Wednesday, March 05, 2014

TFA Decides to Try Something New

Me and my hero, Diane Ravitch
 I plan to go to the Board soon and ask that the district's contract with TFA be ended.  There are two reasons. 

One, it seems like a lack of real support for the district's own fledgling Seattle Teacher Residency to support another teacher training program.  All SPS' attention and efforts should be towards STR.

Second, TFA has just not been popular here in the least.  Our school-based hiring teams have found them lacking because if not, we would have seen far greater numbers hired.  And, as Charlie has pointed out, SPS can hire TFAers without the district having a contract. 

Charters are coming in and they love TFA - let them hire TFA.

At the Network for Public Education conference this weekend, I attended a packed workshop on TFA.  At first I was dismayed at the size of the panel but each one of them had something really great to say about this issue.

What is interesting is that the panel offered these suggestions/insights:

- if fewer students joined TFA, it would get TFA's attention
- several said that TFA is more interested in "impression management" than feedback and growth from corps members. 
- TFA likes to say it is effective but the real question is, with fewer ed dollars available to districts, is TFA the best bang for the buck compared to other things the districts could be doing? 

I note that when I explained the state of TFA in Washington State - how our district hasn't been hiring and that SPS has not ever directly paid the per TFA teacher fee - the audience was dumbfounded.  They could not understand how Washington State had held back on the hiring of TFA.  I'd chalk it up to being smart and asking questions. 

What's fascinating is that TFA just announced that they are doing a pilot for more training and to try to retain more TFA teachers.  Well, I guess someone just woke up and decided to listen (for whatever reason). 

Co-CEO Matt Kramer said, "Teaching beyond two years cannot be a backup plan; it has to be the main plan."  It only took them 20 years to figure this out.  He also said that members perceived that they needed to be "more welcoming of the diversity of opinions" on teaching and ed reform. 

The pilot for more training is really about getting TFAers earlier - in their junior year - and starting a longer term of training until they graduate.  What's interesting is that even as recently as 2012, Wendy Kopp, who founded TFA, was hesitant about lengthening the training period.

But, even though calls have come for TFA to extend the two-year required period to 3+ (even from Bill Gates), that's not happening. 

The Panel Discussion

One speaker was an older TFA teacher.  He said he had trouble securing a placement because it seemed the principals wanted someone who didn't have a work background (his was in non-profit and he understood the challenges for public schools).  He said that at the charters he interviewed at, the pay scale was 30% lower than the union scale at public schools (and, of course, "no culture of due process").  He said he felt that TFA was basically a temp agency for charter schools.  (And indeed, the majority of teachers in all of New Orleans are from TFA.)

He also pointed out that TFA - whether college students go for it or not - believe that this is what ed reform looks like for their generation.

The next speaker, Camika Royal, a living ball of fire, had also been a TFA teacher AND worked for them.  She tried to be diplomatic but it was quite clear how unhappy she was with the program, both as a teacher and an employee.  (Ms. Royal had a widely circulated YouTube video of a speech she gave about TFA which apparently was not appreciated by TFA.  After that video appeared, she was offered a 6-figure job at TFA and she simply said to us, "I felt I was being bought and I would not be bought.")

She said the relationship she had with TFA was complicated because she loved children and wanted to help. (She asked to be sent to Baltimore as a teacher primarily because of the large minority population in their schools, only to get there and be assigned to the poor mostly white school while the white TFA teachers when to the mostly black schools. She was not happy about this.) 

But she said that while TFA has problems - and this point was made repeatedly - that blanket assumptions about TFA were not good.  She said many families liked TFA teachers because they felt their children were more loved and supported by them.

Another speaker, Kerry Kretchmar, now a professor doing research on TFA but also former TFAer, said that TFA sees their work as ed reform, both in charters and in teacher deregulation.  She said that TFA is being very strategic and systemic about developing ed reform leaders rather than teachers.  She gave some numbers:
- 12 of 28 largest CMOs are run by ex-TFA (CMO=charter management organizations)
- they run 25% of the for-profit charter schools
- 150 alumni head districts and CMOs
- major funders of TFA?  Gates, Walton and Broad Foundations

Another speaker, Beth Sandel, also ex-TFAer, said that her experience in Baton Rouge was eye-opening.  She said many experienced teachers had been fired and TFA brought in.  She said that most of the fired teachers were black and most of the TFA teachers have been white.  (There have been several stories about parents being unhappy with this change.) 

She said that she came to TFA with a social justice attitude (and that seems to be the case in many TFAers) but was disillusioned by the curriculum being defined by assessments to the exclusion of all other materials.  One example she gave was in explaining the "5-step" teaching plan for metaphors.  She said they hook the kids by entertainment, then direct instruction, then guided practice and then independent practice and then assessment.  She said the teacher could go through the whole lesson and never really explain why we use metaphors.

Some of these speakers were members of a new group, Resistance to Teach for America.

The next speaker, Sarah Ishmael, also ex-TFA, wondered aloud about TFAs commitment to social justice.  She said alumni have repeatedly called for longer teaching commitments (knowing that a revolving door of teachers is NOT what at-risk kids need) and more training AND that the corps members know the history of the district/city that they are going into to serve. 

She said there was resentment among corps members because they don't know how to create the change in TFA that they,as the people on the front lines, believe will make TFA a better and more productive organization.  She said many of the corps members do not have the "emotional maturity" to deal with children with issues and, as well, have never had their white privilege challenged.

The moderator, Julian Vasuqez Hellig, a professor at UT Austin who has done extensive research on TFA, found that TFA's numbers on retention don't match district numbers. 


mirmac1 said...

The question is: will the board cave to A4E (who helped with this train wreck) and to the annual TFA display of pathos.

Benjamin Leis said...

@Miramac1 - I don't think they will cave given the current board composition. Every school board election offers a chance for this to be revisited though.

However, given the inequities in the district, just rejecting TFA is not going to stop the legitimate desire from various neighborhoods to improve their schools. I think people are looking for solutions and TFA,charters etc have been the loudest voices in the room. That doesn't mean the status quo is that great.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ben, ah the dreaded "status quo".

Given the 20+ years of TFA and charters, they ARE the status quo for ed reform.

We real ed reformers want better and are seeking ways to make our voices heard.

Anonymous said...

@ Melissa: There is no Real ed reform. There are many ed reform factions, and unfortunately every faction thinks they are the Real Thing.

I think what you meant is that you are not Corporate Ed Reform, and for that we say thank the good lord.


Anonymous said...

I have 10 anti ed deformer facebook "friends" with pictures of them and Ms. Ravitch ... a sacred talisman of our cult ;)

Some of us had to WORK instead of jetting off to Austin !


Melissa Westbrook said...

Skeptical, you are right - no corporate ed reform.

Wheresmine - I feel like going to Austin, I connected with so many other activists and got so much information/feedback, it was work.

Anonymous said...

Diane Ravitch is a tall!


mirmac1 said...

NGC, it's all a matter of scale...

; )

chunga said...

We could urge the district to offer TFA an option if they want to stay in Seattle: all recruits will be placed as teaching assistants for their first year; TFA has to fund that year (or get a corporate donor); and then the recruits can apply for a permanent position.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Chunga, that's a thought that probably won't work. One, no money to pay for teaching assistants. Two, TFA would never go for it.

Anonymous said...

TFA has been an abject failure at putting qualified teachers into class rooms and their only actual 'value' has been in burdening the existing system to allow its further privatization. As toxic as TFA is, there is a mission that they could undertake that would actually be of some help, that would actually benefit education. They need to get out of the classrooms, leaving that work to those who are actually qualified to do it, and go out into the neighborhoods to provide parenting classes and other anti-poverty programs to the adults of the communities with the goal of helping the adults send their children to school far more ready, willing and able to learn. The benefit to the TFA corps would be that they would finally understand the effects of poverty on education and why it's so important to address poverty in America. This would not make the leadership of TFA happy as they are already dealing with the unintended but predictable consequence of sending passionate young people who want to do good into schools where they learn just how much of a solution TFA is NOT! TFA has a good infrastructure in place, they should do something useful with it instead of pretending to produce qualified teachers.