The Buffalo Board of Education is expected to vote on a resolution Wednesday that would allow the district to hire up to 30 Teach for America teachers each year for the next three school years.
The national organization, which failed to gain traction in the district last year, recruits recent college graduates and other professionals to teach for two years in poor, inner-city and rural school districts. Teach for America has pledged to find recruits who could apply for positions that are normally difficult for the district to fill. The district would pay their salaries and a fee to the organization.
“It’s another source of highly qualified leadership talent for the district,” said local Teacher for America representative Katie Campos.
The resolution appears to have the support of a majority of board members, but the Buffalo Teachers Federation and other district teachers have criticized the program, saying it’s costing the district money to pay for underprepared teachers who have very limited training and who will contribute to the district’s already high teacher turnover rate.
“I think it’s a big mistake,” said BTF President Phil Rumore.
Campos contends that the program offers a more diverse teaching pool than the BTF currently has, provides continual one-on-one coaching for its teachers and sees a better retention rate than new teachers in urban districts after the first year.
All Teach for America corps teachers would be BTF members subject to the union contract. Both representatives of the district and the organization stressed that while Teach for America will provide 30 candidates for the district to interview for new, vacant positions, recruits would receive no preferential hiring treatment.
“Our corps members will have to earn their spot, just like everybody else will,” Campos stated.
Darren J. Brown, human resources administrator for the district, agreed. “We’ll use the same questions, the same rubrics, everything,” he said.
In exchange for Teach for America recruiting, training and providing the teaching candidates for hard-to-fill vacancies, the district would pay each Teach for America teacher the same starting salary as a BTF teacher, and pay the nonprofit organization up to a $5,000 fee for each recruit hired.
M&T Bank has pledged to cover the fee costs for the 2014-15 school year. But over the course of the three-year agreement, the district would be required to pay up to $450,000 in payroll costs for those teachers. Some of this cost is expected to be covered by federal grant money.
The fact that the district would pay Teach for America for recruits bothers some district teachers, many of whom remain skeptical of the organization.
“We have no shortage of teachers here,” said Isabella Keegan, a 17-year Buffalo school librarian. “We don’t need to pay for Teach for America teachers who have no experience. We can’t recruit somebody who’s qualified?”
She called the School Board’s willingness to partner with Teach for America “extremely insulting to our young teachers who have gone through our undergraduate and graduate programs and have been working with young children.”
Brown responded that the district does have a shortage of well-qualified teachers in areas such as science, math, English-as-a-second-language, and secondary special education. Recruits from the corps would need to show they have degrees and expertise in hard-to-fill specialties. “We can find teachers everywhere,” Brown said, “but we’re looking for quality teachers.”
Teach for America provides a five- to six-week course in teaching for college graduates over the summer, though they receive additional professional development during the school year, Campos said. Most do not have permanent teaching certification but must earn their master’s degree within two years of district hiring.
Many recruits do not continue to teach in the classroom after their contracts expire, leading to criticism that the program’s main value is “résumé padding” for college grads destined for other jobs.
According to the group’s 2013 alumni snapshot, only 15 percent of its members considered teaching a career prior to their Teach for America experience. After participating in the program, a third of alumni remain classroom teachers. Campos, however, stated that 63 percent stay in the education field in other positions.
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