The Republicans didn’t get what they wanted from Shutdown, but TFA did

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Three weeks and $26 billion later, the Republicans didn’t get what they wanted, but Teach For America did. A little teaser from the upcoming 2013 NEPC TFA brief:

TFA also wields significant political influence. Numerous TFA alumni have left the classroom after their two-year commitment and are positioned in influential roles impacting educational policy— from local and state school boards to Capitol Hill. TFA also spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying for government appropriations and public policy that is friendly to the organization.

I wrote about how TFA, Michelle Rhee and other were seeking to limit the Teacher Quality for ELL students and how TFA alumni had spoke out against it in the post Battle for California: TFA Civil War, ELLs, and Teacher Quality. TFA lost in California on that issue (See V for Victory: Teach For America, ELLs, and California). But maybe they actually won because TFA has 782 corps members in California, second most in the nation to Texas. However the outcome was different for Teach For America in DC yesterday. Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post wrote:

Unobtrusively slipped into the debt deal that Congress passed late Wednesday night to reopen the federal government after 16 days and allow the United States to keep borrowing money to pay its bills is a provision about school reform that will make Teach For America very happy.

In language that does not give a hint about its real meaning, the deal extends by two years legislation that allows the phrase “highly qualified teachers” to include students still in teacher training programs — and Teach For America’s  recruits who get five weeks of summer training shortly after they have graduated from college, and are then placed in some of America’s neediest schools.

On page 20 of this bill passed by the House, it says:

SEC. 145. Subsection (b) of section 163 of Public 5 Law 111-242, as amended, is further amended by striking 6 ”2013-2014” and inserting ”2015-2016”.

The law that is being amended includes the highly qualified provision, which Teach For America and other school reformers had persuaded legislators to pass a few years ago.

Under No Child Left Behind,  all children are supposed to have highly qualified teachers, school districts are supposed to let parents know which teachers are not highly qualified, and these teachers are supposed to be equitably distributed in schools. They aren’t. It turns out that teachers still in training programs are disproportionately concentrated in schools serving low-income students and students of color, the very children who need the very best the teaching profession has to offer. The inequitable distribution of these teachers also has a disproportionate impact on students with disabilities.

It’s not entirely clear who got the provision into the debt deal legislation, but a good bet is Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the Senate’s education committee and who is a big Teach For America supporter. So is the Obama administration, which has awarded tens of millions of dollars to TFA over the past several years. Administration officials have never offered a public explanation about why someone with five weeks of training should be deemed “highly qualified.”

Stephanie Simon at Politico reported:

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, chair of the education appropriations subcommittee, led the push to use the bill reopening government and lifting the debt ceiling as a vehicle for renewing a provision that defines teachers still in training as “highly qualified” under federal law.

The renewal was opposed by a coalition of nearly 100 civil rights, union and educator associations. Members said they were stunned to see it in the budget bill, especially given that Congress has not yet received data it requested last year analyzing whether the novice teachers are disproportionately assigned to schools serving poor and minority children…

Teach for America, which relies on its teachers being certified as “highly qualified” to place them in classrooms across the country, has been a big supporter of renewing the definition. Spokeswoman Takirra Winfield declined to comment on TFA’s lobbying efforts or any last-minute push to get the renewal in the budget bill…

Valerie Strauss also wrote:

Congress first approved legislation allowing student teachers and others with little training to be deemed “highly qualified” in late 2010, shortly after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the definition violated NCLB. In 2011 a coalition of  more than 50 organizations — including education, civil rights, disability, student, parent, and community groups – urged Obama in this letter not to keep the definition, but it did anyway.

Another letter was sent to President Obama last May by a long list of organizations asking the administration for a “state-by-state picture on the number of students in certain subgroups being taught by teachers-in-training through alternative routes to certification.” This data is required to be produced by the end of this year but the U.S. Department of Education has not yet collected the statistics, according to Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Zeichner calls the “highly qualified” teacher definition approved by Congress a charade on the American public. Read why here.

Hegemony.

Interesting fact for the day? Did you know that Pre-K is 1412% more effective than Teach For America? This and other interesting information and research about TFA will be released soon in the new 2013 NEPC TFA brief. For the 2010 NEPC TFA brief see the post Teach For America: A review of the evidence (The research that TFA loves to hate…) For all of Cloaking Inequity’s post on Teach For America go here.

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Categories: Teach For America

Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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9 Comments on “The Republicans didn’t get what they wanted from Shutdown, but TFA did”

  1. October 17, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

    The saddest thing is the HCF because most haven’t even read it and it is just a bad bill. This is the crux of what was going on here.

  2. Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.
    October 17, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    This is personal:

    I’m a “highly qualified teacher” and I work in a CA at a rural small necessary high school. I know what it took to upgrade my credentials after moving here from Louisiana to CA in 2001. Even with advanced degrees and many years of teaching experience when I arrived, I found that going the standard teacher route to upgrade was not automatic!

    Five weeks in the summer, coupled with two years teaching- and out; and, then having significant influence in education is an outrage!

    Granted, some in TFA may have gone back to school for advanced degrees- so, it’s complicated.

    But, designating TFAers as “highly qualified teachers” right from the start is demeaning to those in the profession who actually perfect this art of teaching! Professional “art” in teaching is something that I think takes a minimum of three years and typically about five years.

    Isn’t that, perhaps, one of the reasons that “tenure” takes that long?

  3. Anonymous
    October 17, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

    Thank you for posting this article. This recent decision with regard to TFA is the continuation of a decision that was made three years ago. I know because I was there. Three years ago working in Congress, I attended a meeting regarding the decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to not allow teachers enrolled in alternative certification programs to be considered “highly qualified”. Eventually, we were all called to a larger meeting to discuss TFAs desire for an exception to be made and a request to insert language in the CR to essentially nullify the Court’s decision. I was only in DC for a couple of months at that point and as I sat in both meetings I was completely dumbfounded that the decision was being made with little to no pushback from anyone. When I followed up with one staffer, I was told it was likely that few in the room (nearly all in their twenties) understood what was happening and the seriousness of the decision they were making.

    As I see it, there are a number of problems with TFA, but one of the most significant is their growing power and influence in setting the education policy agenda for the country. No entity should have the power to rollback a decision that would have served the interests of hundreds of thousands of students, particularly students of color, the very students TFA purports to serve. The moment that I witnessed all of this go down, was the moment I knew I would not stay in DC and instead decided to pursue a career in education policy research. I still look back with regret that I never said anything. Maybe this is a small offering to say I did.

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