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A letter to the Seattle School Board from Dr. Barbara Torre Veltri regarding Teach for America, Inc.

March  16,  2012

Seattle  Board  of  Directors

Seattle,  Washington  98124-­1165

Dear  Mr.  DeBell,  Ms.  Smith-­Blum,  Ms.  Patu,  and  Executive  Committee Members,

Thank  you  for  your  interest  in  children  and  your  advocacy  for  education  in  Seattle.  I  have  had  the  pleasure  of  preparing  teachers  at  Northern  Arizona  University  who  are  Seattle  natives  and  are  teaching  in  your  schools.  I  have  also  been  privileged  to  work  with  Seattle  Public  School  teachers  and  administrators  in  the  capacity  of professional  development  presenter  over  the  last  two  decades.

While  in  your  city,  I  felt  the  commitment  of  your  teachers  and  administrators,  who not  only  participated  in  faculty  development  sessions  (Thematic  Teaching  with  Sports…Baseball),  but  also  were  hungry  for  new  ideas,  innovative  teaching  methods,  and  ways  to  motivate  and  engage  their  elementary  and  middle  school  students.

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.

My  book’s  title,  Learning on Other People’s Kids: Becoming a Teach For America Teacher  chronicles  the  corps  experiences  from  application  through the  conclusion  of  their  commitment.  The  title  is  taken  directly  from  the data  record,  because hundreds  of  corps  members  shared  with  me,  {and  still do]  through  e-­mails,  journals  and  audio  taped  interviews,  that  they  were not  prepared  to  teach  and  felt  very  guilty  about  learning  how  to  teach  on the  children  who  were  most  at-­risk  for  academic  failure.  Many, who  were not  lucky  in  their  placement  that  aligned  somewhat  with  their  content knowledge  and  academic  background,  that  what  they  were  doing  in classrooms  would  never  count  as  ‘teaching’  in  the  communities  around  the country  where  they  attended  school.  Their  teachers  were  prepared, experienced,  committed  to  teaching  as  a  career,  and  were  there  to  provide them,  rookie  TFA  teachers,  with  guidance,  as  well  as  lesson  plans  and classroom  management  strategies  when  they  called  asking  for  help!

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?

During  the  summer  of  2011,  I  had  the  occasion  to  speak  with  several newly trained  TFAers  who  were  about  to  move  from  Phoenix’s  training,  to  their assigned  teaching  region.  The  corps  shared  that  they  were  headed  to Denver,  Oklahoma  City,  and  yes,  to  Seattle.

The  corps  I  talked  to  (at  a  Thai  Restaurant)  did  not  know  which  grade level  they  would  be  assigned  (this  is  July  mind  you),  for  the  new  school year,  nor  the  ability  levels  of  the  students  awaiting  them  in  their  placement school.      This  caused  heightened  anxiousness  as  their  TFA  training  was:    a) generic  (one  training  fits  all  students  K-­12),  and  b)  limited  in  practicum experiences.  How  could  you  go  from  teaching  7th graders  for  4  weeks  to teaching  7 year-­olds  for  the  academic  year?

For  most  of  the  corps  heading  to  Seattle  both  grade  level  of  students  and subject areas,  were,  even  as  late  as  July,  unknown.

Jeff  shared,  “ I  taught  high  school  Math  at  Institute  and  mind  you,  I  never had  a  college  level  Math  class,  so  that  was  a  stressor,  but  my  grade  level placement  in  my  permanent  location  was  5th  grade.  We  didn’t  have  enough kids  so  after  a  month,  I  was  moved  to  2nd  grade.  Barb,  I  never  even  met one  7  year-­old,  but  I  was  responsible  for  teaching  a  class  full  of  them!   I’m  not  cut  out  for  the  little  kids,  and  I  expected  to  be  teaching  older students.  Needless  to  say,  my  management  was  terrible  and  the  kids  were crying  for  their  teacher.  It  was  a  mess.“

How  can  time  spent  team-­teaching  in  summer  school  settings  (that  are not  indicative  of  what  corps  will  experience  once  they  assume  their  own classroom)  be  a  suitable  replacement  for  Seattle’s  prepared  and credentialed  teachers?

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

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.

Most  TFA  recruits  assume  that  their  five-­week,  TFA  Institute  Training will prepare  them  to  teach.  However,  for  nearly  a  dozen  years,  consecutive cohorts  of  first  year  Teach  For  America  teachers  state  that  their preparation  fell  short  on  many  levels.    Many  are  trained  by  current  corps members,  who  weeks  earlier,  completed  their   own  first  year  of  teaching through  TFA.   I  term  this  practice,  “Rookies training Rookies,”  and  I  know of  no  organization,  nor  quality  private  school,  that  operates  similarly.   In fact,  private  schools  hire  recent  college  graduates  without  teaching credentials  as  “interns.”  Their  role  as  assistant  teacher  entails  learning  from and  working  under  a  veteran  educator  for  two  years,  before  assuming  the role  of    teacher.

Regardless  of  whether  the  Dean  of  the  College  of  Education  at  the University  of Washington  is  a  TFA  alumnus,  there  is  no  guarantee  that  the Seattle  public  school  children  who  are  placed  with  consecutive  novice TFAers  will  not  be  negatively  impacted.

As  one  recruit  told  me,  “I  find  myself  in  a  constant  state  of  quandary, streaked deeply  with  self –doubt.  What  am  I  doing  here?  Am  I  making  any positive contribution  to  the  lives  of  my  students?  How  can  I  call  myself  a teacher?”

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.

At  least  four  separate,  large-­scale  studies  have  found  that  Teach  for America  recruits arrive  in  their  classrooms  under  prepared  and  are significantly  less  effective  than  fully  trained  teachers  in  teaching  children  to read,  especially  those  who  are  English  Language  learners,  and  others  who are  dependent  upon  public  schools  to  become  socialized,  and  learn  literacy skills.

The  evidence  from  my  research  is  clear:  Teach  For  America’s  corps  are learning  the Culture  (s)  of  the  community,  Culture  of  schools,  and  the Intricacies  of  teaching,  which  include  managing  a  classroom, accommodating diverse  students’  needs,  and  evaluating  learning,  when  they  assume  the  role of  teacher.

At  one  time  The  TINA  principle:  There Is No Alternative,  applied  to  why TFA  were brought  into  districts.  However,  today,  that  reasoning  is  no longer  sound.  Teach  For  America  teachers  are  replacing  credentialed educators.  They  are  not  needed  in  most  cities  such  as  Seattle,  because Seattle  is  not  a  “hard-­to-­staff  district.”  TFA  were  once  hired  to  teach subject  areas  where  districts  were  challenged  to  find  qualified  teachers.  But now,  most  corps  report  that  they  are  teaching  out-­of-­field  and  in  Special Education  classrooms, where  they  arrive with  about 5 hours of training.

As  one  corps  stated,  “I  have  been  placed  in  a  school  with  no  books  and  no curriculum.  I  went  into  TFA  with  a  realistic  perspective  of  the  difficulties ahead,  but  my  experiences  have  led  me  to  teach  alongside  inexperienced and  idealistic  teachers  (many  of  whom  come  from  entirely  different  worlds than  their  students),  and  then  are  expected  to  have  our  students  reach  “Big Goals.”

If  your  board  has  the  resources  necessary  to  support  Teach  For  America’s  teachers, it  would  be  important  to  ask  the  following  questions:   What  do  new  teachers  who  come  to  education  from  the  unique  background  and  perspectives  of  TFA  need  to  learn,  and  under  what  conditions,  to  become  effective  teachers?  This  includes  what  kind  of  support  program  would  TFA  teachers  benefit  from,  and  is  this  different  from  the  kinds  of  support  programs  and  induction  that  would  be  best  for  other  new  teachers?

You  can’t  ask  them,  (TFA)  what  they  need,  especially  since  they  are  not  experienced enough  to  know.

This  seems  quite  the  dialectic,  as  the  experienced  Seattle  Public  School teachers  would  be  called  upon  to  support  the  novice  TFA  teachers  who  are hired  to  replace  some  of  their  colleagues.  Teachers  who  know  the  culture of  the  community,  the  culture  of  the  school  and  the  culture  of  teaching their  grade  level/subject  areas,  are  the  ones  whose  profession  it  is  to  make those  quick  decisions,  to  differentiate  between  what  works  for  one  student and  why  it  is  the  wrong  intervention  response  for  another.

Career  educators,  myself  included,  have  spent  their  entire  professional  lives thinking like a teacher,  with  seamless  integration  of  years  of  experience  that factor  into  the  teaching  of  Math,  History,  or  primary  Literacy.  There  is  no substitute  for  those  who  possess  this  time-­honored,  unquantifiable,  and seemingly underappreciated 6th  sense.

This  knowing,  is  not  viewed  as  innovative  however,  and  appears  quite different from  the  Teacher-­As-­Leader  training  instilled  in  corps  members who  leave  Institute thinking like a TFA teacher.

In  closing,  I  thank  you  for  reviewing  my  letter  and  would  be  open  to questions  you  might  put  forward.   I  believe  that  it  is  imperative  to examine the  effects  of  decisions  on  those  you  have  not  met  yet,  (children  and  their families  and  teachers  applying  for  positions  within  your  district).  I  sense that  discernment  might  be  appropriate  action  at  this  time:  Discern  between innovation  and  knowing  how,  leadership  and  knowing  when  and  why,  and the  roles  that  power,  privilege  and  philanthropy  play  when    opportunities are  presented  for  the  “public  good.”

Teach  For  America’s  corps  are  intelligent  and  tenacious,  but  they  are  not prepared  to  teach  when  they  arrive  in  urban  and  rural  school  districts  with high  levels  of  poverty.    Teach  For  America’s  corps  learn  on  the  job,  and are  anchored  by  veteran  professionals  who  take  the  time  to  share  their knowing,  because  kids  are  at  stake.

Children  can  no  longer  afford  to  have  anyone,  even  those  with  good intentions,  learn  on  their  time.  That  is  just  not  acceptable.

Sincerely,

Barbara Torre Veltri, Ed. D

Dr.  Barbara  Torre  Veltri,  Assistant  Professor

College  of  Education,  Northern  Arizona  University,  Flagstaff,  Arizona   Barbara.Veltri@nau.edu

Learning on Other People’s Kids: Becoming A Teach For America Teacher (2010,  Information  Age  Publishing,  Inc.)

Post Script:

The members of the Seattle School Board will be voting tomorrow evening on whether to continue with the contract with Teach for America, Inc. Please contact the school board at schoolboard@seattleschools.org and let them know how you feel about individuals with five weeks of training teaching your child.

And if you can, please attend the board meeting at 6:00 PM on Wednesday at the Stanford Center, 2445 3rd Avenue South, Seattle, 98134. LEV and SFC will have their crowd there with signs trying to look authentic. Folks who believe that we don’t need TFA, Inc. in Seattle should be there as well.

Dora

4 comments on “A letter to the Seattle School Board from Dr. Barbara Torre Veltri regarding Teach for America, Inc.

  1. cnzrzpdses@gmail.com
    August 23, 2013

    If I were to find out someone in my department was having difficulty keeping their personal financial house in order, I would seriously question their future at our organization.

  2. Pingback: Teach For America Exposed in Seattle « Larry Miller's Blog: Educate All Students!

  3. seattleducation2011
    March 20, 2012

    I really like the reference to how much training it takes to be a cosmetologist.

    When communicating with Barbara, she said that at least hair grows out, referring to the fact that hair has another chance but children don’t.

    Dora

  4. Danaher M Dempsey Jr
    March 20, 2012

    You can find a lot more from Dr. Veltri in this review =>

    http://eduratireview.com/2010/06/learning-on-other-peoples-kids-an-important-book-on-teach-for-america/

    Remember that the original plan was to have lots more TFA newbies teaching than the tiny number of “Conditionally Certificated” TFA newbies that made it into Seattle classrooms.

    There is a shocking demonstration of what is envisioned by TFA taking place in Huntsville, Alabama. This entire TFA operation has more in common with Pyramid schemes for selling and Ponzie schemes than education.

    Huntsville Times (editorial) =>

    http://blog.al.com/times-views/2011/11/teach_for_america_a_shining_pr.html

    Teach for America explained =>

    http://www.rocketcitymom.com/teach-for-america-explained/

    Teach for America get informed =>

    http://www.rocketcitymom.com/teach-for-america-get-informed/

    Huntsville Superintendent responds about TFA =>

    http://www.rocketcitymom.com/tfa-dr-wardynski-responds/

    Q: One of the most compelling arguments that local TFA opponents make is that the TFA program was originally intended for areas where it was hard or impossible to find state-certified teachers to teach, and that Huntsville doesn’t have that problem. In fact, over the past two years the HCS system has laid off hundreds of certified teachers under its Reduction in Force (RIF) program. While some of those have been rehired, there are still plenty in the area that are out of work. Are you arguing that HCS is not receiving enough applications from certified teachers and so you need TFA volunteers to fill a gap?

    Q: A recent nation-wide analysis of TFA teacher turnover shows that while a majority of TFA teachers stay in education beyond their two-year commitment, more than half of those teachers leave their initial placement school in the third year, and by the end of the fourth year, only 14% are still in their original school. This is a troubling statistic given the fact that those placements are made at schools most in need of a stable and experienced faculty. How are you working to guarantee that our Title I schools don’t become a revolving door of inexperienced teachers?

    ======
    Like all pyramid schemes new territory is needed to keep the scam going. Which District is more likely to be able to fork over $4,000 per student to TFA? Seattle or Toppenish?

    Which District has actually had a teacher shortage in some areas? Seattle or Toppenish?

    If Toppenish had the $4,000 / TFA Corps Member, would they decide to spend it given the odds?

    Nearly two-thirds (60.5%) of TFA teachers continue as public school teachers beyond their two-year commitment.
    More than half (56.4%) leave their initial placements in low-income schools after two years, but 43.6% stay longer.
    By their fifth year, 14.8% continue to teach in the same low-income schools to which they were originally assigned.

    The state of Tennessee did a study and Teach for America – Memphis and In four years, the return rate drops to under 9%. That just over 91% of TFA teachers will have to be replaced every four years.

    In 2010 the costs for running the TFA organization when divided by the number of Corps Members teaching in schools = $20,000+ per Core Member …. Foundations and even the Federal Gov. are funding this operation. That is a lot of coin for a TEMP agency to supply teachers that are NOT needed in either Huntsville or Seattle.

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