Teachers' Union Seeks to Drive Teach for America Teachers out of Seattle Public Schools
Third grader Enrique (not his real name) eagerly describes his Teach for America teacher like this: “He let us borrow bigger books.” “I am learning English now.” “My goal is to be at fourth grade in reading by the end of the year.”
Teach for America (TFA) is a nationally-recognized training program that provides highly motivated, talented teachers to schools nationwide, especially in low-income inner city communities. TFA graduates come from highly respected colleges, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and the University of Washington. Studies show their students typically make more progress in reading and math compared to students of other teachers, including veteran and certified instructors.
TFA educators set high goals for their students: a clear focus on math and science, 40 minutes of reading every night, and a desire to graduate and go on to college. In Seattle and other cities TFA is helping children raise their sights and reach for the stars.
Not everyone is happy, however. The teachers’ union sees opening schools to TFA graduates as a threat to their power within the system. Union executives did not want TFA in Seattle in the first place, and now they are doing everything they can to drive these young instructors out of local classrooms.
The issue will be decided March 21st, when Seattle School Board members will vote whether to accede to the union and bar TFA teachers from city schools, or allow them to continue educating Seattle children.
How did this happen? How did we as a community get to a point where our own School Board may end up ousting some of the best-qualified teachers in the country where they are most needed? In October 2010, the Board invited TFA to provide trained instructors for some of the most-needy schools. In response, six young TFA teachers have been working in Seattle classrooms for nearly a year, impressing administrators and parents with their energy, ability and professionalism. Though demanding, they are popular with students, and set high expectations for what they believe kids can achieve.
Then the School Board changed. In the 2011 election the teachers’ union backed two candidates, Marty McLaren and Sharon Peaslee, giving thousands of dollars to their political campaigns. These candidates won, and in what some see as payback, they are now spearheading the union drive to oust TFA from Seattle schools.
There’s more. The Seattle Times reports union-inspired activists are harassing TFA teachers at Aki Kurose Middle School and South Shore K-8, hoping to get them to quit. Their personal information has been posted online. One teacher’s home was burglarized.
TFA may be stirring up the union in Seattle, but the program is considered routine in other cities. Since 1990, nearly 33,000 TFA-trained instructors have taught more than three million students. Today, 9,000 of them educate over 600,000 students in 32 states and the District of Columbia.
The program is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but if the ban is imposed the Seattle-based charity would find it can fund TFA educators in Philadelphia or Boston, but not at John Hay Elementary up the street from their headquarters.
Over 3,000 University of Washington graduates apply to TFA each year. If the ban is imposed these U.W. grads would find they are barred from teaching at schools in their own city.
If Seattle bans Teach for America it is not the adults who will suffer. TFA teachers will just move to schools in other cities. The real harm from this reactionary and mean-spirited campaign will fall on kids like Enrique, all because some grown-ups think protecting their privileged status is more important than helping children learn.