Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Jennifer Silves Speaks About TFA to RSD Board

Last week, I described the public comment portion of the Renton School District's board meeting on August 22nd.

Below are the comments spoken at that meeting by UniServ Representative Jennifer Silves:

Board President Franceschina, Members of the Board, and Superintendent Heuschel, My name is Jennifer Silves. I am the current WEA UniServ Representative that currently works with the Renton Education Association. I am here today to share with you the concerns and deficiencies that we believe exist with the Teach for America program and why the association would urge you to not consider entering into a contract with this group. A group that shares ties to other pseudo reformers who have pushed for education policy changes around charter schools, parent trigger, and high stakes testing.

First of all it is important that one look beyond just the research provided by Teach for America, as this research has been neither peer reviewed or duplicated by other leading researchers. When looking at the two reports I brought, it becomes clear that when one narrows the focus of who the TFA recruit is compared to the outcomes and results of the study change.

When compared to uncertified teachers with the same level of education and experience, their students do show slightly higher gains. However when compared to a fully certified teacher also in their first year who has completed a teacher preparation program, TFA recruits’ students struggle and the recruits are found to be less effective.

Keep in mind that the initial purpose of TFA was to hire for hard to fill vacant positions in low income school systems with an extraordinary number of vacancies and non-certificated teachers - often times in inner cities. But as it became more challenging to retain recruits in these types of positions they have spread to more suburban/urban settings.

TFA’s program in the absence of any training may be enough for individuals to find success when they are compared to non-certified teachers but does the Renton School Board really want our students to be used as the training ground and lower the standard of its employment pool.

This leads to a necessary look at what types of support do TFA recruits really receive. Yes, TFA recruits attend a five week summer program where they work with a mentor teacher; however summer school is by no means an equivalent to working in a regular classroom setting. Furthermore it was shared with one of our members who visited the UW-ACT program that, even they had concerns about the supports provided through this summer training and felt that there was a great deficiency. As such they required all of the TFA to attend an additional one week training as a stop gap. That training will be the last of such training and support for almost a month until they start their classes at the end of September at the UW.

Yes the UW-ACT program meets the requirements laid out by OSPI to provide alternative route certification but unlike its counterparts at other universities, the UW/TFA program puts these young novices in the classroom on their own from day one and provides a program that is only 21 credits long. This compared to other alternative route certification programs that are 10-20 credits longer in course study and include a transition of co-teaching with a mentor to full control with guidance and support.

You have heard and will hear from a variety of different individuals that have views about TFA and it would be my hope and that of the association that you would listen carefully to the cautions that are raised and find other alternatives to meet the demands the system may have around recruiting and retaining a diverse teaching staff to meet all of our student’s needs.

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