Seattle School Boards Wants to Eject Teach For America

The Seattle School Board wants to ban Teach for America, a teacher training program focused on ensuring that minority students and children from poor backgrounds have access to high-quality teachers, from Seattle schools. Teach for America — known simply as TFA — is touted by its fans as a force for good, but to its detractors it’s taking education reform in the wrong direction.

Despite concerns from various parties that 5 weeks of teacher training before getting a classroom placement is woefully inadequate for any new teacher, the recent $8.3m federal grant suggests that the service provided fills a desperately needed gap in the education marketplace.

In 2010 TFA was awarded a 3 year contract to teach in Seattle schools, but now the Seattle teachers union wants to cancel that contract amid claims that the TFA teachers are no longer needed to and counteraccusations that the unions are fearful of losing power and influence.

Advocates of TFA claim that the high quality of their recruits makes up for the short time being taught how to teach, and that results support this assessment.

“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.  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.

The Seattle School Board alleges that barely trained teachers are no longer needed as there is no longer a shortage of fully certified teachers. Advocates of TFA argue that including their members deepen the talent pool available to schools considerably. Despite the teaching training program being so short, a measure designed to get quality recruits into the classrooms they’re needed in as soon as possible, the program has accumulated numerous high profile supporters and grants. The Walton Foundation recently committed to giving nearly $50m to TFA over the next five years to double its teaching corps.