School Board agrees to let Teach For America recruits apply
The Seattle School Board has approved an agreement with Teach For America, which could bring 20-25 of that organization's young recruits into Seattle classrooms this fall.
Seattle Times education reporter
Teach For America, the high-profile organization that recruits recent college graduates into teaching, is one big step closer to coming to Washington state next fall.
On Wednesday evening, the Seattle School Board approved an agreement that could bring 20-25 Teach For America corps members to this city, about half what the organization says it needs to start operations in the Puget Sound area.
Federal Way Public Schools has signed up to hire an additional five to 10.
Teach For America still needs to sign agreements with another district or two, and raise another $1 million, but the agreement with Seattle was a key step. Without it, the chances of coming here next fall were small, said Janis Ortega, managing director for new site development.
Seattle's agreement only commits the district to consider Teach For America candidates, who start teaching with just five weeks of summer training. Unlike many other districts — including Federal Way — Seattle is not guaranteeing it will hold spots for Teach For America candidates, or even grant them interviews.
"It is simply an opportunity, not a requirement," board member Steve Sundquist said.
The district also won't hire any of them unless it can find some outside organization to cover the $4,000-per-recruit cost.
Teach For America has said it is willing to accept Seattle's conditions, even though it's a risk.
The board vote was 6-1 in favor, with many members saying they view Teach For America as one way the district can attract the very best teachers.
Teach For America alone won't solve all the district's ills, said board member Harium Martin-Morris, "but I want to make sure I have as many arrows in my quiver as I possibly can."
"If even one classroom is improved ... that to me is worth it," he said.
Board member Kay Smith-Blum handed out results of an informal poll she sent to principals in Seattle's south-end schools — where most Teach For America recruits would likely apply.
The principals were nearly equally split between wanting to consider Teach For America candidates, and saying they don't need them.
But Smith-Blum also voted for the proposal, saying she wanted to offer that opportunity to the principals who wanted it.
The dissenting vote came from Betty Patu, who agreed with the teachers who told board members that approving the agreement was a slap in the face.
A vote for Teach For America, she said, is "telling teachers they are not good enough to teach our children."
The vote followed another evening of impassioned testimony from the public — including Seattle educators who are Teach For America alumni and those who aren't.
Louise Wong, a parent, Teach For America alumna and a student in the University of Washington teaching program, said she would be elated if her daughter had a Teach For America teacher every year.
But others questioned the preparation that Teach For America recruits receive, saying it falls short of what students need.
Teacher Matt Carter said the district's own reports say that it wants to minimize the number of first-year teachers because they aren't as effective as those with more experience.
Teach For America recruits start teaching after five weeks of intensive summer training, receive support for two years from a mentor, and study nights and weekends to earn their credentials.
Opponents also said that Seattle already has enough fully qualified teachers, and that Teach For America would add to teacher turnover in low-income schools, where the program asks that its recruits be placed.
Recruits must commit to two years. About a third keep teaching after that, but most go on to other jobs in education, or other fields.
Teach For America, now in its 20th year, is perhaps the best-known path for minting new teachers outside of traditional teacher-preparation programs. Last year, it received 46,000 applications for 4,500 spots. The University of Washington is one of its top sources of applicants.
Participants earn the same salary as any first-year teacher, become part of the teachers union and operate under the rules other teachers do.
Teach For America hopes to begin recruiting for Seattle-area positions in January. Before then, it says it must sign agreements to place at least 50 corps members in local school districts, raise another $1 million and find a university partner to provide the training participants need to earn permanent teaching certificates.
So far, the organization has raised about $4.1 million from the Seattle Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Raikes Foundation and the Bezos Family Foundation.
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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