First it was former Superintendent Pamela Brown, now it’s teachers union President Philip Rumore. Their common affliction: Kicking away the help that the Buffalo School District clearly and desperately needs.
Brown adamantly refused to make use of a national expert on educating immigrants and English language learners, which is a constant and ongoing challenge for Buffalo. Her problem seemed to be ego.
Rumore’s motivation is uncertain, but he has turned against an innovative and useful program that helps to bring teachers into a district that has trouble attracting and retaining them. Teach for America is a national organization that trains and recruits recent college graduates and professionals to teach in poor districts.
It’s an obvious match, and its continuation here will be a test of the loyalties of the newly elected School Board.
Last month, under its previous majority, the Buffalo School Board approved a new $150,000 contract with Teach for America, bringing 30 new teachers here for another three years. They include three African-American men, a demographic that is woefully underrepresented in a district with a large African-American student population.
Yet, Rumore wants nothing to do with it, complaining that the teachers don’t have the same training as the district’s traditional corps of instructors. That’s true, but also not of tremendous concern, under the circumstances. This eases a significant problem in high-needs schools and it does it now, using teachers who are state-certified and who undergo continuing training.
Rumore’s not-quite-credible logic is that students don’t do as well with such instructors, the teachers lack experience and they don’t stay in the district. What he didn’t say is that Teach for America instructors, although members of the BTF, may not have great loyalty to his leadership. That could be important, given the slim majority with which he won the most recent union election.
What is more, his claim that the Teach for America program is “detrimental to our students and district” is disingenuous. When has he been concerned about that? His focus is the union and his leadership of it. Whatever actions he has initiated that have benefited either students or the district have been merely coincidental.
Still, Rumore has a point in observing that the district should make a commitment to growing its own complement of traditional teachers, including the minority members the district so badly needs. There is nothing wrong with that, and his idea of providing full scholarships to students who commit to teaching in Buffalo for five years is creative and worth exploring.
But there is no reason that pursuing that intriguing idea requires abandoning the Teach for America program. The ideas are not mutually exclusive.
Teach for America provides weekly professional development as well as ongoing coaching and feedback. Professional development workshops also are held four times a year, helping the students earn master’s degrees.
As to Rumore’s complaint about retention, more than half the 13 TFA teachers who just completed their two-year commitment to Buffalo are staying here.
That’s a good record, and one that Buffalo should be eager to claim for its schools. It will be telling to see how the newly elected School Board approaches this issue – beholden to the BTF or creatively looking to improve education in Buffalo. Stay tuned.