From John Curry, May 20, 2011
King Kasich wants to inject Teach for America "instant" teachers into Ohio's educational landscape at a time when Ohio is laying off other educators! Let's see how TFA worked out in Hawaii. John
Lammerman: The dark side of Teach For America
May 18, 2011
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By Eric Lammerman
For the past five years, the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) has been using recruits from an organization called Teach For America (TFA) to fill out its teaching ranks on Oahu and the Big Island. Since TFA’s contract with the DOE expires at the end of the current school year, it’s time to evaluate the program’s impact in Hawaii.
On the surface, TFA seems shiny: They take “high-achieving” college graduates and place them in “hard to fill” teaching positions. Of course, TFA is a $38 million national nonprofit with a slick, well-oiled PR machine. I have discovered some serious problems with TFA in Hawaii that deserve consideration as we evaluate the organization.
Problem No. 1: TFA drains a lot of money from our education system.
In April, First Hawaiian Bank awarded Teach For America (TFA) a grant of $50,000. First Hawaiian has contributed more than $300,000 to Teach for America Hawaii since the program’s inception in 2006. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs awarded a grant of $100,000 to the organization in 2009. And the DOE has paid $577,000 over five years to Teach For America.
TFA has accrued at least $977,000 since 2006. With 122 TFA recruits currently teaching in the state of Hawaii, the organization has siphoned over $8,000 per recruit out of the system.
Problem No. 2: TFA recruits drain energy from the education system.
The DOE invests in each teacher it hires through professional development. TFA recruits require a higher degree of professional support, which is one of many hidden costs of TFA in Hawaii. New teachers work with mentor teachers, who provide hands-on support and guidance.
Since TFA recruits enter the classroom with no experience and only five weeks of teacher training, their mentors have their work cut out for them. Mentor teachers working with TFA recruits have less time and energy to focus on a) their own students, b) mentoring new teachers with superior training, and c) their personal lives.
TFA hacks would have you believe that TFA recruits are as well-prepared as anyone when they first enter the classroom: Ask a teacher mentor if they agree with this.
Problem No. 3: TFA recruits represent a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
TFA recruits generally leave Hawaii once they complete their two-year teaching commitment. The state spends several thousand dollars per TFA recruit, and invests a fair amount of time and energy in their professional development.
What is the return on the state’s investment? When one experienced, trained TFA recruit departs, the DOE gets to hire an inexperienced, untrained TFA recruit. And overpay him or her for their work.
Problem No. 4: TFA creates inequity in terms of teacher pay.
If it weren’t for the provisional licenses granted TFA recruits, these young men and women would have to compete for their jobs against teachers with experience and valid out-of-state teaching credentials. Not only do TFA recruits get a competitive advantage they do not deserve, they get paid more than the state should be paying them.
TFA recruits earn roughly $41,000 per year. Teachers with a bachelor’s degree that have not completed a state approved teacher education program (SATEP) are supposed to be paid about $33,000 per year, according to the DOE’s teacher salary schedule.
Why do we pay TFA recruits (who have not completed a SATEP) $8,000 more per year than we should be paying them? With 122 TFA recruits in place, the DOE is spending $976,000 more in wages than it ought to be this year. In the five years that TFA has been in Hawaii, the DOE has employed 504 recruits: Multiply this number by the $8,000 “bonus” TFA recruits receive every year, and you get more than $4 million.
Problem No. 5: TFA has taken 122 job opportunities from local teachers.
TFA recruits generally enter the classroom with no prior teaching experience, and five weeks of teacher training; but the DOE gives them provisional licenses to teach. With these provisional licenses in hand, TFA recruits are interviewed and hired ahead of many local teachers.
While TFA would like you to believe that its recruits are simply sliding into empty positions, positions for which there are no qualified applicants, I can tell you for a fact that this is not true.
For example, I have over four years of teaching experience and have completed 35 weeks of teacher training through UH Manoa; but I am “emergency hire,” and the DOE’s hiring policy places TFA recruits two tiers above me.
Are TFA recruits given preferential treatment by the DOE because they are such “high achievers?” Since I completed a Masters degree and graduated with a 3.94 GPA, I’m going to rule that out.
I’m not the only one with an axe to grind when it comes to TFA costing local teachers jobs. I know a woman with a valid California teaching credential and years of experience who is looking for work: TFA recruits get priority over her, too.
I also know two young men from Big Island who completed teacher certification programs last Spring: One of them had to move to Oahu to find work, and the other is still looking for a full-time teaching position.
While newly certified teachers are supposed to get jobs before TFA recruits, it takes several weeks for the DOE to process certification. By the time the paperwork is done, TFA recruits have already been placed.
Furthermore, there is financial incentive for administrators to favor TFA recruits over probationary teachers: Probationary teachers costs $2,000-$5,000 more per year than TFA recruits, a gap that would widen as the “probies” gain experience. Cost-conscious administrators might be tempted to compromise the quality of their school’s teaching staff (while maintaining the same number of “highly qualified teachers”) in order to balance their budgets.
Problem No. 6: TFA undermines teacher professionalism.
A standard teacher preparation program requires two years to complete. TFA uses the adjective “intensive” to describe its five-week teacher “boot camp.”
No matter how “intensive” this training might be, there is absolutely no way it is equal to a state-approved teacher education program: To pretend otherwise is to devalue the quality and importance of teacher education programs across the country.
Thanks to an “anomaly amendment” passed by congress this past December, however, TFA recruits are now “highly qualified teachers.”
Does anyone really believe that you can become a highly qualified teacher in five weeks? If so, I recommend that you volunteer in a classroom for a few days.
Problem No. 7: TFA intensifies tension in the teaching ranks.
When you consider the problems listed above, you would think this a natural consequence. Of course, teachers working alongside TFA recruits are in an awkward position: they value collegiality, and they have a job to do that requires successful cooperation.
The Hawaii State Teacher’s Association (HSTA) is also in an awkward position, because it is obligated to represent the interest of its dues-paying members — which includes TFA recruits. Sadly, according to my source in the union, the HSTA did not participate in creating the labor agreement between the DOE and TFA (I’m not sure how the state managed to circumvent the union in this process; but that’s a separate issue).
Various teacher unions, individuals, and community organizations on the mainland have sued TFA over the years: TFA has been booted out of several school districts, including Detroit and Seattle in the 2010-2011 school year.
Problem No. 8: TFA is playing with a stacked deck.
First Hawaiian Bank, as mentioned above, has given $300,000 to TFA over the past five years. Don Horner is the CEO of First Hawaiian and also the chairman of the nine-member Hawaii Board of Education, which will help determine whether or not TFA will retain its presence in the state of Hawaii.
From my perspective, this is pretty clear conflict of interest: Horner should recuse himself of any decisions he might make involving TFA.
Also, since TFA recruits count as “highly qualified teachers,” they artificially boost school/state numbers…which might help schools/the state to secure additional Federal funding. Counting an inexperienced teacher with five weeks of training as “highly qualified” is absurd, and this loophole should be closed out of respect for teachers who actually earn this distinction.
Given all of these drawbacks, it’s hard to imagine how the state’s policy-makers could justify continuing their relationship with TFA.
TFA has drained millions of dollars as well as substantial energy from Hawaii’s education system. It offers a short-term solution to our state’s long-term need for qualified teachers, and in the process creates inequity in terms of teacher hiring and pay.
In these hard economic times, policy-makers should be careful to preserve job opportunities for local teachers that deserve them — and to make sure that local teachers are paid fairly. TFA also undermines teacher professionalism, and intensifies tension in the teaching ranks.
Please join me in writing a letter to each member of Hawaii’s Board of Education: Let them know how you feel about wasteful, short-sighted, and unjust policy in our schools. The health of the state’s educational system is at stake, and we need to make sound decisions to ensure that the children of Hawaii receive a quality education.
Hawaii Board of Education
P.O. Box 2360
Honolulu, HI 96804
Board Office Phone: (808) 586-3334
Donald G. Horner (Chairman)
Brian DeLima (Vice Chairman and Big Island Rep: email@example.com
Cheryl Kauhane Lupenui
(Eric Lammerman is a Kailua-Kona resident who has taught for over four years, working in schools in California, Oregon and Hawaii. He earned his master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Oregon (2002), and is currently working on his teacher certification through UH Manoa.)