Boston union vs. Teach for America

Despite layoffs, Boston is hiring 20 Teach for America newbies this year. The union is furious.

“We don’t need educational mercenaries,” said Keith Johnson, the union’s president. “We don’t feel people can ride in on their white horses and for two years share the virtue of their knowledge as a pit stop on their way to becoming corporate executives. Some don’t last their first year.”

The superintendent says the Teach for America recruits will fill jobs for which no laid-off teachers are certified, such as math, science, special education and English as a Second Language.  The union says a few are assigned to classes that laid-off teachers could handle, such as English, history and elementary school.

In an Urban Institute study that examined North Carolina high schools between 2000 and 2007, Teach for America recruits were found to be more effective than teachers from traditional teacher training schools in boosting student achievement. The report, released this month, attributed some success to the strong academic credentials of the recruits, but acknowledged that many of the recruits teach for only a few years.

Boston has a program to attract non-education majors, the Boston Teacher Residency program, but it’s not producing enough recruits in high-need areas.

About Joanne


  1. Andromeda says:

    Something else that’s worth noting here is that the Boston superintendent is new (within the last year or so); she came here from a place that *does* have TfA.

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    Seems like the union is fearful of the more qualified, at least academically, incoming teachers who generally believe poverty is not an excuse and all children can learn. Even if these kids are only in the schools for two years it might be during that time that these young people touch deeply the lives of one or more students. It may be that interaction that encourages the student(s) to value education and motivates them to stay in school. We just don’t know. We do know the old way of educating teachers is not working. I say good luck to the new TFA and thank you for entering the field of education…

  3. And if it just so happens that those TFAers won’t need to be paid retirement benefits, are cheaper than keeping veteran teachers around, and won’t have tenure so they won’t be asking any pesky questions or seeing any long-term trends, then so much the better.

  4. Stacy in NJ says:

    Mike in Texas,

    What we’re doing now doesn’t work. My local high performing school district spends $11,000 per year per pupil. The Camden school district, not to far from where I live, spends in excess of $28,000 per year per pupil and provides awful results.

    Mike, it’s not about the money. There are plenty of school districts/states willing to pay incredible amounts to improve results for low SES students. We need flexiblity. Yes, from teachers unions, but all so administratively. TFA is one tool.

    You probably need to get used to the idea that the current public school structure is going to go the way of the dodo. That means teachers unions will be weakened.

  5. You don’t understand Mike, Stacey. Mike’s not concerned with the kids, they’ll do OK and really, who cares? Mike’s concern is with the teachers as you can see from his posting.

    The public education system exists to provide employment and the sweeter the deal the better. For the employee. That’s Mike.

    But you are right about the current structure of public education going the way of the dodo and to inflict another metaphor, there are the makings of an avalanche gathering that’ll bring the current regime to an end with a crash.

    Given the current economic situation, with the states looking around for any source of income, and none of any consequence in the offing, they’ll start looking for places to save money.

    Somewhere, some bright, young politician will figure out how to rapidly convert a school district to charters.

    Since charters operate without the services of a burdensome central administration and it’s numerous, non-teaching functionaries whose job is to justify their existence, a substantial amount of money can be wrung out of the budget, relieving some of the pressure to raise taxes at the worst, possible time.

    Since every state is under financial pressure, and education is the largest item in most state’s budgets, look for this event to generate a lot of interest. A lot.

  6. TFA’s mission statement says nothing about being a supplemental teaching corps. The focus is on helping to close the achievement gap, their wording. You can find that mission statement here:

    The referenced study suggests that TFA has made some difference. Although the claims are most positive when looked at relative to other teachers and not to actually closing the gap.

    Another interesting point raised in the TFA mission statement is that they don’t see teaching as their biggest contribution. The direct quote from the above linked mission statement:

    “At the same time, we know that teachers who go above and beyond to compensate for the extra challenges facing children and the weaknesses of the system are not the ultimate solution. We believe that the best hope for a lasting solution is to build a massive force of leaders who have the insight and conviction that comes from teaching successfully in low-income communities.”

  7. do TfA teachers join the union?

  8. Why is anyone shocked? The union cares first and foremost about its own position, and that means looking out for its long-term members. The actions of the unions cease to be at all shocking when one realizes they don’t give a hoot about the students, despite all their propaganda to the contrary.

  9. to be fair, the union president quoted is from Detroit, not Boston. Worth clarifying since that’s not clear from Joanne’s summary.

  10. Allen,

    Don’t forget those burdensome federal and state mandates that drive up the cost of schooling, many of them unfunded.

    As for TFAers, they’re brought in so they can march in step and take their orders without question.

  11. Stacy,

    Hasn’t happened yet, despite my own state’s and Ohio’s long running experiments with charters.

    In Ohio, 58% of charters are in some kind of academic watch/emergency, compared to 10% of the public schools. Whose doing the worst job?

  12. Detroit! There’s a place where education really works. Boy, that’s an impressive credential.

  13. Stacy in NJ says:

    Mike, I have no doubt that some charters are going to fail, even many. I also have no doubt that the ones that survive will continue to embarass their local school district by educating to a higher standard like many of the KIPP schools do. Familes flock to the successful schools. Positive modeling through the competition of ideas, baby.

    I love your narrative of union teacher as the brave truth teller. What truths are they actually telling? That administrators are lazy and incompetent, that parents and communities aren’t adequately preparing or supporting their children, that standardized testing is a waste? I’ve noticed those truths frequently don’t addressed poorly educated and trained teachers, lazy and incompetent teachers. Those truths sound more like excuses to me.

  14. Stacy,

    I’m not a union member, it’s pointless here in Texas where teachers by law cannot strike or collective bargain. Thus, the evil teachers’ union aren’t to blame for incompetent teachers, lazy adminstrator and poorly developed standardized tests.

    You so casually mention schools closing, as if it doesn’t have a huge impact on the displaced kids. As for KIPP, they get to pick and choose among kids and parents who are willing to go the extra mile, public schools have no such option. Any kids, and parents, who aren’t willing to march in step are given the “option” of returning to public schools.

    Give me a school and the power to control who goes there and I could give you all the great test scores you want. In the meantime alot of local kids would be going without an education.

    It amazes me how many people, after witnessing what the Business Model has wrought on our country, wish to turn other people’s kids over to these same crooks to make a nice tidy profit at children’s expense. If you want to put your kid in a school where he/she is nothing more than a buck to them, go right ahead but leave my children and the children of my community out of it.

  15. Do we know that the young teachers being laid off aren’t every bit as good as the TFA’ers? They’d be cohorts. If they had laid off dead wood, I’d see it as an interesting move with the best interest of the students’ in mind, but since lay-offs are done by seniority, they could just be making an inefficient even swap.

  16. Jeez Mike, I thought one of the problems of public education was insufficient parental involvement so where’d all these concerned parents come from that are sending their kids to charters? Whaddya think, did think mysteriously spring up like mushrooms after a rain or have they always existed?

    Maybe it’s just that there aren’t enough concerned parents when their kids are going to district schools but the supply expands substantially when schools come into existence that don’t treat those parents like annoyances?

    Really Mike, if the success of charter schools is dependent on involved parents, where were those parents before those charters opened?

  17. Stacy in NJ says:

    Mike, You have to know that your characterization of KIPP and TFA teachers are convenient stereotypes. Charters, vouchers, KIPP, and TFA are a part of a less than perfect solution to complex problems. They wouldn’t exist if the current system functioned for those most dependent on it. They were created out of necessity.

    While charter school closings do create disruption in students lives, is it any more distruptive then being pushed from class to class, grade to grade in a chaotic non-performing public school?

    And, your comment condeming all business people, I guess particularly business people involved in education, as crooks is also kind of silly. As if our current educational system is any more responsive to the real needs of kids, and union officials, teachers and administrators don’t care about benefits, money and tenure. Self interest motivates even our saintly public school teachers.

  18. Yes, you’re right Stacy. I’m in it for the huge salary, the wonderful benefits and the fantastic workplace.

    My advice is you read up on some of the “reformers”. Michael Milliken served jail time for fraud, Bill Bennett was arrogant enough to write a book called “The Book of Virtues” telling us how we should all live, while gambling and losing several hundren K a year. Neil Bush costs U.S. taxpayers $100 million in the S+L scandals. Rod Paige called the NEA a terrorist organization. Reid Lyon wants to blow up colleges of education. Can’t remember the name of the guy who was head of Reading First, but he cursed real educators who were trying to get their curriculums approved by the feds. Jack Welch, who has the audacity to run a Principal’s Academy having never taught a day himself, has publicly stated that he is not concerned with the discrepancy between the salaries of top-paid CEOs and those of average workers.

    Or maybe they’re just wrong like Bill Gates, whose spent billions dividing large high schools into smaller academies. Luckily the press has pretty much given a him a free ride on that little blunder.

    I’d love to see a comparison on how much we’ve spent bailing out AIG, banks and insurance companies compared to how much we’ve invested in education.

    Yes, that’s a crowd we should be following.

  19. SuperSub says:

    Well… charters, vouchers, and TFA are all different Band-Aids for a system that is obviously breaking down. The universal public school model does not fit today’s culture, and quite frankly, I’m not sure if it can be modified to fit it. The numbers of students coming from families who place no importance whatsoever on discipline, responsibility, and education is increasing. These students are dead weight that pull the rest of the educational community down. No amount of cognitive science or educational psychology can work the miracles needed to slow the growth of this population.

    As for the evils of the business model – there are plenty of evils in government bureaucracies and administrations. The evils have less to do with the model itself than with the state of our society. The same lack of responsibility and discipline plagues our banks, insurance agencies, corporations, charter schools… but also our Congress, White House, state goverments, local governments, and public schools. Our superintendent pushed for a large raise for herself this past summer, and now she is leading the charge for staff to be cut to lowers costs. The kicker? The raise she was able to get for herself would cover one teacher or two TA’s if she returned it.

    Its not so much the design of the system that creates the evils but the individuals who are placed in a position of power over it.

  20. Roger Sweeny says:

    C’mon guys. Mike is right when he says that some charters start out with an advantage because they choose students who are more likely to work, with parents who agree to be involved. KIPP schools do this. Many students who can’t live up to the standards leave a KIPP school while most of those remaining flourish. By “skimming the cream” from traditional schools, KIPP certainly makes the traditional schools worse in the short run.

    On the other hand, many charters do the opposite of cream skimming. They take and keep kids who were going nowhere in traditional schools. There are not many charters where parents are generally satisfied with the local schools (and that is actually most places). Not surprisingly, to quote Mike, “In Ohio, 58% of charters are in some kind of academic watch/emergency, compared to 10% of the public schools.”

  21. Roger,

    So what if they skim? What’s the net result? That kids and parents that want more get more. Yes, the public schools are left with the backwash, but shouldn’t it then be easier to refocus on the specific needs of those kids without all those pesky, demanding high performers getting in the way?

    Many charters are bound to fail because they aren’t necessarily using superior methods. The ones that are are going to stand out. This is a necessary experimental period. The public school systems have been using faddish methods for decades. Why the resistance now? Because those experimental methods, by necessity, threaten entrenched interests. Because those entrenched interests in part are responsible for the continuing low performance.

    I agree with SuperSub said above. What really needs to change is at the molecular level ~ culture. We need to create a space where superior habits can be formed, where certain standards of behavior and values can be expressed and demanded. Unfortunately, it appears politically impossible to do that within the current public school system with its complex, arcane bureaucracy that is resistant to real change and not capable of real leadership.

  22. Roger Sweeny says:

    So what if they skim? What’s the net result?

    I think it is unquestionable that in the short run, those left in traditional schools are worse off. “High performers” are the students teachers like. You need them to provide a balance for the kids who disrupt and/or act like they don’t care. A teacher can “refocus” on the “specific needs” of the people remaining but it won’t do any good if the kids won’t buy in, if the kids don’t have a safe, orderly environment in which school work is valued.

    A lot of classrooms in bad schools are like this even with the presence of potentially good performers. For those students, a charter can be a life-saver.

    In the long run, charters may shake things up positively. They may discover things that really work with ordinary students who are doing poorly now. I think they are an experiment worth trying. But, like just about everything in life, they have costs.

    (BTW, Stacy, when you say “We need to create a space where superior habits can be formed, where certain standards of behavior and values can be expressed and demanded,” you sound a lot like self-described “public education defender” Dennis Fermoyle. He strongly believes that teachers should be able to remove students who will not learn and who keep other students from learning. He and I are both frustrated that our unions don’t seem to give a s— about this, and that “progressive” thought, which pervades the system, is largely against it.)

  23. Mike,
    it sounds as though your grief is with for-profit reformers. Are the non-for profit ones, especially those organized by teachers, with open lottery for admissions ok in your book? How about when they outperform the local schools on a lower budget?

    you raise a number of red herrings and conflate the messengers with the message — but those shouldn’t be confused with real arguments or evidence.

  24. As long as the discussion’s about “skimming”, and note how quickly Mike left that topic behind when presented with a challenge his misrepresentation couldn’t meet, where are those charters skimming from?

    If charters succeed because of motivated parents then district schools should succeed for the same reason; that’s where those motivated parents sent their kids before escaping from the district schools.

    Same parents, different schools, different results. What’s the logical conclusion?

  25. I did a search on TFA and charter schools. Best I can tell TFA does not have partnerships at charter schools.

    I did find the following which was an interesting read:

    Off Topic:

    In regards to skimming, Joanne has previously posted links to at least two studies claiming that charter schools don’t skim. Those studies look at the standardized test scores of those students who enroll in charters and those students from the same public school district who remain in public school. At least in the beginning the charter school students on average have similar or somewhat lower test scores compared to other students. I don’t recall the studies making any claims about what happens as the charter schools gain a reputation for improving academic performance. There does seem to be some variability in the populations studied. Higher scoring white students in poor districts are more likely to join charter schools than whites who score lower. Also the charters studied are in poor districts. I’m not aware of any studies on the impact of schools like Pacific Collegiate in Santa Cruz, CA. This school asks parents for a donation of $3000. Last I looked this school had almost no hispanic students.

    I don’t know of any study claiming that they’ve determined the motivational difference between students who enroll in charters and their peers that don’t. However, if test scores of students reflect on motivation as well then the claims I mentioned above should also hold true for motivation. But if one thinks that public schools are so bad that even motivated students perform poorly, then the question of motivation remains open.

  26. Mike in Texas said, “It amazes me how many people, after witnessing what the Business Model has wrought on our country,,,,,,”

    Forgive me, but the Business Model has not wrought anything negative on our country. The recent economic problems have been brought to us largley via courtesy of the government, the same entity that forces on us the failed government schools that so many of us avoid. Other families should be given the opportunity to avoid them, also.

  27. Andy Freeman says:

    > I think it is unquestionable that in the short run, those left in traditional schools are worse off. “High performers” are the students teachers like. You need them to provide a balance for the kids who disrupt and/or act like they don’t care. A teacher can “refocus” on the “specific needs” of the people remaining but it won’t do any good if the kids won’t buy in, if the kids don’t have a safe, orderly environment in which school work is valued.

    The presence of “good kids” doesn’t make the other kids play nice.

    But, let’s assume that it does. If the good kids provide a valuable service, shouldn’t they be paid?

    Instead, we sacrifice them.

  28. Stacy in NJ says:

    Mike, You offer a plethra of strawmen. Our public schools have a specific job to do. They don’t do it. How do we get them to provide a basic education to all students, not just kids from affluent/middle class families? That’s been the question for 3 or 4 decades. The educational system as it now exists has time and again shown that it’s not capable of solving the problem. Time for a game changer.

  29. Roger Sweeny says:


    On average, the presence of “good kids” does make the other kids play nicer. Sometimes it’s good enough that the the “good kids” get a degree that means something. Sometimes not. In the latter case, they are indeed sacrificed. Self-described “public education defender” Dennis Fermoyle says,

    “I am no fan of vouchers, but if a school system is really bad, I think they are appropriate. I’m convinced that the most common cause of a bad school is not bad teaching or bad administration, but a high number of kids in the classrooms who can ruin learning for those kids who do want an education. I don’t know how any union, any political party, or anyone who cares about education can in good conscience argue that kids who want an education should be stuck in those classrooms.”

  30. Stacy,

    What proof do you have that our public schools are not doing their job and doing it well? According to the CIA world fact handbook, a publication of the US govt., we have a 100% literacy rate.

  31. Roger,

    I thought the article I linked above makes a good point, it’s the level of violence that matters most. High violence situations require nearly sacrificial responses vs. simple good behavior.

  32. Stacy in NJ says:

    Mike, Dig hole, insert head, repeat.

  33. Roger Sweeny says:

    And according to the CIA, there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2001, and the Soviet Union was doing fine economically in 1991.

    Mike, your post was sarcastic, right?

  34. Stacy,

    Where’s your proof US schools are not doing their job of educating children? You spout all the anti-public school rhetoric but don’t back it up with any facts.

  35. Mike, Here I should link to some statistic about high school or college drop out rates, or dismal test scores for low SES schools.

    I live in affluent school district where 90% of the kids test proficient in math and reading. Down the road are failing districts with less than 20% proficiency. We fail to adequately educate those kids who enter the world most vulnerable.

    If you think the status quo is acceptable, particularly for those kids, then so be it. Just don’t expect the rest of us to bury our heads in the sand and continue to employ you.

  36. Here’s a link to the CA data:

    And here is the key to interpreting the data:

    Advanced = 1000 points
    Proficient = 875 points
    Basic = 700 points
    Below Basic = 500 points
    Far Below Basic = 200 points

    So technically only Asian students in grades 2 through 8 are scoring proficient on average. By CA rules if a school scores above 800 it is no longer required to meet academic improvement targets. So by that measure Asian, Filipino, and White students are doing mostly OK on average. Scores tend to drop in high school because fewer students take the tests seriously.

    My previous posts provide links to Fordham Institute reports stating that CA has high testing standards compared to other states.

  37. Since Mike likes to repeat questions I guess I will as well: Hey Mike, where were all those motivated parents when the kids were in district schools? You think maybe the charter operators sprinkled some pixie dust on them and made them motivated?

    Or maybe the vast majority of parents are motivated and the vast majority of district schools have no use for parental involvement if it strays beyond selling over-priced cookies?

  38. Ponderosa says:

    I agree with Mike that there’s nothing inherently better about a private, for-profit organization than a publicly-financed and operated organization. Only ideologues who don’t teach (and therefore probably don’t really understand the matter as well as they should) think that switching to vouchers or charters is the fix we need.
    And I love Mike’s point about Texas being non-union –if unions are such an invidious force, why aren’t Texas schools outperforming all the union states? Most high-performing foreign systems are unionized. Yet the evidence doesn’t seem to make a dent in the ideologues’ conviction.

    Ideologues, do you want to hear from a teacher with 12 years’ experience? Do you grant my testimony a tiny bit of weight? Roger is right that disruptive students are a huge problem. The polite majority of kids (many of whom are low-income, limited English kids) would do much better if we could separate out the disruptors. And, in my opinion, most American schools –public as well as private –are hobbled by a misguided progressive education ideology that denigrates facts, that discounts the importance of imbuing kids’ brains with a large, organized body of core knowledge. If we only had leadership that pushed for a nationwide core knowledge curriculum (the sort that Japan and France have), the hard work that our teachers are currently doing would suddenly become much more effective.

    Ideologues, would you like me, a teacher, telling you how to do your job, or what you need to do to perform your job more effectively? How would you like it if I, based on some ideological principle I held, started confidently dictating to you what you must start doing to reform? And in a snide tone to boot?

  39. Stacy,

    How typical, you know nothing of me or my teaching abilities but yet you wish to show me the door.

    The key of course is your use of the word “affluent”, which it has been shown is what standardized tests really measure. Unfortunately you lack the understanding that NCLB is steadily destroying your affluent school district too.

    Allen, every school has motivated parents. The problem for them is their kids have to attend school with the children of parents who are not motivated, can’t be bothered to be involved with their children’s education and generally don’t give a crap.

    Ponderosa, I have 17 years teaching experience and the “reformers” on this site could care less what my opinion is, since they believe they know everything. I disgree with you in that I don’t think we need national standards. The federal govt. does not have the constitutional right to govern the schools. Its my belief the problem with school is the politicans, mostly Republican, who are out to destroy public education in the name of privatization, and big profits for their friends.

  40. Mike,

    If you’re not a charter/voucher supporter already, then it sure sounds like you are getting close.

    “The problem for them is their kids have to attend school with the children of parents who are not motivated, can’t be bothered to be involved with their children’s education and generally don’t give a crap.”

  41. No, pm I’m not. I have watched for years as politicians have made it more and more difficult for teachers to do their jobs.

    I’ve already expressed my feelings about standardized tests. How about doing a “Joe Clark” on schools with large numbers of trouble causing students? Here in Texas that will cost you big time, as expelling too many students, regardless of the offense, gets you labeled a “dangerous school” and costs you funding.

    How about that “least restrictive environment” for severely disabled kids? The Bush solution was to throw them into regular classes with little support AND require them to take grade level tests (based on their age,not their cognitive abilities). Now you have teachers trying to give standardized tests to kids who can’t read or write, and the schools rating gets lowered b/c these kids fail.

    My solution is to get politicians out of the school business and turn it over to professional educators, not political chums like Paige, Spellings, Duncan, Lyon etc.

  42. > Allen, every school has motivated parents. The problem for them is their kids have to attend school with the children of parents who are not motivated, can’t be bothered to be involved with their children’s education and generally don’t give a crap.

    In the Detroit Public Schools district something north of 20% of parents are sufficiently motivated to send their kids to charters and if the waiting lists are any indication the number of motivated parents would be higher if there were more slots at the existing charters or more charters. In Washington D.C. it’s +30% of parents who are motivated since over 30% of kids go to charters and those charters have waiting lists as well.

    Seems to me there are a lot of motivated parents and one of their primary motivations is to get their kids out of crappy district schools.

    > My solution is to get politicians out of the school business and turn it over to professional educators, not political chums like Paige, Spellings, Duncan, Lyon etc.

    Har! What do you think a charter school is? You know, like the one Joanne wrote her book about?

  43. Mike,

    Well you sure seem to have similar thoughts to voucher/charter supporters:

    “My solution is to get politicians out of the school business and turn it over to professional educators, not political chums like Paige, Spellings, Duncan, Lyon etc.”

  44. Roger Sweeny says:

    Can I be cosmic here? There seems to be a difference of feeling (which makes a difference of opinion) about what markets are. People like allen see them as generally good places, where people express themselves by “buying” what they think is right for them, either directly or indirectly via things like vouchers and charters. They want more markets because they think it means more freedom

    People like Mike see markets as exploitive, where the pursuit of profit leads to a lack of concern for quality, and where many people get “products” that are not good for them. Best to have fewer markets and more situations where the good and the wise run the government and the government then runs things in the public interest.

    Alas, as Mike points out, the government often does not operate in the public interest. “My solution is to get politicians out of the school business and turn it over to professional educators, not political chums like Paige, Spellings, Duncan, Lyon etc.” I suspect that much of the difference between Mike and allen comes down to a belief on Mike’s part that it is possible to take bad politics out of government and allen’s belief that it is an impossible dream.

    My apologies to either of you if I’m putting inaccurate words in your mouths.