More Voices on TFA

This op-ed by Garfield teacher, Jesse Hagopian, appears in the Times. I'm surprised at his candor given the tight reins at TFA but good on him for speaking up. He taught in the Bronx from 2001-2003. (I'm thinking his first day of school was probably 9/11 but that may be another story.)

I'll let you read it but this is how he ends it:

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

Meanwhile, Lynne Varner of the Times' editorial board makes it about the union (and that's not true at least not for most of us here). But help me out here, what is she saying?

But there is much to find compelling about TFA's mission and how it prepares new teachers. Janis Ortega, who scouts sites for TFA from her Los Angeles base, describes the reductive process the organization uses to gauge whether a young professional is capable of the rigors of teaching.

The question is, "what would they do if some parents didn't show up for the parent conference?" Regardless of the answer, the follow up question is "when that doesn't work, then what will you do?"

The question is repeated until candidates realize what they're really being asked is, "how far are you willing to go to help a student succeed" when all compelling evidence points to parents as the biggest non-classroom factor.

Okay, and???

Then this:

TFA may be another Band-Aid on the open wound that represents our sickest schools. Better than letting those children continue to bleed.

Except it's a band-aid that gets ripped off every two years. That's a good idea?


seattle citizen said…
Lynne Varner is sooo disrespectful of teachers in her pro-TFA propaganda piece:

"The corps targets recent college graduates idealistic enough to think they can improve some of the nation's worse-performing rural and urban schools."
So all those who actually do the hard work to get a certificate aren't idealistic?
"The other day I talked to Cornell University graduate David Musselwhite. He sounded like a sage classroom veteran disguised as a 22-year-old"
So all those teachers with BAs, BSs, and masters degrees from, say, the UW just aren't "sage" enough?
"There are some Seattle schools that could use Musselwhite's talents"
Which ones, Lynne? Which are the schools so full of non-idealistic teachers, so empty of talent, are you referring to?
"it has been a struggle to get teachers to go into the poorest, most struggling schools."
Really Lynne? West Seattle had 800 applicants. I know plenty of teachers who are in schools that have many poor students, WANTED to be in schools with poor students...Enough with the "those lazy teachers wanting to be pampered" bullshit already.
"the least-effective teachers end up in the lowest-performing schools where good teaching counts far more."

THAT is the most disrespectful comment of the bunch. What an insult. Lynne is just plain anti-public school teacher.

"Tensions about TFA lie in the fast-track way they are trained, the mission-style zeal of the young teachers and the potential for this nontraditional route to challenge economic and labor traditions in teaching."
No, tensions lie in the deprofessionalizing of teaching. And what "economic tradition" are TFAs challenging? That someone can have a career in teaching, aspire to a long and tough job teaching kids and make a living at it, instead of merely cycling through new conditional certs every two years so the pay scale remains low?
And that bit about calling teachers don't do this now, like teachers don't try as hard as they can to reach students, parents, whomever....Lynne is a disgrace to her profession (if she can call it that)
dan dempsey said…
Spot On SC.

LouiseM said…
FROM 2001 to 2003, I "taught for America."

I'm not advocating for or against TFA, but want to point out that Jessie's training was over 9 years ago, so I would think that TFA has learned and improved over those years.

I also don't believe that 4 years of college in a teacher program prepares you for the realities of life in the classroom either. Yes, it prepares you for pedagogy, content, etc., but I think if you ask most new teachers about their first year you would get the same response Jessie gave (of course that depends on the support you receive from the district).

Finally, just because you go back to get a masters in teaching, it doesn't mean you're instantly a better teacher, but it does get you a bigger paycheck. Teaching is a gift. All teachers should strive to be good or great. Those who just don't have the capacity should be counseled to other professions.

I'm not trying to discredit or disrespect teachers. I'm simply pointing out that just because you're an experienced teacher, it doesn't mean you're good at your job or better than someone with less experience. I think that's true of all professions actually, except other (nonunion) professions have evaluations that weed out low performers.
chunga said…
LouiseM - I don't quite understand your point. Of course, no amount of training or experience _guarantees_ someone will be a great teacher. That's not an excuse to just let anyone teach. Part of going through a teachers cert program and student teaching is to see if you've what it takes. Research shows that experienced and certified teachers are more effective (on average). And, even novice, but certified teachers are more effective than novice, but un-certified teachers, including TFA recruits. How can we in good conscience recruit these inexperienced and minimally trained TFA candidates for the neediest schools - especially when they have a track record of not staying in the classroom longer than two years? Sure, a small percentage will stick with it and become great teachers after they gain experience and get their certification. Most will not and the neediest children will be asked to pay the price.
wseadawg said…
True, LouiseM: Very true. But that's the spin too.

The TFA issue is whether we need them or not when we already have highly qualified, but unemployed teachers here who were RIF'd, and not laid off for performance deficits.

I appreciate the TFA corps' efforts. But their public speaking before the board is galling, arrogant, over-the-top self-congratulatory, and outright offensive.

As a group, they seem oblivious to the fact that as they chant "it's all about the kids," what they project is: "I'm the best!" All of MY kids will go to college (so they can be great) JUST LIKE ME!

"I could have taken a job with a six figure salary, but instead I chose to work amongst the lepers and teach."
Okay, yeah, I get

While I appreciate anyone doing good for their fellow man, I remain unimpressed with the attitude and arrogance of the TFA teachers I've encountered and heard from thus far.

There's a difference between confidence and professionalism on the one hand, and boorish, class-based, arrogance on the other. Don't we all get tired of people going on about how great they are? Isn't that the mindset that leads to really, really bad decisions, like economic melt-downs and wars?

"I'm great, therefore, I'm right" is not a mindset to be countenanced.
Kathy said…
I wonder if district will fund STAR. If so, how many of those dollars will fund TfA recruits over our certificated staff?

Just doesn't feel right.
" I would think that TFA has learned and improved over those years."

You'd think but we don't know do we.

At least real teachers have spent a lot of time in classroom situations being monitored by a mentor teacher.

One thing I find telling is that no TFA teacher will be at the schools where the Superintendent and Board members have their children.
Anonymous said…
While my daughter has been in SPS system I have found that it is the experienced Seattle public school teachers who hold the district together in the face of the many costly and ineffective whims of the school board and Superintendent.

Embracing a revolving door policy for teachers will remove the last remaining stable element in Seattle public school education.
mirmac1 said…
Good question. How much Title IIA money will go towards training TfA alternative route candidates, instead of our young fully certified teachers?
Maureen said…
no TFA teacher will be at the schools where the Superintendent and Board members have their children, I don't know, it seems totally up to the principal, if the principal of South Shore (currently an interim: Keisha Scarlett) is a fan of TfA or thinks it might be a good career move to become one, then TfA could end up at South Shore. They are currently at Level 2 and are showing a pretty substantial Elementary black/white achievement gap in their School Report (37% Reading, 46% Math--almost the same as the District average-40% and 46%))
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
wseadawg said…
Anonymous at 10:30: I couldn't agree more. I have seen and experienced first hand how union-protected experienced teachers have stood up and said "Oh no you won't!" to power-hungry, belligerent administrators and pushed-back against things that would interfere with instruction instead of supporting it.

Yes, the union might protect a few bad apples, and that's not good. But far too many people take for granted all the good that comes from having a stable, experienced workforce that can focus on the art and science of teaching and not who's lurking in the wings, ready to eat their lunch or fire them out for low test scores.

Teaching is a profession, and too often a thankless one at that. Union or no-union, they deserve our respect.
Anonymous said…
Part 1

I might be giving over my time tonight to someone at the school board meeting so I am posting my testimony and sending it to the board members just in case that happens.

It goes as follows:

I am here to provide testimony regarding Teach for America, Inc. and as Jim Horn in Schools Matter describes it, the “anti preparation program”.

Within the five weeks of preparation of a TFA, Inc. recruit, to paraphrase Mr. Horn, where does the study occur of child development, educational psychology, sociology, philosophy and history, learning science, cognitive science, curriculum theory and practice along with the development of research skills, classroom management, and the study of human dynamics that is part of the education of a teacher, at least a teacher who I want and expect teaching in my daughter’s school?

And what about the IEP students who are mainstreamed into the general student population? Does TFA, Inc. in their five week program provide adequate training to handle those students as well the remaining students in a class of 30 students?

In regards to “community engagement” that is to take place with parents, teachers, students and other concerned citizens, that apparently happened two weeks ago when a TFA, Inc. rep, Ms. Ortega, along with Dr. Enfield and two representatives from SEA were available to answer questions asked by the school board in the last board meeting. Director DeBell referred to it as the community engagement piece because there is this deadline that was established by TFA, Inc to get a commitment from SPS so that TFA, Inc would feel comfortable in making their commitment to move into our state. That sounds like the tail wagging the dog to me.
Anonymous said…
Part 2

That “community engagement” piece that DeBell referred to was a complete sham and no one was fooled by that weak attempt to avoid the democratic process that is to happen within the Seattle community.

Several parents invited Ms. Ortega to join us for a forum with parents and students where we could ask questions and discuss the ways that TFA, Inc. could possibly interact with our community. The assumption was that she could meet with us during this “community engagement” process while the board deliberated on this item. About a week after the invitation, Ms. Ortega did respond by saying that she would be available sometime in December.

So much for “community engagement”.

And what does TFA consider “community engagement”? Well, that would include going to Rainier Beach High School as part of a program where the staff presented to Michael Tolley, the director for the Central District, their ideas on how to enrich the curriculum at their high school.

At the end of the program, Ms. Ortega was invited to come forward and speak on the topic of TFA, Inc. What everyone got was a sales pitch on how wonderful the recruits are and how many people apply and how many people are selected and how 2/3’s of these corps members continue on in the field of education.

What she stated was misleading and did not include the fact that the recruits were contracted for a two year period or the fact that they receive only five weeks of training. And 2/3’s of the recruits staying in the field of education might include administrative work or policy making on some level, but does not describe the number of recruits who stay on to continue teaching after three years. That would only be about 20% of the recruits.

I got up and and clarified a few items. A teacher who was in attendance spoke up and said that three TFA recruits had been at Rainier Beach High School about 14 years ago. He went on to say that one of the recruits was great but that two of them needed a lot of hand holding which had to be done by the staff, putting more of a strain on other teachers and the students.

Ms. Ortega said that 14 years ago there was one “supervisor” for about 70 recruits. Now that number was down to around 45 recruits per supervisor. Somehow I don’t think that created a level of comfort for anyone in the audience.

Someone from the audience suggested that TFA, Inc. recruits could be teaching assistants because they are needed in the schools. Ms. Ortega said that wouldn’t work for TFA, Inc. I imagine it wouldn’t, not at $8,000 per recruit over a two year period. They’d have to come down a lot more in their price for our school district to buy that one…I think.

Even Representatives Sharon Nelson and Eileen Cody sent a letter to the superintendent stating that TFA, Inc. would not be the appropriate fit for our students but suggested that they would make great teaching assistants.
Anonymous said…
Part 3

The warm and fuzzy anecdotal stories that we heard in the last board meeting from former TFA, Inc recruits were sometimes sweet and sometimes interesting but there were no facts presented. These individuals might feel good about what they were doing during their first two years of on- the-job training as TFA, Inc. recruits in our schools but according to the Helig study, if they were typical of other recruits, they were no more “effective” than any other teacher who was also a first or second year teacher.

It is arrogance on the part of Wendy Kopp and her recruits to think that someone from Princeton, where Ms. Kopp attended the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and who does not have a degree in education or a subject closely related to education, would be able to go into these low poverty communities and think that they would be the answer in any form to what ails our schools.

When it comes down to it, TFA, Inc. recruits might be young and energetic but so are other teachers who are fresh out of college with their degrees in education in hand and who are better prepared to teach than any TFA, Inc. recruit.

Would I want a TFA, Inc. recruit teaching my daughter? No. Do I think that it would be OK for them to teach anyone else’s child who might need more involvement and support? Absolutely not.
ParentofThree said…
I would like to know if Ms. Varner has children in SPS, her editorials indicate that she does not. No, in the trenches viewpoint.

I also agree that it is the most experienced teachers who are more likely to "get around the systems" imposed on schools by the superindent. They are the ones who quietly close their doors and teach what needs to be taught.

I have also noticed in the past couple of years a big change in our principal core leading schools. They seem less and less like innovative leaders, willing to also turn a blind eye to mandates, and more like police ensuring that the "message and mandates" are implemented to the letter of the law.

TfA staff will be wonderful worker-bees for this new top down educational approach.
mirmac1 said…
There are two things that need clarifying now:

Federal Way, be prepared to perform your due diligence with regard to providing 100% "highly qualified" for core subjects. That means




OSPI, immediately clarify the HQT standing of ALL non fully certified teachers with light of Renee v. Duncan, RCW28A.660.040, WAC 181-79A-145 and WAC 181-79A-140.

Join me in asking our legislators to press Randy Dorn for an immediate response.
Chris S. said…
Just returned from Sundquist meeting. AS1 is out in force, yay! However, they seemed to acknowledge and accept the district's resistance to anecdotal, qualitative arguments. (Like, we're great! We do this! We do that!) Many of us encounter this mindset. When we do, let's be sure to respond "Well, it sure worked for TFA!
dan dempsey said…
Here is my letter to the Board on TfA.

This is different than my testimony and lets the Board know some of the many reasons that legal action will be pursued if the TfA contract is approved.
Dorothy Neville said…
Lynne Varner has one son and they live in Issaquah. I do have to say that when I met with her in person, she did seem more knowledgeable and nuanced about Seattle schools than she writes. Puzzling and a bit of a surprise, since she certainly doesn't show much depth of understanding in her writing.
Dorothy Neville said…
Here's my letter:

Dear School Board Directors,

I do hope that the members of the Audit and Finance Committee have shared with the rest of the Board that a primary way they are hoping to address the upcoming budget shortfall is to ask legislature to rescind some of OSPIs paperwork requirements. This is, of course, kind of funny, since the recent audit chastised the district for not complying with numerous laws and regulations. These regulatory requirements are not simply busy work, but are in place to ensure that districts are effective and efficient in handling resources for the good of the students.

At the same time, the district continues to move full tilt into new initiatives. Sure, there's a donor willing to foot the direct costs of TfA, but what about the extra paperwork and time that will be required? TfA teachers will need district staff to handle the extra work of the conditional certificates, to handle the logistics of ensuring Special Ed mentors are in place (which will reduce the ability of teachers in other buildings to get special ed mentoring) and to oversee the tightrope of the whole FERPA issue. Even if the donor is willing to foot some of these administrative costs, there are still costs to the district.

How, in the light of the audit and the willingness to jump into new initiatives such as TfA, will the legislature be at all willing to cut you some slack on regulatory requirements? Why should they?

Is adding this new initiative right now really in the best interest of the kids?
dan dempsey said…
Dear Dorthy,

My experience with Ms. Varner is the opposite of yours. When I ran for School Board in 2007, Ms. Varner was going to interview me for a spot to be used online.

I was the first person scheduled to be interviewed and there was a huge technical glitch. This provided us with about 30 minutes to informally discuss education in Seattle's schools. I found her only marginally informed at best on most education issues we discussed.

I find her lack of command of the facts beneath the issues and inability to construct factually-based logical arguments in her writing on education very disturbing.

WOW do I miss Jessica Blanchard of the Seattle PI.

-- Dan
suep. said…
And here's my letter to the board re: TFA:

Director [NAME],

I urge you to vote NO on the contract with Teach for America, Inc., which would bring underqualified, short-term teaching recruits to Seattle's public schools, for all the reasons outlined below.

I also urge you to read the TFA, Inc. contract carefully. It stipulates NO LIABILITY for TFA, Inc. and NO GUARANTEES or WARRANTY for Seattle Public Schools. I find this very troubling.

I am also concerned that if SPS puts TFA, Inc. recruits into Title I schools, it will violate the recent decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California and could lead to a lawsuit against SPS.

I also question that SPS would be billed an extra $4,000 per TFA recruit per year, in addition to a normal teaching salary. Why should we pay more for less qualifications?

Are you aware that Teach for America, Incorporated is a multimillion-dollar enterprise that has also recently received $50 million more from the Obama administration? Why is TFA, Inc. asking our cash-strapped district for even more money to take on its recruits?

It just doesn't make sense

Seattle already has many qualified teachers eager to work for SPS. It would be unconscionable to deny an existing, credentialed local teacher a job in this economy to someone else who is less qualified and has no commitment to the field or our kids beyond two years.

Five weeks training is NOT enough.

While they may have good intentions, the vast majority of TFA, Inc. recruits leave the field after their two-year stint. That leads to churn that our kids -- especially the most struggling kids -- do not need.

Also, research shows that any teacher doesn't hit his/her stride until about the fifth year teaching. Most TFA recruits quit teaching before they have even become effective.

As a parent I want the best, most qualified and committed teachers in my children's schools. TFA recruits do not fit this bill.

Below please find more information on this topic and vote NO.

Controversial “Teach for America” Back on the Agenda for Seattle’s Schools

--sue p.
suep. said…
I also sent the school board this:
Letter from 2 State Representatives to Supt. Goodloe-Johnson opposing Teach for America -- PLEASE READ

Dear Directors,

We thought you should be aware of this letter from 34th District Representatives Sharon Nelson and Eileen Cody to Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson dated Nov. 2 in which they express their position that Teach for America recruits are not qualified to be placed in Seattle's public schools as teachers.

We would like to formally submit this letter to the Seattle School Board as part of Dora Taylor's public testimony at tonight's meeting opposing the use of TFA recruits in Seattle's public schools.

As you can see, many people share the belief that TFA recruits are simply not qualified or needed for our schools.

Please read the letter pasted below and consider it as you cast your vote tonight, hopefully against the TFA contract.

Thank you.


Sue Peters & Dora Taylor
SPS parents
Editors, Seattle Education 2010
Founding members, Parents Across America


November 2, 2010

Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D.

Seattle Public Schools
PO Box 34165
Seattle, WA 98124-1165

Dear Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson:

It is with great concern that we are writing regarding the Seattle Public Schools consideration of
a contract with Teach for America. While we believe Teach for America is a fine program
serving areas of significant teacher shortages with extreme urban and rural poverty, it does not
meet the needs of students attending Seattle Public Schools.

As you are well aware, over the last several years local school districts have regretfully utilized a
reduction in force program, eliminating the positions of many highly trained and experienced
Washington teachers. At this time, we do not have a shortage of teachers. It seems drastically
unfair to shortchange our students with teachers who are not adequately prepared to meet the
complex demands of a classroom environment.

We are in an education crisis. The design of our school systems reflect the needs of a society in
the 1970s and are in desperate need of modernization. Students and families are suffering
through a relentless economic recession, the achievement gap plagues our student
populations, and student performance is lagging behind many schools in our nation and other
countries. It seems unconscionable to hire individuals without a specialized education
preparation program, little professional work experience, and no classroom experience to be
responsible for transforming the problems that our students face. Our students and the
dedicated teachers who have worked so arduously to serve our students deserve much better.

Clearly, the problems facing our education system are multifaceted. They range from poverty,
to the need for adequate health care for students and families, parental involvement, and the
need to accommodate the diverse learning needs of every child in the City of Seattle. In the
classroom, it will take experienced, professionally trained teachers, who have developed
curriculum, worked with students and parents, and practiced their skills as educators to help
our students achieve the expected standards, thrive in a learning environment, and reach their
highest and best potential.

A Teach for America employee could be a great asset to trained and cultivated teacher in the
classroom, providing instructional and classroom management support, but should not be a
substitute for an education professional. Utilizing the Teach for America employee in that
capacity would benefit the students, teacher, and the teacher in training. We urge you to
consider a way to utilize the Teach for America program without abandoning our students and
high standards for our education system.


Eileen Cody
State Representative
34th District

Sharon Nelson
State Representative
34th District
Northend Parent said…
Why not just let the School Board go ahead with TFA, let them experience in full the failure this will bring our south end and west seattle schools so they can get it out of their system? Really, I'm torn by the desire to see MGJ, Gates, and the Board fall flat on their asses and the desire to not abandon our west and south end children further....Luckily I live in the north end and don't have to worry about my kids getting screwed over by TFA.
Jan said…
Northend Parent -- I understand the sentiment (mine will graduate this year, and is also not at a school likely to have TFA grads, I think). But, as your post already implies, there are problems with letting the chickens come home to roose. Here are the problems, as I see them:

1. First, if we really think that the classrooms will be failures, or will materially worse than they would have been with whatever other teacher might have been selected, we can't in good conscience leave them to suffer that fate, without at least trying to get them a better outcome. Some may "weather it" just fine -- but presumably, others will not. We are the grown ups. We have to speak for the kids (and for the greater good of society) here -- even if we lose. They need to at least not be able to say, after all this, that everyone agreed, that no one even tried.

2. When stuff finally hits the fan on all this, most of the main perpetrators will just leave for other well paid, well connected jobs -- or they will already be long gone, wagging their excuses (union backlash, insufficient community support, etc.) behind them. Think about it. No heads ever rolled that I know of when the Gates foundation shut down its failed "small academies" initiative. It was just -- oh well, didn't work. And maybe no real harm was done to kids in the schools where that experiment played out, but do we know that? I don't. Were any good programs dismantled? How much time and money (other than that of the Gates Foundation, which can spend its time/money as it wishes, on whatever experiments it thinks are noble) of taxpayers, teachers, students, etc. went into trying to make that experiment work that might have been better spent elsewhere (I know -- they (the adults at least) were all big boys and girls; no one forced them to take those grants -- but what teaching/learning maybe DIDN'T happen because the small academy initiative took the available resources?)

In this case, it is so obvious what is NOT happening (targeted intervention to students to increase their learning, targeted intervention (a la Everett) to students to keep them in school and get them to graduate on time, specific family by family support for kids who lack food, shelter, sufficient stability to get homework done and get to school each day without resource scarcity issues crowding out all other thoughts. As far as I can see, we are doing none of this (although they say they are "seeking outside funding" for RTF). Virtually ALL of the SSD administration's time seems to be spent on grandiose schemes for evaluating, compensating, firing, etc. teachers and closing or restructuring schools -- all of which requires high stakes tests and standardized curriculum -- because that is how the teacher firings and school makeovers are triggered. Whether your child is failing or succeeding is only a data point for determining whether their teacher is dismissed, retained, or more highly promoted, or whether your child's school is closed or restructured. Success or failure, as it actually matters to your child? -- doesn't seem to be important.

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