Teach for America, Inc. was back on the agenda at last night’s Seattle Public School Board meeting.

The district already has an undated (draft? final?) contract between TFA, Inc. and Seattle Public Schools ready to be signed by TFA, Inc.’s Managing Director Janis Ortega and Seattle School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson.

Community input? Zero.

Public demand for short-term new college grads with only five weeks of training to teach in the district’s public schools? Zero.

Seattle Public Schools have laid off teachers two years in a row. There is no shortage of qualified teachers already here in Seattle.

So why is Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson pushing to bring a cadre of uncredentialed “recruits” to our schools?

What do parents think about this? There are some lively discussions about TFA, Inc. going on at the Seattle Public Schools Community blog that are worth checking out.

Since I last posted about this (reposted below) there have been some new developments. For starters, there’s a contract now and it’s quite revealing. According to the contract, the TFA-ers will only be placed in certain low-income schools.

iii. In order to be considered an appropriate school (a “Partner School”) for placement of a Teacher, (i) the school’s student population must be considered high poverty relative to the student population elsewhere in the district. To the extent reasonably practicable, Seattle Public Schools will employ two or more Teachers per individual Partner School.

There are a couple of problems with this. First off,  why put the least experienced and least qualified “teachers” in the most demanding schools?  Secondly, only 34 percent of TFA recruits stick around to teach for a third year, so they will be gone before they even become solid teachers. So how “effective” can they possibly be? Also, this will create unnecessary churn in the lives of kids who often already have a disproportionate amount of churn in their lives.

Is Seattle headed into another legal battle over race?

Next, a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision in California determined that TFA and their ilk do not make the grade as “highly qualified” teachers and therefore do not meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind that highly qualified teachers be placed in Title I (low-income) schools. Furthermore, critics argue that assigning underqualified teachers exclusively to low-income minority children amounts to discrimination.

“Closing the achievement gap” was indeed the mantra of the parade of ex-TFA, Inc. corps members who spoke before the school board last night. That’s their specialty, apparently, along with teaching Special Ed and English Language Learners. I find this troubling or at least downright naive. Do they mean to imply that all other teachers aren’t interested or are incapable of helping low-income, Special Ed or  ELL kids? There was a veiled arrogance, I thought, to some of the testimonies last night. And all the references by TFA, Inc. supporters that these mostly Ivy League grads represent “the best and the brightest” only adds to the aura of self-righteousness that haunts this enterprise.

I also found it troubling that all the TFA-ers who spoke last night (that I saw) were white. I would like to know the percentage of non-white TFA-ers in the field. Dora was there last night and can fill in a lot more of the details, but she mentioned that when a representative from TFA was asked about its diversity (or lack thereof) that person claimed that this is because of the achievement gap (handy-dandy reason for everything apparently).  You see, she said, because of the gap, there aren’t enough college grads of color to apply for TFA. So there you have it, the gospel according to TFA, Inc.

What message is TFA, Inc. — and SPS, if it goes ahead with this dubious venture — sending to poor minority kids in our community? This does indeed smack of Kipling. Elsewhere in the nation, African American teachers have been laid off by reformers like Michelle Rhee in D.C. and replaced with young, white TFA-ers. Is this what we want for Seattle?

Cash-strapped SPS would get to pay more money for less experience! TFA, Inc. demands an extra $4,000 per year from Seattle Public Schools for each TFA-er

Another interesting item: TFA-ers are not free. They aren’t even a bargain. In fact, they cost more than fully trained teachers. In addition to paying them the starting salary of a regularly credentialed teacher ( I wonder how regular teachers will feel about TFA’s special treatment) , the district must pony up another $4,000 per TFAer  per year for the honor of harboring these short-term fast-tracked grads. Where is the economy of that when we already have a pool of qualified teachers here in Seattle looking for work who don’t cost an extra $4,000 a year?

From the proposal:

ii. With respect to each Teacher whose employment by Seattle Public Schools is to commence in the 2011-2012 academic year, Seattle Public Schools shall pay Teach For America an annual amount of $4,000 for each year in which such Teacher is employed by Seattle Public Schools, up to two years [from the date such employment is to commence]; and
iii. With respect to each Teacher whose employment by Seattle Public Schools is to commence in the 2012-2013 academic year, Seattle Public Schools shall pay Teach For America an annual amount of $4,000 for each year in which such Teacher is employed by Seattle Public Schools, up to two years [from the date such employment is to commence].

iv. With respect to each Teacher whose employment by Seattle Public Schools is to commence in the 2013-2014 academic year, Seattle Public Schools shall pay Teach For America an annual amount of $4,000 for each year in which such Teacher is employed by Seattle Public Schools, up to two years [from the date such employment is to commence].

(Not to worry, though, we’re being told by the district: the Gates Foundation will pay for it. Good old Bill — always ready to foot the bill for his reformite friends, thus avoiding a possibly uncomfortable public discussion about the cost and value of bringing another reformite agenda item to town. What a nuisance is that thing called democracy!)

What’s more — No refunds!

That’s right, unlike late-night TV gadgets, this product comes with no guarantees and no refunds. Note the extreme language here:
B. Non-refund. Teach For America shall have no obligation to refund to Seattle Public Schools any amount paid by Seattle Public Schools in respect of any Teacher for any reason whatsoever.

“For any reason whatsoever”?! This sounds like a terrible deal for SPS, with TFA utterly exonerated of any liability or obligation to our district whatsoever. Who negotiated this deal? Is this the best contract Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson could broker for SPS?

But wait — there’s more! Here’s another provision of the proposed contract that leaps out at me:

Caveat emptor! TFA recruits come with “No Warranty”

G. No Warranty. Seattle Public Schools hereby agrees and acknowledges that Teach For America does not make and has not made any representation and warranty as to the fitness of any Teacher presented or provided by Teach For America and Seattle Public Schools shall indemnify and hold harmless the TFA Indemnities from and against any Losses resulting from any claim related to the services provided by Teach For America, including, but not limited to, claims that any Teacher presented or provided by Teach For America was unfit for the position for which he or she was hired by Seattle Public Schools.

So now, wait a minute. TFA, Inc. will not vouch for the fitness for the job of any of its allegedly carefully selected and trained recruits?! Then what in sam hill is the district paying extra for? Or is this merely a big old loophole saying, ‘Don’t blame us if our 5 weeks of training didn’t do the job!’

How convenient for TFA, Inc. How problematic for SPS.

(I also find it odd that TFA uses the term “warranty” — normally reserved for inanimate objects like hair dryers or refrigerators — in reference to its “teachers.” Perhaps it does consider them products. Again, the corporate mindset at work.)

Teach for America — aka “Teach for Awhile”

(Apparently this is an inside joke, according to a former TFA-er I know.) The contract indeed demonstrates that these TFA recruits are only committed to stick around for 2-3 years. Again, the issue of churn comes up. Rightly or wrongly, it also creates a sense that TFA, Inc. is merely using our  public school kids as training fodder for TFA-ers, and does not make a commitment to these kids in the long term.

D. Term. The term of this Agreement shall be for a period of three years and shall cover the 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-2014 academic years. This Agreement will expire on August 31, 2014 but may be renewed at the end of the term on the same or substantially similar terms by mutual agreement of the parties.

If I were an SPS teacher who had followed all the Washington State rules and processes of becoming a legitimately credentialed teacher, which includes a significant amount of time doing actual in-class student teaching before going out on my own, I would not be happy to find TFA-ers applying for the same jobs and same salary with only five weeks of summer school training under their belt. How is that fair?

As a parent, the choice between an experienced teacher who plans to dedicate her/his life to the field and a TFA-er whose only commitment is two years, is easy. Give me the experienced, dedicated teacher any day.

Here comes another lawsuit: Student privacy at risk? TFA wants the right to hand over student info to third parties. TFA contract violates FERPA

Another detail that raises red flags for those of us who are already unhappy with how our kids’ private info is shared by the district: according to the proposal posted by the district, if hired, TFA teachers are then given access to private student data which it will be allowed to share with third parties. (Can you say “FERPA violation”?)

That is definitely not OK.

From the proposal:

ii. Pursuant to its obligations under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), Seattle Public Schools hereby acknowledges that in the course of providing on-going professional development services for the purposes of improving instruction, Seattle Public Schools may disclose to Teach For America student identifiable data from individual Teachers, pursuant to 34 CFR §99.31(a)(6)(i)(c).
iii. Teach For America shall use and maintain such data as provided in 34 CFR §99.31(a)(6). In accordance with 34 C.F.R. § 99.33(b), Teach For America may re-disclose student identifiable information on behalf of Seattle Public Schools as part of Teach For America’s service to Seattle Public Schools of providing on-going professional development services.
iv. In accordance with 34 CFR §99.31(a)(6), Teach For America may also disclose student identifiable information on behalf of Seattle Public Schools to additional parties, provided that Teach For America, in advance, provide to Seattle Public Schools the names of such parties and a brief description of such parties’ legitimate interest in receiving such information.

Why should we hand over our children’s private information to a politically connected multimillion-dollar enterprise to share with whomever it wants? That is utter madness.

What does Teach for America, Inc. do with all its money?

Teach for America, Inc. is a multimillion dollar enterprise. It collects tens of millions of dollars from the Gates and Broad foundations and various others (see below).  For some reason the Obama administration recently determined that TFA, Inc. needed another infusion of $50 million. So why is TFA, Inc. also demanding another $4,000 per year from  cash-strapped school districts like ours? How much can five weeks of training possibly cost?

What the heck is in it for us and our kids?

Why government/taxpayer money in such amounts should be funneled to private companies like TFA, Inc. is another questionable matter. I would argue that this is just another version of the government funding “faith-based initiatives” since so many of the ed reform concepts that President Obama’s Dept. of Education is funding are failing the tests of research and reality, making their value based entirely on faith.

I would also argue that most of the ed reform initiatives directly feed one religion in particular: Capitalism. But I digress. (Sort of…)

Is TFA another conflict of interest for Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson?

The fact that Seattle Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson recently left the board of directors of the Broad Foundation doesn’t change the fact that she is connected to Teach for America, Inc. CEO Wendy Kopp and her husband Richard Barth of KIPP charters, via their mutual associations with the Broad Foundation.

Is this another case of Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson brokering a business deal for her associates at Seattle Public Schools’ expense?

She already had to resign from the board of directors of the Northwest Evaluation Association whose product, the MAP test, the district purchased and on which has since spent over $4.3 million.  Curiously enough,  at the time the board voted to approve the (no-bid) contract with NWEA, Goodloe-Johnson failed to disclose her connection to the business.

Finally, here is some interesting reading: Teach for America, Inc.’s Annual Report for 2009. It reads like a corporate growth report with a strategy for expanding its market share. Or a military strategy: “As we marshaled our resources to fuel our growth our corps members worked relentlessly in the classroom…”

(“We shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!”)

Though the report talks about “meeting its goals” and student “achievement” missing from all its verbiage is the kids.

— sue p.

Here’s a re-post from a few weeks ago:

Why the Sudden Pom-Poms for Teach for America in Seattle?

“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.