Seattelites, get your popcorn, gird your loins, pack your nautical themed Pashmina Afghan. The big fat debate over whether the Seattle school district should bring Teach for America to our city goes live at 6 p.m.
For the uninitiated, Teach for America is the elite teacher training program which sends its recruits to high-poverty schools, where they teach for two years before deciding whether they want to pursue it as a career.
If you think it's too wet to make that trip to the school board meeting at John Stanford Center, you can watch it on Channel 26 or online. The board is expected to vote today on whether the superintendent should sign a contract (.pdf) to allow TFA recruits to apply for jobs at Seattle Public Schools.
While the contract, if approved, would not guarantee TFA corp members an interview or a position at SPS, it is still a huge controversy in a city where so many qualified teachers are currently out of a job. Seattle teachers union vice president Jonathan Knapp pointed at West Seattle Elementary School—a target school for TFA members—which he said had received 800 applications for a single job. "We do not have a teaching shortage," he said.
The teachers union is livid that the district will have to dish out a $4,000 "headhunter's fee" for each TFA member it recruits. The district has promised that the fee would come from private donors, and if that falls through, no district funds would be used. Additionally, the district has sought to alleviate qualms about student privacy by promising not to allow TFA to release student data to third parties. It did, however, amend sections on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in the contract so that it could release the data to TFA (.pdf).
Although the district's Chief Academic Officer Susan Enfield was not available for comment today, she has stressed in the past that TFA members would create a more diverse applicant pool. But other than that, and providing glowing reviews of TFA's mission, there's little else from the district about why it should contract with TFA. A last-minute proposed amendment (.pdf) to the contract says that TFA's contract will not be renewed without the superintendent providing a report to the school board detailing teacher evaluations, education background, and longevity.
More Teach for America wars after the jump
But all this has done nothing to calm the union and parents who have little faith in TFA's abilities. My inbox has been flooding with anti-TFA emails—some are calling it Teach for Awhile, a dig at the fact that TFA recruits are only required to commit two years inside a classroom.
TFA's opponents argue that a five-week training program and conditional certification does not equip teachers with the kind of skills necessary to handle low-performing classrooms. They point to a study carried out by Stanford University which said that TFA members did not perform as well as certified teachers. An email from 34th District state representatives Eileen Cody and Sharon Nelson just popped up in my inbox which warns the school board that while TFA serves the need of teacher shortages in areas with extreme urban and rural poverty, "it does not meet the needs of students in SPS."
The school board has been split on whether to support TFA from the very start—so if you are lucky, there might be some fireworks tonight.