Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Teach for America Contract Due to Expire but Hires can Continue

Seattle Public Schools' Agreement with Teach for America was approved by the Board on November 17, 2010. The agreement terminates on August 31, 2014 unless renewed by mutual consent of both parties. I don't believe that a majority of the current Board would vote to extend it. The Agreement has been more divisive than effective.

Teach for America in Seattle has been mostly about angry debate. While the BAR for the Agreement only claimed benefit was a larger candidate pool and the benefits associated with that, the Powerpoint for the Board that came with the vote suggested that Teach for America corps members would make the candidate pool more demographically and educationally diverse and suggested that they were more dedicated to closing the academic achievement gap than other candidates or candidates in general.



The agreement allows Teach for America to continue to collect fees for the first and second year's work for Corps members hired under the Agreement, and, of course, Teach for America will continue to provide a second year of support to corps members hired under the Agreement even after the termination date. So those fees and that last year of support for the few Teach for America corps members hired this year will be around for the 2014-2015 school year.

Here's the tricky part: when the Agreement was made everyone spoke about it being a three year deal. Corps members were hired at the start of the school year in 2011, in 2012, and in 2013. But the contract doesn't terminate until August 31, 2014. That gives corps members an opportunity to get hired in a fourth school year, 2014, so long as the hire gets made by August 31.

Of course, Teach for America corps members could be hired with or without the Agreement. All the Agreement did was obligate the Board to recommend the candidate for conditional certification from the state. Any corps members who get hired and seek the Board's approval of their request for a conditional certificate after August 31 can still get it, but the Board will not be contractually obligated to provide it. Corps members will be on an equal footing with all other teachers hired without a certification in place.

In short, this Agreement never really had much real impact and the termination of the Agreement won't have much real impact. Corps members always were and will continue to be free to apply for teaching jobs at Seattle Public Schools. They will require conditional teaching certificates if they are not already certificated (why doesn't the Education industry use the word "certified"?). The request for a conditional certificate will require Board approval. I have never seen the Board deny a request. Never. And the state doesn't deny them either. In fact, the state agency that receives the requests doesn't even believe they should police them. So the Agreement was mostly public relations - and not particularly good PR. I think Teach for America would have done better to fly below the radar here in Seattle rather than to loudly announce their presence and their plans.

Their plans, by the way, have utterly failed to flower. They were expecting to get about 50 corps members a year hired in the Puget Sound area. They expected to have 100-150 corps members working as teachers by now. Instead, they have about 20-30 - if that many. The alternative teacher certification program developed exclusively for Teach for America corps members at the University of Washington is a huge bust.

I think the Board needs to seriously consider the wisdom of approving motions like this one that requires future Boards to vote to approve future motions. I don't think it's right for the Board to obligate a future Board in that way. For example, there was a companion motion, passed along with the approval of the Agreement, that required a report on the effectiveness of the Agreement before the Agreement could be extended. That rule, of course, doesn't really restrict anything since the Board will accept anything as a "report" from the Superintendent - even if it doesn't contain any of the required elements of that report.

20 comments:

mirmac1 said...

Great post Charlie. TFA flew under the radar in Clover Park, Renton, and I expect other districts. I never saw that the boards were asked to approve applications for conditional certificates, as required by the RCW/WAC. TFA used its slimy tactics to push its agenda.

Now that the new shiny thing is the Seattle Teacher Residency, I would expect TFA to shrivel away. The STR will eventually cost SPS $700K or 50% of the costs per year. Board members think that they will find grants, but grants will already be funding the other 50%.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, good job, Charlie.

I would add to the chorus - TFA has not been popular in SPS nor in the Puget Sound region. Their great hope are charters which hire many TFA teachers - cheap and malleable. (And what a way to build a solid teaching corps - a revolving door of teachers.)

I am going to advocate for non-renewal - symbolic or not - to the Board. They have added little diversity to the teaching pool and have not been hired in big numbers. (To the best of my knowledge, SPS has never paid the $2k per year per teacher TFA fee.)

As Mirmac says, we are going to be taking time and resources to develop the STR program. If SPS, with its partners, is going to be spending that money on new teachers, they don't need any association with TFA. As Charlie says, a TFA teacher can be hired anyway so no need to renew.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I forgot to add - the TFA program at UW is significantly underenrolled. I'm sure professors and staff there are tearing their hair out over having to provide services to TFA - small class sizes due to their numbers - and yet the regular program students are stuck in huge classes. (Yes, this is documented.)

So when we complain that we don't have enough higher ed dollars, well, there are programs that run in the red that should be ended as well.

To note, many TFA students are from out-of-state. If we want to provide higher ed to more Washington state students, that money needs to be directed to programs that support in-state students.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Also to note, TFA was recently exited from Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a UW tie-in to TFA? It was the dean I think? Would the program there continue for other TFA kids in the Northwest if the Seattle contract goes away? I hate to see any underused program being funded when the need for professional development resources for teachers is so great.

SavvyVoter

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, the dean of the UW College of Ed is an ex-TFA who pushed very hard for TFA at UW. It would be up to UW to decide to hang on if SPS ends its contract. But again, TFA (and the dean) will make the argument that charters are coming.

I'll get an address for provost so we can write to UW about this issue.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this excellent post and update by all of you. Let's not forget that TFA was largely negotiated over wine between Susan Enfield and the TFA reps.

Had Enfield been hired (or coronated, as she seemed to expect) we might have seen many more principals try to please her by hiring these untrained people at their schools.

--enough already

mirmac1 said...

Here is the &#^$@! that Melissa is referring to:

TFA/UW still a bumpy ride

Charlie Mas said...

The Teach for America thing never made much sense to me - not from any perspective.

First, the presence of Teach for America is totally unnecessary here. There were over a hundred qualified applicants for every teaching position that TfA corps members could have applied for. So I didn't see any need to expand the candidate pool beyond that.

Second, no agreement was necessary. The agreement didn't obligate the District to hire any corps members, it only obligated the Board to approve their request for conditional certification from the state. Since the Board has never (to my knowledge) denied this approval, it was unnecessary to contractually obligate them to give it.

The Agreement will soon terminate which won't really create much change. TfA corps members will still be allowed to apply for teaching jobs, principals will still be free to hire them, and the Board will still approve their request for a conditional certificate. Just as the termination of the Agreement won't bring any change, the creation of the Agreement didn't bring any change. The whole Agreement served no real purpose; it was strictly about PR.

And, finally, as a PR effort it was a bust. It created controversy and divisiveness when TfA could have come to Seattle with no fanfare, made their cocktail party circuit, and gotten their corps members hired all without the Agreement, the public relations, or the divisiveness. They put our community through this distress and chaos just so they could get some press.

And that's what really bugs me. That's reflective of the arrogance of this organization and their contempt for our community. They created a lot of unnecessary drama just so they could get some ink.

Anonymous said...

Just asking: Under Initiative 900, wouldn't the TFA program at the University of Washington be subject to a performance audit by the State Auditor's office? Unless my understanding of the initiative is incorrect. I believe the answer is yes.

-- Ivan Weiss

Anonymous said...

Charlie,

My take on it was always that Enfield was trying to ingratiate herself with the powers-that-be in order to expedite her own personal Race to the Top. Those affiliated with the TFA (and their supporters) are still potential career contacts for her in the future--she may yet be amply rewarded for selling out the students and teachers in SPS.

That makes a lot of sense for her, but not the district.

--enough already

Melissa Westbrook said...

Enough already, that is a good point about Enfield and one I had not considered.

Ivan, I asked the Auditor. They told me, in writing, that this was not under their review and that UW can have any program they like. I was a bit surprised but there you are.

Carolyn Leith said...

Another look at TFA, from the inside:

What Teach for America Says When It Talks to Itself

Melissa Westbrook said...

I have read that article, Carolyn. I'm sure it does not represent all TFAers but it was upsetting reading all the same.

chunga said...

The board should end the contract now so it's clearer to TFA that no conditional certs will automatically be given for the start of the next school year.

Jack Whelan said...

Charlie said: "The Teach for America thing never made much sense to me - not from any perspective."

It's interesting that it looks that way now, because two or three years ago, I think we had reason to be concerned.

TFA never made sense from the pov of people concerned about the quality of education in SPS, but it made sense from the pov of corporate reform strategists whose goals have been to infiltrate local school districts everywhere with teachers receptive to their reform model and to undermine the influence of unions. Charters serve the same strategic purpose.

It didn't work in Seattle because there was a lot of activist resistance, and the superintendents and key board members most receptive to implementing this national reform agenda are no longer here.

Thoughtful resistance to TFA was never about the individual TFA recruits, but rather about resisting this larger, toxic reform agenda for which TFA has been an essential tool. That it now appears to have been a nonsensical failed strategy says more about the sophistication of the local resistance than about the logic of the larger reform strategy, which has been very effectively implemented in other less politically sophisticated districts.

I hope that charters follow the same pattern.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Good points all, Jack.

It will be quite interesting to see how many charter applications there are in the next round.

Anonymous said...

The saddest part is that SEA has been the least "politically sophisticated" of all. The most conservative cities almost always have better unions than SEA. Teachers in Seattle have been loathe to get their hands dirty for too long, and they are now paying the piper with their current contract.

Mirmac single-handedly had much to due with the outcome of TFA in Seattle with the pursuit and release of those toxic emails between Enfield and TFA. I believe that Enfield would be the current superintendent of SPS if those emails had not come to light.

--enough already

Anonymous said...

that would be "much to do" so let's give Mirmac her "due"

--enough already

mirmac1 said...

Given the outcome, it was much a "do" about nothing. : )