Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Tuesday Talk: What are your thoughts on TFA?

August 06, 2013 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

Recently the Minnesota Board of Teaching granted licensure waivers to 15 Teach for America members but warned the organization that using the waiver process was not a permanent solution to placing their folks in classrooms.

Teach for America places top graduates from the country’s best colleges in the nation’s toughest classrooms to teach for at least two years. While it’s important to get our nation’s brightest college graduates into teaching, many argue this particular method is not the most productive way to get good teachers into struggling classrooms. TFA training is minimal compared to the traditional licensure method and few TFA members stay in the classroom past what’s required.

Today Minnesota 2020 is happy to host an online discussion featuring former TFA alum and MN2020 Fellow Michael Diedrich and Steve Fletcher, MN2020’s director of grassroots strategy.

What are your thoughts on TFA?


Thanks for a great panel discussion this morning. We invite you to continue the conversation throughout the day; Michael and Steve will check back in as time allows.

Post your comments or questions in the box below, scroll down to see the ongoing conversation, and use "refresh" to see new comments.

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.


  • Rachel says:

    August 6, 2013 at 6:44 am

    Good morning all! Our panel will be joining the conversation at 8.

    Before then, weight in with some of your initial thoughts: What are the challenges and opportunities within the TFA model?

  • Herbert Allan Davis says:

    August 6, 2013 at 7:50 am

    Raise the pay and working conditions and we won’t need waivers.
    Waivers are just another anti-union technique of the religious right.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      August 6, 2013 at 8:10 am

      Thank you for commenting, Herbert.

      I definitely agree that pay and working conditions are important for attracting and retaining high-quality teachers. There’s no question in my mind that teaching as a profession suffers for a lack of truly professional salaries and work environments. Looking to other countries that place more value on teachers, such as Finland, would be a helpful starting point. Obviously, we need to make local adaptations, but resources are important.

      As a quick note of clarification, I was a proud member of my local teachers’ union when I taught at BCHS, and TFA corps members are prohibited from union-busting by Americorps rules.

      • Jersey Jazzman says:

        August 6, 2013 at 9:02 am

        “Union busting” takes many forms. When non-union charters proliferate and unionized public schools are closed, that’s a de facto form of “union busting.” And TFA has become a staffing agency for charter schools. Last report I saw, over 1/3 of TFAers are being placed into charters. In Los Angeles, the Times reported over 90% of CMs are placed in charters.

        That is a clear instance of “union busting,” even if AmeriCorps does not define it that way.

        • Michael Diedrich says:

          August 6, 2013 at 9:24 am

          First off, I’m thrilled to see you here—I’ve enjoyed your blog on multiple occasions.

          I certainly take your point about the shift from district schools to charters as a form of weakening the union. I think the biggest changes in how teachers teach and the most significant, sustainable improvements to our school system will come from union leadership rather than free-market proliferation. (A year and a half ago, I wrote a report here about how the whole competition/marketplace approach to education is incompatible with true equity.)

          I think in the Twin Cities we have an opportunity to see true, teacher-led school choice within districts under the relatively new self-governed school law which gives teachers the power to build innovative schools under the district umbrella. Abandoning families to a wild west “marketplace” is a recipe for perpetuating inequality, which is why I’d like to see families in a system that helps them find the best fit for their children.

          However, I think that conversation can be had independently of the TFA conversation, at least around here. We’ve had charter schools in Minnesota for a lot longer than we’ve had TFA, and they don’t need TFA to prop them up.

          • Jersey Jazzman says:

            August 6, 2013 at 9:28 am

            That ay well be true at the local level, Michael, but it is certainly not true at the national level. TFA is an integral part of the charter proliferation movement. I don’t think UNO in Chicago, for example, could continue the way it does without TFA.

            While MN may be different NOW, the connection between TFA and charter expansion should be part of the conversation you are having in your state.

            • Michael Diedrich says:

              August 6, 2013 at 9:43 am

              I agree that there’s a difference between TFA in the Twin Cities and national TFA. That’s why I’m happy we’re having a conversation about TFA now, while it’s still relatively young, so we can figure out how to have a more positive experience here.

              • Herbert Allan Davis says:

                August 6, 2013 at 9:55 am

                It think it would be very mostly positive if the right wing religionists and their frontmen just left the state.
                Texas needs you, we don’t.

          • Jane says:

            August 6, 2013 at 9:50 am

            Michael, Charter School Partners hopes to open 20 more charters in the next five years. I believe they will not only need TFA to “prop them up,” but they will want TFA.  Where will the students come from?  The closed public schools.  The proliferation of charters and TFA are not a conversation that can be had independently.  One can’t exist without the other.

          • Jane says:

            August 6, 2013 at 9:54 am

            I would also like to add that my concern is not that the “shift from district schools to charters” weakens the union.  As a public school teacher and parent what scares me about this shift is that it replaces true public education with charters.

            • Michael Diedrich says:

              August 6, 2013 at 10:13 am

              Thanks for both comments, Jane. The Charter School Partners connection is definitely something to keep an eye on. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’d rather see multiple school options available within districts rather than in the hard-to-navigate charter “marketplace.”

              Resisting school closures and getting kids back into district schools is important, as is taking a critical look at charter performance. Too many charters skate through on the positive reputations of a handful, and taking a hard look at what’s actually going on in those schools (and in the ones with good PR) is important.

              I do want to contest the, “One can’t exist without the other,” piece a bit. I think Charter School Partners would carry on with their plans regardless of TFA’s presence in the Twin Cities, and I think TFA would still look to place teachers in the Minneapolis Public Schools and other districts if we somehow repealed the charter law today. There is a certain symbiosis between the two, but I don’t think there has to be.

              Ultimately, though, the more important conversations are about how we get more resources to the public schools, support teacher-led improvements to the system, and address the poverty and racism that hurt students.

              • Jane Swatosh says:

                August 6, 2013 at 10:30 am

                Michael, I agree about the more important conversation, however it is not happening.  The idea that charter schools and TFA can fix what is being called a broken system by many reformers has taken over that conversation.  You cannot pretend that you believe that while at the same time advancing the agenda of what is destroying true public education.

                CSP does need TFA for it’s vision of 20 more charters.  Look at Chicago.  Charter schools do not want career professionals.  They want TFA.

                • Crystal Brakke says:

                  August 6, 2013 at 2:50 pm

                  In my experience working with school leaders in MN, that’s just not true. They don’t really care whether they’re getting teachers from traditional prep programs or TFA or other (and the reality is the majority they are are not TFA, by far). Over and over they talk about hiring based not only on licensure/academic background but also fit with their school’s mission, beliefs about student potential, and willingness to grow and fail and then grow some more. I don’t think those are traits specific to any one program.

          • Linda says:

            August 6, 2013 at 10:05 am

            Michael, Careful! “I think in the Twin Cities we have an opportunity to see true, teacher-led school choice within districts under the relatively new self-governed school law which gives teachers the power to build innovative schools under the district umbrella. Abandoning families to a wild west “marketplace” is a recipe for perpetuating inequality, which is why I’d like to see families in a system that helps them find the best fit for their children.” Proceed with caution on this idea and understand it only would work with a functional and ethical district.  I believe it’s a version of a “parent trigger” sold to teachers in a deceitful way at least within Minneapolis Public Schools. With the way things are going in Minneapolis, even self governed should be questioned, for if their are privatizers running the district, a “self governed” or “partnership school” could be a means for a school to be eventually labeled “failing” and quickly snatched up to become a district sponsored charters, of course staffed with TFA corps members. Think Chicago.

            • Michael Diedrich says:

              August 6, 2013 at 10:23 am

              Thanks for the warning, Linda!

              I certainly don’t want self-governed schools as a backdoor to privatization or disbanding, but I do think there’s value in the concept. Self-governance should be a choice made by teachers, not the district, and self-governed schools should not be charterized. Winning contract language to that effect and closely monitoring district policies are key to avoiding this. This principle needs to be won and guarded district by district as well as statewide.

              Similarly, the “failing” label, if it is to exist at all (which I don’t believe), should be a cue for support, not closure or punishment.

  • Crystal Brakke says:

    August 6, 2013 at 8:00 am

    Hey all—looking forward to reading the discussion and participating too. I’m the head of TFA here in Minnesota (and a TFA alum).

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      August 6, 2013 at 8:02 am

      Thank you for being here, Crystal!

      • Crystal Brakke says:

        August 6, 2013 at 8:08 am

        I’m looking forward to it! Education policy & breakfast sounds like a great way to start the day.

  • Michael Diedrich says:

    August 6, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Good morning, all. I’m Michael Diedrich, one of this morning’s panelists. I was a member of the 2009 TFA corps in the Twin Cities, teaching English for two years at Brooklyn Center High School. I’m now a student in the Masters of Public Policy program through Humphrey School for Public Affairs at the U of M, and I also work part time for the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers. (All views expressed here today are my own.)

  • Steve Fletcher says:

    August 6, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Good morning, everyone!  I’ve been thinking about TFA and the question of how to recruit the next generation of great teachers a lot this month, prompted by some really great sessions at the Free Minds, Free People conference in Chicago.  One of the key themes that parents and teachers voiced often at that conference was a desire for teachers who have a real investment in the community in which they teach. TFA’s model of recruiting for two year commitments seems especially poorly suited in most cases to developing that kind of deep community connection. I’m curious to hear what other people think, but I tend to agree that teachers who invest in their community and have a stake in its long-term success and growth are preferable to short-term TFA placements.  What do other people think?

    • Crystal Brakke says:

      August 6, 2013 at 8:21 am

      I’m really excited about these ideas—I think there should be significantly more programs to bring committed, passionate folks into teaching than we have now. I think TC2, Cue, etc. are all great models.

      • Steve Fletcher says:

        August 6, 2013 at 8:39 am

        Crystal - It’s great that we agree there should be more efforts to recruit passionate teachers.  I’m experiencing a little cognitive dissonance hearing someone from TFA respond that way, though, because TFA as an organization has not typically behaved as though they want to be one solution among many great solutions.  The state funding request, the blanket waiver requests, and the outrage over the denial of both are the behaviors of an organization that believes it is an exceptional solution that should be prioritized over other programs.  It’s a strange approach to ask the U of MN to create a separate, new program for a solution that is humbly one among many good recruiting strategies. On the national scene, TFA has been much more explicit about aggressive growth targets.  I’m really interested to hear how you think TFA should proceed in relationship to other recruiting strategies, and where you think the political and structural help TFA has requested fits into that vision. What would you like to see happen in the Twin Cities to recruit great teachers?

        • Crystal Brakke says:

          August 6, 2013 at 8:47 am

          I think we agree more than we disagree, from the sounds of it. TFA is placing 38 new teachers this year in Minnesota—and there are what, 50,000 teachers in the state? My goal is for our small program to be effective in the schools and communities we work with, and to me that means constantly thinking about how we train and support our teachers. What conversations with the Board of Teaching have showed over the last few months is that we all agree there needs to be a more sustainable solution to licensing here, and the alternative certification law passed in 2011 is in place for programs like ours (and I hope others in the future—I don’t think TFA should be the one and only, by any means).

        • Crystal Brakke says:

          August 6, 2013 at 8:53 am

          To your bigger question about what I’d like to see happen in the Twin Cities to recruit great teachers: I agree with a lot of what Michael said above about needing to do more to value and respect our teachers’ professional opinions and experiences in the public discussion about how to improve outcomes for kids (in words, in practice, in structural changes). I also think there needs to be aggressive recruitment of promising undergrads—early on—into education, with a particular focus on ensuring we have more diversity in our teaching force given the increasing diversity of our schools.

    • Crystal Brakke says:

      August 6, 2013 at 8:23 am

      One other thought: I think the perception of who TFA teachers are is oftentimes wildly out of sync with who they really are. Our new teachers have been reading things online and feel like they don’t even recognize themselves—way over half of our 38 new teachers are from Minnesota and went to college here.

      • Michael Diedrich says:

        August 6, 2013 at 8:32 am

        I think this gets to a key point about TFA: Each region is different. Correct me if I’m wrong, but my impression is that newer, smaller (and urban?) regions like the Twin Cities get more locals, while older, bigger (and rural?) regions like the Mississippi Delta get more outsiders. Do you think if the TFA region expanded here, we’d see more non-Minnesotans coming in?

        (All this speaking as a Minnesotan who, admittedly, went to college in Wisconsin, and who taught at a placement school with three other TFAers, all of whom were Minnesotans.)

        • Crystal Brakke says:

          August 6, 2013 at 8:37 am

          I think that’s very true, Michael. Where I taught in rural NC, for example, was almost entirely non-NC’ers (I’d never been to the state before I moved there to teach 8th grade)—we’re lucky to have a lot of passionate Minnesotans joining TFA who want to teach here at home. Because our region is so small (we’re one of the smallest TFA regions in the country) there are a lot more people who want to be here than we have room for—so I suspect we’d keep a pretty consistent teaching force even if we grew a bit.

    • Rich Rosivach says:

      August 6, 2013 at 8:48 am

      The two year committment has always concerned me also.  It seems to perpetuate a sense of crisis in which schools are maxed out in terms of progress.  Do schools with TFA teachers just keep replacing those teachers year after year or does staffing typically stabilize after a few years?

      • Michael Diedrich says:

        August 6, 2013 at 9:02 am

        Thanks for the comment, Rich!

        Speaking from my experience, with an admittedly unscientific sample size, of the four of us who started at Brooklyn Center, one is still there (about to start Year 5), one is teaching math in New York City, one works for the McKnight Foundation, and one is me. That makes for a 25% retention rate at the placement school going into Year 5, and a 50% rate for staying in the profession. Those numbers are, I think, higher than the national organization, but they’re also higher than traditionally certified teachers in the same schools.

        As we’ve kept track, TFAers at BCHS had a better retention rate than traditionally certified staff. I can’t speak to the regional numbers, but these are high turnover environments as is. I also know of TFAers in the Twin Cities going into schools where the 2-year commitment was seen as a positive, because it was longer than the average teacher stay.

        Addressing the conditions that create this kind of constant turnover should be a very high priority. That includes salary, working conditions (including class size and school environment), and treating the profession with respect.

        • Jolinda Simes says:

          August 6, 2013 at 9:23 am

          Not sure you can really compare percentages and draw those kind of conclusions when your sample size is so small—only 4 TFAers.

          I agree that addressing conditions that create constant turnover are important.  Probably the MOST important.  I believe there is a real lack of doing exit interviews of leavers and using that data to improve the working conditions.  When TFA consistently provides people who initially commit to only 2 years, the incentive to improve those conditions is lost.  Look at charter schools that say they rely on TFA.  Why is that?  Why is there a lot of churn at charters and how does TFA contribute to that?

          • Michael Diedrich says:

            August 6, 2013 at 9:46 am

            Oh, I definitely can’t draw conclusions from that. Crystal has since provided more comprehensive numbers—receiving some subsequent pushback from others—further down the thread.

      • Steve Fletcher says:

        August 6, 2013 at 9:04 am

        Rich, I think this is one of the big questions, as constant turnover places a real burden on schools.  TFA has negotiated job offer deferrals and special relationships with businesses outside the education field, creating a talent pool that includes some teachers with explicit plans to not continue beyond their two year commitment.

        • Crystal Brakke says:

          August 6, 2013 at 2:54 pm

          Those job deferrals/relationships are in place, but I truthfully don’t know anyone personally who has utilized them. I did benefit from a graduate school relationship, in full disclosure—after working for TFA for four years I knew I wanted to go back to school and study education policy to get a broader understanding of issues in education. I definitely looked into the education schools that had relationships with TFA and found it helpful in narrowing down where I wanted to apply.

  • Patti Taylor says:

    August 6, 2013 at 8:21 am

    As a former educator I know even traditional training doesn’t fully prepare a person to take over a classroom and be effective. I feel that part of the “training” should be at least 6 weeks of internship each of the 4 undergraduate years for. I also know that there is no curriculum that can cover all that your classroom students can come up with to make you question yourself.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      August 6, 2013 at 8:29 am

      Thank you for commenting, Patti!

      I agree that teacher training generally is a starting point and that lived classroom experience is the only way to truly become a good teacher. I think each teacher’s mindsets and willingness to learn are the biggest factors, regardless of which program they’re being prepared through, though the rigor of those programs does make a difference! I know that I would have benefited from more openness to support early in my teaching days.

      I like the 6-weeks minimum you’ve laid out, and I think emphasizing even more time in the classroom during the 4th year would further help teachers transform their book learning into classroom practice.

      • Jen Alton says:

        August 6, 2013 at 11:55 am

        6 weeks is still inadequate. For those who are genuinely interested in improving education, funding an internship program in which new or prospective teachers, perhaps those without teaching certification who are interested in the profession, work in the classroom under the direct supervision of an experience teacher for two years will have the desired result. Transforming ‘book learning’ into competent classroom practice is the work of years, not weeks. Ideally, no student should ever have to endure a first year teacher and no teacher should ever have to endure a first year without the direct instruction, support and supervision of an experienced teacher in the same classroom.

      • Lonni Skrentner says:

        August 6, 2013 at 4:28 pm

        No one is talking about collaboration or mentoring.  Where does TFA fit in all that?  I know they collaborate with each other but I’ve read nothing about their fit in the teams in their schools.  Most research shows that it takes 5 years to truly differentiate lessons for your students, so our teacher turnover is a real problem.

  • Mary Knutsen says:

    August 6, 2013 at 8:25 am

    Seems to me TFA’s current mission is to stock charter schools with cheap labor, thereby chipping away at our public school systems, especially in urban areas.  The special TFA housing in Philadelphia sickens me.

    • Crystal Brakke says:

      August 6, 2013 at 8:40 am

      As the head of TFA in Minnesota, I can give you my word that’s not our mission. We place teachers in charter and traditional district schools with vacancies they need to fill, and typically have a hard time filling. Many of our teachers are in bilingual, ESL, math, science areas—which in MN are shortage areas.

    • Bob says:

      August 6, 2013 at 8:44 am

      While I understand the political reason that the focus is TFA- and it is not out of the question that some or all of the organization is failing its mission- this kind of talk is irresponsible and dangerous and unhelpful.

      Please, in other words, provide an alternative. TFA was created to address a problem. While you may dismiss such things as anecdote, the truth is that many teachers found in underserved areas are (by definition) not fit to teach. Whether simply hostile to the idea that poor minority children are capable of learning or openly willing to be on casino boats when class is in session (true story from St Louis) leaving the children to classroom without an adult, something MUST change.

      I do not oppose unions in principal. So many people are not capable of bargaining for a decent life with a powerful employer. Teaching however is the only primarily college-educated profession represented by powerful labor interests. You cannot have a job that requires skill and commitment on the one hand and a lifetime appointment on the other. They cannot coexist.

      As long as teachers set the terms, they will rightly shy away from dangerous and difficult assignments- leaving students most in need without the resources to succeed. Teachers who do take those assignments are then overwhelmed and dispirited despite intense passion and effort. Why are they left to bear the burden?

      Bottom line: so many quality people are simply not allowed to teach because the system is so change averse that a driven person gives up- whether trained as a teacher with a certification or not- because by making a significant contribution they create enemies among people that want to just make a paycheck.

      Into the breach steps TFA with brave young people trying to fill the void. Some succeed. Some do not. But they are trying. Instead of seeing them as purely a threat to a settled way of life, how about seeing them as a promising resource bringing energy and life to a bleak situation?

      What- in other words- are your POSITIVE suggestions?

      • Michael Diedrich says:

        August 6, 2013 at 8:52 am

        Thank you for commenting, Bob. I know you were directing your comment at Mary, but I’d like to chime in here with something.

        I think the TFA-union dichotomy has been unnecessarily exaggerated. I was a happy member of my union during my corps experience and saw firsthand the protections it can provide members from management abuses of power.

        I do think that teachers’ unions are materially different from many other unions in the sense of representing uniformly college-educated professionals, but I think that’s OK. It just means they need to be a slightly different kind of union than others. Programs like TFA, especially in the Twin Cities, represent a tiny share of teachers. Teachers’ unions represent a much bigger share, which means they can have wider effects.

        Right now, we’re seeing a series of positive proposals for change being brought forward by teachers’ unions in the metro area. Union-initiated proposals on early childhood, whole-child supports, and professional development represent big, positive visions for change. As the primary force for organizing the teaching profession, if you want to change teaching norms, the unions have the highest potential for doing so.

      • Michael Peterson says:

        August 6, 2013 at 10:24 am

        Just as TFA is sometimes unfairly portrayed, I think you’ve just shown that traditional teachers can face the same criticism. Of the hundreds of thousands of educators in the nation, a few stories does not discredit an entire system. Also, the unions do not make employment a guarantee for life. I have a few stories in my own experience where teachers who displayed incompetence were dismissed, at leas one of whom is unable to teach anywhere in the district now. Both sides of this debate are full of people looking to do good, we can’t forget that.

    • Stephen Cade says:

      August 6, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Mary,  your thoughts are bared out in the statistics.  However, it is not just Charter’s they are knocking right at the door of Chicago Public.  As Chicago let’s teachers go…they just signed a huge contract with TFA…If these kids really want to teach…study and become a teacher… maybe take a few teaching courses at the local university…

  • Claire O'Connor says:

    August 6, 2013 at 8:40 am

    I am the first to acknowledge that the schools, and teachers can do a much better job.  However, repressive powers have many reasons to use that fact as a kind of shock doctrine - convince us that the shortcomings are a reason to weaken and eventually end public education. 
    Teach For America is one more tool, among many, for the repressive powers (motivated by the dollar) to achieve their goals.  TFA teachers are probably motivated by the wish to do good, and maybe even get a job when there are none to be had.  BUT, their role in all this is as a kind of ‘scab’, strike breaker and means to keep qualified, educated AND UNIONIZED teachers in line. 

    • Steve Fletcher says:

      August 6, 2013 at 8:45 am

      Thanks for commenting, Claire.  One correction I want to offer, though… TFA teachers placed in public districts become union members under the same contract as everyone else. I’m sympathetic to many critiques of TFA, but “scab” is a misnomer, here, I think.

      • Rob Panning-Miller says:

        August 6, 2013 at 9:01 am

        Steve, I don’t think “scab” is a misnomer in regards to TFA, at least not when you look at the national picture.  In Chicago, thousands of teachers have being laid off as the mayor continues to close public schools.  At the same time TFA is increasing its numbers as it provides “teachers” for the non-union charter schools opening in place of the closed public schools. 

        With Charter School Partners looking to open another 20 charter schools in the twin cities in the next 5 years, this trend is also growing in Minneapolis.  Regardless of how it is accomplished, if your are losing unionized teachers and growing the number of non-unionized teachers, the effect is the same, and the term “scab” is appropriate.

        • Steve Fletcher says:

          August 6, 2013 at 9:30 am

          The trend of school closures and the replacement of experienced teachers with TFA placements in Chicago and New Orleans is especially disturbing, Rob. Speaking in a local context in MN, I share Javier’s aversion to name-calling for the small number of idealistic participants in MN.  I also agree that we have to work hard to make sure Minnesota doesn’t follow Chicago and New Orleans down that path.  The kind of school closures and community disruption we’re seeing in Chicago, Philly, and New York would be a disaster here as it is there. The evidence of expansionary goals represented by TFA’s new U of MN program proposal and the state funding request are real cause for concern, and call the question about TFA’s local intentions.

          • Crystal Brakke says:

            August 6, 2013 at 9:38 am

            I’m going to have to head out in just a minute—Steve, we should meet sometime. It would be nice to talk in more depth and I’d definitely welcome the chance to. To briefly (and I’m sure inadequately!) respond your concerns, I think it’s important to note that pursuing an alternative certification program through the state is unrelated to the size of our region. It’s something I think is important for our program whether we have 15 teachers or 50. To speak to size for a second, though, an appropriation from the state would have allowed us to grow to having 75 new teachers per year and meet the demand from principals that we currently can’t.

            I have to run but look forward to skimming through additional comments throughout the day.

            • Steve Fletcher says:

              August 6, 2013 at 9:41 am

              Thanks for being here, Crystal. Would be happy to meet in person.

    • Steve Fletcher says:

      August 6, 2013 at 8:50 am

      That being said, I think it’s important to ask the question about why people who are passionate about undermining teachers unions often get so excited about TFA. There is something in the notion that five weeks of training can create a quality teacher that seems very appealing to people who want to undermine respect for a skilled profession.  I’m often a little unclear how much TFA as an organization propagates this themselves, and how much their model gets picked up by others as a tool to demoralize teachers, devalue the teaching profession, or score points against the union.  In any case, the rhetoric surrounding TFA has become decidedly nasty toward experienced teachers, and I think TFA has a role to play in turning that around if it is not their intent.

      • Crystal Brakke says:

        August 6, 2013 at 9:02 am

        Totally agree. We talk explicitly with our new teachers about how critical it is to learn from veteran teachers and most teachers do have mentors in their building (through the PAR program in MPS, for example), but publicly we can and must do more to appreciate and celebrate the work of all teachers.

        • Steve Fletcher says:

          August 6, 2013 at 9:11 am

          More than that, I think if you don’t want to be associated with that kind of rhetoric, you have to explicitly and publicly confront it when it’s made on your behalf, even when it’s made by your funders. That’s going to take some real courage.

      • Javier says:

        August 6, 2013 at 9:07 am

        I just want to say how happy I am this conversation is even happening outside of a context of vitriol. Recent discussions of TFA I Minnesota seem to start at a certain decibel level and never tone down.

        As someone who is not an educator but once was and someone who also has, over the years, met many a TFA teacher, I find myself passionately agreeing and disagreeing with everyone doing the yelling.

        On the one hand, I am uncomfortable with the degree to which TFA is a program for kids at elite schools.  Having gone to one (in fact, a good friend was a part of the first ever TFA class), and having taught at several others, I know that the fact that TFA recruits from the “top schools” already severely limits e diversity of the pool from which it draws.  And for those who do just do a two- year stint as a teacher instead of sticking to the profession, there is a feeling of slumming for a few years after college that I find problematic. And so the argument of Crystal Brakke’s recent OpEd, which suggests that TFA helps add diversity to the schools seems a little disingenuous.

        That said, I also find some of the rhetoric aimed at TFA teachers appalling.  I have yet to meet a TFA teacher who isn’t a young, idealistic progressive trying to do some good in the world. That doesn’t mean they’re right - just that to pain them as evil-doers and union busters does us all a disservice and, if anything, likely pushes people in the direction of some who call themselves “reformers” but have an agenda very far from improving and saving our public schools.

        I find the criticism that TFA puts inexperienced in our worst schools, in front of the kids who need it the most, the most frustrating.  Given that our most experienced teachers so often choose to teach in wealthier (whiter) schools where kids go on to those same elite universities TFA recruits from, I’d like to hear something more productive than “they shouldn’t be sent there.”  What is the alternative? I think many parents of color feel desperate and willing to see experimentation when the alternative is the status quo.

        • Steve Fletcher says:

          August 6, 2013 at 9:19 am

          Javier - for one alternative, check out the Illinois “Grow Your Own” Teacher program, which we should build here like yesterday*.  I also wrote a compare and contrast summary here.

          *Credit where it’s due: it was proposed by MFT ten years ago, but never really got off the ground.

        • Crystal Brakke says:

          August 6, 2013 at 9:21 am

          Hear, hear on appreciation for a good discussion!

          And I could not agree more that the notion that this is just a stint for people before moving on to something else needs to be dispelled, stat. It’s not what I believe—on day one with our new teachers in June we said that this isn’t a two-year commitment, this is a lifelong commitment to education and equity for all kids.

          I appreciate you calling out concern with the point I made about how TFA helps add diversity to schools. I think a program as small as ours is limited, of course, but it’s one of the things that principals and districts are clamoring for as their student population becomes more and more diverse.

        • Patricia says:

          August 6, 2013 at 10:30 am

          MPS has no shortage of traditionally trained teachers willing to work in schools that some see as “tough.”  I’ve worked at North for 18 years and have never seen a teacher leave for “whiter” pastures.  They left because they were laid off.  I hear people say that teachers don’t want to work in the ghetto, but not only is that not my experience, I’ve never seen academic research to back up the claim.

          • Steve Fletcher says:

            August 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm

            Thanks for sharing your experience, Patricia. That’s been one of my questions all along… is there really a demand? And if there is, should there be? What is the district doing wrong to fail to recruit excellent teachers, and how can we fix that? It seems to me like recruiting from the outside for short term placements is a sign of management dysfunction.

  • Nancy Reynolds says:

    August 6, 2013 at 8:51 am

    I believe that the most challenged students and schools need the most dedicated and well-trained teachers who are invested in the area the students come from to help them get the best education possible.  It’s hard for me to believe that the brightest college graduates who chose not to go into education initially and are only putting 2 years into this teaching effort will have the dedication and commitment necessary to be successful in guiding these students.  To have success in the schools being looked at for TFA participants, there needs to be long term commitment of teachers and administrators who believe in the potential of the students—not just a two year hit and then go off to do what you intended to do all along (which isn’t teaching).

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      August 6, 2013 at 8:57 am

      Thank you for commenting, Nancy. I definitely understand the concerns about the 2-year commitment, and in some ways I embody them. That said, and speaking only from my personal experience, I know of at least one teacher at my placement school (of the four of us) who wasn’t looking at a lifetime of teaching before joining TFA, and who now is on a path to be a career educator.

      I do think the organization can and should be doing more to emphasize the importance of staying in the classroom. There are signs that this is happening—there was a recent conference in Detroit celebrating the TFAers doing amazing work in the classroom—but it will take a while to undo the years of Michelle Rhee as the most prominent TFA alum in the country.

      • Rob Panning-Miller says:

        August 6, 2013 at 9:31 am

        It seems to me there are two main reasons to join TFA.  One is as a resume builder.  There are some variations to this line of thinking such as using it as a backup to finding permanent employment, but there are clearly a large number of TFA corp members who don’t want to be career teachers, and they should not be playing teacher.  Teaching takes commitment.

        On the other hand, it is clear there are people who are choosing TFA because they do want teaching as a career.  While I welcome them, it does a disservice to our students for them to take a shortcut to the classroom.  This is why the U of MN should not be partnering with TFA. 

        If you were a college senior or junior and you wanted to go into teaching which route would you take—Option 1: A two year program that will take two years and cost you thousands of dollar, or Option 2: a five (maybe eight?) week summer training that has you teaching and getting paid for those same two years?

        After paying for four years of college already, I know I would find option 2 very appealing.  The problem, of course, is option two is good for the adult, not for the students they will serve.  Dean Jean Quam of the U of M’s CEHD told me the University’s two year program is far superior to any TFA model.  Which begs the question: why create a shortcut?

        In the spirit of solutions, we should be talking about how we can make it affordable and even financially rewarding for college students to take the best route to the profession of teaching and not a short cut that short changes our students.

        • Steve Fletcher says:

          August 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm

          Wishing our comment threads had a “like” button. Very well said, Rob!

    • Bob says:

      August 6, 2013 at 9:09 am

      I could not agree more with the first statement. How exactly do we get those teachers into those schools?

      In reality, teachers tend to have a single year of impact on any given child in the current system. Part of the Finnish model is keeping children with the teacher over time. Is that an option to teachers here? While the TFA impact may be mixed, when you look at the specific data regarding gains among students below grade level, they tend to improve greatly under a TFA year and then lose those gains when they return to typical experienced teaching in an underserved community.

      Again, there are numerous (hundreds of thousands) or deeply committed teachers that sacrifice greatly for their kids. There is no question. But the system is failing them. While Minnesota is better than most, my son and his well-resourced suburban school system had a great football team and virtually no science education. I would rather he had a recent graduate that loved chemistry with no specific teaching education than someone going through the motions in the same way for twenty years.

      But when proposals like “master teacher” arrangements are suggested- to take a successful, credentialed teacher and use them to train other teachers- the response is “all teachers are master teachers”- which is a farce. Whether in business, non-profit, or government, all it takes is a couple of people not up to the task to create a corrosive atmosphere. By treating all teachers the same and resisting other forms or training and other perspectives, people are robbing children of what makes this country special and has kept it going through huge challenges- that ability to change and adapt.

      • Steve Fletcher says:

        August 6, 2013 at 1:23 pm

        I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone actually say “all teachers are master teachers” and a quick google search of the phrase only found people putting those words in teachers’ mouths in straw man arguments, but didn’t show anyone saying it. So let’s assume that is nobody’s position.

        In fact, many unions have instituted mentoring and lead teacher programs that make a lot of sense.  I’m most familiar with the CC9 story in the Bronx, which was a very successful community-union partnership, but I know there are other examples.  The problem is usually negotiating time in the day for coaching and mentoring.  One way that districts have dealt with budget cuts is to cut back planning periods and prep time so that teachers often get very limited time to interact with each other.  Mentoring, coaching, and collaboration are proven, common sense solutions for improving teaching and learning.

        • Lonni Skrentner says:

          August 6, 2013 at 4:47 pm

          Just like all careers, teaching has a wide range of competency from minimum to master and perhaps past that to excellence.  Administrators face a tough job of trying to keep all excellence in their classrooms - an essentially impossible job.  After a year of full time classsroom mentoring, I told a principal I had found another reason not to be a principal - that I would spend my life hiring and firing, because, if after a year or two, if I didn’t perceive that you had the potential to be as excellent as I was, you’d be gone.  He literally burst out laughing, and said he’d love to fill his rooms with “me”, but that whole spectrum of competency comes into play.  So its unfair to expect all TFA teachers to be excellent or even stay in the profession, but in my mind their training does not give the tools for much beyond minimum competence regardless of how brilliant they are.

  • Rob Shumer says:

    August 6, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Hi.  Good to “see” you again.  I was just reading some reviews of TFA.  Here is an excerpt from one written by two professors that suggest that a majority of TFA teachers leave the classroom after two or three years.  80% after three or more.  Is this true?  Do you have data to back up that more stay?

    Here is part of their review.

    The report, Teach For America: A Review of the Evidence, is written by professor Julian Vasquez Heilig of the University of Texas at Austin, and professor Su Jin Jez of California State University, Sacramento. It offers a comprehensive overview of research on the Teach For America (TFA) program, which recruits graduates of elite colleges to teach for two years in low-income rural and urban schools. The brief was published today by EPIC, at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and EPRU, at Arizona State University.

    Overall, Jez and Heilig argue, the impact of Teach For America on student achievement is decidedly mixed at best.

    On the one hand, studies show that TFA teachers perform fairly well compared with one segment of the teaching population: other teachers in the same hard-to-staff schools, who are less likely to be certified or traditionally prepared.

    Comparisons of TFA teachers with credentialed non-TFA teachers are another story. ...In a large-scale Houston study, in which the researchers controlled for experience and teachers’ certification status, standard certified teachers consistently outperformed uncertified TFA teachers of comparable experience levels in similar settings.

    In the end, TFA teachers have some advantages and some disadvantages, and these appear to play out as one would expect. Accordingly, the results are consistent with common sense - but it’s a common sense often ignored in policy discussions.

    The trade-offs are straightforward. TFA teachers are elite college graduates, but they receive a much shorter training process than conventional teacher education programs. They teach in hard-to-staff schools, but they generally do so for only two years. So one would expect that these TFA teachers would show outcomes better than other minimally trained beginning teachers but worse than fully trained teachers or experienced teachers. In fact, the research shows exactly these results, explain Heilig and Jez.

    TFA teachers do get better - if they stay long enough to become fully credentialed, the evidence suggests. Those experienced, fully credentialed TFA teachers “appear to do about as well as other, similarly experienced, credentialed teachers in teaching reading ... [and] as well as, and sometimes better than, that comparison group in teaching mathematics,” Heilig and Jez write.

    There is a catch, however: More than half of TFA teachers leave after two years, and more than 80 percent after three. So it’s impossible to know whether those who remain have improved because of additional training and experience - or simply because of “selection bias:” they were more effective than the four out of five TFA teachers who left.

    • Rob Shumer says:

      August 6, 2013 at 9:09 am

      My apologies. Not sure how the article was listed twice!!

    • Crystal Brakke says:

      August 6, 2013 at 9:11 am

      Hi Rob! Good to “see” you too—hope you’ve been well since we last crossed paths at the U-Y. I know a little bit about that study, so I can speak to one point related to methodology that I think is relevant and then more importantly share the statistics for our teachers in Minnesota (which this study does not include).

      The methodology point: Some of the studies used in the research review conflated leaving one school for another with leaving teaching, so I think that’s important to note. Also, there are a lot of different studies on the student outcomes of TFA teachers. Three states have now done reviews of all teacher preparation programs in their state and how those programs affect student achievement—I definitely recommend reading through those as well (Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennesee).

      The Minnesota point: We have three years of TFA “alumni” at this point (so people who started teaching in MN through TFA in 2009, 2010, and 2011 and have completed their initial two-year commitment)—right around 50% are still teaching. 75% are working in education.

      • Rob Shumer says:

        August 6, 2013 at 9:23 am

        Thanks for the clarification.  I would really emphasize the point of keeping teachers in the classroom.  That is where the challenge is greatest….

      • Jersey Jazzman says:

        August 6, 2013 at 9:24 am

        A few things:

        - Regarding N Carolina: the UNC teacher portal study shows that any “gains” TFAers made are ameliorated by 1) the high attrition rate for CMs, and 2) the very small population of TFA teachers. There was no control, as far as I know, for non-random assignment of teachers, nor for whether the CMs went on to get their certification through traditional means. Ultimately, there is no evidence a CM does better than an experienced, certified, highly-qualified career teacher.

        Also: the largest effect size was under 0.2 standard deviations; most 1st year TFAers where well under 0.1 standard deviations. How many test items answered correctly is that? One? Two? Three?

        - The “working in education” part here disturbs me. If the NEA were collecting government funds and private tax-free foundation grants to place people for a short time in teaching positions, then those folks left teaching and went into union advocacy, there would be an uproar. People would rightly say tax money was being used to create a group of advocates for union policies.

        How is that any different than what TFA is doing right now?

  • Steve Cade says:

    August 6, 2013 at 9:12 am

    I think Amy Koep had a great idea in 1989.  However, it has morphed into an elite organization that is really a dangerous symptom of this “takeover public education” mentality of corporate america.  I really believe now, it is full of over-educated rich kids who could afford a prestigious university or college BA….that are thus considered good enough for my poor brothers and sisters still in school.  Especially inner-city / delta schools.

  • Joachim Huber says:

    August 6, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Teacher training is already not rigorous, nor specific enough to really prepare people to teach. A minimum 2 year internship would be best but we need to find mentor teachers who really know how to get kids engaged in learning. If TFA training is less rigorous than traditional then no wonder those people don’t stay in the classroom! That being said nothing will ever explain the indominatable human spirit and a person who’s true passion is to teach children will find a way to become an excellent teacher no matter what. That probably cannot be screened for nor explained nor prepared for. How do you require passion for learning?

    • Crystal Brakke says:

      August 6, 2013 at 9:29 am

      I’m glad you mention that, Joachim—that need for passion and willingness to fall down and get back up again is what principals were talking a lot about at the Board of Teaching meeting last Friday as they were explaining why they make the hiring decisions they do. They talked in depth about why they choose to hire teachers with those characteristics and a strong academic background from a lot of places—TFA is just one source of teachers they consider for vacancies.

      I also think it’s important to note that while the pre-service training from TFA is limited to ~8 weeks in the summer, we’re able to stay with our teachers during their first two years in the classroom to provide ongoing support in addition to what their schools are providing. I think that’s a huge factor in people’s growth as they start teaching.

  • Stephen Cade says:

    August 6, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Really, I came into education via the per-diem certificate offered by the New York City Public Schools.  My goal was to teach inner-city for a couple years.  It was 1989, I had graduated from a small liberal arts college in Minnesota called Carleton, where I was inundated with the notion of helping the less-fortunate.  I saw the Princeton graduate’s organization as a cool way to get others involved.  Now, I have met TFA’s are into doing the Rhee thing and taking over for the under-educated lifelong teachers.  I don’t fault these young teachers…I felt the same way when I first started teaching… Now, I am embarrassed and ashamed of my conduct with my department mates.  Only through time do we learn…respect… New teachers think they know much more than the seasoned vet.  How wrong they ARE!

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      August 6, 2013 at 9:30 am

      Thank you for both of your comments, Stephen.

      I think you’re on-point that new teachers often think they know more than veterans. I certainly had my share of mistaken assumptions about the more experienced teachers at my school during the early days! However, it didn’t take long for the reality of the situation—I had a lot to learn from those veterans—to become clear.

      As for the idealism thing, guilty as charged. That’s the UW-Madison in me. Two of the three other TFAers at my school were small MN liberal arts grads like you: one from Carleton, one from Gustavus.

      • Stephen Cade says:

        August 6, 2013 at 9:47 am

        Michael,  I have developed this disdain for TFA in all of the conferences I have attended the last few years…Save our Schools, NEA and AFT Teach.  I think many kids that enter the program really believe they have something BIG to offer public education… And really, their love and care is HUGE…for the kids they are with for those years.  The sad part is i have heard the percentage that stay in education at the grass-roots level (in the same school..) are few… Do you know the percentages???

        • Michael Diedrich says:

          August 6, 2013 at 9:58 am

          Offhand, I don’t know the percentages, although Jersey Jazzman and Crystal Brakke went back and forth about it a bit upthread. Whatever the specific number, it’s not enough. That goes for new, traditionally certified teachers in the same schools, too; we have too much turnover among younger teachers in high-needs schools, period. That’s the part that needs to get addressed, in my opinion. If we were able to stabilize that, I think a lot of the appetite for TFA would dry up.

  • Rich Rosivach says:

    August 6, 2013 at 9:23 am

    I’ve seen a number of comments contrasting TFA opperations in Minnesota with the national organization.  How independent are state opperations?

    • Steve Fletcher says:

      August 6, 2013 at 9:38 am

      I think that’s one of the key questions, Rich.  How independent can TFA in Minnesota be?  How accountable should we hold the local organization for some extremely destructive behavior by its national organization?  How willing is the local TFA to distance itself from that destructive behavior?

  • Bill says:

    August 6, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Under the supervision of a fully trained and qualified teacher/instructor I would go along with this concept. However turning inexperienced, partially trained teachers loose in a tough class room is a formula for failure and a disservice to the students.

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      August 6, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Mentorship is key. I learned a lot from the experienced teacher assigned to me as a mentor, and I benefited from the support of TFA’s program directors over my two years, too. That said, I think I’d much rather have participated in Saint Paul’s (union-initiated) Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program! (Also available in Minneapolis; I just know the Saint Paul program a bit better.)

  • Rich Rosivach says:

    August 6, 2013 at 9:28 am

    How does TFA decide that it will place corps members at a particular school?  Does it turn down requests for reasons othsr than not having a candidate available?  What are the criteria used to see if the prog ram is a good fit?

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      August 6, 2013 at 9:51 am

      Crystal would be able to answer this better than I can, but I’ll tell you about my experience of the process. When I came into the region, TFA had lined up partnerships with the Minneapolis Public Schools and Brooklyn Center School District, along with a handful of charters. We as corps members then interviewed at the schools that expressed interest in us based on what we were emergency-certified to teach and what they needed.

      How those partnerships get made is not as clear to me. They aren’t permanent, though; Brooklyn Center, for example, doesn’t place TFA corps members anymore.

  • Sonja Langsjoen says:

    August 6, 2013 at 9:28 am

    I am sympathetic to anyone who wants to teach and to do good. But from what I read, the drop out rate for TFA is very high, which is not helpful to students. I think our society has learned to rely on shortcuts, whether they are to economic solutions. This in itself isn’t a great lesson to teach our students.
    It’s a little insulting to read “While it’s important to get our nation’s brightest college graduates into teaching.”
    Many of my teaching colleagues were top graduates. I was a top graduate. I chose to put my energies into teaching.
    Is it possible that the high TFA drop out rate is connected to the lesser commitment of a teaching shortcut? I’m not questioning the TFA teachers’ enthusiasm, intelligence, or good hearts. But the traditional college course for teaching gave me 4 years’ exposure to people who had been in the field, and many chances to see real teachers even before my student teaching. It was valuable.

    • Michael Peterson says:

      August 6, 2013 at 10:04 am

      For a possible counterpoint, is it possible that traditional teachers only stick around because of the sunk cost of schooling? The problem when you simply take aggregate data and try to project it onto individual scenarios is that you risk making some unfair assumptions.

      • Sonja Langsjoen says:

        August 6, 2013 at 12:27 pm

        Not bad thinking, but I don’t think that ‘traditional’ teachers only stick around because of the sunk cost of schooling. Teaching is very much a liberal arts degree, and is useful in many professions. My friends who have left the profession are now: 1) high paid executive making $200,000/year 2) Homemaker 3)Christian music singer/producer 4) Entrepreneur of an educational products company 5) Executive in a sports equipment company 6) pastor 7) Speech therapist at a medical clinic…..
        The first 5 left teaching 20 years ago. #6 and #7 just left in the last 5 years, and they were the only 2 who needed additional education.
        I agree about the aggregate data grin  That’s why I (and you) are submitting thoughts as questions. That’s awesome!

    • Michael Diedrich says:

      August 6, 2013 at 10:04 am

      There’s definitely a “better than thou” atmosphere to some of the rhetoric around TFA. Our teaching colleges are too often held in abysmally low regard, and I think building the prestige (and, in some cases, the strength) of those programs should be a priority.

      The connection between the shortcut mentality and the dropout rate is interesting to me. I’d like to see some research analyzing the TFAers who went through traditional teacher colleges (they do exist!) relative to the rest of us.

  • Michael Diedrich says:

    August 6, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Thank you to everyone who participated, and to those who read along with us! This has been one of our most active Tuesday Talks in a long time, and that’s thanks to you.

    I enjoyed the conversation a lot, and I hope we’re able to keep working together to figure out what the future of Twin Cities and Minnesota education looks like.

  • Judith Daniel says:

    August 6, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I think we have enough qualified teachers here in MN, who are part of our communities, to staff our schools.
    Why do we layoff good teachers to hire 2 year TFA young and inexperienced folks? It doesn’t make sense.
    If (as insinuated) our present teaching degrees deliver mediocre teachers, we need to change that. If,(as is the case) our trained teachers are over-regulated and underpaid, we need to change that. If we need innovation in the classroom, we need to let that happen.
    We need to select good candidates for teaching degrees, pay them well, and trust them to do their jobs. It works in other countries. I taught in the UK and I can’t imagine them dropping 6 week trained Oxford and Cambridge grads (however bright)  into London schools.

    • Crystal Brakke says:

      August 6, 2013 at 3:00 pm

      One specific response to a point you made, Judith: there are not teachers being laid off in Minnesota to hire TFA teachers. Our teachers are hired for vacancies only, and schools are not obligated to hire them. Just want to make sure that’s super clear as I’ve seen that misconception take root in various places.

      And Teach First is a program in the UK very similar to TFA. It was started back in the early 2000s, I think?

  • Mary Knutsen says:

    August 6, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Using the term “scab” is not name calling.  A scab is a “worker who accepts employment or replaces a union worker during a strike or one who works for less than union wages or on nonunion terms.”

    • Michael Peterson says:

      August 6, 2013 at 11:26 am

      Which is not really what TFA is trying to do. Many, Like Michael Diedrich explained, join the unions, and are not allowed to union bust.The dialogue around them may devolve into union-busting, but that doesn’t make the recruits scabs. Our unions are a bit stronger than having to panic around TFA.

  • Jerry Von Korff says:

    August 6, 2013 at 11:30 am

    I taught school for five years, back in the dark ages, after graduating with a degree in economics and no education courses.  I was attracted to teaching from the civil rights movement for reasons not unlike the students today who are graduating college with a desire to make a difference. In my day, you could get a Masters in teaching with federal support, if you taught in an inner city school. I think TFA is a great idea, but it is really important that TFA participants must complete a robust program of professional development, because teaching is a very challenging profession that requires high level professional training.

    That being said, I feel that way too much attention is being paid to his issue, which is really a blip on the radar screen of school improvement.  This year, the legislature provided significant new funding to school districts, backloaded into the second year of the biennium.  When the house passed the bill, the House leadership indicated that the purpose of this money was   “strongly tied to meeting ambitious goals called for in the bill that include closing the achievement gap, raising high school graduation rates, achieving literacy for all students by third grade, and having all students acquire career and college readiness by graduation.”

    As an education community, we had better pay attention to this purpose.  This issue, whether we are going to use a substantial portion of the new money in ways that are strongly tied to those goals, is the most critical pressing issue facing public education. 

    If, after all is said and done, school districts engage in another round of cuts, if Minnesota 2020 then issues study pieces justifying all of that because there was only enough money provided to take care of inflationary increases for teachers, and so on, we are going to be in for some rough sailing with the legislature and with the public.  Currently, I see very little discussion on this topic.  There is some discussion on this point in Minneapolis, but statewide, the rumor mill seems to suggest that basically it is business as usual, with money getting allocated to the same old things in the same old way. 

  • Crystal Brakke says:

    August 6, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    I was so busy responding to questions this morning that I didn’t get a chance to ask a big one on my mind! I welcome this vigorous debate about our program and our 70-some teachers in the Twin Cities, but there are also much bigger issues in our education system that I know people are thinking about and committed to changing. What do you think it’s going to take to radically change outcomes for kids of color in MN? Having ~50% of African American, Latino, and Native students graduate in four years is a public crisis we need to act on. Know there are tons of veteran educators here—what do you think we need to do?

    • Lonni Skrentner says:

      August 6, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      Crystal - you’ve asked the million dollar question. I’m not sure anyone has a total answer.  We need to be willing to experiment, but in the testing enviroment that has been built by NCLB, experimentation is really difficult.  We need teachers who are culturally competent/knowledgeable. We need teachers who can use technology well.  We need teachers who understand that teaching is NOT lecturing.  We need to invest dollars.  Here in MN over the last decade or so, our schools have lost about 13% of their funding in dollars that count inflation.  The “increase” we got from this legislature (Thank you!) barely covers the inflation of the last two years, so many districts are still faced with cuts.  Money is not THE answer, but it is important.

    • Steve Fletcher says:

      August 7, 2013 at 9:26 am

      Crystal - you posted this in the afternoon after most people had stopped monitoring the conversation.  I also would have liked to see a lot of the morning participants’ ideas. It’s worthy of its own Tuesday Talk session, and I’ll propose it as a topic in the future.

      • Lonni Skrentner says:

        August 7, 2013 at 6:40 pm

        Great idea, Steve!

  • Joan Tangen says:

    August 6, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    I oppose this program because TFA people aren’t trained as teachers.  This must be part of a plan to privatize our public schools because it shows such disrespect for real teachers.  I have never been in favor of vouchers or any attempts to weaken the public school system. If we want to reclaim our democracy then we must have strong, well funded public schools.

  • Lonni Skrentner says:

    August 6, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    As a retired teacher, union activist and elected school board member, I see mostly problems with TFA.  IF, it really encouraged the best and the brightest to consider classroom work as a career then it would be a good thing.  But, to put the best and brightest, with little pedagogical training into the toughest classrooms in our nation is cruel and unusual punishment for students first, and for the TFA members.  From what I have read, most leave after their two year commitment - they view it as charity, as giving back rather than as teaching.  Many of them go on to start charter schools, or become administrators which are not bad things, but we need the best and the brightest in our classrooms, WITH pedagogical training to deal with the achievement gap.

  • Bill Graham says:

    August 7, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Late in life, I taught at secondary level for 8 years in inner city schools.  I found it far, far more complicated and less satisfying than I had imagined. The problems were (1) students un-prepared or unwilling to apply themselves; (2) crazy legalisms that complicate the task; (3) administrators who micromanage but won’t back up their staff in a pinch; (4) parents who largely don’t participate usefully in their children’s education.  My training, acquired at considerable cost, didn’t prepare me for what I encountered.  It is hard to imagine placing youngsters in a classroom whose only life experience is training in a narrow academic field.  There is so much more to teaching than that.

  • wayne taylor says:

    August 7, 2013 at 9:21 pm


  • Sandi Karnowski says:

    August 8, 2013 at 10:12 am

    As a 25 year educator, speech-language pathologist, with the Hopkins School District and one year in the Robbinsdale School District I feel I have some perspective.  In 1993, while working at Robbinsdale, I was asked by the Board of teaching to be on a year old Committee made up of all disciplines of teaching in MN.  We rewrote the job finely detailed job descriptions for each teaching position the Board certified.  I was on a subcommittee with School Counselors, Social Workers and Psychologists.  We met for a full day each month for 10 months.  It was a grueling task, but the Board wanted it done correctly by the professionals in each class of teaching license issued.  Classroom teachers and special education teachers were in their own larger group, which split into groups of grades.

    We defined each skill that a teacher in any of these positions must possess in order to have any hope of doing these various jobs within our state.  I am sure these job descriptions have been refined in the last twenty years, but I was not on that committee.

    I cannot fathom how even the brightest students from disciplines other than teaching could possibly in a few months gather all of the knowledge and experience necessary to become teachers of the caliber MN expects to grant licenses to for any of these positions.  Those of us who have been teaching for a long while remember our first year or two of teaching.  We are amazed we made it through despite our very thorough preparation to enter this profession.  Working with children in a public school setting can be a daunting task.  We encounter children from various backgrounds, races, religions, and in many cases children without even English as their primary language. 

    To think that students who have not taken any of the education classes, child psychology and behavioral intervention, and done only a basic student teaching stint should be able to get a license and start to teach in the most difficult schools we have to offer is absurd. We give our least qualified teachers to our most challenging students.  Who thought of this mix?  It sounds like a a disaster about to happen.  So no I DO NOT support giving licenses to students unprepared for a very important profession - the education of our youth.