Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Don't Use Tax Dollars for TFA

As the Minnesota legislature prepares to vote on an omnibus education bill, defenders of public education are speaking out against a part of the senate version of the bill that gives $1.5 million to Teach for America.  TFA is trying to expand its presence in Minnesota and wants tax money to do it.  This, despite the facts that public schools have been underfunded for years, and we have plenty of fully licensed teachers here in Minnesota.

The following message state legislators and the public was originally posted on MN2020 Hindsight.  Please e-mail your state legislators and tell them not to give public funds to an unneeded non-profit.  Tax dollars should be spent on true public schools.

Caroline Hooper, is a Minneapolis teacher and a member of PEJAM.

Don’t Use Tax Dollars for TFA

The State Senate higher education bill provides Teach for America (TFA) up to $1.4 million in taxpayer funding over the next two fiscal years (See line 5.29). TFA undermines and is at odds with Minnesota’s tradition of providing quality education and the best teaching corps in the nation. Minnesota should not be promoting TFA.
  • TFA recruits are inexperienced. It is not the individual, young TFA recruits, but the model itself which is problematic. TFA recruits are provided a five week boot camp the summer prior to being placed in some of the most challenging classrooms in the state. Five weeks is hardly enough preparation for successfully managing classrooms of children. Many TFA recruits admit that their training left them ill-prepared for real classrooms.
  • TFA recruits lack a commitment to teaching and to the classroom. Not only are these young TFA members unprepared to be effective teachers, 70% to 80% leave the classroom within the first three years, creating a revolving door of inexperienced teachers for children who need the best teachers.
  •  TFA infringes on students’ civil rights. TFA targets communities with large numbers of minority and/or low-income students thereby creating teacher turnover in the schools serving these children.
  • TFA is not effective. “Multiple studies have demonstrated that TFA recruits are no more effective than traditionally trained new teachers and are far less effective than experienced, career educators. Some studies indicate that TFA recruits actually lower the reading scores of students.
  • TFA does not increase academic achievement. TFA misleads the public by conflating learning and academic success with a test score. While test scores may or may not be indicative of the achievement of any individual student at a given point in time; education is much more than a test score and test prep.
  • TFA displaces career educators. TFA destroys school and community cohesion by replacing experienced, career educators with inexperienced, ineffective recruits. TFA requires partnering districts to contractually guarantee teaching spots for its recruits, thus forcing cash strapped districts to layoff experienced, career educators.
Furthermore, the goal of TFA in Minnesota is not about providing quality teachers for classrooms; instead the goal is, in the words of Daniel Sellers, TFA alum and head of MinnCAN, "not a teacher-training program. It’s a leadership training program." "Its mission," he said, was to "equip the best and the brightest to go into the most disadvantaged classrooms for two years. After this time, some would stay in teaching while others would move on." TFA sets out to create teacher turnover in the classrooms of some of the neediest students in the state.
Additionally, TFA is not a cash-strapped nonprofit. It is a corporate funded political organization that has over 1800 (non-classroom) employees and annual operating surpluses in the millions--$114 million in a recent federal filing.
Policymakers should not divert public money meant for education into corporate driven reform such as Teach for America. Instead, the legislature should use this money to encourage and support young Minnesotans, especially our young people of color and from our immigrant communities, to pursue careers in teaching.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

TFA's 'Transformational' Public Money Grab

Say NO to $1.5 Million in Public Money to TFA!

Teach for America (TFA) is a tax exempt nonprofit with "reported annual operating surpluses of $35 million, $114 million and $37 million" from 2009 to 2011.   In 2010, they received a $50 Million grant from the federal Department of Education, and another $8.3 million funded under the Supporting Effective Educators Development (SEED) program.  The government further subsidizes TFA with student loan forbearance and education awards.  TFA is also looking to get more public money from state legislatures, including Minnesota!

With the state of Minnesota still facing budget deficits, following years of educational spending cuts, TFA is at the capitol with its hand out.  Bills are moving through the Minnesota state legislature that would give Teach for America $1.5 million in public funding (HF 1594 and SF 975).  Minnesota School Districts are already required to pay TFA $3,000 to $5,000 dollars for each TFA corp member they hire, in addition to paying their full teacher salary and benefits.

An e-mail was recently sent out by Crystal Brakke, the Director of TFA - Twin Cities.  Here is what she was asking her supporters:

Hello Choose the Twin Cities weekend attendees!

I’m asking you to take 5 minutes out of your busy schedules today to help expand our impact in Minnesota. WE NEED HELP…and since you decided to come spend the weekend with us in February, I know you are passionate about Minnesota and education here!

Over the past 8 months, our Twin Cities team has been working with the Minnesota State Legislature to secure a state investment of $1.5 million over two years. We are pursuing these funds in response to the demand we are hearing from school leaders that would like to expand partnerships with Teach For America –Twin Cities, and which we simply do not have funding to support. State resources will be used to leverage private dollars to help recruit, train, select and grow our overall Twin Cities corps and alumni force in Minnesota. (It’s also important to note that the state is investing heavily in K-12 education this session, which is fantastic—we’re asking for a very small appropriation that as part of that overall investment.)

Unfortunately, a small but vocal group of individuals opposed to our requested funding are calling on Senate leadership, and in particular the Majority Leader, Senator Tom Bakk of the Iron Range, to reject state support for TFA.

We need your voice! A call to Senator Bakk’s office* in support of TFA’s pending funding could make a real difference in our ability to help expand educational opportunities for children in Minnesota. We also encourage you to enlist the support of others to express support for this smart state investment. I’ve provided contact information and talking points below, if helpful. (*In case it’s helpful to know, when calling you will most likely speak with an assistant in his office that will take note of why you’re calling and share that with Senator Bakk.)

I’d love to know if you’re willing to help and also what you’re hearing in response. Thank you—deeply!


PEJAM has also obtained a copy of a letter sent to the Minnesota State Senate leadership, by Mark Bonine, an Associate Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools.  Assoc. Supt. Bonine oversees the MPS Office of New Schools which sponsors charter schools and works with TFA.  Minneapolis Public Schools have clearly embraced the irrational ideas of TFA and the argument that inexperienced and poorly trained teachers can close the achievement gap.

In this letter, Assoc. Supt. Bonine advocates for TFA funding by claiming, "Minnesota can elevate its education system by attracting, developing, and retaining teachers that consistently matches the quality seen in the world's leading systems."  It is truly troubling to see an experienced educator and administrator suggest that someone with five weeks of summer training can walk into a classroom for two years and perform at the levels of teachers in the "world's leading systems."  I hope teachers in Finland and Singapore don't read this. 

Even TFA alum like Matt Barnum who credit the organization with accomplishing some good, would not agree with the claims made by Bonine and other TFA supporters.   Barnum notes that "districts, like the one [he] used to teach in, appear to cycle through corps members every two years, with high turnover among TFA teachers who are in turn replaced by a fresh slate of bushy-tailed, ill-trained corps members."  Barnum explains how poorly prepared TFA corp members are to step into the classroom:
"For many corps members, the required five-week summer training “institute” is close to useless. Why? Not, as some have argued, because it’s so short. Rather, it’s because for many of us the training doesn’t come close to simulating what it’s like to be teaching during the real school year. As alumni blogger Gary Rubinstein has pointed out, many institutes’ corps members teach for very little time in front of very few students."
He goes on to describe how useless the on-the-job "professional development" and "coaching" are:

"TFA loves to talk about the coaching of and professional development for its teachers. This sort of talk sounds good to prospective corps members, to districts, to donors, and to the media. Again, I can only draw from own experience and those of others I know, but with few exceptions, TFA’s continued support rarely made me a better teacher."
Teach for America, an organization that began as a way to serve school districts in areas of the country that could not find qualified licensed teachers, has now been in Minnesota since 2009.  After a decade of declining enrollment and teacher layoffs, the Minneapolis Public School district is responding to a growing student population by sponsoring charter schools and hiring TFA corp members rather than hiring experienced, licensed teachers.  This is the norm for TFA as Stephanie Simon explains:
"The organization that was launched to serve public schools so poor or dysfunctional they couldn't attract qualified teachers now sends fully a third of its recruits to privately run charter schools, many with stellar academic reputations, flush budgets and wealthy donors. TFA also sends its rookies, who typically have just 15 to 20 hours of teaching experience, to districts that have recently laid off scores of more seasoned teachers." 
TFA members are overwhelmingly self-proclaimed liberals, but as Andrew Hartman, who teaches history at Illinois State University, points out:
"The history of TFA reveals the ironies of contemporary education reform. In its mission to deliver justice to underprivileged children, TFA and the liberal education reform movement have advanced an agenda that advances conservative attempts to undercut teacher’s unions. More broadly, TFA has been in the vanguard in forming a neoliberal consensus about the role of public education—and the role of public school teachers—in a deeply unequal society."
Bringing in and promoting TFA in Minnesota has not been based on a shortage of licensed teachers.  We have a surplus of licensed and experienced teachers.  Rather, TFA has cited Minnesota's (specifically Minneapolis') large achievement gap.  Ironically, local corporate reformers who are also behind the push for TFA, and public funds to support it, are also the ones who complain the most about the lack of experienced teachers in our schools with the highest need students.

This shift in TFA's argument is not unique to Minnesota.  In Chicago, thousands of teachers have been laid off while charter schools and TFA proliferate.  The rationale for TFA is now about the quality of teachers.  They essentially argue that poorly trained, but young and enthusiastic teachers will better serve our most challenged students.

Professors Julian Vasquez Heilig and Su Jin Jez, in the most thorough survey of research on TFA corp member effectiveness, found "the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well than those of credentialed beginning teachers.”

As Andrew Hartman also explains:
"TFA, suitably representative of the liberal education reform more generally, underwrites, intentionally or not, the conservative assumptions of the education reform movement: that teacher’s unions serve as barriers to quality education; that testing is the best way to assess quality education; that educating poor children is best done by institutionalizing them; that meritocracy is an end-in-itself; that social class is an unimportant variable in education reform; that education policy is best made by evading politics proper; and that faith in public school teachers is misplaced."
This is not just a Minnesota phenomenon.  In Mississippi, TFA asked the state legislature for $12 million and ended up getting $6 million.  This is in addition to the $3,000 - $5,000 school districts must pay TFA for each corp member, plus their full teacher's salary. 

Tom Aswell describes the current effort to get $5 million in funding from Louisiana:
"While Teach for America is going around asking for money from state legislators and local school districts, the organization has quietly been amassing a fortune even as TFA comes under fire from former TFA teachers and the media.
Like a snake trying to swallow its own tail, TFA has begun to devour itself, to feed off its own perceived success to the detriment of those it was formed to help.
Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, himself a TFA alumnus, calls TFA “an incredibly good investment.”

Of course they are. School districts are laying off veteran teachers with years of education and classroom experience in favor of TFA corps members because they are less expensive to hire. Some districts seem to prefer to cycle through ill-trained TFA teachers every two years.

A former TFA teacher claims that the organization’s five-week training model is ineffective, that TFA spends $33 million “doing a poor job teaching corps members to teach.” He describes the TFA training as “not enough depth, not enough breadth, not enough time.”
This is all on top of the millions of dollars funneled into TFA coffers by the billionaires, hedge fund managers, and foundations looking to dismantle our system of public schools.  Aswell also lists the exorbitant salaries earned by those running this "non-profit" organization.  Wendy Kopp, in her final year as CEO earned $393,600 and Minneapolis local Matthew Kramer was paid $328,100 as TFA President.  Kramer is now a co-CEO of TFA.  His current salary could not be found.

Improving our system of public education requires dedication, commitment, and experience.  Minnesota and other states must invest in teachers who are licensed, fully-trained and committed to teaching as a career.

Teach for America corp members are generally well-intentioned, but the organization is little more than a well-funded front for neo-liberals looking to privatize our public schools. Minnesota must reject the rotating door of cheap, poorly trained labor, that is TFA, and the legislature must vote down the funding bills.

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Friday, April 5, 2013

Defending Public Education in Minneapolis: An Interview on the DTOE Talk Show

DTOE Talk Episode 7 (04.05.13) – Robert Panning-Miller, Minneapolis Teacher, Former MFT President, and Co-Founder of the Public Education Justice Alliance of  Minnesota (PEJAM)

I had a chance to talk with Francesco Portelos on his on-line talk show, Don't Tread on Educators.  We discussed many of the various corporate reforms affecting Minneapolis and Minnesota in general, including charters, teacher evaluations, TFA, and Value-Added Measures (VAM).

Mr. Portelos is one of the New York teachers in the limbo existence known as the "rubber room."  He has made the most of his time by researching the history and effects of the corporate education reform movement and interviewing others working against the neo-liberal agenda.  He has also publicized his own story, his short version is included below:

My name is Francesco Alexander Portelos. I am a parent and educator of Staten Island’s North Shore.  I was teaching technology at Berta Dreyfus IS 49 for 5 years after I left a successful 7 year career in the Environmental Engineering/Inspection field.   My record, as a teacher and school community member, was stellar.  
 After I became a new father in the community, my focus transcended past my praised classroom and I looked at the issues at the school as a whole.   The school is currently ranked 939th out of 1,124 middle schools in NY State.   I had a lot of work to do.   It was a school that my son would be going to in just 10 short years.   As I brought attention to matters, such as discipline, budget and school goals, a hostile work environment was suddenly created around me.   Principal Linda  Hill began calling me a “hindrance to the community” and questioning my classroom instruction that was previously praised.   It did not stop me as I knew something was going on and I pushed forward starting investigations on potential financial misconduct and educational neglect.  I submitted the allegations on January 26, 2012.
Starting on January 30, 2012 20 allegations were made against me, and 3 disciplinary letters were placed in my file in just 10 days, I received my first unsatisfactory classroom observation and I was ultimately removed from school on April 26, 2012. I now sit in exile, at an empty conference room (Rubber Room), 20 miles away at 8201 Rockaway Blvd waiting. Waiting for what? The investigations on the administrators back at Berta Dreyfus 49? The investigations on me? My Federal lawsuit? In the meantime, the  students lose out the most.

Posted by: Robert Panning-Miller