July 25 2012
Evidence, Shmevidence—Unions Ignore their Own Evidence about Teach for America
Vicki E. Alger
"We feel TFA is undermining our profession," said Diane Brown, president of United Teachers of Richmond. "We see TFA as a vehicle for union busting ... the district is hiring uncertified teachers to reduce costs."
That’s what Brown told the Richmond, California, City Council earlier this week. As the Mercury News reports:
Responding to pressures from the local teachers union, Richmond City Council members on Tuesday voted to send a letter to West Contra Costa School District Superintendent Bruce Harter urging talks between the district and the union about Teach For America teachers in local classrooms.
A divide has opened between the union's traditional teachers and those from the TFA program, a nonprofit organization that enlists high-achieving recent college graduates to teach for two or more years in low-income communities. …
Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said she proposed the letter because she shares the union's concerns, particularly with TFA's short-term commitments.
"This practice undermines the career educator profession and does not provide stability, particularly for the neediest students," McLaughlin wrote in an agenda report. "Career educators come with a heart and head invested in the profession and (are) not interchangeable parts."
But TFA participants and some of their local high school students spoke in defense of the program, which they said adds talent and creativity to historically underperforming local schools. More experienced teachers are not displaced from their jobs to make room for TFA teachers, they maintained.
TFA has been in the district since 2006. About 100 of the district's 1,400 teachers are from the program.
"Our mission is to help close the achievement gap," said Tyler Hester, senior managing director of Richmond's TFA. "It grieves me that there is (union) discord. We all share the common dream that all our kids will attain a great education."
The council approved the letter, but some members admonished both sides that troubles within union ranks and between UTR and the district shouldn't detract from their work in the classroom.
"I am seeing TFA scapegoated for a lot of problems," said Councilman Tom Butt. "But I don't see that TFA is the problem."
Neither does the National Education Association, the United Teachers of Richmond’s parent organization, according to the Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci:
From Reports on Implementation of Actions of the 2011 Representative Assembly, Presented to the 91st Representatives Assembly of the National Education Association, July 2-5, 2012, page 13: “No evidence suggests that the TFA contracts are being used to reduce teacher costs, silence union voices, or as a vehicle to bust unions.”