Why not ‘Teach for America’?

NEWS-LEDGER — JUNE 20, 2012 —

Program aims to ‘close achievement gap,’ but local union objects to use of non-credentialed teachers

By Steve Marschke,  News-Ledger Editor

  A proposal to bring the “Teach for America” program into West Sacramento’s school district fizzled in March, in the face of opposition from the local teachers’ union.

At a meeting with only three of five school board members in attendance, board members Sandra Vargas and Adam Menke voted in favor of a proposed contract with the nonprofit group, while board president Teresa Blackmer voted against it.

The would have brought from two to four “Teach for America” teachers into local schools during each of the next four years. It fell short of three required “yes” votes, and hasn’t been put back on the agenda for fellow trustees Dave Westin and Mary Leland to weigh in.

“Teach forAmerica” says it recruits graduates “from a broad range of academic majors and career fields” who meet the criteria as “highly qualified” as described in the federal No Child Left Behind Act and state regulations. The group then provides training for the teachers for their first two years in the classroom, as well as ongoing support such as professional development and access to lesson plans and instructional materials.

   As part of the deal, the participating local school district agrees to hire these teachers and place them in schools with higher levels of poverty in order to help “close the achievement gap,” according to Teach for America. The teachers get full district pay and benefits, and the district also pays Teach for America $5,000 per year for each teach in exchange for the support. They commit to teaching for two years, before (usually) moving on to their other chosen profession.

In this case, the $5,000 per teacher fee owed by Washington Unified School District would have been covered by a fund raised by regional philanthropists and education activists.

At the same time West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon was encouraging WUSD to engage with  Teach forAmerica, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson was pushing for similar partnerships inSacramento.

   Cabaldon told the News-Ledger in April that the availability of the regional partnerships and funding meant that the time was ripe to bring Teach for Americ ainto West Sacramento. He said the organization contacted him and council member Mark Johannessen about the opportunity.

“The research is very clear across the last two decades, that student achievement is highly correlated with teacher qualifications and the quality of the university they graduated from,” said Mayor Cabaldon. “Teach for America is able to recruit from the very best programs in the country.”

Once hired and placed, these teachers are “just like every other teacher” and they join the local teachers’ union, he said. But “what’s different is the basic process of recruitment.”

“No teacher would be displaced in order to bring (a Teach forAmerica) teacher on board,” he added.

But the proposal drew vocal opposition from the local union. Washington Teachers Association president Regina Jarrott-Briggs, a science teacher at River City High School, told the News-Ledger why. One of the reasons, she said, was that these specially recruited professionals did not have teaching credentials.

“To ask non-credentialed teachers to be hired and receive preferential treatment was unacceptable,” said Jarrott-Briggs. “There are many very experienced credentialed teachers out there in the employment pool.”

The “Teach for America” teachers would be at a lesser standard, she said.

    “They might have a degree in English or business or something like that,” she added. “(The Teach for America program) gives them something like 25 hours of training, and that’s it. Then they go to work.”

Board president Teresa Blackmer said this is the argument that kept her from providing the needed third vote of support for the partnership.

“The concern I had was that their teachers weren’t credentialed,” Blackmer told the News-Ledger. “I didn’t want to cross that line.”

Mayor Cabaldon added that, since the program would have involved just two to four teachers per year, the effective “no” vote by WUSD was not a major loss.

“It’s just a missed opportunity,” he said. “It’s not a crisis.”

Meanwhile, in Sacramento, the Sacramento City Unified School District also remains against a Teach forAmerica partnership. But plans have been announced to bring the program to Natomas Unified, St. Hope and the Capitol Collegiate Academy.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012


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