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Originally published Monday, March 19, 2012 at 3:31 PM

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Seattle Public Schools should keep Teach for America

Seattle School Board members should vote no on a motion to end a partnership with Teach for America. Teachers trained by the national innovative teaching corps have perform well enough in classrooms to justify continuing, even expanding, their presence here.

Seattle Times Editorial

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TEACHERS trained by the national innovative teaching corps, Teach for America, perform well enough in classrooms to justify continuing, even expanding, their presence here.

The Puget Sound region was right to open its doors to the program that sends top college graduates to urban and rural public schools. Feedback from principals and parents in Seattle and Federal Way schools emphasizes this point.

On Wednesday, the Seattle School Board should reject a motion to end TFA's three-year contract with the district. The board approved it by a decisive 6-1 vote in 2010. Don't second-guess that decision.

A district often accused of not making data-driven decisions is smart to wait until the end of the contract and measure TFA's effectiveness. Until then, rely on parents' and principals' up-close observations.

It is too early to glean information about TFA's impact from standardized test scores or other data. But TFA teachers appear to be doing the right things: parent nights at school, home visits and after-school tutoring sessions help struggling students and deepen connections between schools and communities.

Controversy about TFA may lag behind the times. Seattle PTSA Council President Lauren McGuire tells The Times that TFA is not a major issue for most parents. That rings true. Parents want the best teacher, whether fresh out of college or on a second career.

The program is showing strong gains around the country. Tennessee and North Carolina parsed teacher evaluations and found TFA members contributed to impressive gains by students who began the year behind. Louisiana found similar results.

The program offers refreshing diversity to the largely white and female ranks of teaching. Local college grads are taking notice. This year, the University of Washington ranked No. 4 in applications to the program. The school led the nation with the most recruits who majored in science, technology, engineering and math — hard-to-place classroom subjects — according to the Washington Policy Center.

Some credit undoubtedly goes to TFA alum Tom Stritikus. He is also dean of the UW education college, which partners with TFA teachers on continuing education.

Such positives aren't likely to assuage critics. Times reporter Brian Rosenthal made note of "scathing blog posts and anti-TFA speeches at School Board meetings." Posting personal information about TFA teachers on a blog represents a new low.

These are distractions to ignore. Good works in classrooms are more deserving of attention.

Solutions to the problems in urban education must be as varied as the needs of children.


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