Thursday, October 17, 2013

Who Won in Government Shutdown? Skateboarders and TFA

Politics makes strange bedfellows but there you are.

I am doing some tutoring at Ballard and I told two kids who are skateboarders about this and they said, "Sweet."  From the Wall Street Journal:

Where most people see ornate, neo-Classical federal buildings and sweeping stone plazas in this city, skaters see something else: opportunity, in the form of sturdy railings, low stone benches, ramps—ideal "obstacles" for skateboarding stunts. And now, after years of ducking the national park police that patrol these plazas, this week's closure of public buildings and easing of surveillance offered skaters hope of revisiting their favorite spots. It was, said one, "on."

But from the lighthearted to the downright wrong, it appears that TFA continues to be the darling of Congress.  From The Washington Post's The Answer Sheet:

Unobtrusively slipped into the debt deal that Congress passed late Wednesday night to reopen the federal government after 16 days and allow the United States to keep borrowing money to pay its bills is a provision about school reform that will make Teach For America very happy.

In language that does not give a hint about its real meaning, the deal extends by two years legislation that allows the phrase “highly qualified teachers” to include students still in teacher training programs — and Teach For America’s  recruits who get five weeks of summer training shortly after they have graduated from college, and are then placed in some of America’s neediest schools.

I urge you to go to the Washington Post story and register a comment.  One, because the Washington Post is pretty much the newspaper of record for stories about Congress and two, because this needs as much blowback as possible.   

What IS highly qualified really supposed to mean and who gets those teachers?

Under No Child Left Behind,  all children are supposed to have highly qualified teachers, school districts are supposed to let parents know which teachers are not highly qualified, and these teachers are supposed to be equitably distributed in schools. They aren’t. It turns out that teachers still in training programs are disproportionately concentrated in schools serving low-income students and students of color, the very children who need the very best the teaching profession has to offer. The inequitable distribution of these teachers also has a disproportionate impact on students with disabilities.

Understand that there was a lawsuit over this issue of highly qualified teachers and in September of 2010, the 9th Circuit - following an appeal of a case in California by low-income parents and students - struck down the provision about highly qualified teachers.  From the column about this issue at The Answer Sheet by UW's Professor Ken Zeichner:

However, the Ninth Circuit decision quickly became moot. In the final days of the lame-duck congressional session in December 2010, Congress passed an amendment as part of a continuing resolution to fund the government that, at the eleventh hour and without public debate, temporarily codified the regulation that the Ninth Circuit had struck down.  At the time, congressional leaders defended the temporary amendment as necessary to avoid any mid-year disruptions to the schools caused by the court’s decision.

In the summer of 2012, as the temporary amendment approached its expiration date, the debate intensified again about the broader definition of “highly qualified.” Teach For America (TFA), charter networks, and other “reform” organizations pushed for the extension arguing that classrooms would be left without a teacher if Congress held firm to the original highly qualified teacher (HQT) standard of full certification. In reality, districts would still be permitted to hire teachers who were still in training, but they would need to distribute them more equitably and a plan would need to be developed to lessen their number over time.

On the other side, over 90 civil rights, disability, grassroot community, and education organizations comprising the Coalition for Teaching Quality argued that the HQT amendment hides and perpetuates the disproportionate concentration of teachers-in-training in schools and classrooms serving low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, English learners and rural students.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I see some good in TFA, but truly began to question their practice when they tried to place me as a special ed teacher because that was how they thought I could most easily get a job. They even thought that they could frame me as a highly qualified sped teacher under laws such as this, despite the fact that my five week training included NO time in a special ed setting, and approximately three hours of special ed " training." As I said, I do think TFA does some good, but this was one moment in my time with TFA that I truly began to question if they were really acting in the best interest of students. I jumped ship, by the way, and became a teacher through a more traditional route.

Former TFAer

Anonymous said...

Good for you, former TFAer.
I too, used to think they were doing some good. When they started replacing good career teachers with two year TFA, I knew they had morphed into something bad. I recently talked to a student teacher who was once TFA - spent 2 weeks in a classroom in California before she came to her senses and realized she was wholly unprepared to teach those kids AND that it wasn't fair to the kids. So she quit, went back to school and did the traditional route and is now happy in her student teaching and pleased with her decision. She said the TFA folks were NOT pleased with her AT ALL.