Here we go again: UW Dean of Ed suggests charters & TFA for Seattle: My response

Today’s Seattle Times features yet another pro-charter, pro-ed-reform editorial, “Urgent education needs demand bold new thinking: It might be time for Washington voters to reconsider their ballot-box rejection of charter schools, writes Tom Stritikus, the University of Washington’s dean of the College of Education. A new documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” explores the possibilities of alternative-school approaches.”

This time, it’s by Tom Stritikus, dean of the College of Education at UW. Here is my response, originally posted on the Times’ site:

Here we go again.

First off, we already HAVE successful, popular alternative and innovative schools and programs in Seattle — Nova, Thornton Creek, AS1, Salmon Bay, TOPs, Orca, the Accelerated Progress Program — and many have wait lists because they are so popular. I believe even the mayor sends his kids to one of them.

As part of the public school system, these schools are held accountable to the community. If we handed over our public schools to private charter school franchise operators, as Dean Stritikus suggests, we would lose that accountability — as well as the public funding that follows these children out of the traditional system.

As mentioned by other commenters, studies show that as many as 83 percent of charter schools perform no better, or perform WORSE than, regular public schools. I advise Dean Stritikus to read the report by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) for details.

The fact is, charters have an extremely mixed record. As another commenter mentioned, they are allowed to cherry pick their students, which means that any child with any kind of challenges, including special needs, can be excluded from these schools. There are also far too many troubling stories of fiscal and student abuse in charters. Even Sec of Ed Arne Duncan in his speech to a national conference of charter operators this year said there are too many bad charters and they needed to do something about it (not because it hurts kids, though, but because he felt it was bad for the public image of charters! Shameless!)

I also find it highly contradictory of people like Stritikus and Representative Reuven Carlyle to say we need excellent teachers, and then propose we bring in inexperienced, unqualified Teach for America, Inc. recruits instead of professionally trained and educated teachers.

Stritikus wrote: “Teachers must arrive at schools ready to navigate the most challenging classrooms. They must have the skill set to adjust curriculum for a diverse array of learners. They must be ready to use evidence and adjust their practice on the fly. They must understand what children need to learn and how to help them do that. Every teacher-preparation program — alternative or traditional — must ensure that future teachers have these skills.”

While I agree with his diagnosis here on what we need in a teacher, I disagree with his solution. I’m pretty sure his use of the term “alternative” here is referring to the Teach for America, Inc. model of “teacher-prep program.” But in this program, TFA recruits are only given 5 weeks of training and are only expected to commit to the job for 2 years, before going on to their “real” career. Only about 34 percent of them stay on for a third year. Our kids don’t need this kind of churn in their lives — they need dedicated teachers who are in it for the long haul.

How does 5 weeks of training make fresh college grads “ready to navigate the most challenging classrooms”?

How can Stritikus suggest that such a cram-course in teaching is a good alternative to the more traditional,  fully educated and trained, credentialed teacher who has also done in-class student teaching for as much as a year, before going into the classroom on his/her own?

Plus, studies show that teachers don’t hit their stride until around their fifth year — most TFA “teachers” have quit by then.

Another part of this equation, of course, is that “teachers” trained by these “alternative” methods are also cheaper and non-union. Is that the real goal here — undermine the teaching profession and undercut an already underpaid field?

“Waiting for Superman” opens today in Seattle. It will be picketed by those who oppose its destructively slanted depiction of public schools. Not one teacher is interviewed in the movie. Not a single good, non-charter public school is featured. Charter schools’ seriously uneven record is mentioned only once in the movie, in passing. And the method of publicly selecting only some kids for some schools in a lottery system is downright cruel, as Gail Collins recently observed in the New York Times.

And I personally object to the passive paternalism implicit in the title.

As for Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, he at least acknowledges that underprivileged kids need a great deal of support inside and out of the classroom and school in order to succeed. His program offers social support services and medical services to these kids and their families for years, which is great. But he is given millions and millions of dollars to do it. That gives the lie to all those who say that money is not part of the solution to creating better schools. It also gives the lie to the reformers’ teacher-bashing mantra that somehow an “effective” teacher can transcend all society’s ills. That’s utter rubbish. And I suspect the ed reformers know it. I find their dishonesty disturbing.

Everything good the reformers tout about charters could be given to our existing public schools WITHOUT handing over the control and finances to private charter franchise operators. Smaller class sizes, more creative autonomy for teachers, non-standardizing curriculum that allows for more innovation, better resources for the kids from greater allocations of money — all of this is possible in our existing schools, if our superintendent, school board and central admin office would allocate our school district’s resources properly. But they don’t, as the recent and damning state audit revealed. (That’s why a growing number of parents are planning to vote NO on the levy, btw.)

ALL public schools should offer ALL these things to ALL kids, no lottery required, and no private-charter franchise middlemen required either.

For a more informed discussion about charters and other discredited elements of ed reform, I invite everyone to come to our forum with Diane Ravitch, Wayne Au and others at on Oct. 5 at Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium (7 p.m.).

Ravitch, who once supported charters, standardized testing and “merit pay” as a member of the Bush I administration’s education dept., studied the research and has determined that these are all flawed concepts that actually harm our schools and students, and she now opposes them.

I also invite Dean Stritikus to our forum. I will be moderating it.

For more info, please see: “The Pillars of Education Reform Are Toppling” at:

Sue P.

SPS parent

& co-editor of Seattle Education 2010


2 thoughts on “Here we go again: UW Dean of Ed suggests charters & TFA for Seattle: My response

  1. letsgetreal,

    Reading the comments left by readers of the editorial, I would say that a number of people read the piece just the way that Sue did.

    I had to cringe myself when reading this op-ed. It defies logic in one breath to say that he is part of the Teach for America Corps, an organization that comes into charter schools after five weeks of preparation and only a two year commitment, to take over the job of a certified and prepared teacher, and also state that he is the Dean at the School of Education at UW, a school that prepares teachers to be certified and make a commitment to a school and a community well past two years and possibly for their entire career.

    TFA recruits are used to take over a position of a unionized teacher because charter schools do not hire teachers who belong to the teachers’ unions, they’re too expensive and with a charter school, the CEO’s have to keep their expenses down so that a profit can be made.

    Teachers are the greatest expense in a schools’ budget, that’s why there is this big push to bust the teachers’ unions or go around the union altogether and hire TFA recruits.

    When it gets down to it, who would I want my daughter to be taught by, a well-qualified, experienced teacher who has made a commitment to our school and to the students for the long haul or a just out of college recruit who got a smattering of “training” and plans to go into their field of work, that is not in education usually, after developing relationships with students and their families just to say “See ya!” in two years?


  2. Wow, did you read a different article than the rest of us read?
    Clearly Tom Stritikus said everything you just blasted him for. It’s obvious that he is writing for the masses who might see Waiting for Superman and not have all the evidence to discuss the solutions to change public education.
    He clearly states that charter schools are not the answer:
    “…I fully support alternative schools and charter schools. I know firsthand that many of today’s youth aren’t getting a quality education. But can charter schools alone fix this problem?”
    “The evidence regarding charter schools is mixed. While some charters have had success, others have failed to yield promised gains for students. The shining stars are very bright in this arena, such as Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone…”

    Stritikus in no way way propose that TFA is the way to prepare teachers:
    “Yet this debate must extend beyond charter schools and alternative certification — it must focus on how to train and hire quality teachers for every classroom in the United States — charter, Teach for America, College of Education or any other alternative.”
    He then goes on to explains UW’s program:
    “Furthermore, teachers in training should be exposed to environments to help them see children in a broader context. UW Teacher Education Program students begin their teacher-certification program in local, community-based organizations, like El Centro de la Raza or the Vietnamese Friendship House. Working with learners in informal settings broadens their understanding of students and develops their skills to reach all of the students in their classrooms. This prepares our students to teach children from diverse racial, ethnic, language and class backgrounds.”

    I personally agree with everything you say about Waiting for Superman’s bias, but I think Stritikus is not in support of anything you think he his. Let’s not try to make enemies out of people who should be part of the solution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s