Wendy Kopp to Save Seattle

When most of us think about the city of Seattle, we think about rain, granola, recycling, hippies, Nirvana, and maybe Mt Rainier.  Not a whole lot of people think of failing inner-city schools.  But, believe it or not, Seattle struggles with social ills the same way any other major metropolitan area across the country does.  And luckily, they have a Broad-trained schools superintendent to at least help deal with the schools part of that equation, Maria Goodloe-Johnson

You see, Seattle's public school teachers have, of late, been subjecting Ms Goodloe-Johnson to no-confidence votes, which, in this circumstance, might more appropriately be called "you-clearly-don't-care-about-democracy-and-know-nothing-about-fixing-education-so-please-go-away" votes.  I suspect these are quite the thorn in the superintendent's side.  Luckily, Wendy Kopp has a solution.

You see, Wendy, as a senior at Princeton, decided she'd discovered the perfect way to help alleviate the ills of public education: recruit ivy-league graduates with minimal cultural competency, a few Kozol books under their belts, no experience in the classroom, egos the size of Jupiter, and naivety beyond measure to work with the most challenged students around the country.  It was likely Kopp's complete lack of teaching experience and equally large ego that led her to believe that such a gimmick would work.  She marketed it well, had some solid connections, worked extraordinarily hard, and voila: enter one of the saviors of every corporate-reform type currently dazzling the gullible American media: Teach for America.

I first heard about TFA coming to Seattle (and apparently Federal Way) by way of text message from a former colleague yesterday morning.  I sarcastically replied, "Finally, you guys will get some decent teachers out there."  This was later confirmed by the Seattle Education 2010 blog (which is fantastic if you can keep up with super-long blog posts).

As Seattle Education 2010 points out, the Seattle area has no current shortage of teachers.  SPS has been laying off teachers for the past two years.  When I left the area in 2009, the guy who took my place was one of only a few in his graduating class (and I'm pretty sure he went to Washington State University, which probably graduates more than a few teachers in his area) to find a job; and to get it, he had to accept a position that had been diminished to what essentially amounted to part-time work.  The conversations we often had in the lunchroom while I was working there revolved around capable colleagues who couldn't find a job.

So it looks like Teach for America will be infiltrating Seattle, but they'll only be allowed to teach in really tough schools - you know, the kinds that need the most experienced teachers.  Ahhhhhh (the kind of sound you make when you enter a hot bath) - that makes sense....now I feel better.  

Having highly-trained, effective teachers in our neediest classrooms was never one of the Duncan/Klein/Rhee/Goodloe-Johnson talking points anyway.......wait a second.... 


  1. Have you done any research to determine whether or not Teach For America teachers are effective in raising student achievement? Seems to me like that's what matters most -- regardless of how we feel about the idea of putting brand new teachers in the most challenging schools. I'm interested to see what you find...and please post it back here. I don't want opinions to decide things for me...let's look at the evidence (pro or con).

  2. http://greatlakescenter.org/docs/Policy_Briefs/Heilig_TeachForAmerica.pdf

    NOTE: PDF.... (also, note it is the first study that came up, but it seems to agree with most of what I have heard)

    Generally, the evidence shows that if you are comparing them to new teachers, then they are about the same. However, if you are using them to save money, such as Seattle is planning on doing, then they are generally less effective then the regular teachers available.

    Also, it is hard for a school to have any institutional memory if half of their staff is leaving to go to law school every two years.

  3. Sorry gotta play the race card again...
    (From the Seattle Education Blog)

    Next, a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision in California determined that TFA and their ilk do not make the grade as “highly qualified” teachers and therefore do not meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind that highly qualified teachers be placed in Title I (low-income) schools. Furthermore, critics argue that assigning underqualified teachers exclusively to low-income minority children amounts to discrimination.

    “Closing the achievement gap” was indeed the mantra of the parade of ex-TFA, Inc. corps members who spoke before the school board last night. That’s their specialty, apparently, along with teaching Special Ed and English Language Learners. I find this troubling or at least downright naive. Do they mean to imply that all other teachers aren’t interested or are incapable of helping low-income, Special Ed or ELL kids? There was a veiled arrogance, I thought, to some of the testimonies last night. And all the references by TFA, Inc. supporters that these mostly Ivy League grads represent “the best and the brightest” only adds to the aura of self-righteousness that haunts this enterprise.

    I also found it troubling that all the TFA-ers who spoke last night (that I saw) were white. I would like to know the percentage of non-white TFA-ers in the field. Dora was there last night and can fill in a lot more of the details, but she mentioned that when a representative from TFA was asked about its diversity (or lack thereof) that person claimed that this is because of the achievement gap (handy-dandy reason for everything apparently). You see, she said, because of the gap, there aren’t enough college grads of color to apply for TFA. So there you have it, the gospel according to TFA, Inc.

    What message is TFA, Inc. — and SPS, if it goes ahead with this dubious venture — sending to poor minority kids in our community? This does indeed smack of Kipling. Elsewhere in the nation, African American teachers have been laid off by reformers like Michelle Rhee in D.C. and replaced with young, white TFA-ers. Is this what we want for Seattle?

    Food for thought,

  4. Hi Reflective Educator, 

    Thanks for your comments and concern. Black and Latino children in low-income communities, like all children, need and deserve teachers who are both bright AND well-prepared to provide our children an excellent education. It is their civil right. I encourage your readers to join the Facebook group I launched in 2008 to raise awareness about the Urban Teacher Residency (UTR) model of teacher preparation:http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=10229115973. 

    UTR programs select high-caliber aspiring teachers through a rigorous process and, after an intensive two-month summer institute, place them in urban schools for a full school year. During that year, residents gradually assume responsibility under the tutelage of trained master teachers. Highly effective residents become teachers of record the following year and commit to teach an additional three to four years in the district where they were trained in exchange for a free master's degree and ongoing support.

    I look forward to following this discussion.

    Many thanks, 


  5. Sam: I agree; this does have a lot to do with race, class, and a disturbing sense of self-righteousness and superiority.

    Joe: Thanks for sharing. I believe I joined that group about a year ago. I hope it is a model we move toward, but am not optimistic given our current ed reform climate.


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