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Parents in Seattle are fighting Teach for America (TFA), the organization that places non-teachers in classrooms of mostly poor black, brown, and Hispanic children.  Although TFA claims to place their recruits in hard to staff schools, Seattle does not have a teacher shortage and, in fact, has hundreds of qualified candidates for each job posting. The same is true for many other cities and areas where TFA operates.

Barbara Veltri, author of Learning on Other People's Kids, has written a letter to support the parent's position against Teach for America. The entire letter is posted on the Parents Across America website and well worth the read.  

I met Barbara Veltri in the summer of 2011 at the Save our Schools march in Washington, D.C. She was member of a panel endorsing changes in Teach for America. The highlight of the presentation occurred when some k-12 students from New Orleans spontaneously "occupied" the meeting and made their feelings known. They were emphatic. Hey, Hey!  Hey, Ho! TFA has got to go! New Orleans is rife with Teach for America recruits. The kids imitated TFA recruits, and portrayed them as clueless about to how to teach them. They felt cheated. They were angry.

Here are some excerpts from Veltri's letter to the Seattle School Board.

Dear  Mr.  DeBell,  Ms.  Smith-­Blum,  Ms.  Patu,  and  Executive  Committee Members,


I  write  to  you  now  because  I  am  very  concerned  about  what  appears  to  be  the  national  erosion  of  the  professional  educator.  I  am  eager  to  offer  my  expertise  on  a  program  that  I  have  spent  nearly  a  dozen  years  examining.  By  chance,  I  became  the  mentor,  coach,  instructor  and  university  liaison  for  Teach  For  America’s  novice  teachers  and  they  have  become  the  primary  research  area  of  my  professional  work.

Like  many  Americans,  who  appear  impressed  with  the  patriotic  sounding  name, Teach  For  America,  and  their  work,  I  assumed  that  I  knew  about  the  program,  even  though  I  had  no  firsthand  knowledge  or  information  about  the  organization.    I  never  imagined  that  I  would  learn  about  the  corps  experience,  recruitment,  training,  professional  development,  grade  level  placement,  and  why  recent  college  graduates  even  apply  to  an  organization  that  suggests  that  their  two-­‐year  commitment  is  a  type  of  “service”  directed  at  poor,  children  of  color.

Over  seven  years  of  consecutive  interactions  with  alums,  corps, administrators  and current  corps  members,  I  found  out  through  direct observation  in  classrooms  and  as  an  invited  presenter  at  TFA’s  All-­‐Corps Meetings  and  the  even  small  gatherings  that  TFA  teachers  requested  I attend,  when  things  began  to  unravel,  that  TFA  teachers  do  not  have  a command  of  what  it  takes  to  execute  the  necessary  classroom  skill  sets.

When Veltri suggests below that "we cannot ask Seattle taxpayers to fund this," she could also note that TFA was awarded 50 million of our federal tax dollars as well. Why is the federal government funding an organization with such a dismal track record? It is money well wasted.
I  strongly  suggest  re-­examining  how  and  why  Teach  For  America  teachers happen to  be  hired  to  work  in  Seattle  Public  Schools.
You  cannot  ask  the  Seattle  taxpayers  to  fund  this,  because  it  will  further undermine education  for  low-­income  Latino,  African-­American,  Native American  and  Pan-­Asian immigrant  students  who  attend  your  schools.
Veltri documents experiences of over 400 TFA recruits in her book.

As  my  book  notes,  many  of  the  corps  shared  what  I  term,  “Flashback Theory of learning how to teach”  which  entailed  recalling  a  project  that  their own  4th grade  teacher  employed  during  their  own  school  days,  some  ten‐twelve  years  prior.

In  other  words,  the  TFA  teachers  who  come  into  your  district  would  not be hired  to teach  in  Redmond,  Kirkland  or  Bellevue.  Schools  in  more  affluent communities  do  not  regularly  encourage  teacher  turnover  every  two  years, nor  pay  salaries  and  benefits  for  new  teachers  who  are  not  trained  and  not proven.

Shouldn't the person who teaches your child to read spend at least as much time learning how to do it as the person who cuts your hair?
Contrast  the  TFA  training  with  the  regulations  outlined  by The State  of Washington or  cosmetology  students.  One  must  be  enrolled  full  time  in  an accredited  program  that  mandates  1600  hours  of  practicum,  that  run concurrently  with  instruction  from  licensed  cosmetologists  who  hold certification  as  career  and  technical  teacher  educators.  [Idaho  and California  require  2000  hours  prior  to  one  applying  for  licensure.]

When  8  months  of  training  is  required  for  cosmetologists,  how  can  five weeks  of  TFA  training,  where  corps  report  less  than  20  hours  spent teaching  children,  be  considered  legitimate?

All  across  the  country,  educators,  researchers,  and  a  coalition  of  82 agencies,  from  the  NAACP  to  the  Council  for  Exceptional  Children continue to  question,  Why  TFA?”    The  9th Circuit  Court  of  Appeals  ruled  that intern teachers,  including  Teach  For  America  teachers,  who  are  disproportionately placed  in  high  numbers  in  schools  of children  who  are  poor  and  minority, are  not  highly  qualified,  and  districts  who  do  not  disclose  this  information, are  violating  a  parent’s  right  to  know  who  is  hired  to  teach  their  children.
Why TFA indeed.

The Seattle School Board will vote on the TFA issue Wednesday.  

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