Metro plans to double Teach For America hires in its schools

Monday, February 13, 2012 at 11:50pm

Three years after Teach For America arrived in Nashville, Metro school officials are planning to double down on the national organization that builds instructors out of young, idealistic college graduates who lack traditional teaching certificates.

A renewal of the district’s TFA contract is set go before the school board Tuesday night that would increase the number of TFA corps members Metro hires from an annual intake of 50 teachers to a new range of 80 to 100 each year.

“We are agreeing to contract with more Teach For America teachers than we have in the past,” June Keel, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, told The City Paper.

“We’ve found that they’re performing at a very high level,” Keel said. “They’re making real differences in the learning of our students. When you have a group that is making that kind of a difference, we want more of them. That’s the bottom line.”

Keel cited a 2011 Tennessee Department of Education report on the effectiveness of teaching programs that found Nashville’s TFA chapter is one of three programs statewide “with higher student achievement gains than veteran teachers.” Lipscomb University and TFA’s Memphis branch are the other two programs, according to the study.

The report, however, relies on a small sample size. Its scope in evaluating TFA in Nashville — because the program is relatively new here — is limited to the performance of 46 TFA members who began during the 2009-10 school year.

Since the arrival of that initial group to Nashville, Metro has ushered in two additional crops of around 50 TFA teachers. Following an intensive TFA summer teaching-training session, TFA members obtain alternative teaching licenses and are required to devote at minimum two years to the school districts in which they are assigned.

Critics often say TFA teachers abandon teaching after their commitment is complete. According to Keel, the district currently has approximately 80 TFA teachers. “Some have left after their two-year commitment,” she said.

Doubling Metro’s annual TFA hires represents a major investment in a program Mayor Karl Dean helped lure to Nashville in the fall of 2008. The organization’s mission is to combat the “achievement gap” by placing high-achieving college students in low-performing schools.

“It’s a reflection of our partnership with Metro over the past [three] years, and hopefully the experience principals have had with our teachers,” Shani Jackson Dowell, executive director of TFA in Nashville, said of the new contract. “We definitely appreciate the confidence that it shows.”

Dowell said TFA has used federal Race to the Top dollars to bring additional teachers to Metro, going above the annual cap of 50. She also said several Metro charter schools have turned to the program for teachers — meaning a greater number of TFA corps members teach in Metro than district officials report.

“Including charters, there a total of about 130 [teachers in Metro],” Dowell said.

Nashville’s new TFA contract also includes a new funding obligation on the part of the school district.

Keel said previously the Mayor’s Office had allocated funding to compensate TFA for training its members, and providing support and professional development during the school year. Those obligations would fall to the district under the contract.

The contract sets aside a maximum MNPS obligation of $650,000 to TFA for the 2012-13 school year and $500,000 for the 2013-14 school year. Those dollars don’t include TFA teachers’ salaries. TFA teachers are paid at the same level as all first-year instructors, Keel said.

The Metro Nashville Education Association, the local teachers’ union, has historically been quick to criticize TFA’s track record. Erick Huth, vice president of MNEA, has some concerns about Metro’s plans to increase TFA’s presence.

“It’s a very expensive proposition to hire Teach For America candidates,” Huth said.

“As teachers entering the workforce on a non-traditional license, they do tend to have more support than other teachers who come to us. So that is a benefit,” he added. “The real disadvantage from the perspective of existing employees is that there’s a sense that Teach For America candidates tend to receive preferential treatment in the district.”

Huth also questioned TFA’s history of offering teacher diversity in Nashville. “TFA candidates coming to the district tend to be fairly Caucasian when compared to the regular teaching force, and certainly much whiter than the student population,” he said.

14 Comments on this post:

By: spooky24 on 2/14/12 at 6:27

Don't you just love it when the Metro Nashville Education Association makes claims such as "We don't want to upset the balance we have achieved in Metro"


" We have the worst school system in the south and we, as a union, want to keep it that way"


By: Daisycutter47 on 2/14/12 at 7:07

Let me "diversity" is more important than effective teachers. In a failing school district, Erick Huth, the poster-child of "diversity", feels that TFA is "too white". His obvious unionist, racist, and heterophobic stance contributes to the failure of Metro Schools. Good parents, who are rare in MNPS, shouldn't care who is teaching their kids, as long as they are learning what they should, as they should, successfully.

MNEA has brought MNPS down with them over the past 30+ years. Huth wants to continue that dive to the bottom.

By: Loner on 2/14/12 at 7:38

Union busting by another name....scab labor with reduced qualifications results in a more docile work force...not better education.

In education, you get what you pay for...and in Nashville, the emphasis is on CHEAP.

By: BigPapa on 2/14/12 at 7:54

"TFA candidates coming to the district tend to be fairly Caucasian when compared to the regular teaching force, and certainly much whiter than the student population,” he said"
WOW- playing the race care THIS early into the process.. shameful.

Loner you think things are great in Nashville schools and we should just continue doing the same thing??? Everything has to be on the table... E V E R Y thing.

By: govskeptic on 2/14/12 at 7:56

In this instance Union busting is the best possible choice. They have stuck
this system with far too many employees on all levels only interested and
qualified to get a check, not do what is required within Education! Erick Huth
is a prime example of the attitude and values the TEA has delivered over far
too many years!

By: BigPapa on 2/14/12 at 7:58

Can you imagine if this were turned around and let's say these Teach for America kids were black and a school official said the something like "They tend to be much too black, more minorities than are in our district." We'd have ever racebaitor from Jesse J, Rev. Al, Ophra, and ever major news channel and grand standing Hollywood celeb looking to get face time to denounce such backward thinking.

By: Ask01 on 2/14/12 at 8:01

First, let's realize not every student will, nor should, attend college. Sorry, but from my perspective, that is the way life works out. We, as a society, will be better served I believe, if we ensure every student receives a solid education in the basics. Usable, life oriented math skills, basic english communication skills, a knowledge of scientifc principles applicable to everyday living, an appreciation for world and American history, warts and all, and most importantly, human ethics; how to treat people.

I am not anti-college or anti-education, but I have the inpression so much emphasis is placed upon getting students ready for college, many of those who cannot keep up or are not college bound, are left behind, lose even more interest and drop out or leave school lacking basic skills students would have learned even 40 years ago. Yes! It is wonderful high school students graduate with college level knowledge of physics, calculus, and other, what for my generation were considered very advanced subjects. But have we lost something along the way? Push those with potential as far as they can go, but at the same time, do not neglect or belittle those who will do the grunt work and keep society functioning.

All the degrees in the world are fairly useless without life experience. No true, I am wrong. When society falls apart, you can light your degrees to build a fire while I clean and dress the wild game I caught, and our friend harvests the crop he grew.

One last thing, then I must take my blood pressure medicine and prozac, that comment about "fairly Caucasian" and "much whiter" is blatantly racist to me. Imagine had I ever said something to the effect of 'fairly African" or "much blacker." The politically correct police would be calling for my head and I could even, in today's climate, see myself sentenced to some sort of sensitivity training. (I'm afraid I would have to go to jail, as I am tired of all the governmental, judicial, and legal nonsense I see surrounding me.)

By: LizzyD on 2/14/12 at 8:42

Loner, you are correct.

From one who knows.

By: East37206 on 2/14/12 at 10:08

It's very expensive to our city when we fail to have excellent teachers in every classroom. If TFA is part of that solution, albeit their teachers are here on average 2-3 years, then so be it. As a taxpayer, I'd rather pay for great teachers who leave after 2-3 years than for a crappy one to be in a classroom for 1 semester. There are a lot of great teachers out there in the MNPS system. But there are also some pretty bad ones.

MNEA is too quick to criticize...what have they been doing lately to improve the corps of their teacher-educators? Especially the bad ones they stand behind and try to protect.

I very much want MNEA to be a part of solving the challenges facing our public school system, maybe they ought to try to work with TFA in some way...the two organizations could teach each other a number of things.

By: localboy on 2/14/12 at 11:02

Ask01: two words for you - trade schools.
If one of my children came to me and said 'I want to be a plumber...electrician...machnist...' man, I'm there.

By: localboy on 2/14/12 at 11:04

obviously, the children would want to follow in my footsteps and become a professional speller. ;)

By: BigPapa on 2/14/12 at 12:44

MNEA isn't about doing one thing to help education, it's only about protecting the union.

By: Balo on 2/14/12 at 7:30

I am not familiar with TFA and their results of this program. However, I am familiar with outstanding leaders and the MNEA is void of such.

By: djarrell on 2/15/12 at 6:40

A. I'm a "highly effective" teacher.
B. I went to Pitt for my teaching degree.
C. Hire more graduates from the University of Pittsburgh.

If A = B, and B = C, then A = C.