"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Monday, December 26, 2011

NEA and TFA

Last month NEA released a report on teacher effectiveness. Based on the report, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel announced a three part agenda for improving the teaching profession.

The agenda has three major components:

1. Raising the Bar for Entry: The Commission on Teacher Effectiveness and Van Roekel call for rigorous preparation and a one year internship for everyone who wants to enter teaching.
2. Teachers Ensuring Teacher Quality through peer assistance and peer review programs.
3. Union Leadership to Transform the Profession: Local educators need to take leadership roles in the improvement of the teaching profession.

The three part agenda for the improvement of the teaching profession along with the report on teacher effectiveness has gotten some pushback as falling into the trap of giving teachers and public schools the entire responsibility of improving education's many "gaps." However, it's not the teaching profession's responsibility to solve all the societal problems which effect education. Teachers and teachers unions can lobby, encourage, and complain, but nothing will be accomplished until the wealthy in the country understand that it's in their best interest to eliminate poverty and other class issues.

In fact, it's refreshing that a professional teacher organization has taken the debate out of the hands of the "reformer" billionaires and politicians who have emphasized teacher quality as the only way to improve schools despite research to the contrary.

Last summer the NEA Representative Assembly passed a "New Business Item" which the first part of the three part agenda confirms. The New Business Item 93 correctly identifies Teach for America (TFA) as a source of unprepared teachers. Raising the bar for entry to the teaching profession would ensure that new teachers received more than a 5 week crash course. It reads as follows:
NEA will publicly oppose Teach for America (TFA) contracts when they are used in Districts where there is no teacher shortage or when Districts use TFA agreements to reduce teacher costs, silence union voices, or as a vehicle to bust unions.
New Business Item 93 as well as the Commission on Teacher Effectiveness have stated clearly the NEA position which is -- fully trained teacher professionals should be responsible for educating the children in America's public schools. NEA specifically opposed TFA as a path for teacher professionals.

So why has NEA President Van Roekel joined with TFA CEO Wendy Kopp in a USA Today op-ed which states
One in three K-12 students will be assigned a teacher who is in the first three years of his or her career. As a new generation embarks on a career in teaching, we must commit to giving them the best preparation possible.
The presence of Kopp's name on the editorial implies acceptance of TFA as one of those "best preparation possible" routes.

Anthony Cody asks the question about the USA Today piece in his Living in Dialogue blog...
Here, the first item on the list has changed. No longer is there discussion of "raising the bar for entry," or a year of full residency. Here, the first item is "Use data to improve teacher preparation." In other words, judge teacher preparation programs by the test scores of the teachers they produce. Do we really want this? One more piece of leverage aimed at pressuring schools of education to tow the line and encourage their students to teach to the test? Teach For America figured this out years ago, and a visit to a TFA classroom will reveal the posters on the wall tracking student test scores, and exhortations to reach the big goal of 80% mastery.

The column states, "Unfortunately, not all teachers are getting the high-quality preparation they need to excel with students in the classroom."

Unfortunately indeed.

Does Mr. Van Roekel believe that Teach For America's five or six week long training is adequate preparation?
Teacherken, at Daily Kos, takes it one step further.
I fail to see how a commitment to giving new teachers "the best preparation possible" is in accord with the practice of TFA taking its applicants - who may be outstanding students from elite colleges and universities - giving them only 5 weeks of training, with no meaningful practice teaching, then placing them in schools with high needs children, sometimes in positions of responsibility for which they lack the appropriate background (Special Education), where their primary support mechanism may be former TFA teachers who themselves had only 2 years of experience in the classroom.
Quite rightly, teacherken names his blog entry What if you feel betrayed by your union's leadership?

The NEA Representative Assembly specifically rejected TFA as a source of adequately trained teachers. The NEA Commission on Teacher Excellence recommends a full year of internship thereby rejecting TFA's minimal teacher preparation. Yet the president of NEA seems to ignore this by teaming with Kopp in this manner.

Do we, as a profession really want to team with TFA and the woefully inadequate preparation it provides?

You might be interested in these articles about TFA.

A Closer Look at Teach for America's Research Page
The data showing experience matters is overwhelming, in fact one of the reports on TFA's "research" page acknowledges this fact (it's the "Portal Report" which is a pdf ): "Teachers with 4 years or more experience out perform teachers with 1 year of experience on 9 out of 10 indicators."

Ravitch: The Problem with Teach For America
TFA is a huge success story, but there is also something scary about seeing so much money and power assembled around its core belief that a brand-new college graduate with only five weeks of training is just right to educate our nation's most vulnerable students.

TFA, Brainwashing, and Not Playing Nice
This is not a mere difference in perspectives. Not even in ideologies. This is not the old "whole language" versus "phonics" reading debate or even the history curriculum battles of past education wars. This is a fundamental fight between those who would sell our education system to the highest bidder while actively ignoring the poverty and inequalities that infest our nations's schools and those who stand for a quality equitable public education for all. And it will take a fight, as all social change requires, to actually change the discourse.

Why I did TFA, and why you shouldn’t
TFA has highlighted their few successes so much that many politicians actually believe that first year TFA teachers are effective. They believe that there are lazy veteran teachers who are not ‘accountable’ to their students and who are making a lot of money so we’re better off firing those older teachers and replacing them with these young go-getters.

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