Tag Archives: tenure

25 Years Later, 5 Teach For America Myths Linger

Thousands of Teach For America alumni will pour into DC this weekend for the organization’s 25th anniversary summit. With the spotlight on Teach For America, it’s worth looking at some misperceptions about what has become one of the biggest players in the ed reform movement. Last year at Bellwether we carried out an independent case study of Teach For America’s efforts to scale, including its accomplishments, missteps, and lessons learned along the way. Based on our work, we want to share five myths about Teach For America that continue to linger.

Myth #1: Teach For America primarily recruits white affluent graduates of elite universities.

It’s true that in Teach For America’s early years, a high proportion of the corps hailed from Ivy League universities. As the leadership began seeing the impact of corps members who shared the backgrounds of the students they served—both in the classroom and the broader community—it began changing the organization’s approach to recruitment. Today, nearly half of all corps members identify as people of color, 47 percent come from low-income backgrounds, and 34 percent are first-generation college students.

Myth #2: Corps members are unequipped to teach given that they only receive five weeks of training.

A common criticism of Teach For America is that the summer institute doesn’t adequately prepare individuals for the classroom—and is an affront to traditional teacher prep Continue reading

Why Legislative Words Matter

This one’s for all the aspiring policy wonks.

In Newark, NJ, the superintendent recently attempted to revoke the tenure rights of a group of teachers deemed ineffective. The state has a statute (“TEACHNJ”) of recent vintage permitting such things.

Kind of. Well, at least eventually.

One of the affected teachers contested the district’s decision, and an arbitrator sided with the teacher. It turns out that, in an arbitrator’s estimation at least, the statute technically took effect later than the district contends.

The arbitrator ruled that the statute’s language officially started the evaluations-with-state-mandated-consequences clock in 2013-14, not 2012-13. That means the district has only one annual performance evaluation of the teachers in question, not the two that are needed to invoke the state’s tenure-removal provision. So even though the district’s action comports with the spirit of the state law, this personnel decision was overturned, and the “remedy is reinstatement with full back pay and benefits.”

Because of the exact wording of legislative language, dozens of teachers are either–depending on your worldview–being indefensibly shielded from the law’s clear intent or rightly defended from an illegitimate administrative action.

If this law’s lack of specificity frustrates you, consider Section 5 of this North Carolina statute. So concerned that the state board would use its existing statutory and regulatory authority to procure an unpopular testing system (e.g. PARCC or SBAC), the legislature actually prohibits the board from acquiring any new assessment system until it is given new, explicit legislative permission to do so. The law goes even further, actually naming the kinds of tests that would probably be acceptable, (e.g. NAEP, SAT, ACT).

This is the endless tug of war between legislative authority and administrative discretion. In the former, a district gets its hand rapped for trying to squeeze too much power from what it considers sufficiently permissive language. In the latter, lawmakers craft uber-specific language to prevent the state school board from using its existing power to act against the legislature’s wishes.