousands of dollars...Why hire teachers who will become expensive if you can merely devalue education and then just cycle a bunch of low-paid interns through?

Eric M said...

Here's how it's insulting: the research doesn't suggest TFA is any kind of answer.

http://www.greatlakescenter.org/docs/Policy_Briefs/Heilig_TeachForAmerica.pdf

Summary:
Research on the impact of TFA teachers produces a mixed picture, with results affected by the experience level of the TFA teachers and the group of teachers with whom they are compared. Studies have found that, when the comparison group is other teachers in the same schools who are less likely to be certified or traditional- ly prepared, novice TFA teachers perform equivalently, and experienced TFA teachers perform comparably in raising reading scores and a bit better in raising math scores.
The question for most districts, however, is whether TFA teachers do as well as or better than credentialed non-TFA teachers with whom school districts aim to staff their schools. On this question, studies indicate that the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers.
Experience has a positive effect for both TFA and non-TFA teachers. Most studies find that the relatively few TFA teachers who stay long enough to become fully credentialed (typically after two years) appear to do about as well as other similarly experienced credentialed teachers in teaching reading; they do as well as, and sometimes better than, that comparison group in teaching mathematics. However, since more than 50% of TFA teachers leave after two years, and more than 80% leave after three years, it is impossible to know whether these more positive findings for experienced recruits result from additional training and experience or from attrition of TFA teachers who may be less effective.
From a school-wide perspective, the high turnover of TFA teachers is costly. Recruiting and training replacements for teachers who leave involves financial costs, and the higher achievement gains associated with experienced teachers and lower turnover may be lost as well.

It looks a lot like simply a way to deprofessionalize teaching, particularly in zipcodes with low real-estate values.

owlhouse said...

"The real slippery slope is that education programs in other countries are eating our lunch (and dinner). And yet we're arguing that Ivy-educated newcomers are the real threat?

Jessica- Which countries do you see as eating our lunch, and what are they serving? More to the point, how do they train and retain teachers? How do they invest in early ed and early intervention? What is their national curriculum and how much autonomy do localities and individual teachers have? What are their social, health, nutrition and housing safety nets? Percentage of 2-parent households?

I'm not interested in a testing competition with other nations. I think there is much we can learn from one another, there are surely many possible points of collaboration- but to say that we need minimally trained teachers to work with our most at-risk populations so that we can keep up with the international Jones is misguided in so many ways.

And, my read on this post and the comments is not that TFA ivy-leaguers are seen as a threat. Rather, I hear frustration, outrage and confusion that this district, this nation, is shying away from the hard work required to educate the public's children. How are we addressing the multi-generational poverty that we know feeds the achievement gap? What steps are we taking to bring food security to our communities? Where's the innovative support for family stability, conflict resolution, library access? Nope, we don't have leaders who will rise to the challenge of admitting, addressing and taking action on the legacy of inequity and injustice that are the primary determining factors in our achievement and lack of. Instead, we have the "quick" fixes, including TFA, complete with a new budget line items. It's irresponsible, short sighted and lacks courage.

seattle citizen said...

My question:
If TFAs are welcomed to work with "at-risk" students, are they also welcomed to work with at-or-above level students?

Why are people saying, "send TFA people into the troubled schools!" and not into, say, John Hay Elementary?

Are they telling is that it's okay for a minimally trained person (not even a teacher yet - hasn't completed a state cert program) to go work for poor students but not wealthier ones?

If TFA is okay for struggling students, it's okay for everybody, right? If a "teacher" who will only be teaching two years is okay in a poor neighborhood, she or he is okay anywhere, right? Why are we being told they are only needed in the "poor schools"?

seattle citizen said...

oh, hey, they've removed all trace of TFA being one tonight's agenda - yesterday it was merely lined through, now it's gone completely...can't have people thinking about such thngs, eh?

Melissa, did you ever hear back about TFA in schools, and what happened with TFA being on the agenda and then removed? Anybody willing to do some 'splainin'?

another mom said...

"How is a TFA teacher worse than that other newcomer - and what if they're better? This is a risk (if it is a risk) worth taking."

The newcomer coming out of a state certificate program has had at least one semester of supervised teaching experience, several practicum experiences, and most have had volunteer experiences in real classrooms. Maybe some TFA interns have had that breadth of training but based on what I have read, I doubt it. Teacher training programs in other countries do not take newly minted college grads and plop them into the most challenging schools after a 5 week crash course.

TFA has its supporters and god love 'em, but they also have a very slick marketing schtick. And there is a glibness that is a little snake oilish to me. Yes,there are well intended young people enrolled in this program, but as a tax payer should I be footing the bill for their continuing education and their salary? I don't think so.Mind you that teaching certificate paid by the tax payers may never be used outside of their TFA assignment? Neither should SPS be looked at as some kind of sugar daddy/mommy ready to buy the latest fad in ed. reform

Teacher ed. programs at our local colleges and universities are not perfect but they are not the doom and gloom as portrayed by some.

Taxpayers are being told that TFA is coming -get over it. But there is NO shortage of teachers in Seattle. It does raise a few suspicions for me.

TFA needs to be carefully considered in fact scrutinized by the Board before they sign on the dotted line. I hope they reject TFA.

Also,it is not a choice of what is better or worse in terms of teacher training,the mantra should be, at first do NO harm. Students are not some lab experiment.

another mom said...

I heard from Michael DeBell that TFA will be back on a November agenda, but will not be fast-tracked.

Eric M said...

Yet more sad research results for TFA:
http://www.epicpolicy.org/
newsletter/2010/06/
teach-america-false-promise

Chris said...

Jessica: The real slippery slope is that education programs in other countries are eating our lunch (and dinner)

Yeah, they are eating our test scores for lunch. Suggested reading: Yong Zhao, 2009.

I don't see the harm in hiring a TFA teacher who wants to be there.

Recommended reading Thoughtful piece by Barbara Miner, who interviews 3 TFA teachers, (interviews set up by TFA so probably better than a random sample.) One is the kind you want. One is biding time while figuring out what to do with life, and one is padding resume for a mayoral run.

Chris said...

And thank you seattle citizen for this:

If TFA is okay for struggling students, it's okay for everybody, right? If a "teacher" who will only be teaching two years is okay in a poor neighborhood, she or he is okay anywhere, right? Why are we being told they are only needed in the "poor schools"?

Charters, TFA, and the whole reformist ball of wax do create a separate system for those less privileged. They would like to pretend that it's "separate but just as good," but they are having trouble even proving it's better than the grand ole status quo. Are we ready to overturn Brown v. BOE?

How about TFAers cut their teeth at private schools then those that make it can step up to more challenging jobs? If they're so great, wouldn't they welcome them at Lakeside?

And one more question for Jessica: If you are into "all of the above" as solutions, what is your position on class size (you know, class sizes like Lakeside and University Prep?) Specifically at schools where the current system is failing?

Anonymous said...

I agree with many of the concerns listed about TFA teachers, particularly the clearly inadequate training. Seattle citizen's point about these teachers somehow being acceptable for poor students when there is no way they'd be hired at high performing schools is telling.

However, the defense of ed school status quo should not go unchallenged. Ed schools brought us reform math (!). Ed schools consistently draw students with lower GPAs, SATs, or any other standard of academic measurement than other colleges/divisions at major universities. The ed school graduates I have seen in three years of association with SPS have not all been impressive. I consistently see teachers, and even the principal at our neighborhood school make basic errors in English spelling, grammar and usage. Examples abound around the classroom, halls, and in communications sent to parents. These are not informal methods of communication, and the errors are not simple typos. We keep hearing that many elementary school teachers do not have a sufficiently strong base in math to teach math effectively. And any college graduate should be able to spell 'calendar' and use their/they're or your/you're correctly - this is not a high bar I am talking about!

Ed schools are not consistently attracting the smartest, best educated students. Certainly some teachers are absolutely wonderful, but there is no question that the pool of prospective teachers could be deeper.

That is one thing that TFA does - it gets very smart, very educated people interested in education. Obviously there are serious problems with the program, and I do not support bringing it to Seattle, fo rmany of the reasons that other writers have mentioned. But I do support exploring any way to draw the brightest, best educated college graduates into education. Our children deserve it.

RKT

Sahila said...

easy answer to that - improve the ed schools, adjust the intake process so only the best and brightest get in or graduate, as in Finland...

Eric M said...

This is a pretty incredible article.

A must read on TFA

http://www.dfpe.org/pdf/Barbara-Miner-Looking-Past-the-Spin-Teach-for-America-Spring-2010.pdf

My favorite nugget:
TFA’s 990 for fiscal 2008. It shows that TFA had revenues of $159 million in fiscal year 2008 and expenses of $124.5 million. CEO and founder Wendy Kopp made $265,585, with an additional $17,027 in benefits and deferred compensation. She also made an additional $71,021 in compensation and benefits through the TFA-related organization Teach for All. Seven other TFA staffers are listed as making more than $200,000 in pay and benefits, with another four approaching that amount.
It’s also interesting to look at the 990 for the KIPP Foundation, the charter school chain led by Richard Barth, a former Edison vice president and TFA staffer who also happens to be Kopp’s husband. Barth made more than $300,000 in pay and benefits, bringing the Kopp/Barth household income to almost $600,000 for their work with TFA and KIPP. (In a 2008 article, the New York Times dubbed Kopp and Barth as “a power couple in the world of education, emblematic of a new class of young social entrepreneurs seeking to reshape the United States’ educational landscape.”)

Patrick said...

As easy as that?

Colleges of Ed. attract less qualified students because their graduates start at $30,000 a year, if they even get a job as a classroom teacher.

seattle citizen said...

RKT,
You write that "Ed schools are not consistently attracting the smartest, best educated students. Certainly some teachers are absolutely wonderful, but there is no question that the pool of prospective teachers could be deeper....That is one thing that TFA does - it gets very smart, very educated people interested in education."

But they TFA crew, if the stats we've read here are to be believed, are only (or two thirds of them) interested in a two year stint. There's a big difference between "interested in education" and "willing to commit your life to it." Teachers who go through the more rigorous cert process are PLANNING on staying with it.

It's easy to get anybody to put in an application for TFA, and then cull the "best and the brightest" (hmmm, there ARE possible repercussions to claiming a thing such as that) if the applicants are fresh out of school, have tens of thousands in debt, are eagor to "volunteer" to do good (and bless 'em for THAT, at least!) and might want pretty little addition to their resume. It's almost a no-brainer - They're 22, broke, it doesn't hurt them to do two years, it WILL help them, they might get discounts on paying for a masters degree, maybe even loan forgiveness...Heck, everybody and their mother would apply for a deal like that, so why wouldn't they? Then TFA can cull for the "top candidates" and make a tidy little profit on the side.

This isn't to say that teachers colleges are all great - many good, many mediocre...But how many people actually WANT to be teachers? Is there a huge surplus of applicants where public education can be as selective as TFA is? They've found a way to grab "smart" people for a couple of years, but at a cost to the students.

Eric M said...

Barth runs KIPP and is married to Kopp?

The ingrown-ness of the oligarchy is getting kind of freaky. They better be careful with the genetic counseling, or they're gonna get some recessive bad genes expressed in their offspring.

Sahila said...

@ patrick... and that's easy to fix too... pay them more... all of this is very easy - if there's a will... but we know there's not the will, so it wont happen....

Dorothy Neville said...

"I heard from Michael DeBell that TFA will be back on a November agenda, but will not be fast-tracked."

Speaking of Director DeBell, guess what he spoke about during board comments. A book he read last summer that he HIGHLY recommended, a book that was given to each board member during public testimony, a book that got him thinking about a number of things, such as the roiling waves of education ideas and how we need to navigate them carefully. And how we need to stop accepting money with strings attached before we hear from our community and decide what is best for us. He urged each of his colleagues to read it as well.

I can't really quote him well, watch for yourself when the meeting becomes available streaming. (and yes, this post *is* related to TFA, Melissa, as it is part of those hard to navigate waves.)

(Many readers here will know the book to which Michael refers. I believe we have Sahila to thank for that present to the board? Or was that Dora or someone else?)

Sahila said...

No, not me Dorothy... it was Chris Stewart... she gave a copy of the book to each of the Board members as a birthday present to herself...

If what Diane Ravitch writes makes a difference to what's going on in this District (seeing the board dont seem inclined to listen to us), we all owe Chris big time...

dan dempsey said...

My recollection was that Chris Sewart presented Diane Ravitch's latest book to each board member.

Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

cascade said...

Diane Ravitch makes another convert!

Rock n roll deBell. That is a bold statement from you.

To political ear(s)on Staff at JSCEE who are reading this thread with interest, make no mistake: Yes, in Michael's careful way, that was a huge shot across the warning bow to our superintendent. HUGE.

After two days of feeling dismal about how our superintendent is steamrolling the less powerful voices in our district, I am heartened.

cascade said...

PS: Read the comment thread on Seattle Times' Lynne Varner's OpEd and got this bumpersticker gem. It doesn't have Michael deBell's restraint, but it works great and I am socializing it with my peeps:

"MAP is Crap"

LOVE it.

Anonymous said...

Seattle citizen, I agree with you -if the goal is to increase the quality of the career teacher corps, I don't think TFA is the right answer. Perhaps a better way to phrase it is, how do we broaden the appeal of teaching so it attracts the highest possible caliber of applicant? Obviously pay and status are important, but I think that revamping the way we recruit and train teachers has to be a part of the conversation as well.

RKT

Jessica said...

Countries eating our educational lunch? I don't believe there's a serious debate about this, but according to this 2007 report (www.mckinsey.com/App_Media/Reports/SSO/Worlds_School_Systems_Final.pdf), the answers are Singapore, Japan, Finland, South Korea, the Netherlands, England, Hong Kong, and New Zealand. The report says the things that matter most are "getting the right people to become teachers...developing them into effective instructors (and) ensuring that school systems deliver the best possible instruction for every child."

Next, let's stipulate:

1. Washington State doesn't provide adequate resources for public education and, if past is prologue, probably never will. Half-day kindergarten in 2010 is ridiculous! It is also reality for the time being.

2. Smaller class sizes make a difference, especially in younger grades. That costs money. See (1) above. My son's K class has 27 students; I am not happy about this but I don't have $25k for private school. Reality, again.

3. For the most part, educational achievement - measured, yes, by test scores - tracks with parental demographics. Wealthier children tend to do better, poor children tend to do worse.

Moving back into this debate, should teachers be expected to "solve" the achievement gap? Not on their own. But should tenured teachers be expected to improve the educational outcome for poor students? Absolutely. And should TFA teachers be expected to improve those outcomes? Absolutely.

4. Except there's another question related to TFA: How often are the best tenured teachers willing to work in the toughest classrooms? While I can't answer with certainty, I've never read about a curious oversupply of excellent teachers in bad schools anywhere in the country.

TFA teachers are not pulled off the street and into the classroom. (Google tells me that more than 46,000 people applied for 4,500 spots.) I say, whether it's TFA or tenured teachers, welcome them into schools that need help, support them where possible and root for success. Rooting for failure is so Rush Limbaugh.

lassen said...

I find this entire thread very odd. Teach for America? Please!
Why aren't we debating "Doctor for America" -- kids straight out of college performing surgery on patients from poor communities -- sure they are untrained, but boy, do they have passion for helping others! "I'd rather have an untrained surgeon than a bad surgeon." Ridiculous.
"Lawyer for America" -- kids straight out of college representing the poor in court -- they don't have the training, but they sure have passion, so let's sign em up!
"Pilot for America" -- imagine that.
Even my hair stylist has to post her license and certification to work in the salon.

In what other profession are untrained volunteers (never mind they are paid -- they are in experience volunteers) allowed to walk in with minimal training and begin "doing" a profession that has educational and professional certification standards equivalent to a Master's Degree?
We as a community and a nation would never stand for such a thing in other professions. So why is it that we would allow our most precious and valuable resource, our kids, to be taught by untrained people?
Countries that have been successful in educating their populace have recognized that HIGHLY TRAINED professional teachers are the key. Why is our country so bent on doing the exact opposite of what has proven to work in other countries? This is embarrassing.

Dora Taylor said...

I don't know if this has been mentioned yet, but Richard Barth, CEO of the Kipp charter school franchise, is Wendy Kopp's husband. Both are also on the Broad's Board of Directors.

Barth is coming to town thanks to our faux roots, Broad backed and Gates funded organizations. I thought it was LEV as part of their speakers series but I don't see it on their website.

And like Sue mentions on her post, just how much money does it take to train these recruits for five weeks? Where is all of the money going? The school districts pay these TFA folks.

Anyway, someone should go see Barth when he comes to town and count how many times he mentions TFA during his presentation to all of us who he must think just fell off of the turnip truck.

Central Mom said...

No matter which side of the TFA debate blog readers land on, I hope there is one item that we can all agree on.

To place this sort of topic onto the Board's agenda at the last minute was extremely poor form, not to mention against Board rules of order. People on all sides of this, and all, major ed policy issues deserve some means to have a voice, a spirited debate, a time for reflection.

Our current superintendent, once again, tried to deny the public a place in setting the course for public education.

She has been instructed by the board to clean up her communication practices, and not one month into school, she has stunningly failed to do so.

Beware of those coffee talks and back to school meet n greets. Apparently they are just so much glad-handing.

Let me be clear: I want her out of this district. Not because of her agenda, although I disagree with the majority of it. But because she has no desire or apparently ability to allow every day, non-special-interest coalition people, a place at the table. And if there isn't room for us at the public education table, in what part of democracy is there room?

Dora Taylor said...

Iassen, I wonder the same question and I do believe that many of these ed reformites do only see test score numbers or even just dollar signs when it comes to our children.

The phrase "Our kids are more than just a test score" has started to surface in response to all of this.

The people who think that this is a good idea don't see these students as individual and special human beings that need to be responded to in terms of their level of understanding and development or an understanding of their interests and goals.

What I find interesting is that these TFA recruits only go into minority neighborhoods. I sometimes wonder how some of these folks would like it if they had teachers with the same amount of limited training teaching in their children's private schools or in their neighborhood schools on the tonier side of town.

Do you think that the north end of Seattle would accept them with open arms?

So then, why is it OK for these young people, with no understanding of children or how they develop and with no education in education, to teach the lower income and mostly minority children?

Then my next question is, how do we let the powers that be know how we feel about this?

We can go on and on about how this is a bad idea, but how do we take it from this blog out further into the eye of the general public and to the attention of folks like the board, our supe and the CAO?

dan dempsey said...

Amen to Central Mom

Dora Taylor said...

By the way, what happened to Our Schools' Coalition?

They just seemed to have come into town and then left. They magically appeared before the teacher negotiations, rallied unwitting community leaders and organizations to put pressure on the teachers to believe that we all thought they were ineffective and needed to be evaluated by student testing. And maybe throw in merit pay for good measure for teachers who could squeeze out the best test scores from their students.

What I see on their website is a congratulatory note to themselves written on September 2nd about the teachers' contract and that's it.

The tent is closed and they are on to the next town to try and bust another teacher's union or at least get into place high stakes testing and merit pay. Actually it would be more like a "poof" and they magically disappeared just like they magically appeared through the creation by DMA Marketing paid for by the Alliance. My money is on DMA Marketing poping up in another urban center pretty soon since they were so successful here in creating the atmosphere that made it easier for our supe to make the deals that she did. And this all paid for by the Broad and Gates.

The reason that I brought this up is because I wanted to see if OSC was hosting Richard Barth but they truly no longer seem to exist. I guess their work is done here.

wseadawg said...

The premise for TFA can either be a shortage of teachers, or a lack of talent in the existing corps. In Seattle, if memory serves me correctly, people went nuts about RIFs just one year ago because so many super-talented young, bright, energetic teachers were being laid off. Hence, no shortage of talent, nor empty classrooms. So, why TFA? Charlie nails it with the simple belief in the inherent superiority in someone who went to a good school. Okay, as long as we all remember GW Bush graduated from Harvard, so anyways...

My schools have been great, and my kids work hard enough. Frankly, Jessica, I don't give a whit if a South Korean kid outscores my son in math. My son is a great, bright, fun-loving happy kid, enjoying a far superior life experience than a kid in South Korea. His number one passion, above all else, is soccer. And if that costs him a point or two on the MAP or his future SATs, I don't really give a damn. He'll get hired at a good job because he works hard, gets along well with people, and uses his time well. We've got legions of people with jobs & college degrees up the Wazzoo in the U.S. who couldn't find their own arses with a flashlight, so I'm not panicking at the thought that a guy from India might be writing code at Microsoft instead of my son. I'd prefer my son do something more exciting than write code, but that's another topic for another day.

But in a similar vein, who's forgotten the hysteria of their youth, when we were told over and over again that Japan would eat our lunch, then Korea, then China, then India, then Singapore, then the EU? I've heard it all my life, and I'm sure many others have too. If we're really so concerned that our kids futures will be reduced to handing out burgers and fries, maybe we should be fighting to keep jobs on shore in the U.S. and not exporting them to cheaper labor markets. That's the real race: The Race to the Bottom, not a RTTT.

wseadawg said...

Oh, and may I again request that cut and pasters please, please, please edit your posts to correct the quotation marks, etc., that don't translate to the blog, and leave your posts all marked up and difficult to read. I wind up skipping over most of them, because I have to read fast, but I'd prefer to be able to read the posts.

Just "preview" the post, and click on "edit." From there, you can insert quotation marks & other edits where they belong. Thanks.

Dorothy Neville said...

Ah, Chris, thanks for giving Ravitch to the board.

And thanks Central Mom for pointing out what is to me the most egregious fault as well -- that staff and Maria are not even attempting to clean up their act, showing no respect for appropriate procedure or governance.

Maria's blatant lack of respect can be useful here (for a while at least) because we can support the board on their learning curve for proper governance. I do think the board is earnest about improving, but they will need our help to identify these sorts of things and thank them for these things -- getting the improper introduction item rescheduled.

Chris said...

jessia, I was questioning your assumption that test scores are a valid proxy for "national success."

Here is the blurb about the book I cited, from amazon.com:

"At a time when globalization and technology are dramatically altering the world we live in, is education reform in the United States headed down the right path? Are schools emphasizing the knowledge and skills that students need in a global society--or are they actually undermining their strengths by overemphasizing high-stakes testing and standardization? Are education systems in China and other countries really as superior as some people claim.
These and other questions are at the heart of author Yong Zhao s thoughtful and informative book. Born and raised in China and now a distinguished professor at Michigan State University, Zhao bases many of his observations on firsthand experience as a student in China and as a parent of children attending school in the United States. His unique perspective leads him to conclude that American education is at a crossroads and we need to change course to maintain leadership in a rapidly changing world. To make his case, Zhao explains what's right with American education; why much of the criticism of schools in the United States has been misleading and misinformed; why China and other nations in Asia are actually reforming their systems to be more like their American counterparts; how globalization and the death of distance are affecting jobs and everyday life; and how the virtual world is transforming the economic and social landscape in ways far more profound than many people realize. Educators, policymakers, parents, and others interested in preparing students to be productive global citizens will gain a clear understanding of what kinds of knowledge and skills constitute digital competence and global competence, and what schools can--and must--do to meet the challenges and opportunities brought about by globalization and technology."

Maybe for my next birthday the board will get this one. Thanks to Ken Berry for suggesting it to me.

Patrick said...

Incidentally, TFA doesn't just recruit from ivy league schools. UW's Denny Lawn and quad were full of their lawn signs at the beginning of the quarter soliciting recruits.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Melissa, it's a good question: should the district wait before importing TFA?"

Jessica, that wasn't my question at all (maybe someone else's). My question is What is the problem we are trying to solve?

The other question is why send a under-trained, inexperienced teacher into the hardest teaching challenge? At least student teachers have had years of learning about education as well as student teaching experience (I loved some of the student teachers my sons had but they had an experienced teacher at their side).

RKT, you are absolutely right on education schools. There's work to be done there as well.

I guess I don't get WHY bright people would be attracted to TFA and not just go for ed school in the first place. To me, it looks dilettante-like. I think this new generation doesn't have a lot of intent to stay with one occupation and that may be the way of the world.

Also, why would anyone think TFA is related to class sizes? Their presence will not lower class size.

I have reached out to the two TFA teachers in our district and I am going to visit at least one class.

FYI, I have it from a good source that there WAS legislation passed and went into effect in July that allow districts to hire TFA teachers. There has been a very quiet stream of work that is now making its appearance.

Last thing I can say is that if the district has money to do this, then we are not a poor district and they have NO, absolutely NO, right to ask voters for more money. (Doesn't matter if someone else fronts the money at first - it is NOT sustainable and I for one am sick of these initiatives that have no revenue stream to back them up. Please note the lack of public sponsors/supporters at STEM.)

wseadawg said...

Folks: I don't think the money issue will go anywhere. IF TFA would cost 5 million a year, the Gates Foundation would give MGJ the money in a heartbeat. Getting private money for pet projects that further the Broad/Gates/Walton agenda is as easy as a phone call or a snap of the fingers. So "we can't afford it" arguments will fail. Don't waste your time.

MGJ & Co's agenda is more sinister than you think. They will tell us we need to close schools and disrupt programs to save 3 to 5 million, then say, "Oh well..." when they have to spend 45 million of our dollars reopening schools. Where's the mea culpa, "we were wrong, so we're sorry, we should have listed to the public" on that? Never gonna happen.

They'll always have the Gates/Broad/Walton slush fund available to fund anything that furthers their agenda. Can we get our own dollars to reach the classrooms under MGJ's stewardship? No. In fact, holding back money from classrooms helps perpetuate the myth of a financial crisis creating the supposed desperate need to change our laws, dismantle solid programs, and eradicate unions in order to get RTTT funds and other funds.

Funny how they tell us from the right side of their tongues how broke we are, and how deep the financial crisis is, yet they always manage to find tens of millions to fund agenda-driven programs nobody asked for or wants.

Corruption 101.

another mom said...

I have received 5 responses from school board members re: my concern about TFA. Harium is the only member who came out swinging in favor of TFA.

The others were less committal and seemed open to debate. Still waiting to hear from Maier and Patu. Maier is the Director for my area of town.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm sorry but who is rooting for failure? That's not fair to say that because someone doesn't like the sound of TFA that I want anything to fail.

The fact that the district has said NOTHING about this (and I looked at their website) means they knew this was something that people might really question. (I'll bet the parents of the current TFA teachers have no idea who they are.)

We have a right to question who gets up in a classroom and teaches our children.

Some Clarity said...

@ Melissa:

Quick clarification: SPS does not hire TFA teachers. The people who posted on Reuven's blog are alumni of Teach For America, meaning they have their certifications and could transfer their licenses to Washington State. They're not corps members or first year teachers.

Sahila said...

Something to think about for Seattle?

Sahila said...

Diane Ravitch says we're at the most perilous time in this country's education history - she says its not just about education, its about the very foundations of democracy.

You all see how its playing out in Seattle....

She says we need unity and a revolution.

Who's in, and how do we go about fomenting and achieving this revolt?

Sahila said...

There are people around the country wanting to work together to stop this agenda...

Revolution - Who's In?

Sahila said...

Here is the recording of Monday's web conference that featured Alfie Kohn, Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier. The sound quality is not the best, but it's certainly worthwhile to listen to these views on what's happening in education...

The State of the Nation in Education

Melissa Westbrook said...

Some Clarity is right about the having actual TFA teachers in SPS. There are at least two alum TFA teachers in the district. (My source had ID'ed them as TFA.)

Seattle Foundation seems to think we'll have them in the classroom by Fall 2011.

Jessica said...

Melissa, This is what I meant about "rooting for failure," from the second commenter to this post:

"Let TFA enter the worst classrooms in Seattle and try to make it without the collaborative support of well-trained colleagues. No teacher in his/her right mind would give anything away for free to a TFA scab under this new contract."

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Incidentally, TFA doesn't just recruit from ivy league schools."

I'm sure that's true. I'm still working on the "just the facts" TFA piece and I'll try to find out where many of the thousands who apply come from.

anonymom said...

"I have received 5 responses from school board members re: my concern about TFA. Harium is the only member who came out swinging in favor of TFA. "

Harium started out as such a strong Director, but I'm sorry he has lost his way, and all connection to his constituents. I don't feel that he represents us in any way any more.

seattle citizen said...

Jessica,
Not "rooting for failure," but deeply suspicious of new initiatives that are gounded in reformist ideology, don't have merit, and are being thrown onto board agendas as done deals.

You quote the McKinsey report: things that matter most are "getting the right people to become teachers...developing them into effective instructors (and) ensuring that school systems deliver the best possible instruction for every child."
TFA aren't becoming teachers, not 66 percent of them. That's not getting people into education. We agree that development (grad schools, student teaching, ongoing and appropriate pro development) is very helpful.

Comparing us to all those countries doesn't make sense - there's no context. Finland is 100% union. Many of the countries track students into various programs. There are myraid differences. Factor all THOSE in and an argument that they are "eating us for lunch" somehow might have merit. As others have noted, this ISN'T a competition, and, furthermore, as Hung Zhao argues, many countries are abandoning their high-stakes testing and standardized curriculums because they see us eating THEIR lunch in creativity and innovation.

Then you ask us to "stipulate" to four or five things...(um, stipulate means "to assume to be true" - I will stipulate no such thing):

"1. Washington State doesn't provide adequate resources for public education and, if past is prologue, probably never will."
I disagree that we never will. I also believe much of the funding and resource is misdirected at silly things, such as central functions and 2500 head-hunter fees for each TFA. Lots of money is mis-spent, and no, for our needs, we DON'T supply enough and must supply more.

"2. Smaller class sizes make a difference, especially in younger grades. That costs money. See (1) above. My son's K class has 27 students; I am not happy about this but I don't have $25k for private school. Reality, again."
I agree. We need more teachers.

(cont.)

seattle citizen said...

(rebuttal of Jessica's points, cont.)

..."3. For the most part, educational achievement - measured, yes, by test scores - tracks with parental demographics. Wealthier children tend to do better, poor children tend to do worse."
Right again. So the conditions outside of school are the determinants for educational success. Let's offer wrap-around services like the reformer's pet charter, Harlem Zone, but without the charter. Start by not cutting Family Support Workers, counselors, and career/college advisors, then add much more support out in the community.

"Moving back into this debate, should teachers be expected to "solve" the achievement gap? Not on their own. But should tenured teachers be expected to improve the educational outcome for poor students? Absolutely. And should TFA teachers be expected to improve those outcomes? Absolutely."
Well....of COURSE teachers should improve outcomes for everybody! But the outcomes for some children will not be as good as those for others if the stuff outside the school isn't fixed. A teacher can't feed the kid (well, many do), or make the parents take away their iPod and crack open a book. But TFA are not teachers - no cert, no student teaching...and they come laden with the agenda of their leaders, which has changed in the last decade from actual volunteers in dorm rooms to being paid just like a real teacher and getting loan forgiveness etc. I think most people on this thread agree that a real teacher is better than a TFA, so...a real teacher would help a student, rich or poor, better than a TFA. Do you see any parents at, say, Roosevelt clamoring for TFA? No? Why not? Because they are happy with their teachers and want trained teachers, not two-year wannabes.

"4. Except there's another question related to TFA: How often are the best tenured teachers willing to work in the toughest classrooms? While I can't answer with certainty, I've never read about a curious oversupply of excellent teachers in bad schools anywhere in the country."
This is the most egregious statement of them all. All sorts of good teachers work in very difficult conditions all around the city. Are you saying that teachers aren't interested in working with poor students?! How dare you! There are excellent teachers doing their very best everywhere, in wealthier schools, poorer schools...furthermore, there are plenty of new teachers who have shown their commitment and professionalism by actually BECOMING teachers to fill the demand.

"TFA teachers are not pulled off the street and into the classroom. (Google tells me that more than 46,000 people applied for 4,500 spots.) I say, whether it's TFA or tenured teachers, welcome them into schools that need help, support them where possible and root for success. Rooting for failure is so Rush Limbaugh."
So, to use the TFA model, in order to staff the roughly four million teacher positions by getting lots of applications and culling for only the "best and the brightest," we would have to take in...40 million applications and turn away 36 million. You think there are 40 million people lining up to become teachers?

I say, don't put pseudo-teachers in the poorest schools, particularly when no one is anxious to have those pseudo-teachers in the wealthier schools. ALL children deserve teachers who have committed to the profession, not just people who feel liberal guilt, want a star on their resume, have college debt to pay off, or want to teacher for two years and then take higher-paying jobs in the edu-reform business, like so many seem to do. Teachers who are committed to teaching plan on being in the classroom, not just for two years but for the long haul. They need to show this dedication, like doctors and lawyers, by doing the hard work FIRST by being trained and mentored before they operate alone.

LA Teacher's Warehouse said...

Finland has already done school reform. It took them thirty years. They moved toward a system of more extensive teacher training, not less.

Here is an article on the subject by Linda Darling-Hammond.

Jessica said...

Seattle citizen, lots of points to discuss. First, I completely agree that the Board and Supt seem intent on sneaky maneuvers in many realms. Melissa and Charlie and others on this blog are very effective watchdogs and deserve massive thanks for their efforts on behalf of SPS families.

Moving on, Seattle Citizen is suspicious of "reformist ideology." As opposed to... a "pro-education" ideology? A "status-quo" ideology? A "professional teacher committed to a 30-year career" ideology? I think this focus on ideology is stale and doesn't move the ball.

Most failing schools have been failing for many years or even decades. They also typically have higher teacher turnover and less-experienced teachers than successful schools. And I'll repeat, in these schools, we need an "all of the above" approach to find partial solutions that might, one day, add up to progress.

So instead of focusing on "pro" or "anti" (charter, TFA, union, phonics, whatever) arguments, my question is, if something works in one school, can it work elsewhere? Could it work in a failing Seattle public school?

You offer an excellent idea: "Let's offer wrap-around services like the reformer's pet charter, Harlem Zone, but without the charter." If it's working, why condemn the charter aspect of it?

Teacher quality and certification: There are excellent, average and bad teachers (and all shades of gray in between) and your citation of 4 million teachers proves the point. Is it possible to find 4 million "excellent" or "good" people in any profession, let alone one that requires reading and math education, an understanding of child behavior, social work, a desire to contribute to society -- plus, in failing schools, the creativity, energy, idealism and persistence to work with families and children who struggle for basic necessities?

Seattle Citizen says "how dare" I say that "teachers aren't interested in working with poor students." I clearly haven't said that, Seattle Citizen. I'm saying there aren't ENOUGH excellent teachers for failing schools, and if TFA can supply some of them, let's open the door and if, as Eric M. says, 65% of TFAers leave after two years, that still means 35% commit to more.

Lastly, several posters have asked why TFA shouldn't be inflicted on schools like Roosevelt or Lakeside. It's a legitimate question that, to some, implies a conspiracy against the poor.
The somewhat obvious answer is, "supply and demand." It's harder for failing schools to attract and keep their best teachers, while successful schools have have more applicants than available positions.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"If it's working, why condemn the charter aspect of it?"

I think the question is more "How do we duplicate that without charters?"
because one of my objections to charters is simply ack! another layer of bureaucracy and the sheer amount of money to service it. It's going to take money away from existing schools. The funny thing about the Harlem Zone is they get TONS of private money (Geoffrey Canada admits this) so is it money or charter?

I absolutely do not get putting inexperienced, undertrained TFA teachers in a class with high needs kids. An article in the Washington Post had a 21-year old teacher in a middle school special ed class (with zero special ed training). Not good enough, not by a long-shot.

LA Teacher's Warehouse said...

A bright, energetic teacher with, say, a Masters in Teaching from Seattle University's social justice program

vs.

A bright, energetic teacher with five weeks of training.

And there are plenty of recent graduates from SU who are looking for work and would gladly teach in any school in Seattle with an open position.

So why TFA? Why not SU?

Or, to put this another way: in Finland, where they've already done education reform, teachers receive three years of intensive training. They went in the precise opposite direction that the USA is going: more local control, fewer standardized tests, more teacher training, a general elevation of the profession of teaching.

I would love to see some evidence-based education policymaking in the USA. But alas--ed reformers in this country seem to think their zeal is sufficient justification for their policies.

seattle citizen said...

Seattle citizen, lots of points to discuss. First, I completely agree that the Board and Supt seem intent on sneaky maneuvers in many realms. Melissa and Charlie and others on this blog are very effective watchdogs and deserve massive thanks for their efforts on behalf of SPS families.

Moving on, Seattle Citizen is suspicious of "reformist ideology." As opposed to... a "pro-education" ideology? A "status-quo" ideology? A "professional teacher committed to a 30-year career" ideology? I think this focus on ideology is stale and doesn't move the ball.

Most failing schools have been failing for many years or even decades. They also typically have higher teacher turnover and less-experienced teachers than successful schools. And I'll repeat, in these schools, we need an "all of the above" approach to find partial solutions that might, one day, add up to progress.

So instead of focusing on "pro" or "anti" (charter, TFA, union, phonics, whatever) arguments, my question is, if something works in one school, can it work elsewhere? Could it work in a failing Seattle public school?

You offer an excellent idea: "Let's offer wrap-around services like the reformer's pet charter, Harlem Zone, but without the charter." If it's working, why condemn the charter aspect of it?

Teacher quality and certification: There are excellent, average and bad teachers (and all shades of gray in between) and your citation of 4 million teachers proves the point. Is it possible to find 4 million "excellent" or "good" people in any profession, let alone one that requires reading and math education, an understanding of child behavior, social work, a desire to contribute to society -- plus, in failing schools, the creativity, energy, idealism and persistence to work with families and children who struggle for basic necessities?

Seattle Citizen says "how dare" I say that "teachers aren't interested in working with poor students." I clearly haven't said that, Seattle Citizen. I'm saying there aren't ENOUGH excellent teachers for failing schools, and if TFA can supply some of them, let's open the door and if, as Eric M. says, 65% of TFAers leave after two years, that still means 35% commit to more.

Lastly, several posters have asked why TFA shouldn't be inflicted on schools like Roosevelt or Lakeside. It's a legitimate question that, to some, implies a conspiracy against the poor.
The somewhat obvious answer is, "supply and demand." It's harder for failing schools to attract and keep their best teachers, while successful schools have have more applicants than available positions.

seattle citizen said...

Oops, last comment I made had "copy" of Jessica's comments I worked from on a doc I copied it to, instead of my response. Here's my response:

Jessica, I'm suspicious of "reformist ideology" because it does not recognize existing excellence or all the things that have been happening over the decades that are NOT "status quo." What status quo are you talking about? Teachers innovate, students change, laws change, curricula changes...constant change.

You write that "most failing schools have been failing for many years or even decades." I am suspicious also of this bizarre claim that "schools fail." Schools do not fail, some students and some staff fail. When people say "failing school" (based exclusively on standardized test scores, which do not recognize all sorts of successes that happen outside their parameters) this allows them to ignore the successes. In every failing school there are things that work, students learning, staff teaching...Your model ("failing schools") is being used to "restructure" entire schools without looking at the successes and thereby rolling right over them, ignoring them, in favor of "new and shiny" (as if what is going in buildings every day ISN'T new, as if it's always "status quo"...) and the new and shiney erases, wipes out, the successes that are happening on individual levels everywhere.
"High turnover and less-experienced teachers"? Then why, oh why, would we want non-teachers with five weeks training, who will likely move on to other careers in two years?
We don't need "all of the above" to find partial solutions that "might" add up to success. We already know what works - wrap around services, addressing individual needs, helping teachers develop creative and interesting connections to students...we DON'T need more testing, cheaper "teachers" and canned curriculum. We don't need a charter to do any of the good things we need to do to support children in the community, the students in the schools. Besides, their are children in ALL schools who need support, and charters don't deal with these students one little bit. Only those students in charters get attention? Great. This is more of the "failing school" or "successful school" perspective that ignores individual students and staff and wipes clean success in favor of what is more and more often proving to be bad pedagogy.

Teachers, many of them, teache precisely because they have the "desire to contribute to society" We don't need TFA to bring that to teaching.

What do you mean there "aren't enough excellent teachers for failing schools"? There you go again (thanks, Gipper!) slighting teachers. If a teacher isn't "excellent enough" for any given school, well, their admin can evaluate them and either make them excellent or fire them, whereupon another teacher can step up. TFA does nothing to change this equation. You seem to be suggesting that teachers just want the "soft jobs" with "easy" students - As I wrote above, teachers teach, and many chose the profession to help those who struggle.
You end by saying it's harder for struggling schools to keep and attract "excellent teachers". Prove it. On what do you base this statement? And then, I ask, so we should just put in "teachers" with five weeks experience? Wouldn't happen at Roosevelt, we shouldn't do it at some school with a large proportion of struggling students. We should, instead, address those students as the unique individuals they are, instead of Ones or Twos on HSPE, 186 or 195 on MAP, "Black" and therefore "struggling," "White" and therefore "not struggling." We need to NOT look at broad generalizations and look, instead at human beings.

Sahila said...

On the subject of cheap, alternative sources of teachers (which Washington now allows), see this piece about the Louisiana situation:

Guestworker Teachers Defrauded in International Labor Trafficking Scheme

as someone on the Miseducation Nation facebook page asked:

"H1-B guest workers - teachers from 2002 to 2006 up from
14,943 to 19,393 Is this where the new CHEAP teachers will come from
for charters? WHY do we have to go off shore for teachers? Is this how
they will try to break the unions as they advance the charter school
agenda?"

Miseducation Nation

Jessica said...

If Seattle Citizen won't acknowledge the existence of "failing schools," then I guess we aren't going to find much common ground on this subject!

Also, you seem determined to view any criticism of "under-performing" (is that a better word?) schools or their staff as a slight on all teachers. Sigh. Perhaps other readers are more discerning than that.

I am surprised that Seattle Citizen disputes my point that there "aren't enough excellent teachers for failing schools." This is exactly why many urban school districts offer incentive pay to experienced teachers to transfer from high-achieving schools to "failing" schools. (Here's a Feb 2010 story in the Boston Globe about this: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/05/10/mass_hunting_for_star_teachers/)

In its new contract, Seattle takes a less-assertive approach, offering incentive pay of $2k to teachers who (a) work in lowest-performing schools and (b) aren't already under an improvement plan.

On this point, here's an open question for high-quality teachers who read this blog: Do you think $2000 will motivate you or your colleagues to move to or stay in Seattle's low-performing schools?

seattle citizen said...

Jessica, please explain to me how a "school fails" and not the individuals in it. Does not every school have success, also?

What is your definition of a "failing school"?

seattle citizen said...

Jessica, what I am trying to rebut, in case I've not been clear, is your assertion that "excellent teachers" don't seem to want to teach in "failing schools."

Where do you get this from? Do you have some statistics to back it up? If you don't, you're merely mouthing platitudes, something you've heard. I know all sorts of excellent teachers working in all sorts of schools with all sorts of students.

Conversely, it would make perfect sense, under the new evaluation metric, for teachers to NOT want to work in schools with a higher proportion of students who are struggling, as it will ding their evaluations where those evaluations use test scores. It would be in their professional interest to "run to the top", to find a placement where there are few strugglers, or give struggling students the boot, as some charters seem to be doing to increase their test scores. Hmmm.

Please define "excellent teacher."
Please tell us how you know they avoid "failing schools."
Please define "failing schools."

Thanks!

Jessica said...

Seattle Citizen writes: "please explain to me how a "school fails" and not the individuals in it. Does not every school have success, also?

In the late 1990s, I wrote a news article about an elementary school in Queens NY where 8 percent of 4th graders were reading at grade level. 99 percent of the students qualified for free/reduced lunch. Most of the students lived in nearby housing projects. Many of the children's parents had attended that school in the previous 15 or so years and were similarly near-illiterate.

This was, by any definition I can think of, a failing school - and it had failed generations of students and families. No, that 8% reading proficiency did not qualify as success.

The NYC schools and teachers union agreed on new rules for hiring in this and similarly terrible schools. A new, energetic and determined principal was given a slightly higher budget, and she hired an almost entirely new staff of teachers who committed to stay in the school for at least three years in return for bonus pay. The school also began extraordinarily structured literacy and math programs that involved very little creatity. Within 3 years after this principal's arrival, 22 percent of 4th graders were reading at grade level.

I just looked at the stats at the school and the progress is astonishing. The same principal is still there, and the annual student attendance rate is 91%. 65% of 4th graders are meeting English criteria and 84% are meeting math standards.

This is no longer a "failing school" and it took wholesale change - not incremental change - to turn the ship around.

The student population and poverty didn't change. The school's leadership and teachers changed dramatically, and they stopped making excuses for what wasn't happening or what couldn't be done.

Was this a "reformist agenda"? It was an intensely practical agenda that didn't rely on small, individual successes to make anyone feel better about the previous overall failure.

Jessica said...

Next, Seattle Citizen asks for statistics to prove my assertion that there aren't enough "excellent teachers" in the worst schools? (I did not say, as Seattle Citizen claims, "that 'excellent teachers' don't seem to want to teach in 'failing schools.' ")

There is a difference between "excellence" and "experienced," but since an early commenter described TFA teachers are "inexperienced bozos," I think we can equate excellence with experience in this context.

There has been a lot of research about teacher experience (length of teaching career) in schools with high vs. low test scores. The term of art is "teacher retention": how often do teachers who work in low-performing schools stay there or leave for higher-performing schools?

Google finds me a very relevant March 2005 study from the UW's School of Education about districts in Washington State - that is, very local data. (http://depts.washington.edu/ctpmail/PDFs/TeacherRetention.pdf).

The study looked at how often teachers stay or leave schools or districts. And, conveniently for this discussion, it also examines the correlation between teacher retention and school or student performance. Here are two key conclusions (copied from p. vi):

• "Teacher retention is related to the composition of the school’s student population — in particular to the poverty level and racial make-up of students. Schools serving a greater number of students in poverty retain fewer of their teachers after five years. Schools with a greater percentage of White students tend to retain a greater percentage of their teachers at the same school after five years. Schools serving a larger proportion of African-
American students retain fewer of their teachers across the
same period.

• "In a mutually reinforcing pattern, school poverty, retention and school performance are linked to one another. Poverty rates are strongly associated with student performance. In some districts, higher performance (on measures of mathematics and reading) is
associated with both lower poverty and higher retention rates of
both experienced and novice teachers."

The detailed statistical analysis (starting p. 29) makes another conclusion on p. 32: In Seattle, "the pattern is consistent and easy to spot: teacher retention is negatively associated with both poverty rates and WASL reading and math scores. That is, schools with the lowest teacher retention rates have the highest poverty rates and the lowest WASL scores."

In making these points, I am not criticizing Seattle teachers who choose to work in one school or another. I am not suggesting that all teachers lack idealism or a desire to help needy children.

I am asserting that Seattle's worst schools don't have enough experienced (or excellent) teachers, and I think this data pretty clearly backs me up.

On a related point, this same study found that 37% of Seattle's newest teachers stay in the profession after four years - at any school, not just good or bad schools. If it's true that only 35% of TFAers continue after two years, that doesn't seem like such a massive difference to me.

ttln said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ttln said...

If we were to take the teachers in the low performing schools and put them in higher performing schools, might it be possible that suddenly those "bad" teachers are "good?" Consider how much content/how many standards are taught when a teacher has to provide food, supplies, and remove other barriers to learning before they can begin the lesson. With those barriers removed, imagine how much better a teacher can be and how much less energy it takes to do their job (not just physical energy, but emotional energy- it ages one tremendously).

Having been there and done that, I would have to say that $2000 is no where near enough money. Double my salary and then I would consider it.

Additionally, The idea of charter schools has entered my mind several times in my career. When a person comes from private industry with head hunters who come and recruit you away from your company, where talent goes to the highest bidder, getting paid based on some communistic system of credits and years regardless of talent is insulting. "But teachers teach for love, not money." Tell it to the mortgage company and Sallie Mae. I cannot pay them with "love." I also could say that if I was working with an easy population, these thoughts would not have entered my mind because getting paid would have felt more like highway robbery than receiving scrip for use at the company store.

Don't get me wrong. I do love what I do and have entered into the profession knowing that the salary is what it is. Thank goodness for the long breaks, because without them I would have worked myself to death years ago. I earn the right to the extended summer time off- and I am not paid for it. We are paid for the days we work (@7.5 hours, though we all know the "good teachers" spend far more than 7.5 hours a day doing their job)only. Remember that. Since it had been asked, "Is $2000 enough," I am answering in a way that might attempt to commodify the "noble cause" and "love" factors of the position. I am sure you all can quantify the value of your talent. The open market reigns for the majority of you. I have no idea how to begin to estimate the value of mine in a free market. Then there are the intangibles of the job. How much is love worth?

Seattle-Ed2010 said...

Melissa Westbrook said... The cred that some say TFA has is that they can bring more bilingual teachers, math and science teachers (in 5 weeks they're ready to teach math and science and all of them majored in either field?), and bring large numbers of teachers of color.

Actually, I've read that one of the criticisms of TFA is that their "recruits" are primarily white, and NOT teachers of color. Anyone have any stats on that?

The idea of a bunch of young, white Ivy League grads breezing in and out of our most diverse and challenging schools to "teach" poor kids of color for two years does not sound like a particularly enlightened plan to me.

Teaching should not be treated as just another patch on someone's Boy/Girl Scout sash.

Here's another detail -- apparently TFA is just a way to train an elite group of 'future leaders,' according to this article in U.S. News & World Report: http://www.usnews.com/articles/education/k-12/2008/03/05/what-is-teach-for-america-really-like.html

Note the creepy use of the word "embedded" and the stellar example given of a TFA grad who goes on to other things -- Michelle Rhee, D.C. school chancellor who is so hated by D.C. voters that they just ousted her employer Mayor Adrian Fenty, and possibly her with him.

"Now that the early corps members are approaching their early 40s, we're starting to see signs that these leaders that have been embedded in society are starting to rise up. If you troll the education reform movements, the big nonprofits, and philanthropies, you'll see TFA alum[s] in their ranks. I think a real marker was laid down last spring when TFA alum Michelle Rhee was named chancellor of the D.C. schools."

Which leaves me asking: Who is TFA really trying to help -- the poor kids in the struggling schools, or the elite TFA "recruits" who use their TFA stint as a feel-good resume-stuffer and springboard to their real careers?

-- sp.

LA Teacher's Warehouse said...

I am a teacher. May I speak? My hand is raised.

How many of you have taught reluctant learners who are in danger of failing to graduate? I have.

How many of you have, as a mentor teacher, trained student teachers to teach reluctant learners? I have.

How many of you have published, in conjunction with colleagues, a paper on support strategies for early-career teachers? I have.

One would think that my experiences would count for something in the public debate about how to, for example, reach reluctant learners, and help them to graduate and go on to college. But I can tell you that politicians, the School Board, and so-called education advocates don't listen to people like me. And I'm politically active.

I'm not suggesting that I and other teachers lack credibility among the general public. On the contrary, in my interactions with parents and voters, I find that I have plenty of credibility. It's only among people in the media, politicians, and rich people that I lack a voice.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, I do not forgive.

LA Teacher's Warehouse said...

Now that I've finished with my anticipatory set, I'll proceed to a short anecdotal account, which will be followed with a very short academic lesson.

My first two years of teaching I taught reluctant learners. I enjoyed it. It was deeply fulfilling. It was important work for which I was recognized. I felt rewarded. Then the district RIF'd me. Unnecessarily. When I was rehired, I was brought into a completely new job. I enjoy my current assignment, and I love my students. But I'm not teaching reluctant learners anymore. Why? Because of the instability created by the district. It had nothing to do with wanting to escape a tough assignment. If I had the opportunity to teach reluctant learners again, I would do it if the district demonstrated a long-term commitment to supporting and funding teachers who do this work. But that's not where the district is putting its money. It would rather test students and play with data. Guess how many days our library is scheduled to be closed this year due to testing of all varieties? Forty-one days. That, friends, is approaching 1/4 of the year when our library is closed to students and our librarians are serving as test-monitors. Think about how that displaces curriculum. Is that good for reluctant learners?

Seattle University's Master in Teaching program specializes in social justice education and trains teachers to work with reluctant learners. I have a colleague who works in an elementary school in the south end. She told me this summer that she is tired of hearing her school called "low-performing." She is not a low-performing teacher. She has not left her job. She is committed to working with her students of low socio-economic status. She is insulted by language people use to describe her school. The blame-the-teacher atmosphere created by ed reformers and politicians and the MSM is bad for her morale. The idea that her school could somehow improve with the presence of TFA neophytes is ludicrous. There is no shortage of teachers with her credentials out there--committed and trained teachers with Masters in Teaching from a social justice education program.

LA Teacher's Warehouse said...

Now for the academic part.

The idea that we should try TFA because we need an all-of-the-above approach is illogical. We do not have infinite resources and infinite opportunities to experiment. We have to work within limits. As such, we have to make choices. Choices are either based on criteria or they aren't. If they aren't, then the choices are arbitrary or random. We can debate whether our criteria for hiring teachers include experience, education, youth, non-union membership or whatever you please. But "let's-just-try-it" is not a criterion, and as policy it is deeply irrational.

So what do we do to improve education? There is no shortage of research on the subject, and there is no shortage of successful models for improving education. However, whatever model you choose, rule number one is:

No teacher buy-in, no education reform. If policymakers refuse to listen to us, they will never improve education.

Rule number two:

High academic standards and a low dropout rate are linked, even in schools with high minority populations.

UC Santa Barbara Gevirtz Graduate School of Education has been leading research on the dropout problem for years. What we need to do to improve the graduation rate and academic achievement is not a secret.

Rule number three:

Arguably the best single method for addressing the achievement gap is through summer learning programs.

Johns Hopkins University has been leading research on this subject for years. This research is also not a secret and is readily available.

Rule number four:

Genuine school reform requires a long-term commitment that addresses funding, community involvement, the social status of the teaching profession, teacher training, education equity, social justice, health care, and a host of related issues.

We can't expect to import solutions from different social contexts, but the experience of Finland is suggestive and bears close examination.

Because I am a teacher, I am a solution-oriented person who, every day, is solving a host of practical problems in education. Only a teacher can say that.

formerteacher said...

I checked out TFA's Web site and read between the lines a bit. They've had massive growth since 2005, and I think their mission has expanded from serving high-need classrooms to creating a market for their own recruits. ("And so, in 2005 we launched an ambitious growth plan, resolving to build a truly effective movement to eliminate educational inequity by becoming bigger and better. Reaching these goals will enable us to realize the potential of our mission and theory of change.") - from http://www.teachforamerica.org/about/our_growth_plan.htm

Melissa Westbrook said...

LA Teacher, great, great thoughts. Thanks for writing all that.

"I'm not suggesting that I and other teachers lack credibility among the general public. On the contrary, in my interactions with parents and voters, I find that I have plenty of credibility. It's only among people in the media, politicians, and rich people that I lack a voice."

I think this is very true. In just the experience with working on opposing this levy and having teachers working with us and lending their front-line voices, I feel like we are reaching people. I think it is also somewhat hard for politicians to ignore that we have teachers speaking up.

"No teacher buy-in, no education reform."

And this is a point I have been trying to make speaking to various groups. If the Superintendent has a no-confidence vote against her of 99% and one of her duties is to lead and motivate the teaching corps, how can she do this part of her job well? Has anyone heard from the Board or the Superintendent how she plans to address this issue? Or will she pretend it never happened?

No teacher buy-in and all the "strategic" plans in the world will not take hold.

hschinske said...

One excellent reason for recent college grads to join Teach for America right now ... the economy. Who else is going to guarantee you a job?

Helen Schinske

SC Parent said...

Maybe TFA provides an intelligent corps of teacher advocates who have experienced first-hand the challenges facing our nation's teachers.

Or they're bozos. nice.

Anyways, I don't think 35% retention isn't all that bad given (1) they go to 'undesireable' schools and (2) the clear animosity shown to them by the teachers who comment on this blog - not a very supportive group of co-workers.

In my opinion, they can't screw up our kids any worse than MGJ. I'm more interested in the budgeting. I wasn't aware they got paid the same salary as a teacher.