Every Child Deserves a Great Education

Archive for January, 2011

Nanny for America: Interviews with TFA Recruits 0

Posted on January 31, 2011 by dmayer

Also posted at Daily Kos with comments.

The headline reads: Birmingham Board of Education votes 5-4 to hire 60 teachers through Teach for America

Every time I read that some gullible school board has made a deal with Teach for America (TFA), I cringe.

The board members who voted against the contract said the school district can”t afford to hire 60 teachers through Teach for America because they come with a cost of $5,000 per teacher, per year beyond the standard starting teacher”s salary. The fee to hire 60 teachers through Teach for America for two years each would be $600,000.

The school district is facing a $30 million deficit in fiscal 2012.

Pure folly.

Are TFA recruits worth the hundreds of thousands of extra tax payer dollars? Join me as I interview some TFA recruits.

At least they didn”t get suckered into paying $30,000 per recruit as Sacramento almost did. Still Sacramento had the good sense to say, “No thank you.”

TFA recruits are not teachers. Teachers go to college to learn how to teach. They study their content area to become proficient in it. They take methods classes to learn how to best present that knowledge to their students. They spend time in the field, working with students one on one and in small groups. They do practicum after practicum learning the psychology and culture of the students they intend to teach. Pre-service teachers complete a semester of student teaching under the supervision of a mentoring teacher. They earn a degree in education. They become licensed. Then, and only then, are they teachers.

So, what do we call a person who is fresh out of college, takes a five week training course to get to know a little about kids–training from those who aren”t necessarily knowledgeable in the field? What do we call a person who pledges to be responsible for the success of the child? What do we call a person who promises to care of children and make themselves accessible to them into the evening as many TFA recruits are required to do?

We call that person a nanny.

Teach for America, known to educators as Teach-for-Awhile, is funded by the Billionaire Boys as defined by Diane Ravitch.

“The Billionaires Boys Club” is a discussion of how we’re in a new era of the foundations and their relation to education. We have never in the history of the United States had foundations with the wealth of the Gates Foundation and some of the other billionaire foundations—the Walton Family Foundation, The Broad Foundation. And these three foundations—Gates, Broad and Walton—are committed now to charter schools and to evaluating teachers by test scores. And that’s now the policy of the US Department of Education. We have never seen anything like this, where foundations had the ambition to direct national educational policy, and in fact are succeeding.

The Birmingham News went on to report:

But other board members say Superintendent Craig Witherspoon”s plan to employ the teachers is innovative and will be good for the city”s under-performing schools.

Apparently, Superintendent Witherspoon is taken in by the hype just like so many others before him. It”s not surprising. In her recent article in Dissent magazine, Joanne Barkan reveals how the media is complicit in perpetuating the myth of Teach for America as well as other Billionaire Boys enterprises. (Emphasis added.)

One study reviewed how national media outlets (the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, and Associated Press) portrayed the educational activities of major foundations (Gates, Broad, Walton, Annenberg, and Milken) from 1995 to 2005. The study revealed “thirteen positive articles for every critical account.”

So, are TFA recruits ready for the classroom? Are they worth the extra cost? I talked with TFA recruits who were so overwhelmed and unhappy that they cried themselves to sleep each night. (I learned this from parents who arranged the interviews.) All recruit were fearful that TFA would find out that I had talked with them and that would ruin their future. I promised that I would not write anything that would reveal their identities. These interviews took place in January when each was considering dropping out of the program. Here are a few of the comments they had in common:

1. They weren”t paid for their summer “training” session, and they were mad about it. This is a familiar headline. (Insert your favorite Ivy League school in the place of Yale.)

For the third straight year, Teach for America was the largest employer of Yale graduates.

Teach for America hires no one right out of college. This is how easy it would be to debunk that myth:

Reporter to Wendy Kopp, founder of TFA: How many teachers has Teach for America employed right out of college?
Kopp: Zero.

Not one recruit has ever received a paycheck from Teach for America for teaching. They recruit people. It”s like saying Kelly Services is the biggest employer of office assistants. They are an employment service. The TFA recruits I interviewed were angry they didn”t get paid for their summer training with TFA, something they apparently didn”t know before making the commitment.

2. The training was lousy. Recruits weren”t given any instructional materials. They were bussed to a school, assigned a classroom — often not in the subject area they were to teach, and spent most of their time observing the teacher. Later in the evening, they would get together and talk about what the teacher did and how they might do it better. Sometimes they would plan a lesson to teach. When I asked how many days they had actually taught before having a classroom of their own, the answer was unanimous: zero.

3. They are terrified of their students. They are a tiny minority at their schools, and they don”t blend in. Not only do they not know how to teach, they don”t know how to relate to the kids. They don”t understand why their students don”t want to learn. Some kids are mean to them and even threatening. They are scared.

4. They don”t have textbooks. They are given a list of standards and told to teach them. They get most of their lessons off the internet or borrow them from experienced teachers.

5. In addition to teaching nine-and-a-half hour days as some do, they are required to work on their graduate degrees to satisfy certification requirements. They attend classes two nights a week — not regular graduate education classes; these classes are tailored especially for TFA recruits. They think the classes are worthless. Between long hours at school, grading papers and planning after school, and attending college classes at night, they have no time to themselves. They are exhausted.

6. They don”t get adequate support from TFA administration. TFA promises them support in the field, but they only see their PDs (program directors) about once every other week. PDs tend to be more critical than helpful. The PDs are former TFA recruits who have no real education background except for having taught just as they are doing now. PDs can only tell them how they handled situations when they were teaching. They have no expertise. It”s like the blind leading the blind. There is a palpable level of frustration among the recruits because they feel that TFA has reneged on its commitment to support them in the classroom.

When I asked each if they would continue, they couldn”t say for sure. Most said if they can make it through the end of the year, they”ll probably complete the two years. They noted not having many options because the job market is nonexistent. If they make it through the two year commitment, they will have connections to high-paying, desirable jobs as a benefit of their association with Teach for America. They also have huge college loans to repay, and if they make it through each year, they will get about $5,000-$10,000 total from the Department of Education (our tax dollars) in debt relief. The most prevalent reason for sticking it out is, “My parents will kill me if I drop out.” They are proud.

Not once during my interviews did the recruits consider that they may be doing harm to their students. Maybe this wasn”t the proper venue to show concern, but they were totally absorbed with the impact the experience was having on them personally.

According to Linda Darling Hammond “low-coursework teachers” like TFA recruits:

Research shows that the reading and math test scores of students taught by these “low-coursework teachers” actually declined from fall to spring of their first teaching year.

Students who receive three ineffective teachers in a row may achieve at levels that are as much as 50 percentile points lower than students who receive three highly effective teachers in a row. (The Flat World and Education, Linda Darling-Hammond, Teachers College Press, 2010 p. 46-49)

Are TFA recruits worth the hundreds of thousands of extra dollars they cost school districts each year? Shouldn”t our poorest African-American and Hispanic children have a professional teacher when one is available? Should our precious taxpayer dollars be spent frivolously to pay for untrained, unlicensed personnel when highly effective teachers go jobless each year? Is a nanny in every classroom a staple of education reform?

At the end of two years, what will Birmingham have to show for its $600,000 investment? The answer should be a no-brainer.