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Cloaking Inequity: 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.


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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Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is the Dean and a Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation at the University of Kentucky College of Education.

In addition to educational accomplishments, Julian Vasquez Heilig has held a variety of research and practitioner positions in organizations from Boston to Beijing. These experiences have provided formative...