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,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 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.
I strongly suggest re-examining how and why Teach For America teachers happen to be hired to work in Seattle Public Schools.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?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.
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.