Seattle teachers' union seeks ban on teachers—sees Teach for America as a threat to its position in the system
Last night I went to a meeting at Seattle School District headquarters in the John Stanford Center on Lander Street South, because the Seattle School Board is moving to bar Teach for America teachers from Seattle schools. Teach for America is the teacher training program that provides talented teachers to schools across the nation, especially helping poor and minority students. At the meeting were Superintendent Susan Enfield and the seven school board members, including two new members elected in November, Sharon Peaslee and Marty McLaren. Also attending were teachers union members, the executive director of Teach for America, and several Teach for America teachers and coaches.
The first move of the teachers union since the November election is to ban Teach for America teachers from Seattle. The school board voted 6-1 in October 2010 to give Teach for America a three-year contract. Even though six Teach for America teachers in Seattle have taught in South Seattle Schools for nearly a year, the teachers union wants to cancel their contract. The union sees Teach for America as a threat to their power and influence in the system.
The only two speakers without a personal interest in the outcome were Lisa MacFarlane and myself, two middle-aged moms. Lisa spoke eloquently about the need to honor previous commitments.
My testimony is available online (at 29:58):
My conclusions are based on my research of the effectiveness of Teach for America teachers in other states.
The union's effort to ban these teachers helps explain why Washington has been called an education reform backwater.
Testimony before the Seattle School Board, March 7, 2012:
Seattle School Board should not ban Teach for America teachers from Seattle classrooms
The Seattle School Board is considering a motion to ban Teach for America teachers from Seattle Schools. Proponents offer three reasons for wanting to ban Teach for America teachers from Seattle.
Reason #1: TFA teachers are not needed as there is no shortage of fully certificated teachers, experienced and novice, in the Seattle area.
This is incorrect. Teach for America teachers are talented individuals. Turning away TFA recruits artificially shrinks the talent pool available to Seattle’s schools, and denies Seattle Public School students access to the best teachers. Teach for America recruits attend the most highly selective colleges, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton and the University of Washington.
Students at the University of Washington, many of whom attended Seattle Public Schools, are now seeking to become Teach for America recruits. Last year, out of a graduating class of 50,000 students, 7% of all seniors at the University of Washington, the most selective public university in Washington, applied to Teach for America. This year University of Washington ranked #4 nationwide in Teach for America applications. The University of Washington ranked #1 nationwide in Teach for America recruits who majored in Science Technology Engineering or Math. Over 40% of all applicants are people of color. Over one-third all applicants received federal Pell grants, an indicator of low socioeconomic status.
Banning Teach for America means many University of Washington graduates will be banned from teaching in Seattle schools.
In sum, Teach for America teachers are needed in Seattle, as they are highly qualified, come from diverse backgrounds, and offer Seattle needed expertise in STEM subjects.
Reason #2: There has been no substantive evidence presented to support Teach for America recruitment as a viable method to reduce the achievement gap .
This is not accurate. Teach for America is one of the most extensively studied teacher-preparation programs in the nation, and many rigorous studies show Teach for America teachers are highly successful with poor and minority students:
- “The Effects of Teach for America on Students” (Mathematica Policy Research, 2004). Using random assignment of students to teachers, the gold standard for research methodology, this national study found that students of Teach for America teachers made more progress in a year in both reading and math than would typically be expected, and attained significantly greater gains in math compared with students of other teachers, including veteran and certified teachers. This study also found that Teach for America teachers were working in the highest-need classrooms in the country, with students beginning the year on average at the 14% percentile against the national norm.
- New Orleans: Paul Pastorek, former superintendent of Louisiana schools was in Seattle last month and said that the Recovery School District in New Orleans uses the highest proportion of Teach for America teachers in the nation. This district has doubled the achievement of mostly poor and minority students in the last five years.
- Tennessee: “Teacher State Report Card on Teacher Effectiveness” (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, 2011). The study found that Teach for America is the top teacher preparation program in the state of Tennessee: the average Teach for America teacher had greater impact on student achievement than the average new 4th - 8th grade teacher in Tennessee.
- North Carolina: “Impacts of Teacher Preparation on Student Test Scores in North Carolina: Teacher Portals” (Gary Henry and Charles Thompson 2010). Teach for America teachers did as well as or better than traditionally prepared UNC graduates.
- Louisiana: “Louisiana Value-Added Teacher Preparation Assessment Study (Louisiana Practitioner Teacher Project, 2009) Teach for America teacher perform like veteran certified teachers, better than new traditionally trained teachers.
- North Carolina: “Making a Difference? The Effects of Teach for America in High School” (The Urban Institute/CALDER Research Center, 2009). Teach for America are more effective teaching math than traditionally certificated teachers.
Since 1990, nearly 33,000 Teach for America teachers have taught more than 3 million students. Today, Teach for America teachers work in 43 regions in 32 states and Washington D.C. In the 2011-12 school year, more than 9,000 corps members are teaching 600,000 students across the nation. Sixty-seven percent of TFA’s alumni pursue education as a career. Many Teach for America teachers have become education leaders, founding dozens of high-performing schools, boldly leading school districts and charter management organizations and helping pass groundbreaking education legislation.
In sum, there is substantial evidence that Teach for America teachers are successful at closing the achievement gap.
Reason #3: The contract is opposed by the Seattle Education Association, the teachers union
This claim is true. But Teach for America has brought new prestige and success to the profession of teaching, and is attracting our most talented youth back into teaching. Teach for America teachers make some adults in the system uncomfortable. Teach for America teachers represent a challenge to the status quo. Teach for America teachers bring new ideas and new approaches to tackling the problems facing our schools. This new talent and energy should be encouraged, not driven away, from Seattle.
What we do best in this country is giving people opportunities. This is what Teach for America does: it offers young people the opportunity to teach children. Teach for America has proven to be an entry point for thousands of young people whose experience in classrooms has convinced them to become teachers, to become principals, to become leaders of school districts and innovators in education on every level. Teach for America is a great organization and we should welcome it here.