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Pittsburgh school board drops $750,000 Teach For America contract

Here’s some education news that you don’t hear every day: The Pittsburgh school board is rescinding a $750,000 contract with Teach For America, and keeping open an elementary school slated to be shuttered.

The board’s four new members, taking a new reform tact, drove the decision to drop the contract by a 6-2  vote with one abstention; in late November, before the new members were sworn in, the board approved the contract 6-3.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Danielle Montoya, regional communications director for Teach For America, said the new vote was the first time any school board had reversed itself on bringing in TFA corps members into a district. Earlier this year, however, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a line item inserted into the state’s higher education legislation that would have given $1.5 million to Teach For America over two years.

At a hearing in Pittsburgh last week, some board members took issue with a plan that Superintendent Linda Lane said would add to the district’s teaching diversity. Teach For America is known for hiring non-teachers, mostly new college graduates, and then giving them five weeks of summer training before placing them in high-needs urban and rural schools. Regina Holley, a board member, expressed skepticism at the hearing about how TFA corps members could be properly trained to handle difficult classrooms with so little training, saying, “I find that a bit outrageous.”

The school board also voted to keep open an elementary school, which is way below capacity in terms of student enrollment, that the previous board had agreed to close. The Pittsburgh City Council had called for a moratorium on school closings even though the panel has no authority over the school system or the school board.

Closing schools and hiring teachers through non-traditional routes are big parts of the modern school reform agenda, and the Pittsburgh news reflects growing opposition to it. TFA is an organization that is highly popular with school reformers and the Obama administration, which has given it tens of millions of dollars in federal grants, but a growing number of people, including former TFAers, have been speaking out against its short training and other issues.