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Seattle Public Schools May Not Continue Contract with Teach for America

March 18, 2012

I spent several years living in Seattle, Queen Anne mostly.  My commute over to the University of Washington was about 5 miles.  I almost never paid to park so I would park on the street about a mile or so away at 6 am each morning and I would walk to U-Dub, many times (as you can imagine in Seattle) in the cold, windy, misty rain.  But, my good feelings for the city and the University remain.  If you get the chance to visit Seattle, I highly recommend it.

That lead in, which has no real connection to this article, was just something I wanted to put out there:

360 Education Solutions.  According to the article: Seattle Public School Board is reconsidering its contract with Teach for America.  I think this is a wonderful idea.

“We have many really good teacher training programs in our city that are providing us with a pool of very qualified teachers. We do not need teachers who have only had five weeks of training,” Sharon Peaslee of the Seattle School Board said to KUOW News.

This is what has always bothered me about TFA, cities that have Universities don’t need TFA teachers as there are already a number of University program qualified teachers ready to fill the jobs that need filling in schools.  Why would a district contract with TFA for 2 year temp teachers with only 5 weeks of training vs. University trained students who have spent two years or more taking education classes and volunteering in local schools?  TFA seems “scammish” to me.  I almost missed this article, sometimes the little articles can tell you a lot about what is happening.

Seattle Reconsidering Teach for America

In a long line of criticism and challenges that Teach for America has recently faced, the Seattle School Board is reconsidering its current three-year contract with the organization after its first year with board members questioning the training and effectiveness of teachers from the program as well as the need for them.

In 2010, TFA received a three-year contract from the Seattle School District allowing them to teach in Seattle schools. However, some board members feel that they no longer need the TFA teachers as there is no longer a shortage of fully certified teachers.

“We have many really good teacher training programs in our city that are providing us with a pool of very qualified teachers. We do not need teachers who have only had five weeks of training,” Sharon Peaslee of the Seattle School Board said to KUOW News.

Functioning much like a Peace Corps for teaching, college graduates who enter the Teach for America (TFA) program are sent to work as teachers in underserved areas around the country. Many of these teachers end up in rural and urban communities where there is a shortage of teachers.

These TFA teachers are only given five weeks training before they start teaching which has drawn criticism around the country and is one of the criticisms in Seattle. In spite of this, some research has shown that they can sometimes be more effective than regularly trained teachers.

“They don’t go through the same training,” Lisa Macfarlane with Democrats for Education Reform said to Q13 Fox News. “But they are getting better results.”

Created in 1989 as a senior thesis project for Princeton alumni, Wendy Kopp, as a way to help eliminate education inequality, the program has become very popular with education reform organizations. Often praised for innovation, the program has continually received a large amount of funding and support from these organizations and the federal government in spite of criticisms.

For example the program recently received $8.3 million from the Department of Education and earlier received $49.5 million to double its teacher corps over the next five years.

But critics in Seattle don’t see that innovation.

“There is nothing innovative about TFA,” said Peaslee. “It’s a shortcut, and that’s not the same as innovation.”

Additionally, other critics in Seattle are worried about whether the two-year tenure a TFA teacher has as a teacher is enough to make a difference.

“They can be the greatest people in the world, but how long are they gonna be there?” Seattle School Board member Betty Patu, one of those seeking to end the TFA contract, said to The Seattle Times. “That’s almost as important as being a great teacher.”

While it is expected that Teach for America will remain in Seattle due to a lack of majority vote, their place in the Northwest, which has been slow going, may still be on shaky ground.

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