SEATTLE - The Seattle School Board voted 4 to 3 to continue its three year contract with Teach For America. The program puts top notch college graduates who don't necessarily have teaching degrees into classrooms.
Seattle is just completing the first year of its three-year pact. Seattle has six TFA teachers in four low-performing schools.
This is the first year Seattle has hired TFA teachers, who receive five weeks of intense teacher training before getting a class assignment. The idea was to diversify the pool of potential teacher candidates with college graduates who are passionate about teaching but may not have a teaching degree. Many TFA candidates have science or math backgrounds.
But the program has been criticized by education majors and the teachers' union, who say a five-week training program doesn't qualify TFA participants to teach.
"(Our members) put a lot of their own money and time on the line to do that," said Seattle Education Association VP Jonathan Knapp. "To simply put someone at the head of the line who only has five weeks of training is a complete affront to career teachers."
Parents seem to like the program. Principals say test scores aren't in yet, so they can't evaluate the impact of the teaching.
"I think there is some misinformation out there,” said Lindsay Hill of Teach for America Puget Sound. “But on the whole those folks who have interacted with our teachers, the folks who have seen the great work that they’re doing in the classrooms and the folks who want more diversity in their hiring pools and want folks who are particularly trained to teach in diverse and low income schools are incredibly supportive."
TFA teachers apply for jobs like all other first year teachers. They are paid by the School District and must join the teachers union.
Voting against continuing the contract were Betty Patu, Marty McLaren and Sharon Peaslee. McLaren and Peaslee ran for the Board in November on an anti-TFA platform. Patu has said her frustration with TFA is that the teachers don't remain in the classroom for the long haul.
Michael DeBell, Harrium Martin-Morris, Sherry Carr and Kay Smith-Blum voted to continue the contract. Smith-Blum provided the swing vote saying some principals told her they wanted TFA candidates in the hiring pool.