Bringing 30 new teachers – including three black men, a demographic woefully underrepresented on the staff – into the Buffalo Public Schools this fall might seem like a good idea.
But the Buffalo Teachers Federation says the program supplying these new instructors is “fool’s gold” and “detrimental” to students and the district.
Last month, the School Board unanimously approved a $150,000 contract extension for Teach for America to operate in Buffalo for another three years, until 2019. The national organization trains and recruits recent college graduates and professionals to teach in poor districts.
All of the teachers brought to Buffalo through the program - 40 percent of whom identify as people of color - will be members of the BTF. And all are state-certified in high-needs subjects like English-as-a-second-language, teaching students with disabilities, and science, said Executive Director Katie Campos. The recruits must commit to teaching in the district for at least two years.
Teacher turnover in Buffalo Public Schools is a “root problem” in general, and particularly high in low-performing schools, Campos said.
“How do we support teachers in such a way that they feel successful, and they feel supported and want to stay teaching?” Campos said. “That is the problem that’s plaguing the district now, especially in our highest-need schools. These are the schools where teachers are not staying.”
But union President Philip Rumore says Teach for America is not all that it’s cracked up to be and said he will ask the board to reconsider its approval based on information he provided Superintendent Kriner Cash in a June 30 memo. That memo included studies showing that students “of uncertified teachers, including TFA teachers, did less well on academic tests” than comparable students taught by traditional teachers.
While Teach for America teachers are state-certified, it’s not the same type of certification traditional teachers earn, Rumore said.
“Regular teachers must complete at least four years of college, plus other requirements that the TFA candidates do not have to get,” Rumore said in a phone interview. “They just go through five weeks of training, They don’t have anywhere near the training and coursework that a regular certified teacher has.”
In his memo to Cash, Rumore said “not only is Teach for America analogous to fool’s gold but it is also detrimental to our students and district.”
In a school district where black and Latino students make up about 67 percent of the enrollment, only 9.1 percent of the 3,608 teachers are black, and 4.3 percent are Latino. In contrast, 85.4 percent of the teachers are white.
Teach For America touts itself as a way to secure more minority representation in the classroom, Rumore said. But he questioned the program’s benefits, arguing that the teachers receive minimal training and don’t stick around beyond the required two years.
“Approximately only 20 percent of the Teach For America teachers remain in teaching and even less remain in the district in which they taught,” Rumore said in his memo. In addition, TFA members receive only five weeks of training to be a teacher. And the school district has to pay TFA about $5,000 for each teacher.
Rumore even questioned the benefits of the three new black male teachers because they likely will not stay in Buffalo.
“They just don’t last, and they don’t have they experience. We need people who are committed to staying for the long term,” he said.
Instead of relying on Teach for America, district officials should focus on “growing our own” teachers if minority representation is the focus, “and it should be,” Rumore said.
He theorized about a program that would provide full scholarships to SUNY Buffalo State for individuals who want to go into teaching. The caveat is the candidates would have to commit to teaching in the Buffalo Public Schools for five years.
“Home-grown. Then we get kids from Buffalo of all various races, who make a commitment to stay home and teach,” Rumore said.
“We don’t want these musical chairs… I don’t blame them,” he said of the 30 new TFA recruits coming to Buffalo for the 2016-17 academic year. “I blame the program.”
But Campos argued that its teachers are qualified and that admission into the program is highly competitive.
“About one out of 10 who apply, get in. So the quality of people who get in is really high,” she said.
Teacher training - which is “pretty intense” - is the organization’s “bread and butter,” Campos said. TFA provides professional development once a week as well as ongoing coaching in which someone observes the classroom and gives feedback to teachers. Professional development workshops also are held four times a year on Saturdays.
“On top of all that, they’re earning their master’s of urban education,” Campos added.
About one third of the 43 Teach for America teachers - including the 30 new ones, who will start in the fall - already have earned their master’s degrees. The rest will be enrolled in a master’s program at Canisius College, she said.
As for teacher retention, Campos pointed to the first group of Teach for America teachers in Buffalo who just completed their two-year commitment. More than half will remain in Buffalo.
“Eleven of the 13 are staying in education,” Campos said. “And eight of the 13 are staying in Buffalo to teach.”
Nationally, 85 percent of Teach for America teachers keep working in underserved communities; and about 75 percent remain in education but not necessarily in urban education, Campos said.