Seattle Teachers Union Seeks to Ban Teach For America

Teachers unions, known for fighting to keep pedophiles in the classroom, try to get rid of good teachers in Seattle.

Last week, I wrote about the particularly egregious case of a teacher in Rochester, NY who sent sexually charged emails to her principal and was subsequently jailed for ignoring a restraining order. Upon her release, she returned to the classroom, and in short order was accused of fondling her middle school students. But due to her union’s pressure tactics, the school board cannot get rid of this tenured teacher.

Across the country in Seattle, we now have a situation where it would appear that the local teachers union may have success in getting six teachers removed from the district.

Pedophiles? Of course not. They are talented Teach For America teachers who have received good reviews from their principals. In what could be a new low for teachers unions – and that’s really saying something – it would appear that through heavy pressure from the Seattle Education Association, the Seattle School Board may terminate the contracts of the six teachers for absolutely no good reason.

Founded in 1990 by Princeton graduate Wendy Kopp, TFA chooses the best and the brightest – only one in eight are accepted into the program – and trains them to work in the nation’s worst schools. These committed and enthusiastic college graduates get five weeks of teacher training, ongoing support once in the classroom, and must commit to teach for two years.

The program has been very successful. But there is an anti-TFA animus among those for whom the status quo is next to godliness. The “problem” with TFA teachers is that they tend to be very idealistic and don’t fit into the cookie cutter mold that teacher unions so need and insist on. TFA teachers really care about teaching and frequently can’t abide the straitjacket rules inherent in every union contract.

On its website, SEA does its best to “inform” the public by posting nine reasons to oppose Teach for America’s intrusion into Seattle Public Schools.

For example, they say that TFA grads are not qualified and should be made to undergo traditional educational school training. But anyone who has set foot in an ed school knows that is ridiculous. I wrote about the problems with ed schoolshere, and Walter Williams, in a follow up to my piece, referred to ed schools in America as “the academic slums of most any college. American education can benefit from slum removal.” (He’s right. I became a better teacher after I forgot everything I learned in two wasted years getting my required teaching credential at Cal State Los Angeles.)

Another stated reason for the union’s desire to get rid of TFA is that its teachers “do not stay in the classroom.” But according to a recent Harvard study,

  • 43.6 percent of TFA corps members voluntarily remained in their initial low-income placement schools for more than two years and 14.8 percent stayed in those placements for more than four years.
  • 60.5 percent voluntarily remained in the teaching profession for more than two years and 35.5 percent stayed in teaching for more than four years.

The union then goes on to say that TFA does not improve student achievement. However, Liv Finne, Educational Director of Washington Policy Center, in testimony before the Seattle School Board on March 7, made the point that studies have consistently shown that TFA teachers are indeed highly successful. A few examples:

  • “The Effects of Teach for America on Students” (Mathematica Policy Research, 2004). Using random assignment of students to teachers, the gold standard for research methodology, this national study found that students of Teach for America teachers made more progress in a year in both reading and math than would typically be expected, and attained significantly greater gains in math compared with students of other teachers, including veteran and certified teachers. (Bold added.) This study also found that Teach for America teachers were working in the highest-need classrooms in the country, with students beginning the year on average at the 14% percentile against the national norm.
  • Tennessee: “Teacher State Report Card on Teacher Effectiveness” (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, 2011). The study found that Teach for America is the top teacher preparation program in the state of Tennessee: the average Teach for America teacher had greater impact on student achievement than the average new 4th – 8th grade teacher in Tennessee.(Bold added.)
  • North Carolina: “Impacts of Teacher Preparation on Student Test Scores in North Carolina: Teacher Portals” (Gary Henry and Charles Thompson 2010). Teach for America teachers did as well as or better than traditionally prepared UNC graduates. (Bold added.)
  • Louisiana: “Louisiana Value-Added Teacher Preparation Assessment Study (Louisiana Practitioner Teacher Project, 2009) Teach for America teachers perform like veteran certified teachers, better than new traditionally trained teachers. (Bold added.)

(For more TFA myth busting, read Andrew Rotherham’s excellent “Teach for America: 5 Myths That Persist 20 years On”)

The vote on whether or not to cancel the TFA contract will be held on March 21. There is hope in some quarters that the school board may show some spine and not cancel the contract. However, after the way the six teachers have been treated (some local “activists” posted personal information about them on a blog; shortly thereafter one of the teachers whose address was posted was burgled), it will hardly be a shock if the school board caves. Union bullies often employ very convincing methods to achieve their goals.

According to Finne, “The union’s effort to ban these teachers helps explain why Washington has been called an education reform backwater.” In fact, just about anywhere there is a strong teachers union, you will find great resistance to any meaningful educational reform. Too bad they don’t teach this simple fact in ed school.

(Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. Originally posted on Union Watch.)