Will Teach For America be good or bad for Seattle's public schools? Depending on who you listened to at last night's school board meeting, it could be either. Members of the Seattle teachers union, the Seattle Education Association, lambasted the Seattle school district for their plans to contract with TFA, which would allow their recruits to apply to Seattle schools next spring.
The SEA's qualms? They feel there's no dearth of qualified teachers right here in Seattle. "A five-week crash course with emergency certification is not a way to ensure quality education," said SEA President Olga Addae, attacking TFA's training process.
Addae stressed that 83 percent of TFA members go on to pursue professions outside classrooms after their two-year commitment to teach at a high-poverty school is over, which she said puts a big question mark on their longevity.
But the district's Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Susan Enfield, said that TFA members would create a more diverse pool of applicants.
Calling TFA an employment agency for private colleges, some SEA members recited studies and statistics skeptical of TFA's track record on improving student achievement. "To assign underqualified teachers to low-income schools is discrimination," said Dora Taylor, who co-edits the Seattle Education 2010 blog.
TFA alumni, who now teach in Seattle Public Schools and are SEA members (TFA recruits are treated exactly the same as any other teacher when they join a school), vociferously praised the program. Many stressed the need to close the achievement gap in Seattle. "We don't believe that [TFA] is a single solution, but hope it can be a powerful tool in the fight," said TFA alum Stephanie Foreman.
"I am really taken aback," said school board director Harium Martin-Morris. "We are looking at America's best and brightest and saying don't come here?" But board director Betty Patu said that many district teachers were "working in fear of their jobs," given all the budget cuts. "Bringing in other teachers into the district is almost a slap on the face of our teaching professionals," she said.
Other school board members were concerned about how TFA would be handling confidential student data to drive teacher development and asked TFA to clarify that further.