How Teach For America recruits get preference for teaching jobs

tfa

This story takes place in Bridgeport, Conn., but the same thing is happening around the country. It’s about how Teach For America corps members are given preference over well-trained teachers in Bridgeport, Conn., where Paul Vallas remains superintendent pending a state Supreme Court decision on a lower court’s order that he leave his position because he doesn’t have the state-mandated requirements for the job.  This was written by Jonathan Pelto, a former member of the Connecticut House of Representatives who now provides commentary on politics and public policy at his blog, Wait What?”, where this first appeared.

By Jonathan Pelto

Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s reform-driven superintendent of schools, revealed this week that he had hired 31 new Teach For America recruits to staff the district’s schools this year.  Few, if any, of the recruits come from Connecticut and none went to a Connecticut college or university to become a teacher.

The TFA recruits come courtesy of a March 2013 deal between Vallas and Nate Snow, executive director for the Connecticut Chapter of Teach For America.  Snow is also president of the board of directors of Excel Bridgeport, Inc. the corporate-funded lobbying and advocacy group that has been Vallas’ strongest supporter, turning out crowds for public hearings and rallies in support of the embattled Bridgeport education reformer.  Snow and Excel Bridgeport also supported Mayor Bill Finch’s failed charter school revision effort that would have done away with an elected board of education and replaced it with one appointed by Finch.

Not only are TFA recruits paid at regular teacher salary levels, but in return for supplying the Teach For America recruits, Vallas committed the city of Bridgeport to pay TFA a “fee” of “$3,000 per year for the first two years a teacher is employed.  According to the contract, the annual fee goes up next year to $3,105 a year and then to $3,214 the year after that. In total, the Vallas/TFA contract calls for the city to hire 125 TFA teachers.  That number would provide Nate Snow’s organization with a finder’s fee in excess of $750,000.

Meanwhile in Windham, Malloy’s Special Master, Steven Adamowski, has packed the Windham schools with more and more of these mostly out-of-state Teach For America students. As a result of Adamowski’s actions, about one in five Windham teachers had just five weeks of summer training – the standard program for TFA recruits — rather than having gone through one of Connecticut’s years-long university-based teacher training programs.

The approach that is being taken by school administrators like Vallas and Adamowski is leaving hundreds of new Connecticut trained teachers twisting slowly in the wind. It was only last May that literally hundreds of Connecticut residents earned their teaching certificates, after four or five years-worth of work, at the University of Connecticut,  Connecticut State University or one of Connecticut’s Independent colleges or universities.

At UConn, for example, students have two different options when it comes to teacher preparation programs including the “highly competitive five-year comprehensive teacher preparation program that integrates coursework and school-based clinic experiences facilitated by university and K-12 faculty in the preparation of pre-service teachers.”

As UConn proudly reports:

Over the past few years, U.S. News & World Report has ranked the IB/M program among the top 25 teacher preparation programs in Elementary Education, Secondary Education, and Special Education. We are nationally accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education as well as the Connecticut State Board of Education. Further, certification through the IB/M program is recognized by forty states through the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education & Certification Interstate Contract.

But did Paul Vallas or Steven Adamowski hire these students or the others who came out of Central, Southern, Eastern, Western or one of the other colleges in the state?

NO!

In fact, the teaching positions that went to the out-of-state Teach For America recruits weren’t even posted as vacancies, meaning Connecticut residents never even had a chance to compete for the spots.

Earlier this month, Malloy told the media that the economy was improving and that he was the only Connecticut governor to have created jobs over the past two decades. Of course his claim wasn’t true…but even worse, he tried to skip over the fact that according to Connecticut’s Department of Labor, “Connecticut’s unemployment rate was estimated at 8.1% for July 2013.” That means the percentage of unemployed actually increased over the summer.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with giving a few Teach For America recruits the opportunity to get experience by teaching in our public schools but administrators like Vallas and Adamowski have been consistently blocking opportunities for our own Connecticut children, students who went to college in Connecticut and developed the expertise and knowledge they needed to teach in our public schools.

Imagine, we have Connecticut students, and their families, who were forced to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to go to college.  They took the right courses, they got the right grades, they completed their teacher preparation programs and they earned their teaching certification.  But when they graduated they discovered that they couldn’t even apply for a significant number of jobs in Connecticut’s public schools because someone had cut a deal to give dozens of those jobs away to out-of-state kids who didn’t even need to take education courses.

Put aside all the issues associated with whether TFA recruits have sufficient training before being sent into the classroom.

The fact is that Connecticut’s economy remains derailed and instead of using every opportunity to create good jobs for Connecticut residents, Gov. Malloy, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, Vallas and Adamowski are setting up systems that prevent our children from even applying for these good paying jobs.

And as if all of this wasn’t insulting enough to the hard-working families of Connecticut, TFA recruits generally qualify for the various federal loan forbearance programs meaning that while getting full teacher salaries their student loans are being paid for by the United States government.

So when all is said and done, instead of creating jobs for Connecticut residents, the TFA program blocks Connecticut residents from getting jobs, gives jobs to people who have not gone through Connecticut teacher preparation programs, diverts hundreds of thousands of dollars in Connecticut taxpayer funds to Teach For America in the form of finder’s fees  and leaves our students with more debt…all while out-of-state students get their student loans paid for by the government for taking away jobs that should be going Connecticut residents who have worked so hard to become teachers.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | August 29, 2013