In public education today, there are enduring mysteries like how to narrow the achievement gap, and there are newer mysteries like the enthusiasm for education reform.
There is so much momentum behind education reform that the movement sometimes seems like a train barreling through the country. Teach for America is one of the many cars on that train.
Teach for America (TFA) screens thousands of recent grads from the best colleges and universities, and trains the ones it has selected for about five weeks in the summer. The recruits are then assigned a K-12 classroom, usually in a struggling school. This was TFA’s original mission: to find the best and the brightest for hard-to-fill teaching positions.
This is a two-year commitment and the recruits are paid by their districts a regular teacher’s salary (except that they come with extra expenses like a finder's fee paid to TFA and the costs of having a mentor teacher available, especially for TFA recruits teaching special education students). These recruits are not interns; each is the teacher of record in a classroom.
TFA recruits come in with a conditional teaching certificate and must complete a certification program during their two-year stint. TFA’s head, Wendy Kopp, has written about being "baffled" as to why teachers need campus-based graduate programs akin to medical or law school.
TFA, armed with $50 million from the feds, is now spreading more rapidly throughout the country, placing TFA recruits in districts with no shortage of qualified teachers. Some districts are protecting TFA jobs even as they lay off veteran teachers.
Into the TFA fray comes Tom Stritikus, the dean of the University of Washington's College of Education and a former TFAer himself, with the creation of a partnership between the college and TFA for the recruits to earn their teaching certificate.
A timeline is helpful to tell the UW-TFA story, which has been assembled in part from emails that were received in response to a public documents request as well as from attendance at recent College of Education meetings with students:
Aug. 18, 2010: Not waiting for the official UW announcement that he is to be made dean, Stritikus sends an e-mail to TFA founder and Chief Executive Officer Kopp telling her the news. He says that he would like to create a national on-line endorsement program for TFA at UW, and asks if she would be willing to do press for his deanship announcement.
She replies, "Let’s absolutely see what we can cook up in terms of ways of working together."
Aug. 19: Stritikus presses forward on the TFA press release, writing that "the quote could address that I am first TFA alum to be a Dean of a COE [college of education], what this means for TFA and that she is eager to watch my innovative progress to move the College forward as a leader in innovation."
During the month of September, the UW announces Stritikus as the dean of the College of Education. The Gates Foundation also announces a grant for $2.5 million to establish a TFA Puget Sound office.
Sept. 13: Stritikus emails TFA again about the certification program and says by the end of the month he will have things organized.
Sept. 30: The Seattle Times publishes an op-ed by Stritikus advocating for charters schools and TFA teachers.
Viewing the emails and his op-ed, it seems like, at this point, job one for the new dean was to figure out how to help TFA come to Seattle. But was TFA even coming to Seattle? TFA had already signed a contract with Federal Way but it wasn't a big enough cohort for TFA to place recruits.
Oct. 15: Stritikus lets TFA head Kopp know that Teach for America had been placed on the Seattle School Board agenda in November.
Oct. 26: He sends an email to the regional TFA director, Janis Ortega, and says, "Great work on securing the SPS [Seattle Public Schools] vote."
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