Here are some concerns I shared in a letter to School Board Director Kay Smith-Blum this week, after her disappointing vote in favor of Teach for America, Inc. I urge all members of the school board to investigate this matter of collapsing teacher morale, which is happening on their watch, largely as a result of the frenetic barrage of  dubious “reforms” being imposed upon our teachers, schools and children these past three years under the current district leadership, and with this board’s mostly unquestioning approval.

I understand that we will not always agree. But I honestly believe that with full information about TFA, Inc. and those behind it and where they are heading with it and other corporate ed reform agenda items, you would have voted differently.

Please take a look at this article in today’s New York Times in which Bill Gates speaks out against advanced degrees for teachers and against smaller class sizes.

Quite frankly, this is nuts. Research shows that children most definitely do benefit from more one-on-one teacher time, and professional development for teachers is indeed valuable.

Gates has zero expertise in education, yet he is a driving force behind ed
reform. He supports the deprofessionalization of the teaching profession, and along the way, is aiding and abetting the current, ugly national trend of teacher-bashing. (Local observers fully expect his foundation, or perhaps the Seattle Foundation with funding from Gates, to pay the TFA annual fees, thus enabling an agenda item Gates supports but which most Seattle Public Schools parents don’t even know about.)

This is serious business. I urge you — no, implore you — to conduct
some independent research like you did with that principal survey, and talk to SPS teachers and ask them what it is like to be working in their field and in SPS right now.

You will find their morale has collapsed, they are living in a culture of
fear created by constant local and national attacks on teachers, and
pressure to abandon their own knowledge and approaches for a standardized curriculum and methods pushed on them from SPS HQ, and the pressure to raise test scores uber alles. And they are being told in many different ways that they aren’t any good (or “effective”).

The board’s approval of the young, inexperienced, yet equally paid TFA-ers as the “cure” for the “achievement gap” in this town is just another kick in the gut to them.

As a parent I am very, very concerned about this.

Take a look at the chapter in Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education about the ravages of ed reform in San Diego. Teachers were literally made ill by the constant criticism and pressure from the district.  Only when the ed reform superintendent Alan Bersin left and his failed management style with him, did the district regain its health.

I know for a fact that teachers here in SPS are becoming similarly ill
from this stress right now.

Finally, the research shows that TFA-ers are not more “effective” than
professionally trained teachers. They will not “close the achievement gap.”

This so-called new “arrow” (TFA) in the board’s “quiver” may well be one
straight into the heart of our existing hard-working professional teachers,
many of whom, as Director Patu rightly pointed out in her eloquent dissenting speech, are already among the best and brightest the profession has to offer.

I urge you to investigate what is happening to teacher morale in Seattle’s public schools right now. It is serious and damaging to everyone.

— sue p.

SPS parent
Co-editor, Seattle Education 2010
Founding member, Parents Across America
Education contributor, The Huffington Post