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Teach for America, Inc.

I missed the interview with Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, Inc., on KUOW today although I can imagine all the sound bites and glorification of what has become a multimillion dollar business. It now seems like an appropriate time to bring up a study that was done by the Great Lakes Center, Teach for America: A Review of the Evidence. Below are excerpts from the:

 Executive Summary

 (Notes in italics are mine.)

 Teach For America (TFA) aims to address teacher shortages (which we do not have in Seattle with three colleges of education and graduates from these universities teaching part-time as substitute teachers in hopes of teaching in our Seattle Public School system) by sending graduates from elite colleges, most of whom do not have a background in education, to teach in low-income rural and urban schools for a two-year commitment. The impact of these graduates (churn) is hotly debated by those who, on the one hand, see this as a way to improve the supply of teachers by enticing some of America’s top students into teaching (which we already have graduates in education from the University of Washington, Pacific University and Seattle University) and those who, on the other hand, see the program as a harmful dalliance into the lives of low-income students who most need highly trained and highly skilled teachers.

The question for most districts, however, is whether TFA teachers do as well as or better than credentialed non-TFA teachers with whom school districts aim to staff their schools. On this question, studies indicate that the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers. (Oops!)

From a school-wide perspective, the high turnover (two years as agreed to by the Seattle Public School District) of TFA teachers is costly. Recruiting and training replacements for teachers who leave (Leaving? Who’s leaving? We have schools stuffed to the gills in the north and west ends of Seattle as well as Garfield High School in the Central District, and trained teachers waiting in the wings to take the place of those retiring.) involves financial costs ($4,000 per TFA recruit per year plus their salary), and the higher achievement gains associated with experienced teachers and lower turnover may be lost as well.

The evidence suggests that districts may benefit from using TFA personnel to fill teacher shortages when the available labor pool consists of temporary or substitute teachers or other novice alternatively and provisionally certified teachers likely to leave in a few years (which is not the case in Seattle). Nevertheless, if educational leaders plan to use TFA teachers as a solution to the problem of shortages (which is not the case in Seattle), they should be prepared for constant attrition (which none of our school communities need) and the associated costs of ongoing recruitment and training (which our district does not need).

A district whose primary goal is to improve achievement should explore and fund other educational reform that may have more promise such as universal preschool, mentoring programs pairing novice and expert teachers (which we have now in terms of teaching assistants as required to receive certification in the state of Washington), elimination of tracking, and reduction in early grade class size.

It is therefore recommended that policymakers and districts:

  • Support TFA staffing only when the alternative hiring pool consists of uncertified and emergency teachers or substitutes (which is not the case in Seattle).
  • Consider the significant recurring costs of TFA, estimated at over $70,000 per recruit, and press for a five-year commitment to improve achievement and reduce re-staffing.
  • Invest strategically in evidence-based educational reform options that build long-term capacity in schools (and not in the latest fad that makes others ridiculously rich).

Based on the evidence and common sense, it is obvious that we don’t need TFA recruits in Seattle and they would cause more harm than good.

Please contact our interim superintendent, Susan Enfield, and our school board of directors and let them know what you think.

The plan is to rif, layoff, teachers in May due to “under-enrollment” (another subject worthy of a post) and bring in TFA recruits to replace our teachers in the fall.

Do you think that this the best strategy to educate our children?


15 comments on “Teach for America, Inc.

  1. Pingback: Occupation of Logan Street School Rooms by a Corporate Charter Continues – @ THE CHALK FACE knows SCHOOLS MATTER

  2. phoenixbird
    May 4, 2011

    There is no way for even you to know who TFA teachers are. You will not be in the classroom or at these parent meetings and there is not a list of names that you will have access to. Have you done extensive background checks on all of the teachers in the Seattle district? I think you might find some less than desirable candidates in classrooms right now.

    You said “Lessons built on what they have learned and experienced in a real classroom.” What do you think TFA training is? They are teaching in a classroom for those 5 weeks – yes it is short, but they too have lessons built on “real classroom experience.”

    There is so much more I would like to write, but I am afraid it would be a waste of time as you are clearly set in your ways. Too bad for you that TFA is established, the recruits are coming, and so are the results!

    • seattleducation2011
      May 4, 2011


      You’re too easy.

      Actually, where TFA recruits are assigned is public record.

      It sounds like you have no idea of how a district works.

      All teachers are required to have background checks. Anyone who comes into a school to do any work has to go through a background check and some types of employees or related individuals, like myself, have to go through a background check every year.

      Do I need to know any additional information about an SPS employee who is in contact with our children everyday? No. You are starting to sound like Michelle Rhee who intimated while she fired teaches in DC during her reign of terror that many of the teachers fired had been accused of sexual misconduct which was untrue but she made teachers look like the villains when it was actually the other way around. As it turned out, one teacher was under investigation, not several.

      I have read about the “classroom experience”. The recruit basically barges in for 5 weeks on unsuspecting students, gets to practice on these students and then leaves which is similar to what TFA, Inc recruits do in school communities during their two year stint.

      Thanks to you, I have decided to post the experience of two TFA recruits who went through the experience that I have put on the back burner for a while.

      Yes, I know that Gates has funded TFA to be in Seattle and even paid to set them up in a fancy office. Whoop dee do.

      Results are based on ensuring that the needs of the whole child are addressed. TFA is like putting a band-aid on a tumor. It’s not worth the expense.

      If Gates, Microsoft, and others just paid their fair share of taxes in our state, we would be able to afford counselors, enough teachers to have smaller class sizes, the nurses and medical centers necessary to address health needs, fully functional art programs and sports activities to provide the environment for all students to succeed.


  3. seattleducation2011
    May 4, 2011

    phoenix bird,

    Students who have prepared to become teachers and have gone through the UW program have also done a stint as teaching assistants and have had experience in the classroom. That in itself would probably set them apart on day one as being more confident and having lesson plans based on what they have learned and experienced in a real classroom.

    How else will the parent know? Because they will be alerted by parents like myself who think that it is important for the student’s parent to know who is teaching their child. Based on what I have heard so far from parents, not one parent would be happy knowing that their child was being “taught” by a TFA recruit with 5 weeks training if a qualified and certificated teacher was available.

    Credible sources for research? We do not do research here at Seattle Ed, we just report the research that has been done. It is also listed in the right hand column of this blog under “Studies” so I don’t know what your point is for your #2.

    Actually the PTA President at Rainier Beach High School has said that she doesn’t want TFA in their school. It doesn’t matter where TFA thinks that they can land in Seattle, there are better prepared qualified and certified teachers available to fill any positions in our district.

    My student will not be affected one way or the other, she is graduating this June. I am concerned about all of our children here in Seattle. For me it’s a matter of principle.

    Oh yeah, and one other thing, watch your language. I will delete comments that have language that I consider uncivil or abusive.


  4. phoenixbird
    May 4, 2011

    Few comments:
    1) When parents meet their son/daughter’s new teacher at the beginning of the year, how will they know that she is TFA? TFA teachers don’t wear signs saying “I’M TFA!” So how will you be able to tell the difference between a first year teacher from UW and one from TFA – you won’t.
    2) Blogs are not considered credible sources for research.
    3) Yes, there are plenty of schools in Seattle that don’t need TFA, but what about the schools that do need these teachers that bring a new approach? I’m tired of hearing Seattle parents bitch and moan about having TFA teachers in their schools, to the point where they even file a lawsuit!?! What a waste of time and money! Let’s get real – TFA will most likely not be in your schools. Let’s hear what the parents in Rainier Valley and the south end have to say about TFA (if they even know what TFA is…)

  5. seattleducation2011
    April 20, 2011

    And a couple more pieces of information regarding TFA.

    “Teach for America’s Wendy Kopp is Coming to Town”,

    “CRPE report casts doubt on using Teach for America novices in our neediest schools”,

    and “Testimony Regarding Teach for America”,

  6. seattleducation2011
    April 20, 2011


    I am citing a study. If you have issues with the research, then I suggest you take it up with the people involved in the study.

    Common sense would tell me and many others that 2-4 years of education in child development and associated areas and at least 1 year of training as a teaching assistant would better prepare an individual to teach than 5 weeks of spotty training and no educational background in the field of educaiton or child development.

    TFA might work in the small towns of Louisiana or elsewhere in the south where there was success by TFA because there were not any educated and trained teachers to staff the schools but that is not the case in Seattle. It might even work in neighborhoods in Detroit, Chicago and New York if certified teachers do not choose to work in certain neighborhoods but that is also not the case in Seattle. We have more than enough well qualified teachers available to staff our schools.

    In terms of the “achievement gap” it is really an opportunity gap. Teachers can’t make up for the fact that their students are coming to school with family issues that even adults can hardly handle, divorce, parents in prison, not enough food at home, homelessness, illnesses that must go untreated due to financial circumstances, emotional difficulties that go untreated, violence in the home or neighborhood, drugs use in the neighborhood or at home…there is a plethora of reasons why children don’t do well in school. It’s those reasons that must be addressed and an organization like TFA will not be able to address those issues. That has to come from our society, our city and from us as members of the community.


  7. Alyssa
    April 20, 2011

    This article would have you believing that school districts that employ Teach For America teachers have decreasing scores over time, when the truth is the opposite. Please site your research indicating that Teach For America teachers perform “significantly” behind teachers with a formal education background, as everything I have read indicates that they perform on par with new teachers in similar contexts, and slightly better in reading and math. Most research that shows Teach For America teachers performing behind their peers with traditional training unfairly compares them to teachers in wealthy , high performing schools or in private schools , NOT in urban and rural districts with historically low performance.

    It isnt necessary to make up data to complain about Teach For America teachers. The high turnover rate is a significant enough argument. How do you build a school and community with rotating staff?

    That being said, you can’t build a community on schools that are performing beneath the (extremely low) state bar for performance. Introducing a pipeline of people into the area who demand student achievement centers us on the reason that we are even having this argument- education for (all of) our children. Everyone in Seattle seems to scream and pull the moss out of their hair about Teach For America teachers, but I hear little commentary about the significant achievement gap between Rainier Beach and the schools just 13 miles away.

  8. only joined for legal
    April 20, 2011

    you all set us up for this. our contract is a barn door-open wide for tfa. phase III hiring in Tier I schools, special contracts w/o poitiond for talent developent. your protest is six months late and dollars short. thanks for nothing.

    • seattleducation2011
      April 20, 2011

      only joined,

      Actually, I have been speaking up for teachers and against TFA coming to Seattle for a little over two years now. I’ve been in front of the school board on several occasions,, spoken at Rainier Beach High School which made a difference and have been writing about it from the time that I thought that they were on their way to our state in 2009.

      The previous Broad superintendent, as part of her/Broad/Gates’ agenda was bound and determined to have Teach for America in Seattle. We had a rubber stamp board thanks to all of the board retreats paid for by Broad who went along with her program.

      What we had to say was ignored but now we are stronger and far more organized. only joined, you can’t just throw in the towel and say it’s over because it’s not. If you’re not happy with what’s been happening, get in front of the school board and tell them so, check out SEE if you’re a teacher and make your voice heard in unison with other teachers. If you’re a parent, join PAA. There is strength in solidarity.

      And don’t get upset with me for what has happened. All I can do is sound the alarm. It takes the action of many to stop something that has been set into motion but it can happen.


  9. seattleducation2011
    April 19, 2011

    I understand Foxglove.

    You could always send your letter anonymously and explain why or…we could post it with your user name and a link could be sent to the board members and interim superintendent.

    If you would like for us to post your letter, send me a line at


  10. Foxglove
    April 19, 2011

    I just drafted a letter to send to the interim director and school board, but have not yet worked up the nerve to send it. I write about how I came to teaching with years of non-formal education experience, and how I ultimately had to go through a certificated program when I decided to become a teacher. Going through a traditional certification program ultimately benefited me in my process of becoming a public school teacher in terms of pedagogy and in meeting the needs of the students I teach. There is no way that I’d have the audacity to think of myself as a public school teacher if all I had was a five-week summer course.

    As for the union–I’m not feeling particularly supported.. Maybe I would feel safe enough to send my letter if I did.

  11. Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.
    April 18, 2011

    This all makes me wonder about the Washington Education Association leadership as well as the Seattle Education Association leadership. Members pay about $75 / month and receive as near as I can see close to nothing for $900 / year. ….. Both SEA and WEA buy into almost every reform proposal and then may weakly object occasionally on SEA’s part and nearly never on WEA’s part.

    WEA executive board and President Mary Lindquist were big backers for Ed Reform bill 6696 passed in March 2010. WEA leadership is against a delay in the Common Core State Standards, which will require approximately $165 million for 5 years from School District Funds. That is $165 million that will not be available to hire teachers or classroom centered materials throughout the state.

    Does President Lindquist have any intention of representing the interests of those teachers paying $900 / month. Same question can be asked of SEA’s Olga Addae and J. Knapp.

    • seattleducation2011
      April 19, 2011

      I also find it of interest that the local PTA decided to remain silent on the issue of bringing TFA to Seattle when the school board was to vote on it.


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This entry was posted on April 18, 2011 by in Seattle, Teach for America and tagged , , .
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