Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.

MinnPost's education reporting is made possible by a grant from the Bush Foundation.

U of M, TFA reach first-of-a-kind teacher-training deal

The new teacher-training program will take place at the U of M and will last eight weeks instead of TFA’s customary five.

The University of Minnesota and Teach for America-Twin Cities Wednesday announced an agreement to develop the state’s first alternative teacher preparation program. A first-of-its-kind for both organizations, the training program is expected to welcome its first 40-member cohort next summer.

MinnPost photo by Beth Hawkins
Crystal Brakke

“It’s an opportunity to bring more people who are committed to the profession into teaching,” said Jean Quam, dean of the U of M’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD).

“We can truly take the best of what each of us knows,” said Crystal Brakke, head of TFA’s local branch. “We can really tailor what we do here and allow our folks to have more time getting situated.”

TFA recruits top college graduates, gives them intensive training and helps place them in high-poverty schools. It was started in 1990 but arrived in Minnesota in 2009. Since then, 220 corps members have been hired by 100 Minnesota schools, including Minneapolis Public Schools.

Eight weeks instead of five

The Twin Cities program will be the first in which TFA’s summer training is conducted in collaboration with a university. The new program will take place at the U of M and will last eight weeks instead of TFA’s customary five.

The recruits will continue their relationship with the university throughout their two-year commitments to TFA with on-the-job coaching and support during the day and coursework nights and weekends. They may apply the academic credits earned toward a master’s degree. 

(Learning Curve’s standard Kramer disclaimer: TFA’s national Co-CEO Matt Kramer is the son of MinnPost CEO and Editor Joel Kramer. Matt Kramer’s wife, Katie Barrett Kramer, is a TFA alum, as is his brother, Eli. Eli’s wife, Jessica Cordova Kramer, works for TFA. None of them were involved in the preparation of this article.)

Article continues after advertisement

The announcement puts to rest months of tension over the future of Teach for America (TFA) here. Last spring, Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a $1.5 million appropriation that would have enabled the program’s expansion.

Weeks later, the state Board of Teaching ended an arrangement that had smoothed the process for placing recruits, known as corps members in TFA parlance, in local classrooms. Prospective teachers were forced to appeal individually to the board quite literally days before they were to begin working, making it uncertain whether the schools that hired them would start the year fully staffed.

Conditions of ‘alt cert’ law

The teachers were eventually permitted to take their jobs, but the board made clear that it wanted TFA to move forward with creating an alternative preparation program. In part as a concession to Education Minnesota and the state’s existing teacher colleges, the 2011 “alt cert” law that created the nontraditional pathway to licensure requires applicants to work in conjunction with a university for five years.

TFA was already in talks with the U of M about the possibility of a partnership. A number of teachers’ union activists and graduate students began pressing the university not to move forward with the relationship.

News of the agreement drew a tart response from Education Minnesota, whose new president issued a statement questioning the need for the program.

“The University of Minnesota appears to be designing a new training program for TFA, with more instruction time and higher standards than what TFA uses around the country,” said Denise Specht. “We’re hopeful this more rigorous approach will improve the effectiveness of TFA corps members, because research has shown they have typically been less effective than traditionally trained teachers.”

New research results positive for TFA

A mounting body of evidence suggests that in fact TFA corps members do as well or better than their counterparts. A study released last week by the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education found that students taught by TFA middle- and high-school math teachers make an average of 2.6 months more gains than even their more experienced peers.

Under the terms of the agreement here, TFA’s recruits will pay a fee to the U of M for the summer training, which the university will use to conduct research into what is most effective when it comes to alternative teacher training.

“I am really excited that they want to do intense, rigorous research,” said Brakke. “In what can feel like a divisive environment about education and teachers and schools, I’m really hopeful that this collaboration between the university and TFA, as people who care about kids, can be a model.”