Teach for America plans to put recruits in area schools
Teach For America, a national organization that recruits recent college graduates into teaching, announced Tuesday it will expand to the Seattle area this fall.
Seattle Times education reporter
It didn't quite reach the targets it wanted, but Teach For America, the national organization that recruits recent college graduates into teaching, announced Tuesday that it will expand into the Seattle area anyway.
Originally, it wanted to bring 50 of its corps members to Puget Sound schools starting next fall. As of now, it appears it will have closer to 35, with a guarantee of only four positions.
But the nonprofit organization, which operates in 39 other regions across the country, decided it had enough momentum to go forward, despite critics who say it's not needed here.
"We didn't want to miss the opportunity," said Janis Ortega, Teach For America's managing director for new-site development.
Tuesday's announcement was made on the same day Teach For America sent out its third round of acceptances for the 2011-12 school year. Twelve people learned that they will be placed in the Seattle area, Ortega said, and she expects to add another 23 later.
The program placed 100 percent of its recruits last year, and expects to be able to do the same this year.
But it's still unclear how many spots there may be here. Sally McLean, assistant superintendent of Business Affairs in Federal Way, said her district may be able to take only four, given the tough economic climate.
Seattle also expects a shortfall of roughly $35 million.
Teach For America has been working to return to the Seattle area for the past few years. It had a small pilot program in Seattle Public Schools in the mid-1990s, but wants to come back for good.
The Federal Way School District was the first to sign up, committing to hire four to 10 Teach For America recruits. This fall, Seattle Public Schools agreed to consider taking 20-25 more, although it offered nothing more than the chance to interview for open positions. It also won't hire any Teach For America recruits unless it finds outside funding to cover the required district contribution — now about $4,000 per teacher.
Teach For America also has raised $4.8 million to support a program here, close to its goal of $5.2 million. The largest two donors are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Bezos Foundation.
Founded 20 years ago, Teach For America offers non-education majors the chance to become teachers. Last year, it received 46,000 applications for 4,500 spots.
Its participants start teaching after five weeks of summer training and one to three weeks of orientation in their respective regions. After that, they receive support from a Teach For America-supplied mentor and study nights and weekends to earn their full teaching credentials through a partnership with a local university. They earn the same salary as any first-year teacher and operate under the rules other teachers do.
Recruits must commit to teach for at least two years.
Critics say five weeks of training is not nearly enough, especially for the jobs where most Teach for America recruits are placed — high-poverty schools where students need excellent teaching to catch up.
Opponents also say Seattle already has enough fully qualified teachers.
Olga Addae, president of the city's teachers union, said it's better if districts first hire people who already have decided to make teaching their career.
Some critics call Teach For America, "Teach For Awhile," saying many of its participants leave teaching after the required two years. But Teach For America points to a new study that shows about 60 percent stay longer than two years.
Supporters of the program, which include many of its 200 alumni in the Puget Sound area, say Teach For America is a source of teaching talent that shouldn't be ignored.
"Anything we can do to broaden our applicant pool, we should do," said Susan Enfield, chief academic officer for Seattle Public Schools.
What's particularly exciting, she said, is that all Teach For America recruits are strongly committed to closing the achievement gap among ethnic groups.
"I'm not saying that only Teach For America candidates have that," she said, "but you know that these people are coming from that space."
Lisa Macfarlane of the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit advocacy group, said it would be crazy to turn Teach For America away.
"What they have been able to do in terms of recruiting top, top talent into our classrooms is phenomenal," she said.
Still, some area school districts have said no, including Highline. Superintendent John Welch said that's largely because he doesn't expect to hire many teachers this year, and may have to lay off some.
"It didn't seem to be the right time to be partnering with Teach For America in a recruiting strategy," he said.
Teach for America is still hopeful it can add a few more districts to its Puget Sound roster in time to place teachers there this fall. Ortega also said Teach For America is close to announcing which local university will be its partner in helping its recruits each a full teaching credential.
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.