'Teach for America' creating Seattle schools controversy


by MEG COYLE / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @MegCoyleKING


Posted on November 8, 2010 at 7:38 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 8 at 7:45 PM

SEATTLE - The Seattle School District has a plan to recruit the best and brightest young teachers. The local teachers' union says they're already here. And now, a battle is playing out over just what constitutes a good teacher.

Chrissie Coxon teaches 4th grade at West Seattle Elementary. She's a Stanford graduate and also an alum of Teach for America, which aims to enlist the best and brightest to work in some of the worst performing schools. Coxon was able to bring up both math and reading scores in her two years teaching in the Bronx and Newark, NJ before coming to Seattle. Students thrive on the constant class participation.

"There's no 'opt out' in Ms. Coxon's class," says one student.

So the Seattle School District wants to bring in more Teach for America students by contracting with the organization. The goal is to diversify the pool of applicants and extend their reach with the goal of attracting the highest quality teachers.

The local teachers union has a problem with that.

"There is no need for TFA to be in Seattle," says Seattle Education Association President Olga Addae. Addae says there's no shortage of qualified teachers here. As an example, she told us that 800 qualified teachers applied for four open positions at West Seattle Elementary where Coxon teaches.

Addae also questions Teach for America's five week training course before students become full-time teachers.

"They're not good teachers. They've never been teachers. They're young, motivated individuals who want to be teaching," said Addae.

But the district and some board members insist Teach for America has been successful elsewhere. Board member Harium Martin-Morris sees it as another tool to close the achievement gap.

"The important thing is we stay focused on what it is that we're trying to do, and what we're trying to do is get to your high needs students the best way that we know how at the place they're in to take them as far as they can go," said Martin-Morris.

The Seattle School District says the cost of bringing in Teach for America teachers would be picked up with help from philanthropic organizations. The school board is scheduled to vote on the proposal November 17.