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Teaching Board denies Teach for America group variance, wants individual evaluations

MinnPost photo by Beth Hawkins
The Minnesota Board of Teaching meeting was packed for Friday's decision about Teach for America's licensure variance.

Despite the pleas of numerous education advocates, school leaders, a state senator and even a fired-up grandmother, the Minnesota Board of Teaching voted 9-2 Friday to end a licensing arrangement that has made it easier for Twin Cities schools to hire Teach for America (TFA) corps members.

Unsatisfied that the group’s recruits meet its standards despite evidence presented by TFA and its supporters, the board decided it would prefer to screen each individual potential teacher, a process that will take six to eight weeks.

The move throws into question the ability of the group’s current 43 members to take jobs many already have been offered — and may affect schools’ ability to find replacements before the start of the school year. Many of the schools in question return from summer break the first week of August.

“We will help schools go through he individual licensing process,” Crystal Brakke, executive director of TFA-Twin Cities said after the vote. “We are already talking to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) about what they need to expedite the process.”

Still, it’s unclear whether the schools in question will be able to start with the staff they need. “The worst thing would be classrooms without teachers,” Brakke added. “Some of [the TFA members] have moved their lives and their families to Minnesota to teach here.”

A more detailed look at the issue appeared on MinnPost Friday morning. It includes context and a chronology of the board’s history regarding TFA.

“Forty-six regions around the country are using this program,” said board member Loy Woelber, superintendent of Westbrook Walnut Grove and Tracy Area Schools, right before casting one of the two votes in TFA’s favor. “We’re going to have to justify what we’ve done.”

It was the 11-member board’s second vote on the TFA request to renew a variance that grants temporary teaching licenses to its recruits while they fulfill the requirements for a full license.

In May, with one member absent, it deadlocked 5-5. Assistant Commissioner of Education Rose Hermodson urged the board, which operates independently of the Minnesota Department of Education, to reconsider.

Last year, TFA-Twin Cities had requests for more than twice as many new teachers as it had resources to train and place. This year, it has requests from principals of 14 high-performing charter schools and Minneapolis Public Schools for more.

If the issue before the board was procedural, members’ comments and questions for testifiers seemed more like a referendum on TFA, which has been placing teachers in Twin Cities schools since 2009.

Two years ago, Gov. Mark Dayton signed two laws that would enable teachers certified by alternative training programs to qualify for Minnesota teaching licenses. Typically, licenses are granted only to graduates of teacher programs at approved Minnesota colleges.

The board took months longer than the Legislature anticipated to create a process for complying with one of the laws. It has yet to comply with the other, which was passed two and a half years ago.

“If you don’t like the law, come back to us at the Legislature and ask us to change it,” Sen. Terri Bonoff, a Minnetonka DFLer and one of the laws’ backers, told the board Friday. “This conversation is akin to the Republicans and Democrats arguing in the Legislature, where we pit one side against the other, with traditional teachers against alternatively prepared teachers.”

The state’s largest teachers’ union, Education Minnesota, has campaigned against TFA’s expansion in the state, last month organizing letters and phone calls successfully calling on Dayton to veto a $1.5 million appropriation that would have helped the program meet demand.

Five of the board members — all Dayton appointees — have union leadership positions. Two represent traditional teacher preparation programs, whose  association also has lobbied against TFA.

The two members who voted in favor of the variance request were Woelber, whose seat is designated for an administrator, and Roseville School Board Member Erin Azer.

“This is a ‘Minnesota Nice’ version of union thuggery,” said Brian Sweeney, director of external affairs for Charter School Partners (CSP), the organization that lobbied for the alternative certification laws two years ago. “A lot of people who supported Gov. Dayton over the years feel betrayed today. This is his Board of Teaching.”

(Full disclosure: In addition to the Kramer Disclaimer in an earlier story on the vote noting that TFA’s national co-CEO Matt Kramer is the son of MinnPost founders Joel and Laurie Kramer, Matt Kramer’s wife, Katie Barrett Kramer, works for CSP.) 

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Comments (35)

  1. Submitted by Kevin Slator on 06/14/2013 - 02:25 pm.

    5 weeks to a new career!

    Who needs colleges of education and teaching degrees? With TFA, just 5 weeks and your’re in! Everybody wins! Except the students. Oh, and maybe some real teachers with actual teaching degrees and credentials.

    • Submitted by Emily Sojourn on 06/14/2013 - 04:00 pm.

      To add another perspective to the sarcastic hyperbole…

      My father become a teacher during WWII without a teaching degree OR a license. His eligibility credentials were that he had a college degree…. in anything. He was one of many — they needed teachers.

      He went on to complete his teachers’ degree and then got a Masters’ all the while teaching full time.

      It doesn’t have to be the guaranteed Armageddon you make it seem.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/14/2013 - 04:03 pm.

      Track record

      If American education (and teaching) had a better track record your argument would be more convincing.
      I worked with a state university school/college of education for 40 years — it’s entrenched mediocrity.

      • Submitted by Eric Andersen on 06/16/2013 - 06:45 pm.

        Minnesota education is one of the best in the world

        American education has been mediocre. Minnesota education has been top-notch. Minnesota’s education system is easily in the top ten in the world and by many measures top five. The only countries that are beating Minnesota are the ones who only educate a select few. By the way, in the latest TIMMS study Minnesota outperformed much vaunted Finland.

        • Submitted by Pat Igo on 06/17/2013 - 01:53 am.

          TIMMS study

          I’d be interested to know more about the TIMMS study. What it is, who did it, and how I could get access to it for further review. I’m under the impression that no country outperforms Finland as far is public education is concerned. Education to Finland is what the NFL and major league baseball is to Americans. Minnesota education system among the top five in the world?

  2. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 06/14/2013 - 02:25 pm.


    Once again it seems “Education MN” is more interested in power and control than education.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 06/14/2013 - 02:33 pm.

    Talking Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths

    At a time when our “conservative” friends have so recently pushed hard to create a state test and state standards to be sure our current and incoming teachers are actually qualified to teach,…

    and implied that many of them are not, or are no longer,…

    it seems hypocritical for some of the same people to now be complaining that the MN Board of Teaching requires that ALL teachers approved to teach in MN should meet the same routine standards that our conservative friends have so recently thought were not even high enough and wanted to RAISE.

    It is unfortunate that there is now a tight time bind for the TFA teachers to meet these standard requirements for teachers in Minnesota, but such a time bind is not insurmountable. I suspect most, if not all, will find a way to do what’s required.

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/14/2013 - 11:09 pm.

      But perhaps

      At a time where our present system fails so many students

      and districts replace science teachers with English teachers based on tenure

      especially when we just removed the basic standards for graduation

      it seems odd that districts have had to wait so long for the Board to act

      so that students who now have no standards to meet may be taught by people who meet certain standards, but may not necessarily be qualified to teach.

      • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 06/15/2013 - 07:53 am.

        I Would Be Fascinated

        to know in what district a science teacher was replaced with an “English teacher” based on tenure.

        If this occurred, it is likely that the “English” teacher had at least a minor in science education since most districts grant tenure only in areas for which a teacher is certified and licensed. Such things have been known to happen in very small, rural schools where smaller student bodies necessitate that teachers teach in multiple subject areas and even administrators teach some classes, but even in these cases, those who teach in a subject area generally have at least a minor in that subject. I have been aware of a very few cases where a willing teacher has taken on a subject in which they did not have a minor but that only occurred in cases where teacher layoffs had left that small district with no teacher qualified to teach that class and the only other choice would have been not to offer that class at all. Back when I was teaching the State Board of Teaching would grant temporary certification for such teachers, but those teachers had to pursue summer and evening courses in order to work toward an educational degree in that subject with a time limit imposed on how long they would be licensed without that degree. Some smaller districts have hired pincipals and superintendents on the same basis.

        Of course we also need to remember that the lack of adequate funding for education has necessitated layoffs and the shuffling of teaching staffs all over the state. It’s not school boards, teachers nor administrators who have chosen to de-fund public education and force teacher layoffs.

        And finally, students will continue to have standards to meet, even without the endless standardized tests originally necessitated by NCLB. They will even still have standardized tests, but at what grade levels and what frequency those tests occur and what the standards for graduation will be will be determined by local school boards in consultation with their community(ies).

        Meanwhile the endless drilling of students to prepare for tests so that their school would exceed the previous year’s scores so as not to be declared a “failing school” a system which had no end point; no point where adequacy or excellence could actually be achieved, so that a school which had perfect scores for all students would be a failing school with the same perfect scores the next year because it had not made “adequate progress,”…

        endless drilling which crowded out field trips, art, music, and other types of enrichment activities which tend to keep a wide variety of students interested and engaged in school, both those with less common learning styles and those with above average intelligence, with VERY negative effects – indeed “failing” those students in very substantial ways,…

        will hopefully now begin to re-enter the school curriculum.

  4. Submitted by Joy Anderson on 06/14/2013 - 03:59 pm.

    This is absurd. Let them teach. Get rid of extra bureaucracy.

    I am a life-long union teacher. Most teachers are doing their best with their students and I appreciate having a union that represents me. I have taught with TFA teachers and I have learned some great new ideas from them. I have seen what the union wants me to say through their emails to teacher members, and I disagree with it. I have been nothing but impressed with these young, ambitious teachers. Our students are learning a lot.

    I’m not sure what the union fears. The principals are the ones who decide to hire a teacher, so why can’t the waiver be granted? It just allows the principal to choose and eliminates extra the bureaucracy.

    So, basically the board voted for extra bureaucracy? I thought they were supposed to support good teaching. The members are clearly misinformed and are not willing to be independent thinkers.

    I’d invite any of them to come to our school (or any other Minneapolis school with TFA teachers). You’ll see quality instruction from all the teachers, in my opinion.

    I went through a typical teacher training program a long time ago, and I have no concerns about what I have seen with the level of TFA preparedness, which is on par (or better) than other new teachers I’ve seen in our school.

    As a democrat, I am disappointed in Gov. Dayton, and I’m especially ashamed of my union today.

  5. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 06/14/2013 - 04:58 pm.

    Absurd that it was even considered

    The fact that anyone even considered letting TFA recruits and their 5 weeks of training be licensed as a group and not individually shows that influence that corporate education deformers and shills like Beth Hawkins have over education policy today. This vote – which should have been unanimous – was a vote for common sense, which is sadly lacking in this debate.

    • Submitted by Joe Musich on 06/14/2013 - 10:54 pm.

      Hybebole ?

      I read this

      Still, it’s unclear whether the schools in question will be able to start with the staff they need. “The worst thing would be classrooms without teachers,” Brakke added. “Some of [the TFA members] have moved their lives and their families to Minnesota to teach here.”

      Did the people who signed up for TFCorpA not know the controversy they were stepping into ?And who’s responsible for that ? Should TFcorpA have had discussions with the new hires? Especially if these good people were recruited. Is TFcorpA a way to save school districts employee expenses and and easy way to for human resources to fire people for questionable cause ? We may never know the answer to these questions because of the convenience of “employee confidentiality” when the questions are asked.

      And Ms Hawkins what is the reason you end your piece with this comment…
      “This is a ‘Minnesota Nice’ version of union thuggery,” said Brian Sweeney, director of external affairs for Charter School Partners (CSP), the organization that lobbied for the alternative certification laws two years ago. “A lot of people who supported Gov. Dayton over the years feel betrayed today. This is his Board of Teaching.” ?
      And the comment is immediately at the end of your work and right before the disclaimer. What was your intention ?

      And finally can we have an honest discussion of alternative licensing ? I don’t see a remark from the people being villified for a postion standing against TFcorpA. Will this ever happen ?

      • Submitted by Pat Igo on 06/15/2013 - 01:46 pm.

        “Minnesota Nice version of union thuggery”

        I suspect the purpose of Ms. Hawkins including the above quote in this very well balanced piece of journalism is because it’s an integral part of what had transpired at the board meeting. It’s factual.
        Governor Mark Dayton’s Administration is a wholly owned subsidiary of Education Minnesota. Minnesota owns one of the highest achievement gaps in the nation. It’s not because of our teachers, our school buildings or money. The blame goes entirely on the control and all powerful Education Minnesota. The only losers of course, in this outcome, are the students. Again. Mr. Brian Sweeney’s quote was “right on”

        • Submitted by scott gibson on 06/17/2013 - 12:19 am.

          You can’t attack Education Minnesota

          without attacking Minnesota’s teachers. They are among the best in the nation (& world) statistically. Stop judging the whole state by the shortcomings (real or imagined) of Minneapolis schools. As has been pointed out, it is hypocritical to call for such short alternative programs as TFA and then turn around and demand more testing/qualifications etc for existing teachers and students. The state of MN is hardly at the back of the pack for innovating in education. We were at the forefront of the charter school idea, open enrollment and post-secondary options programs. There have long been alternate (shorter) licensing programs to fill areas of need such as science and math. TSA is political grandstanding of the highest order. If you want to teach, make a real commitment to it. Stop being a tourist in the profession. There are plenty of quality folks already working to become the next generation of excellent teachers.

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/14/2013 - 11:02 pm.

      Because the present system

      Is doing so well. The Board did what they were (paid/appointed) to do. Common sense, as usual, is in short supply. Rejoice in your victory but demeaning other opinions is, well, so predictable.

  6. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 06/14/2013 - 10:00 pm.

    Board of outmoded teaching

    Sadly, the Board of Teaching s one of the rasons we have such a large gap between students of different races and income levels.

    Time after time, the Board has failed to respond to leg requests – whether it’s for an interdisciplinary license, or another leg request, as the column notes.

    Delay, stall, deny, stall. Not what Minnesota students need. Very sad.

    • Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 06/16/2013 - 07:34 am.

      I’m glad that Joe Nathan finally is revealing his true feelings – he isn’t interested in improving schools – he’s interested in destroying teacher unions, period. What could possibly be the reason for wanting to put untrained neophytes into teaching positions when they only serve a few years?

      Center for School Change? That is a misnomer. Should be Center for School Destruction.

  7. Submitted by mark wallek on 06/15/2013 - 08:55 am.

    Plans ad nauseum

    My old English teacher, a very fine teacher at that, once said that good teachers always look at these varied and politically stained education plans and then go back to doing what works. The “partnership” between education and industry has been a killer for education, which looks more and more like training.

  8. Submitted by Ross Reishus on 06/15/2013 - 09:47 am.

    This union thug begs to differ

    I would like to ask all of our gentle readers this. 19 years ago, after completing four years of UMD collegiate courses, my student teaching (teaching in the classroom) was an additional 10 weeks. In the year before that amidst my other coursework, I had mandatory volunteer work two nights per week in the community of Duluth. From a long list I chose to volunteer at the local Boys and Girls Club. The year before that, I had a 10 week session of 2 days per week observation in a public school. I’m not complaining. It was fantastic. It was all very helpful, eye opening, and important. But in terms of hours of hands on training, you can do the math. Compare that now, to a 5 week preparation for TFA candidates.

    Current student teaching lasts 15 weeks now. That’s all day, not two hours here and there, like in the TFA program.

    Think about this scenario the next time you’re on a plane. Do you want a pilot with 5 weeks of flight time? Don’t worry, there are safeguards against that happening.

    How about your next surgery? 5 weeks sound good?

    Federated Insurance, the mainstay where I live now, trains you for 6 full months, before letting you near their client list.

    To the TFA’s who might be without a job, I strongly recommend you enroll in a four year program if your desire to teach is so strong. Then work in the profession for a solid 10 years.

    To non-certified persons, reporters, legislators, etc. who think they know all there is to know about teaching, I suggest the same. Only then can you speak with any credibility. Until then, you only serve to wreck one of the strongest school systems in the U.S., which, from all appearances, seems to be the real goal of TFA.

    • Submitted by Sean Boley on 06/15/2013 - 06:41 pm.

      the strongest school system in the US!

      “you only serve to wreck one of the strongest school systems in the U.S.”

      The state with one of the largest achievement gaps is one of the strongest systems in the US?

      I would refer you to this report from the Department of Education:

      It serves to highlight the aforementioned “strong” school system you speak of – with the lowest rates of graduation for Latinos, Native Americans, and African Americans. Oh wait, actually we are only 2nd to last in the African American category (sucks to be Nevada).

      But, I guess you are right. That is, if you are talking about how the school system serves the white, affluent youth of Minnesota. Who, interestingly enough, are rarely (if ever) going to find themselves being taught TFA corps members. So, the 40 some odd TFA teachers aren’t going to have a chance to sully the hard work of the 70,000 other educators in the state. Who, mind you, I don’t mean to sully – as I am sure the majority of whom don’t support the resources Education Minnesota has wasted on this whole thing.

      The bottom line of all of this ridiculousness is this:

      The TFA teachers are hired by school principals (whose job it is to know what is best for the particular students at their school) to teach in their school and pay several thousand more dollars per teacher than a non-TFA teacher. Why would they do that…unless they recognized the value of getting a diverse, motivated, and outcome oriented teacher into a failing classroom?

      If one good thing comes out of this whole nonsensical debate it will be how clear Education Minnesota values the interests of teachers and the status quo over the interests of the students. The lengths that the 70,000 member strong union has gone to get rid of 40 teachers has been truly astounding. Speaking of that, doesn’t the union have an anti-bullying policy?

      Thought so:

      • Submitted by Pat Missling on 06/16/2013 - 01:51 pm.

        measuring motivation

        Why is a TFA candidate considered more motivated, outcome oriented, and concerned for students than any traditional teacher candidate? How are those qualities measured for comparison?

        Is it because they are not thought of as members of a union, so they are not “in it for the money”?

        TFA seems to recognize that benefits attract candidates, and it lists health insurance and retirement benefits at the top of corp member benefits. Those insurance and retirement benefits are not provided by TFA, but by school districts, and they exist because of unions.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/18/2013 - 11:20 am.


          A career teacher is probably not interested just in the money. All those years of education and training could be put to more lucrative use elsewhere.

          What motivates a TFA candidate? A good credential for a future resume, to showcase their commitment to “giving back” to the community? The urge to “make a difference” before moving on to a “real” career?

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/17/2013 - 01:35 pm.

        Gap and education

        I would suggest that the education gap has less to do with the teachers’ abilities in teaching than it has to do with the social structure around education. I’m not sure how you (or anyone else) can make leaps about the quality of education provided and whether or not that education is actually sticking with certain students. Now, before someone lights into me about how I’m simply making excuses for the poor service provided to minorities in this state, hold on. What I’m saying is that you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. The same can be said with students. Not that the students don’t necessarily want to be educated, but there are social and physical pressures that lead to a poor outcome even if a good education is made available. You can’t blame that on the teachers. They can’t make sure their students are properly fed, feel safe in their own homes, make sure their parents are paying attention, or drag them to school by their ears. No amount of relaxation of standards will make those things go away.

  9. Submitted by Pat Missling on 06/15/2013 - 04:33 pm.

    A or B?

    Choice A: Young Minnesotans with the desire to help children and teach as a career – who complete the required degrees in both education and desired subject areas, pass the state required tests, complete months of student teaching that requires them to plan for and teach full days, are hired without the district paying a private organization thousands of dollars, are paid salary and benefits negotiated through a union, are not sought out by big corporations, banks, and Wall Street because of their service and skills gained from 2 years of teaching, and continue their careers paying their own way, without discounts from grad schools, in pursuit of advanced or additional degrees.

    Choice B: Young college grads with degrees in their desired career area – who complete 5 weeks of education training which includes teaching a class 1 hour daily and a small group 1 hour daily, pass the state required tests, continue basic education classes after they begin teaching, are hired with the district paying a minimum of $5,000 per teacher to a private organization, are paid salary and benefits negotiated by the district’s union, are sought by big corporations, banks, and Wall Street because of their service and skills gained from 2 years of teaching, after 2 years get discounts and benefits from grad schools and employers, after 2 years receive $11,000 toward further degrees in education or that initial career choice, and after 2 years are now “experts” in education seeking positions in government to influence education policy.

    Why are those from B considered more noble, energetic, prepared, effective, dedicated – better teachers than those from A?

  10. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 06/15/2013 - 06:29 pm.

    What is it with your verbal tic that makes you put “high-performing” before “charter schools” every time you mention them ??? They are not all high-performing. Not even a majority is “high-performing” ?? And just because a school scores well on reading and math scores doesn’t necessarily make it “high-performing”, whatever that is.

  11. Submitted by Rod STevens on 06/15/2013 - 09:07 pm.

    Schools Captive to the Unions

    This sure seems like another case where a union has couched its own interests as the public’s. What’s really telling here is that five members of the board are union leaders.

    This reminds me of the longshore in the 1980s and 1990s, when the ports had to buy them off to allow new containerized freight handling equipment that made for better service. Are we going to have to buy off the teacher unions as well

  12. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 06/17/2013 - 11:41 am.

    Educational results

    Earth to teachers union –

    1. Urban schools across the US have up to 40% drop out rates prior to high school graduation. That is terrible performance – and amounts to leaving many children behind for lives of struggle. Minnesota could have a mandatory enrollment policy until age 18, which would lower this number, but the education establishment opposes it – too big of a challenge?

    2. US schools compare very unfavorably to those from other countries, in large part because students from disadvantaged students do so poorly in school, despite the efforts of individual dedicated teachers. While teachers are scarcely completely responsible for this sad situation, traditional educational approaches – such as basic K-12 education with a standard three month summer break (a teacher/parent favorite) – get in the way of getting better results.

    3. Teaching is technique and knowledge. Teach for America teachers are high-level learners in their field of study – getting As at elite schools, versus Bs at less selective programs,. Their college selections and performance show that they are serious about education. From the widest range of career possibilities of any college graduates, they generally have competed with scores of others from their schools for these coveted, but low-paying positions. Not all will be well suited for teaching long term, but that is equally true of new teachers from conventional programs, many who drop out of public education within the first five years.

    4. TFA is a two year program, where new teachers need to get permanent assignments. By that time, most have master’s degree and have many, many hours in the classroom. What they have retained is their high level commitment to lifelong learning, something a great teacher needs to stay current in his or her field. They were supported by a structured program where they discussed their experience with teachers working in other schools, rather than working in isolation,so they also tend to be the type of teacher who supports new thinking and taking approaches that have worked outside the building. Finally, when they are hired in public schools, they become union teachers just like everyone else. Their numbers are undoubtedly growing over time, which means that a growing percentage of union members will be TFA teachers. Isn’t it about time that unions start supporting all their members, including those who didn’t come through conventional education program?

    5. When things are not working, how can anyone justify going with the status quo? Don’t we want teachers who are more passionate about teaching, more knowledgeable and excited about what they teach and more open minded about what actually works best in the classroom? Do we want our teachers to more clearly model a lifelong love of learning and the idea that all students, regardless of how humble their background may be, if they work hard and apply their natural talents can reach their goals however high they might be. I think we know enough about education to know that we don’t have nearly enough of those inspiring teachers who most of us remember from our own days in the classroom. We cannot afford to reject the teaching dynamos that the TFA program is producing.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/17/2013 - 01:54 pm.

      Correlation does not equal causation

      1. This is a correlation. Student drop out rate does not necessarily result from poor teaching performance. Please show how they’re related by cause and effect. I’m pretty sure that there’s strong evidence that it’s the lives of struggle that actually lead to the drop out rates, not the other way around.

      2. US does not equal Minnesota. There are wide differences between states, and on average, Minnesota does very well.

      3. Teaching is technique and knowledge. However, I can say from experience that knowledge and technique don’t go hand in hand. I definitely don’t want the majority of my grad school colleagues trying to teach kids. They couldn’t and shouldn’t. What you’re describing to me sounds like a program aimed at benefiting people who want to make their resumes look less self-centered, which sounds entirely self-centered. It doesn’t sound like a good reason to experiment this way with education.

      4. Trust me, you have to really love education to bother to both get a master’s degree and teach. Especially in the sciences. It’s too much time out of your life to be making a teacher’s wage. In any case, if you’re in the sciences and got a master’s degree nowadays, you probably were simply cutting your losses. Most graduate programs in the sciences require that your intent is to get a PhD. “Mastering out” is where you go when you don’t want to finish. While this sort of scheme COULD work, why do we assume that we need a program to sucker people into teaching? Why can’t we work on making the position attractive, instead?

      5. I still have a problem with assuming things aren’t working. What’s not working? Why? Does it really have anything to do with teaching? Or is this something that we universally “know” without any evidence to support it?

      I definitely believe that we need to make our education system better. But I really don’t believe that the problems lie mainly with teaching. Or even with the unions. Granted, FIFO is foolish, but then, so is treating teachers like glorified babysitters that you should be able to reprimand for not treating your child like the precious little snowflake he is. There are far fewer bad teachers than some people would have you believe. There are likely more, at least as a percentage, of bad administrators.

  13. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/17/2013 - 12:45 pm.

    After 30 classroom years

    …and more proposed educational panaceas than I can count, I’m skeptical of TFA as the savior of American education, or the key to eliminating the appalling achievement gap in Minneapolis schools. Most young, freshly-graduated teachers bring energy and enthusiasm to their classrooms. While those are certainly helpful and important characteristics, and I would hope every new teacher, from whatever background, has them in abundance, they are not the quintessential elements of effective teaching. Moreover, and based on the very limited sample of my own observations in person, those first two or three years of work typically do not constitute the best teaching that a person is likely to do, so the energy and enthusiasm don’t necessarily mean spectacularly good or effective classroom results. There’s yin and yang, and that seems to be borne out by much of the research and writing. Along those same lines, much of what I’ve read on the subject suggests that a substantial majority of TFA candidates do not make the commitment to teaching necessary to work at it over the years, improving with each school year and group of kids.

    Yes, teachers and teacher’s unions can be self-serving — just like bankers, plumbers, manufacturers, municipal workers, restaurant owners, stockbrokers, and other occupations with numerous members who are organized to serve the interests of their members. That doesn’t make the teacher’s union evil incarnate, it merely makes it one more group advocating for its members in terms of public and “community” policy. I cannot in good conscience support Minnesota’s teacher tenure system as it’s currently constituted, but that doesn’t make the *idea* of tenure unworkable or somehow a bad thing. It seems a very good thing to me, but with a caveat or two. I spent my career in a tenure-based system, but one where I was evaluated every year, and cause had to be shown in a legal context before someone could be fired once tenure had been granted. That still seems a reasonable combination of protection and responsibility to me — for both the individual teacher and the community being served by the school(s). My career was also spent in a state where it was illegal to place a teacher in a science classroom who did not have at least a science major in college, a history teacher had to have a history major, a math teacher a math major, etc. The “English teacher” example provided by Tom Anderson thus strikes me as a straw man, though I claim no expertise in Minnesota education law, and maybe it’s something that can be done here. If so, the law needs to be changed…

    Beyond that, one of the interesting characteristics of this whole debate is that it misses, I think, a crucial point.

    Much hue and cry surrounds teacher certificating and licensing, not to mention effectiveness, but in the process (readers will forgive the old man his fantasy, I hope), I’ve seen very little attention devoted to the student end of the student achievement gap. It IS “student” achievement over which we’re wringing our hands, isn’t it? Unless teacher training programs all over the state are graduating illiterate thugs with no interest in either children or academics, it’s not “teacher” achievement that’s the issue, is it?

    Assuming my presumption to be correct, why is my learning as a student completely dependent upon your activity, or the lack thereof, as a teacher? At what point — if there is such a point for some of the critics of teachers in general — does learning become the responsibility of the student? If you are well-trained regarding teaching technique, knowledgeable and enthusiastic about your subject, and — for reasons that may have nothing to do with you at all — I refuse to engage in your class or subject, refuse to do assignments or study, or otherwise demonstrate that I’ve failed to learn any significant portion of whatever subject matter you’ve presented in class, to what degree is that your fault? If I make no effort, make no attempt to take advantage and ownership of the educational opportunity being presented to me, why are you being punished, or threatened with the loss of your livelihood?

    I’m not at all hostile to TFA as a concept, and, like charter schools, it seems something from which public schools could genuinely benefit. The problem is that what’s often presented as an aid to public education becomes an attack on it (charter schools being a prime example), to the detriment of one of the few institutions that still makes a concerted effort in democratize the population. A blanket exemption from standards the state deems important for others who’ve demonstrated a willingness to make teaching their career strikes me as both politically-motivated and, in educational terms, counterproductive.

    • Submitted by Tim Milner on 06/17/2013 - 02:45 pm.

      Agree completely

      “At what point — if there is such a point for some of the critics of teachers in general — does learning become the responsibility of the student? ”

      Ray – I’ll take is a step further. At what point does learning become the responsibility of the PARENT to insure that his/her child is in class, is doing their homework, is respectful to teachers,…..

      We ask our teachers to do far too much because we have the mistaken notion that teachers/schools are the determining factor for educational outcomes. The child and his/her parent have far more say in what, if any, learning is going to happen.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/17/2013 - 04:36 pm.

      At the point the child enters the school system, 0% of the child’s life has been spent in school under the supervision of a teacher.

      At the point a child graduates from high school, the child has been in the presence of a teacher for about 15% of their waking hours.

      What is a reasonable expectation for the effect of the 40 or so teachers throughout the K-12 experience of a child in school?

      Seems to me that the other 85% of the time would be a bigger indicator of outcomes.

  14. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 06/17/2013 - 01:29 pm.

    Oh please. There is no meritorious advantage to “elite” schools – just better networking. You get out of an education what you put in. Your comment is an albeit common slander to both students at “non-elite” universities and the schools themselves.

  15. Submitted by Ross Reishus on 06/17/2013 - 05:33 pm.

    Its only ever been about privatization of public schools

    Unions are the biggest hurdle in privatizing public schools. That’s why unions are under siege. When teacher unions go, so will most of the other ones in the nation.

    And then so will go your weekend. National GOP leaders are already trying to talk people out of the 40 hour week, by claiming they can trade their overtime for more vacation flexibility.

    But the only flexibility will be on the management side.

    These issues are all connected. Don’t kid yourselves into thinking this has anything to do with actual education reform. The true reform will be that of the total privatization of all things public, and abolishing all labor rights. That’s right, labor rights. Labor rights exist for union and non-union laborers, but they are fought for, and protected by, unions. Ditching the unions = ditching labor rights for all.

    Rights that American citizens fought AND DIED FOR. The 40 hour week. Overtime pay. Sick leave. Pensions. SAFETY (OSHA laws, etc) all fought for by repressed and overworked Americans who WERE KILLED FOR DOING SO—-and no one went to jail for it.

    While there is certainly room for well researched educational reform, shredding the teacher union has nothing to do with it. Educational reforms, i.e. what, and how we teach, are fully supported by teacher unions, provided the content and methodology come from scientific education research. But “reforms” that start with “teachers are paid too much,” only serve to undermine your reform goals.

    So lets see reform goals that don’t attack teachers. Anything else takes away the legitimacy of your arguments.

    And tell me again how paying a TFA teacher a full teacher salary PLUS $5,000 to the corporate entity….tell me again how THAT is saving schools money? Tell me again how THAT qualifies as education reform? It doesn’t.

    • Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 06/17/2013 - 07:17 pm.

      There’s also plenty of research showing that NO reform in education can be successful without buyin from teachers. So there’s that, too.

  16. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 06/20/2013 - 10:47 am.

    Giving principals options

    No school is required to hire a TFA person – it’s up to the principal. Yet both Minneapolis Public Schools and a number of charter public schools asked for the opportunity to have the TFA option.

    Now the Mn Board of Teaching will require far more time of the school leaders over the summer if they want to hire TFA folks.

    Having been through a Mn College and a Mn University preparation program, and having had close relatives go through another Mn program, I have grave concerns about the quality of these programs. A new national report expresses similar concerns.

    When I student taught in Mn, the two supervising teachers (both coaches) were rarely around. Some some supervising teachers (not all), these two used me to give them more time to spend on other things (like coaching).

    Giving principals options – whether to hire TFA folks or those from traditional colleges of ed – should be a priority.

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