Regarding Motion to Cancel TFA Contract in Seattle

This letter to the board from veteran teacher trainer David Greene describes well the shortcomings of TFA’s training and support and why Seattle is in no need of TFA’s services:

RE: The motion to terminate contract with Teach for America
“Members of the Seattle School Board,
My name is David Greene. I am a former teacher of 38 years. Since September 2008 I have worked for Fordham University as a specialist in mentoring TFA CMs teaching in the Bronx, NY. I think it is important the truths behind the TFA hype are exposed.
First, a look at TFA’s website indicates how they cover over the truth. It says that 67% stay in education after 2 years but when you examine their data; the small print notes that the report’s information is based on self-reported data from only 57 percent of the alumni network, which distorts the report’s findings.
Also, TFA alumni are defined as those who have finished the two-year commitment. But only 87.1 percent of members completed their commitment in 2007. Yet that 13 percent or higher drop-off is not factored in.
So, here is the truth. We actually find that of that 67%, only 52% are teaching K-12. Of that 52%, only 58 % are teaching in PUBLIC schools. That equates to @ 20% actually teaching in public schools after their two years are up. If you factor in the missing reports from TFA CMs and dropouts, the only thing
one can say with certainty is that in 2007, perhaps 16.6 percent of those recruited by Teach for America were teaching in a K-12 setting beyond their two-year commitment. That is a far cry form the 67% they mislead the public to believe.
Second, independent research on the program by several researchers concluded:

  • Students of novice Teach for America teachers perform significantly less well in reading and math than those of credentialed beginning teachers.
  • TFA teachers appear less effective in both reading and mathematics than fully prepared entrants teaching similar students, at least until the TFA teachers become prepared and certified themselves. BUT: “Their attrition rate of more than 80 percent means that few students receive the benefit of this greater effectiveness, while districts pay the costs of high attrition.
  • Additionally, Teach for America boasts about its impact, noting on its webpage: “[O]ur corps members and alumni work relentlessly to increase academic achievement.” Yet in a Mathematica study touted by TFA, the students of corps teachers remained far below their national peers and made only marginal gains.” The study’s executive summary notes that the control group for the TFA teachers consisted of other teachers in the same schools and at the same grades with ‘substantially lower rates of certification and formal education training’ than a nationally representative sample of teachers. In addition, many of the control group teachers had no student teaching experience at all and were less prepared than the TFA recruits.
  • The study, using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, found that there were statistically insignificant differences in reading achievement for students in the TFA and control classrooms. In math, students in the TFA classrooms faired only slightly better. The study also found, however, that TFA teachers “had no substantial impact on the probability that students were retained in grade or assigned to summer school.” A closer look at the math and reading results shows that neither the TFA group nor the control group was even beginning to close the achievement gap.

Third, My personal experiences over the past 3 1/2 years have led me to these conclusions.

  • TFA recruits successful young college students with no experience, and with usually no desire to teach long term. Although successful as students, many TFA kids are naïve. They are idealistic, and often followers. They are perfect fodder for TFA administrators. Most lack the practical wisdom or street smarts to have a good chance of success in the schools where they are placed.  They are taught by TFA to follow. Stay in line. Be formulaic. Do not be like those older teachers:  wise, creative, independent, and spontaneous. Most of all, they are trained by TFA to be a corps member above all and not a part of your district.
  • Once at a school, on top of all the time new TFA teachers spend in their schools working, they must attend “mandatory” TFA meetings at “headquarters”, have TFA “supervisors” with 2 years experience come into their schools to reinforce the TFA data driven gospel, and be told they must rely on TFA prepared materials to be successful. I can’t tell you how painful it is to watch a young person cry to me because they were so frustrated about the pressure put on them by TFA to do all of those things. In some cases they actually travel hours out of their way to go to a local TFA “headquarters” because they feel they must go to a meeting or get the already prepared materials to copy and plug into the prescribed curriculum. The end result is having them drink more “Kool-Aid” and reinforce their fears of trying other things that actually work.
  • In fact because of all the forms they must fill out for TFA, and the other time consuming anti-teaching rituals they are forced to do, not only don’t they have the time to accurately assess their 130 students as we would like, they cant even devote the time to good lesson planning, so they use worksheets and other cookie cutter Lesson Plans provided by TFA. They run to TFA headquarters to find and make copies of “teacher- proof, formulaic, guided worksheet-lesson plans. They see the value of what non-TFA trainers and supervisors give but are afraid to use it or they will be accused of not following TFA rules and losing their stipends.
  •  The recurring theme recanted to me over and over by almost all of my mentees is that TFA is not only of little help, it creates even more stress on them than they already incur being untrained novices working under the most difficult of conditions. TFA does not teach them to work smarter.  It does not teach them to organize time and workload. It does not even really teach questioning technique, or many of the most important tools a quality teacher needs to succeed.
  • As a result, stuck in quicksand up to their nostrils while being between the proverbial rock and hard place, there are those who find it difficult to take the rope (advice) from an outside mentor, even when they know the rope can save them. They often let go, only to become more frustrated and filled with self-doubt, remorse, and the goal of getting out after their two-year sentence is up.

Finally, I recommend that you:

  • Consider the significant recurring costs of Teach for America, estimated at over $70,000 per recruit, who will most probably leave after 2 years.
  • Hire credentialed new teachers who have had sufficient teacher training and student teaching internships.
  • Only use Teach for America staffing when you have both a shortage of qualified teachers and the alternative hiring pool consists of uncertified and emergency teachers or substitutes.
  • If you do use TFA CMs, do not, under any circumstances, do it their way. Demand more:
  1.  Placement: Do not assign TFA to teach Special Education classes; TFA are not skilled in general education, let alone, SPED law and issues of remediation.
  2. Force TFA to change. Tell them you want more than a 2-3 year commitment and better preparation of the CMs by better-trained trainers.
  3. Do not request or require TFA’s to write grants, tutor kids after school, coach, sponsor clubs or assume ‘extra’ duties during their first year. They are trying to figure out teaching and that alone consumes their time.
  4. Set up a dedicated mentor program for veteran teachers or field specialists like me who want to mentor TFAmericans and have this duty as their full time job. This worked very well in NYC and The School District of Philadelphia with a semi-retired teacher with years of experience who offered incentives (supplies and book store gift certificates) for novices who attend his weekly professional  development/coaching sessions. 30 minutes can really save someone’s day when there is a venting opportunity with an action plan attached. Assign one person to each group of TFAers and new teachers (can’t discriminate) and meet with them regularly to offer feedback on classroom practice and what’s required by term.
  5. Reduce or eliminate the $5,000 (finder’s fee) that districts pay to TFA to train and hire cadres of effective veteran teachers to “coach the corps” on-site. Use the veterans in your own system of get them from university programs. These educators have not lost their passion for teaching and were never dull, so they can model effective teaching practices in TFA classrooms, build trust, and support TFAers off hours (when they are planning or have an issue that is not addressed or solved by TFA’s Program Directors, who have minimum classroom experience, and often provide unreasonable suggestions to corps members.

“Temping” is a word I’ve been using a lot to describe what School districts seem to want to do during
budget crises. Do not be “tempted” to ruin your schools this way.
David Greene
Adjunct and Field Specialist,
Fordham University Graduate School of Education
WISE Services. org