At last week’s Seattle School Board meeting, backers of Teach for America, Inc. tried to dismiss local parents who question or oppose TFA as a “vocal minority.” In truth, we are informed public school parents who are willing to speak up about our legitimate concerns. If our numbers aren’t (yet) as large as they might be, it’s to great extent because district leadership and others have actively kept district families uninformed about Teach for America, Inc. and how and why it was brought to Seattle.

Before signing a contract with TFA, Inc. why didn’t the Seattle Public School District (SPS) first ask parents if they wanted their kids taught by uncredentialed, inexperienced ‘teachers’ with only five weeks of training and only a two-year commitment to the profession? What if it had? What would the response have been?

How might the conversation be different if the district had informed SPS families about the concerted and well-financed push by some political enterprises, venture philanthropists, a college of education dean with ties to TFA, Inc. and politicians to bring Teach for America, Inc. to Seattle’s schools?

What if it had sent a letter like this?

Sept. 2010

Dear parents, guardians and families of Seattle Public Schools,

Some local and national corporate and political organizations and individuals would like to bring an enterprise called Teach for America, Inc. to Seattle Public Schools so its recruits can teach your children. As the true stakeholders with nearly 48,000 children in our schools, we would like your input before we commit to such a move.

Those who support Teach for America, Inc. say their young recruits will “close the achievement gap” between poor children of color and other children in our schools. There is no clear evidence that proves this claim, so we admit that this would be an experiment.

Those who want to bring TFA to Puget Sound wanted to do it quietly, and influence the school board to vote for it without much if any public discussion. TFA Inc. representatives wanted to meet casually with our superintendent, chief academic officer and school board members to get them to agree to support this change in policy without consulting the families of SPS.

We knew that was wrong. After all, these are your children we are talking about. So we are asking you now for your input, before we commit to any agreement or sign any contract that could negatively – or positively, we don’t know – impact your child’s learning experience or the morale of current teachers in SPS.

Teach for America recruits are recent four-year college graduates who are not required to have a background in education. Some TFA recruits have undergraduate degrees from Ivy League colleges, others do not. TFA requires a C average to be eligible for its popular program.

TFA, Inc. gives its recruits a five-week training course over the summer. Unlike fully credentialed teachers, they have not completed a teaching degree from a college of education beforehand and do not spend a year in a classroom learning from an experienced teacher through student teaching.

Therefore, unlike regularly credentialed teachers that we normally hire to teach your children, TFA recruits will have little to no student teaching experience. When they take over your child’s classroom, that will be their very first time in charge of a full classroom. They will ‘learn on the job.’

TFA recruits are only required to teach for two years. Most leave the teaching profession by the third year. So this would not be a long-term investment in a teaching force for our district.

In fact, TFA itself is not an investment in the teaching profession. Its CEO, Wendy Kopp, has stated that the mission of her organization is not to create teachers but to create leaders.

TFA recruits were originally intended to serve in areas that had teacher shortages. Seattle has no teacher shortage. In fact, our city has multiple colleges of education in its vicinity that train teachers fully and each job we post attracts hundreds of applicants.

There is no definitive peer-reviewed research that demonstrates that TFA recruits are better teachers than fully credentialed teachers. Instead, there is research that shows that experience matters and most teachers do not hit their stride until their fifth year of teaching.

There is also research that shows that high-minority, low-income schools have disproportionately high rates of teacher turnover, and this has a negative effect on stability and learning.

We are planning to put Teach for America recruits in high-minority, low-income classrooms as well as Special Education classrooms, here in Seattle. We would also allow any principal to hire them for any classroom.

Are you okay with that?

Would you prefer your child to be taught by a fully credentialed teacher or a Teach for America recruit?

TFA, Inc. recruits will compete against fully trained credentialed teachers for the same jobs and will be paid the same salary as a fully credentialed first-year teacher. Teach for America will also charge our district an extra $4,000 per year per recruit we hire.

Our district has limited funds, as you know, and has recently cut counselors, laid off teachers and made other cutbacks that affect your child’s learning experience. Should we find the money to pay the extra costs to put TFA recruits in your children’s classrooms? If so, what programs or staff should we de-fund to cover the extra costs of TFA?

We may also be able to obtain the funding from private sources, but we may or may not be able to secure an annual commitment from them.

TFA, Inc. does not guarantee that its recruits are “fit” to teach and it offers no warranty and no refund “for any reason whatsoever.” Do you think SPS should agree to such terms in a contract with TFA, Inc. if it should enter into one?

As a parent, guardian, family of SPS, do you approve of our district bringing TFA recruits as teachers into the district?

Would you want one in your child’s classroom teaching your child?

Thank you for your input. We will take it in consideration and move forward or not depending on what the families of our 48,000 children tell us.


The Superintendent and School Board of Seattle Public Schools

–Sue p.