“Did you ever work at a job where, when you got enough skill to get a raise in pay, you were fired, and a new man put in?” – Jim from “In Dubious Battle,” John Steinbeck

“The teaching profession in Seattle should be opened up to attract additional talent, including programs such as Teach for America.” – “Our Schools Coalition” “petition.”

An agenda item was quietly slipped into tonight’s Seattle School Board meeting: an “Agreement with Teach for America” apparently to bring TFA recruits to the Puget Sound area as “teachers.” There has been no public discussion of this notion. Indeed, it’s doubtful that many people in the community even know what TFA, Inc. is.

Just as quietly, the item has been crossed off the agenda:

Agreement with Teach For America – Approval of this item will allow TFA candidates to apply for open positions during the Phase III hiring process – This item is a placeholder. Documents should be posted by close of business Tuesday.

Why and why? Why was it introduced and why was it removed?

Is it a coincidence that the Seattle Times recently published an op-ed by the Dean of the School of Education at U.W. Seattle, who also happens to be a TFA corps member, and happens to mention TFA?

Is it a coincidence that our local state Representative Reuven Carlyle suddenly announced on his blog that “It’s time for Teach for America”?

There is an item in the Senate Bill 6696 that passed earlier this year, Olympia’s (failed) effort to qualify our state for the dubious “Race to the Top” money that also mentions allowing alternatively credentialed teachers to work in our state.

Clearly a concerted push is on from some powers that be to place short-term, under-qualified “teachers” in our schools and I, and many others, would like to know why.

Why, when we have many truly qualified teachers here in Seattle looking for work.

Why, when the school district has laid off teachers for two years in a row.

Who asked for TFA, Inc. recruits?

Well, from what I can gather, none of us did. But because it is part of the corporate ed reform agenda to weaken or demonize the teacher’s union (as displayed in “Waiting for Superman”), hand over our public schools to privately run charter franchises which then employ cheaper, non-union teaching force, because Seattle’s School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson’s agenda for our school district coincidentally closely aligns with the goals of the Broad Foundation on whose board she sits, alongside Wendy Kopp, the CEO of Teach for America, Inc., and Richard Barth, CEO of KIPP charters, it would seem that Goodloe-Johnson and others are apparently hell-bent on forcing this agenda on our district, schools and kids, whether any of us parents want it — or even know about it — or not.

Memo to Supt. Goodloe-Johnson: Your colleague and fellow-Broad board member Michelle Rhee also pushed this agenda in this manner on the D.C. school district, and it cost the mayor his job and probably hers too.

None of us asked for TFA, which is why, I am surmising, that the corporate ed reformers got some of their point people to “introduce” the idea of Teach for America, Inc. to Seattle in their op-eds and blog posts, as if the thought spontaneously and organically occurred to them.

Which is why, I am guessing, my local State Representative Reuven Carlyle out of the blue recently declared in his blog that Washington should bring Teach for America “teachers” here. At a time when experienced professional teachers are being RIFed, why would he suggest that?

I think it was also no coincidence that the so-called “Our Schools Coalition,” an Astro-turf entity fabricated by Strategies 360/DMA Marketing a political marketing firm hired by the Alliance for Education, also tacked on a question about TFA, Inc. in their push-poll survey earlier this year, with no explanation of what TFA, Inc. is. The Alliance and the superintendent like to refer to this survey and claim it demonstrated that a majority of the SPS community supports these ideas. That is dishonest and untrue, to put it nicely. I wonder how many respondents even knew what the question meant?

At best this is a misguided notion about what it takes to teach, especially the most challenging kids — TFA, Inc. places its recruits in the most challenging schools.

At worst, it is an arrogant dismissal of teacher professionalism, another example of applying a business mindset to schools (get the cheapest labor you can), and possibly a dog whistle to a union-busting mentality. If that sounds harsh perhaps I am still reacting to some of the techniques the corporate ed reformers have been so willing to practice – like baseless mass firings of teachers (by D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee and others) and applauded by President Obama himself, or the firing of perfectly decent principals because “No Child Left Behind”  declares their schools a failure, or McCarthyism disguised as journalism at the L.A. Times — shockingly applauded by Education Secretary Arne Duncan — and which may have driven at least one teacher to suicide.

Apparently Rep. Carlyle has received a number of negative responses to his blog post, as well as some positive ones from TFA-ers who say they are still teaching somewhere.

I know at least one TFA veteran. He stayed in the profession and is absolutely dedicated to kids and public education. He is thoughtful, eloquent and I’d love for my kids to have him as a teacher. But he is a statistical minority. Most TFA teachers don’t stay the course. Only 34 percent stay on past the required second year.

Why, at a time when the corporate ed reformers have turned the national Klieg lights on the humblest of professional teachers and declared them failures and demanded they perform miracles, are these same enterprises (Broad, Gates, Goodloe-Johnson, Carlyle et al) out of the other side of their mouths pushing for uncredentialed, inexperienced “teachers” to take on our most challenging schools?

It makes no sense. (But I’ll bet it makes dollars for somebody.)

—Unless you truly believe that short-term youthful energy and enthusiasm trump every other trait in teaching. Or unless you just want a young, inexperienced, cheap and malleable labor force.

TFA is the darling of the media and corporate ed reformers. Its founder Wendy Kopp is featured often in the media. TFA, Inc. is billed as an altruistic nonprofit and the teaching equivalent of the Peace Corps. But is this accurate?

I did some research and was surprised to discover that Teach for America, Incorporated is actually a multimillion-dollar enterprise. It is funded by all the usual suspects and then some: Gates, Broad, the (WalMart) Waltons, Dells, (the Gap) Fishers. Its founder sits on the board of directors of the Broad Foundation (alongside Seattle’s Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson), one of the unelected, unqualified but main drivers of education policy in America right now.

Info about TFA funders can be found in their Annual Report.

Here are a few excerpts:

National Growth Fund Investors (2006-10) The following funders generously supported our significant growth between 2006 – 2010.

$10 Million

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
Doris & Donald Fisher Fund
Rainwater Charitable Funds

National Growth Fund Investors (2009-13) The following funders generously committed to support our significant growth between 2009 – 2013.

$10 Million

Doris & Donald Fisher Fund
Martha and Bruce Karsh
Robertson Foundation
The Walton Family Foundation

$6 Million

Michael & Susan Dell Foundation

Why does TFA, Inc. need so much money to give college kids only five weeks of training? This “nonprofit” sure has a lot of money coursing through its corridors.

I have a lot of questions about all this.

So I asked my representative, Reuven Carlyle, why this idea suddenly sprung into his head. Here’s what I wrote:

Sept. 21, 2010

Dear Representative Carlyle,

I am Seattle public schools parent, resident and voter in your district, and I would like to know: Why do you want to bring Teach for America recruits to Seattle? (http://reuvencarlyle36.com/2010/09/20/time-for-teach-for-america/)

What’s wrong with the teachers we already have in Seattle, either in the public schools or hoping to find work there?

Do you know how long Teach for America “recruits” are trained? Just five weeks.

Do you know how long they are required to commit to their role as teachers? Just two years.

Do you know how many actually stay in teaching? Only 34 percent stay on for another year.

You have advanced degrees related to your field and apparently value higher education and expertise, why do you support bringing people to Seattle to work in an important and difficult field in which they have no degree or credentials?

Do you think that’s enough experience or enough of a commitment to our kids? If so, why? How?

Did you know that Teach for America, Inc. is a multimillion-dollar enterprise?

Research shows that a good teacher doesn’t reach his/her stride until about the fifth year of teaching. Why do you support bringing “teachers” to Seattle who will come and leave before they have even matured yet as professionals?

At a time when Seattle Public Schools has RIFed teachers for two years in a row, if you help bring Teach for America recruits to Seattle, you may be helping other local teachers lose their jobs, or make it harder for new teachers to find a job. Are you okay with that?

I understand that Teach for America recruits are non-union and not paid as much as regular union teachers, so by supporting TFA recruits, aren’t you effectively supporting lower pay for teachers?

Kids in public schools, especially in the less privileged communities, already suffer disproportionately from instability in their lives and schools. Why would you support adding more churn to their lives by bringing in short-term, unqualified “teachers” that will have no long-term commitment to them?

Why don’t you instead support fully funding our schools, fully hiring all the teachers we need, reducing class sizes and supporting teachers to continue their education and experience so they can commit to our children and the noble profession of teaching for the long term?

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Sue Peters

SPS parent, voter and co-editor of
Seattle Education 2010

I am still waiting for his response.

— sue p.