If it sounds too good to be true…


ImageThe Senate Education Committee recently gave a due pass to SB1451 which seeks $5 million from the general fund for Arizona’s Alternative Teacher Development Program to be awarded to a qualifying service provider, i.e. Teach for America (TFA).  If signed into law, Arizona’s TFA corps will grow from the current 300 to about 500.  Proponents point to the success of the program and say the uncredentialed teachers from TFA have a great track record and can help with teacher shortfalls.

Not so fast. Several studies show that TFA teachers initially perform significantly less well than their credentialed, non-TFA counterparts.  A 2002 study in Arizona found students with certified teachers performed about 20 percent better on the tests than students with noncertified teachers (including TFA recruits.)  Another study in Houston, of 4,400 teachers and 132,000 students concluded that certified teachers consistently produced significantly higher achievement than uncertified teachers.”[1]

TFA placements are also no longer just being placed in high-need districts.  According to U.S. Department of Education records in 2010-2011, 13 of 15 counties in Arizona report shortages, yet the vast majority of TFA teachers are placed in one of only two counties that do not report teacher shortages—Maricopa County.[2]   In fact, the organization now sends as many as a third of its recruits to privately run charter schools and sends many of their recruits, who typically have just 15 to 20 hours of teaching experience, to districts that have recently laid off numerous seasoned teachers.[3]

Not only are TFA teachers at times used to displace traditional teachers, they also have higher attrition rates.  More than 50 percent leave after two years and more than 80 percent leave after three.[4]  This creates a significant amount of turnover and creates additional expense, much of it born by taxpayers.  In 2006, the total cost of a two-year commitment from a TFA recruit was $70,000.[5]

Mark Naison, a professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University and director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program says Teach for America is not welcome to recruit in his classroom.  “The organization’s facile circumvention of the grinding, difficult, but profoundly empowering work of teaching and administering schools has created the illusion that there are quick fixes, not only for failing schools but for deeply entrenched patterns of poverty and inequality.  No organization has been more complicit than TFA in the demonization of teachers and teachers’ unions, and no organization has provided more “shock troops” for education reform strategies which emphasize privatization and high-stakes standardized testing.[6]

I was on a radio talk show a couple of weeks ago discussing education issues.  More than one person who called in blamed “teachers’ unions” and bad teachers for the problems they perceive with our education system.  Really?  In a state that has the highest cuts in per pupil spending since 2008 and is a right to work state, teachers’ unions are our biggest problem?

TFA critics see the solution in focusing on the improvement of the current teaching pool through better education and professional development. They urge educational reforms focused on improved in-service training, mentoring, and professionalization of teaching.  Of course, those reforms, along with proven solutions such as universal pre-school, reducing class sizes in early grades, and mentoring programs that pair new and experienced teachers, take time, money and a commitment to hold the course.

John Dewey said over a century ago:  “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”  TFA originally had good intentions.  It appears now though, that it is not necessarily in the best interest of “all our children of the community.”  Like so many current reforms, it needs a second look.

The AZ Legislature is Busy…How Will Education Fare?

Several bills on education have been introduced recently in the Arizona Legislature.  Some will help support the majority of our students (almost 90% whom are enrolled in traditional public schools.)  Some however, will only serve to support privatization of education in Arizona which will not work to the advantage of most of our students.  The description of these bills has been provided by the Arizona Education Association.  My comments follow in italics.Thomas photo med_2

HB2399 would double school districts’ bonding capacity, which would help some districts out that are able to get voters to approve the bond, but this measure would also increase the economic inequities between school districts. – As many SaddleBrooke residents know, our latest bond issue for the Oracle School District failed in 2011.

HB2425 would disband the ELL Task Force and move its assignment to the Arizona Department of Education.  This task force was originally charged with the creation of the Structured English Immersion (SEI) program to be used in all school districts and with reviewing and approving alternative SEI models submitted by school districts.

HB2530 requires students enrolled in an Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) to annually take a norm-referenced achievement test or a college admissions exam. Kudos to Rep. Heather Carter for pushing this bill forward and ensuring there is accountability in this tax-payer funded voucher program.  Unfortunately, another bill (SB1363) expands the ESA voucher program to include students who are eligible for kindergarten. – HB 2530 is supported by the AZ Education Assoc. and the AZ School Board Assoc.  It is absolutely amazing to me that not only do we not have laws that require standards and testing in AZ’s work-around to a voucher program (ESA) and home schooling, but the AZ Legislature and AZ Dept. of Education is prohibited from regulating these programs.  How then do we know the children in these programs are being properly educated?

SB1285 would require the Arizona Department of Education to mail a pamphlet to parents about non-public school options such as private schools and vouchers. The bill would cost $1.5 million annually and proposes to use federal Title 1 funding.  AEA President Andrew F. Morrill told the Arizona Republic, “The bill appears to be a marketing ploy to use public funds to increase the customer base for private schools. This is unnecessary and probably would run into some legal challenges down the road.”  The bill is ALEC’s signature legislation this year.  It was held in Senate Education committee last week and is on the agendas for the Education and Appropriations committees this week.

SB1385 would make private charter school teachers’ evaluations so they could not be released under a public records request. – How can this be in anyone’s best interest except for those who profit from the charter school’s operation?

SB1450 seeks $5 million from the general fund for Arizona’s Alternative Teacher Development Program to be awarded to a qualifying service provider, i.e. Teach for America. – Both Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and an education policy analyst and Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University, have criticized Teach for America (TFA) for sending inexperienced young people to teach the nation’s most vulnerable children.  In fact, a study in Arizona in 2002 held that TFA teachers had a negative impact on their students as compared to certified teachers.  Another study Darling-Hammond led with 4,400 teachers and 132,000 students concluded certified teachers consistently produced significantly higher achievement than those uncertified and TSA teacher had a negative or nonsignificant effect.