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One more letter to the Seattle School Board regarding Teach for America, Inc.

I told you in my last post that those would not be my last words on TFA, Inc.

Yesterday evening I found this letter in my inbox and found it so compelling that I wanted to share it.

Dora

To the SPS Board Directors,

Let’s first be clear about what the contract does. This contract
effectively says that teacher candidates from TFA get a waiver from
Seattle’s certification requirement. This is clearly preferential
treatment and a lowering of expectations for teacher candidate
training.

Why does this matter? Better training matters for number of reasons:
– Better training makes it more likely that a teacher will be
effective when entering the classroom
– Better training makes it more likely that a teacher will stay in the classroom
– Better training provides a valuable weeding out phase
– Better training better ensures a teacher can focus on teaching,
without having to focus as much on off-hour training, or being a drain
on other teachers and staff
– Having high standards for teacher candidates also better ensures
that favoritism is less of a factor in the selection process

There is ample research on teacher training generally and on TFA
specifically that supports the benefits of comprehensive professional
and academic training. The impacts from this lack of training for TFA
candidates is clear from the research: effectiveness of recruits is
modest and inconsistent and attrition is high. Additionally, I would
suggest the better evidence is that we don’t see high-achieving
countries using this approach, and we don’t see wealthy schools
clamoring for TFA recruits. With regards to attrition, it’s clear
that working to lower attrition, especially for schools in poor
neighborhoods, is a critical step in improving teacher quality and
student learning. Not only does excessive turnover contribute to
teacher shortages, but it also makes it more difficult to build
teacher learning communities within schools. And, it makes it less
likely that teachers and students will develop the kind of
relationships necessary to promote learning and psychological health.

TFA may be selective (some other programs are as well), but that
doesn’t mean their candidates don’t need training or that we don’t
need the vetting that training provides. In fact, many TFA recruits who stay in teaching go on to become certified, a clear acknowledgment that more training is needed.

How do high achieving schools raise teacher quality? The country of
Finland has rightly been in the news for its world leading education
system. Making teaching a prestigious and sought after occupation
has been a key factor in their success. The education schools are
perhaps even more selective than TFA. But more importantly, once
selected, they must go through an extensive 5 year master’s program
that includes rigorous professional and academic training. As a
result, teacher attrition is negligible and the results are, like I
said, world leading. It is clear that robust teacher training is not
optional for developing a sustainable, robust school system.

Allowing TFA is gambling on our student’s education. A few might
turn out to be good, but it weakens the system and makes it more
likely that the students most in need won’t get the education they
deserve.

In a district with a staffing shortage, it may be worth the risk of
hiring TFA recruits as a stopgap measure (at the same time as long
term solutions are developed). It makes no sense in a district like
Seattle. We can and must do better.

Thanks for your consideration,

-Demian, SPS parent

One comment on “One more letter to the Seattle School Board regarding Teach for America, Inc.

  1. Bob Valiant
    March 22, 2012

    Demian- Great arguments for the Empiricists among us. The problem is many of those on the other side of the argument are Rationalists and for them evidence doesn’t count. For them the best argument is, “Don’t screw with my kid or I will help kick your butt out of office.” Or something like that.

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This entry was posted on March 22, 2012 by in Uncategorized.
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