"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Friday, December 2, 2011

What Does TFA Mean to Missouri Students Graduating With Teaching Degrees

On Wednesday we wrote about the Jefferson Arms building in St. Louis housing Teach For America offices and teachers once the renovation on the building is complete. Teach For America is the latest in a stream of education reforms that is meant to address, specifically, poor scores in urban and rural districts.  It is meant to harness the enthusiasm and energy of recent college graduates of STEM studies and provide them with work soon after graduation. It is meant to be a short term position which makes it an easier sell for TFA, along the lines of the Peace Corps.

But what are the unforeseen consequences of this program.  Sue Peters of Parents Across America and Seattle Education 2010, wrote about Washington State's experience with TFA.  The article provides some good warnings for unintended consequences.

On May 11, the University of Washington's College of Education announced it would sponsor Teach for America at its teaching college, providing the missing component to the deal that TFA, Inc. struck with the Seattle School District last fall.

Last November, Seattle's school board approved a (troubling and one-sided) contract to allow TFA, a short-term alternative teacher credentialing program, into Seattle's hiring pool for the first time. TFA, Inc. also demands a financial and university sponsor in order to brings its program to a new location, and charges school districts an extra $4,000 or more per year for each trainee, in "recruitment, placement and training" fees. (Apparently the millions of dollars from private investors $50 million recently granted to TFA, Inc. by the federal government isn't enough to cover expenses.) Those in the parent ed advocacy community guessed that ed reform sugardaddy Bill Gates would pony up at some point. And he did -- his Washington STEM organization will pay the $4,000 annual fee for the science and math TFAers, which would otherwise be billed to our cash-strapped district. But who would be the university sponsor? We waited for an announcement.

There were rumors that the University of Washington was going to take this on. After all, the new Dean of Education, Tom Stritikus, is a former TFAer himself, and he coincidentally wrote an op-ed  about the values of "alternative" teacher preparation programs in the Seattle Times, just a few weeks before then School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson out of the blue proposed bringing TFA to our already teacher-filled, recession-struck district.  
The University of Washington already has a well-regarded M.A. teacher ed program (ranked ninth in nation by U.S. News & World Report in 2011). It takes two years and requires a year of student teaching in an actual classroom.

Then the announcement finally came two weeks ago. From the U.W. press release:
Teach For America negotiated directly with Seattle and Federal Way school districts to allow their corps members to interview alongside other candidates for open teaching positions in those districts. Corps members who are hired complete an intensive summer training institute before becoming U-ACT students and begining (sic) full-time teaching. Those hired will enroll as graduate students in the College of Education. They will earn teacher certification through U-ACT and, in subsequent years, a master's degree through one of the college's existing programs -- in Curriculum & Instruction, Special Education, Leadership & Policy Studies or Educational Psychology.
In this new arrangement, the students in the TFA special program will be housed alongside the full program students, but would only be required to take a five-week course, after which they would be deemed immediately eligible to apply for a full-time, full-salaried teaching position, while still learning on the job. The full-term U.W. students, meanwhile, won't be certified and able to enter the workforce until they have completed the first year of their program.
Not surprisingly, this announcement was not well received by Dean Stritkus' current M.A. teaching students. Outrage, dismay and confusion soon followed. One student referred to the UW-TFA deal as a "slap in the face." You can't blame them for feeling betrayed by Stritikus and the university.

Here they have been spending two years following the rigorous standards the dean ostensibly believes in, diligently studying the art and science of teaching, paying their own way for a $23,000 ($50,000 nonresident) masters degree at what they thought was a reputable teaching institution. They are spending hours of in-class time in actual public school classrooms getting invaluable experience, all in the hopes of applying for one of the rare teaching positions in the fall. Now they are being told that a stream of fresh grads will be brought in alongside them at U.W., given a special, condensed education, will do little to no student teaching, but will compete against them for the same jobs.

It must feel like running a 10-mile race, only to have the judges allow a group of new runners join in the last 100 yards and race you to the finish -- on skateboards.

St. Louis started getting TFAers in 2002 when 33 were hired. Since then, Teach for America St. Louis has grown to 190 teachers in 60 school in four school districts — St. Louis, Normandy, Riverview Gardens and Hazelwood — plus charter schools. This is listed as one of their success stories. Would those districts who lost their accreditation between 2002 and now think they are living a success story?

Governor Nixon likes this program and thinks they "are making a difference."  Has he asked any of the Education Bachelors and Masters graduates from Mizzou and Missouri State whether they think TFAers competing along side them without the years of special coursework they paid to obtain is making a difference for them?  Do the residents of Riverview Gardens, Normandy and Hazelwood know that they are getting teachers with only five weeks of teaching training?  And if that is in fact good enough for teaching, how do Mizzou and Missouri State justify the continued offering of a six year $80,000+ masters program in teaching?


  1. Do you know what this means?

    This means college students should not go into debt, not work for years for a Masters in Teaching since they won't be able to get a job.

    The government picked college students who are pleased to accept meager pay will take their place. They might as well. The government is providing them with subsidized housing.

    This has NOTHING to do with education.

  2. It is possible to be a great teacher without a teaching degree/certificate.

  3. I agree it is possible to be a great teacher without a teaching degree/certificate.

    PARENTS do it every day.

  4. So what is TFA exactly? Do they have any post Highschool education?

    I do agree that one can be a great teacher w/o a college diploma. I plan on getting my teaching degree, but, due to politics, agendas, and dumbing down in the public school my oldest had attended, I made the decision to homeschool her (3rd grade) this year. It seems like the higher degree one has, the less common sense they have; not to mention critical thinking & open mindedness. They would have 5th graders out at recess w/ 1st & 2nd graders! Let's just say there were questions that I assumed wouldn't need answering for many years!

    When we started homeschooling, the program I chose to use, was at yr 1430 AD. I was shocked that my daughter hadn't learned ANYTHING in History! She was a straight A student, yet never capatilized anything but her name! I also teach religious education and had worked as the counselor in charge at a residential treatment facility for troubled youth, where I also substituted in the school & led homework teaching sessions after school. I worked w/ 11-15 yr old boys, that had a C average, at best. But shortly after I started there, they were no less than B students, w/ most being A students.

    I believe all the restrictions, mandates, experiments, & politics w/in our public education, is to blame for the poor performances nationwide!

  5. This is like going to the store to buy a pair of shoes. Where you agree to pay full price. But someone walks in and is told they can have the same shoe only way cheaper. But if you want the shoe you still have to pay full price.
    The government is picking the winners and losers, Again!

  6. This is exactly why the US educational system is failing. Teachers are no longer required to teach. They have simply become political pawns for the Democrat Party soliciting their vote.

    Would you accept a doctor who had such limited training? How about an engineer or any other professional in such a critical role?

    Now the question begs to be asked, who is really responsible for allowing this to happen? We are.
    Every parent needs to be actively involved in their child’s education. We need to review the curriculum before the school year starts, monitor it throughout the year, regularly check our child’s progress and help them excel. Our children’s education is Not the Government’s responsibility, it’s ours! It’s our responsibility to get it back on track. You must get involved with the process! Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Make sure you are not “checking” your brain at the door. Learning is a life-long process. Get involved, idle chatter like this is not going to change anything.


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