Teach for America not right for Cobb schools
by Pete Borden
June 22, 2012 01:48 AM | 1601 views | 12 12 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“Twenty years ago TFA (Teach for America) was, to steal an expression from the late great Douglas Adams, ‘mostly harmless.’ Then about 10 years ago it became ‘potentially harmful.’ Now, in my opinion, it has become ‘mostly harmful.’”

That quote is from an article titled “Why I did TFA, & Why You Shouldn’t.” It was penned in October 2011 by Gary Rubinstein, who worked as an alumni recruiter for TFA beginning in 1998.

The basic premise of TFA was to seek out and recruit outstanding college graduates for two years of teaching in schools where there was a shortage of qualified teachers. It was never intended as a mechanism to supplant and displace qualified and available teachers. When it began, in the very early 1990s, the potential for employment among college graduates was pretty dismal, so recruiting for a two-year guaranteed job was pretty simple.

Under-resourced school districts were eager to tap this new source, based on the premise that any teacher is better than no teacher. With the burden of educating a bumper crop of kids, the logic of that premise is evident.

In Cobb County, the conditions which TFA was created to address, do not exist and have not, in my recollection, ever existed.

Several of the schools and districts to which TFA has staked bragging rights, as being indicative of results and improvement in learning that they are capable of creating, have fallen into discredit as cheating scandals, some involving TFA members, have surfaced in Atlanta, New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston and a half-dozen other large school districts scattered from the east cost to California. As you might expect, Dallas, Texas, where Cobb Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa introduced the program when he was superintendent of the Dallas schools, is one of those areas hit by cheating scandals.

While the extent of the cheating and its impact on test scores has yet to be determined in most of these areas, the mere existence of the cheating scandals most assuredly requires we question the real value of TFA.

Consider that TFA recruits are only required to commit two years to the program. Consider, also, that a high percentage of them are gone by the third year. What then? Do we go out and get some more and come up with another $4,000 each to run them through a generic “five-week boot camp” and start all over with rank rookies? How many times can Hinojosa raise money for this program from the private sector before he dips into the general fund?

There is no definitive peer-reviewed research that demonstrates TFA recruits are better teachers than fully credentialed educators. In fact, the rationale behind hiring unqualified, uncertified people with fewer hours of training/education, for the job, than the state of Georgia requires one to have in order to be a licensed nail technician, is a little hard to grasp. Is not the education of our children vitally more important than our nails?

Why has there not been a letter sent to the parents in the district, stating there is a possibility that their child will be the learning experience of a temporary employee? Much of the TFA recruiting effort touts TFA as a training ground for bigger and better things. Little or no emphasis is placed on teaching as a lifetime career, only as a stepping stone. Are we, as parents, willing to allow our schools and, most importantly, our children to be a training ground for someone with little or no interest, beyond what he/she can personally benefit from the time?

A common sense question to ask those like Hinojosa and Board Member David Morgan, who support this program, is, “What documentable data makes you believe that the TFA candidates have some magic solutions to the problems in our schools, when, in fact, they are just out of school themselves, with little or no education/training for the job we are asked to give them?”

Does it not stand to reason that an experienced and dedicated teacher will have a much better background for teaching our children than a hit-and-run recent college graduate looking for a guaranteed job?

The questions about TFA are legion. Yet our school board representatives seem afraid to ask them. The reasons to forgo it are many. Yet our school board representatives appear afraid to say “no” to Hinojosa.

We, as stakeholders, need to tell our school board, in the strongest possible terms, to stop this fiasco now.

Pete Borden is a retired masonry contractor from east Cobb.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
what can we expect
June 24, 2012
from a school board and super who failed the public with the calendar fiasco, of course they would fail us again attempting to replace veteran, trained teachers with TFAers, when, not if, they pull that off, it will be yet another horrible act. I will never forget the outrageous tossing aside of the far superior balanced calendar, and I will certainly vote against any board member or candidate who would support the use of TFAers
Devlin Adams
June 25, 2012
What prof do you have, besides the wild claim that it saved millions, a claim which nobody has been able to substantiate, that "balanced calendar" was far superior, as you claim?

Barring documentable evidece, it is just an opinion. Obviously enough people disagreed with you to elect three people to repalce it with the "compromise" calendar.
Jim Stoll
June 22, 2012
Ya gotta remember, Pete, how how all this fopaw came down. Hinojosa suddenly appeared in Cobb County with a resume some time after the date for submitting applications had passed. No one had ever heard of him before he showed up. Yet the CCSD Board granted him a three hour interview and then hired him by unanimous vote, with one vote absent.

Now, I spent 37 years in Chicago, back in the days when the mob was still running the numbers racket on the south side, collecting quarters from the po' folks. That was before they put the mobsters in jail and turned the numbers racket over to the states and called is a Lottery.

There was one thing that everyone who lived in Chicago for any length of time learned quickly in those days was was to understand when someone was making him, or them, "an offer they couldn't refuse" It was usually a matter of life or death.

Given the manner in which Hinojosa was hired and the speed in which the deal was struck,I'm as sure as I am of getting up tomorrow morning that the CCSD Board was made "an offer the board could not refuse"

Hinajosa was not hired by the CCSD Board. He was appointed by someone else and the Board Members were made an offer they couldn't refuse" to confirm the appointment or else. I don't know yet who that party,or that group is, but I have some pretty good ideas which I can't include here. If you think about it, I believe you will have some too.

This whole affair, and the insertion of TFA int the mix, is part of a concerted effort to dumb down American kids and to turn our educational facilities into indoctrination centers. That has been tried by others several times in my lifetime,with bad results, I recognized that program when it began, while Sanderson was still here. I't really a national plague and people at high levels in our government are involved.
June 22, 2012
Pete, why no mention of David Banks support of this program also? He voted in favor. Time for new leadership here.
Once again
June 22, 2012
Hate to say this but Pete is right again. TFA is an

an expensive and unnecessary answer for Cobb right

now, but it is possible with continued mismanagement by the board and county office that we'll need it

a few years down the road. Cobb no longer gets the

"picks of the litter" as we did for many years in

the past. There are more and more "greener pastures"

now. Wonder why?
B D Lane
June 22, 2012
I agree. There are many highly qualified teachers in Cobb County who are ready and willing to teach in any school in the county. TFA was meant to train people to work in schools with big urban challenges because these schools were having a hard time staffing classes. There are no schools in Cobb having a hard time filling positions at the moment. None.

Anyway, a human resources guy threw out some insane statistic while I was at an education fair when still in graduate school. He cited something like 20,000 applications for 600 slots two years ago, and I know for a fact that limited contract teachers were all laid off again at the end of 2012. Some of these teachers were very competent, highly qualified educators, but they were the last hired, so they were the first let go. No one counts them as "laid off" because their contracts were "limited." Yet that's exactly what happened to them. And they have more experience than a newly trained TFA person. How are we saying that we can't staff open positions?

Having said this, I went to graduate school with several very hard working, very competent TFA kids. They had made the decision to pursue education to become long-term teachers, and they were great. TFA is highly competitive, so you get a good pool of people. However, I think our entire system should be competitive enough to make the general pool of ALL teachers outstanding. Why don't we focus on doing that?!? Making ALL the teachers coming out of school highly competent? Or making mediocre teachers fail before they ever get their degrees and step into a classroom???

In the short term, however, it seems crazy to say with approximately 20,000 applications lying in a pile for 600 jobs that Cobb can't already produce viable candidates without introducing TFA to the mix.

I suppose the one thing that I would say for a TFA teacher is that if they are completely paid for by private funds, perhaps they will cut down the class sizes for those teachers who are supported by the county? Is that how this will work? Are TFA teachers a stop-gap measure purely to introduce "free" labor into the system? Fine. Sell it that way then. And make sure it stays that way OR tell people in schools with education programs like those at KSU, GSU, UGA that they are wasting their time. Their degrees mean nothing. They will be a part of the 19,200 people who were not hired by Cobb schools while their TFA counterparts get to work.
June 23, 2012
The private funds are to pay for the TFA hiring fee. The district would still be responsible for paying the TFA recruit the same as any new teacher. If TFA were like Americorp, and came in as a teacher's assistant that would be great, but that's not how it works.
"Highly Qualified"
June 22, 2012
Do these "Teach for America" individuals meet the "Highly Qualified" standards that the Federal Government requires?
June 22, 2012
Is the MDJ aware of the excellent cooperative training program between KSU and Cobb Schools? Teachers are interns during their entire college experience. We have just graduated the first group of teachers trained specifically to work with problem students. Again, a program David Morgan pushed. Why not see if this program works before we take away potential jobs from these individuals for TFA? These trained teachers will then take their Cobb provided training right out the door to other districts.
B D Lane
June 22, 2012
I think the question here is not whether the MDJ knows about this program but whether or not the school board does.... :)
Cobb Teacher
June 26, 2012
I had one of these KSU trained educators. This may be an anomaly but she was a complete disaster.
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides