Board Approves Teach for America Pact

By Jamon Smith, Staff Writer

Tuscaloosa News | December 1, 2010

The Tuscaloosa City Board of Education on Tuesday approved a contract that will bring 24 teachers associated with Teach for America into the system’s Central zone over the next four years.
The board voted 7 to 1 in favor of the contract with Teach for America, a national nonprofit agency that places college-educated professionals in classrooms at struggling schools in high-poverty areas.
James Carpenter, executive director of Teach For America, said that eight teachers with the program will start working at schools in the Central zone – the poorest and lowest-performing zone in the school system – in the 2011-12 school year.
Eight more Teach for America teachers will start working at Central zone schools in 2012-13 and eight more will begin working in 2013-14.
All 24 teachers are contractually obligated to work a minimum of two years in the Central zone. They will earn the same salary as a traditional teacher with similar education and experience.
Carpenter said Teach for America recruits high-achieving recent college graduates and asks them to commit
two years to teach at schools in low-income areas.
The Teach for America teachers who will be hired by the Tuscaloosa City School System will all be first-year teachers. About 90 percent of them won’t have college degrees in education, but they will have degrees in the specific subjects – such as math – that they’ll be teaching, Carpenter said.
He said the Teach for America teachers also have a strong track record of academic achievement, community involvement and leadership experience, which are the most important qualities in a classroom teacher.
“We believe that these teachers in their two years in the classroom can show significant improvement in student achievement by working with not only students, but parents, community leaders, veteran educators and getting involved in the community,” Carpenter said last week in a telephone interview. “They treat it like a holistic experience.”
Board member James Minyard – the only board member who voted against the school system’s contract with Teach for America – said he voted no because the program isn’t getting the support it needs from the University of Alabama’s College of Education.
“I support the concept of Teach for America and its teachers, but I can’t fully support it because its teachers are not fully supported themselves by the College of Education,” Minyard said.
Minyard’s objection to the program being used in the city school system was based on comments that Joyce Stallworth, a senior associate dean in UA’s College of Education, made about the program at the board’s last meeting.
Stallworth said that the College of Education is Teach for America’s official higher education partner in Alabama – the College of Education’s role in the partnership is to help the program’s teachers obtain their Alabama teaching certification. However, she told the board that the teachers in the program who’ve been placed at other schools in the state haven’t performed as well as expected.
“There were classroom management issues and we encourage them to seek out some of the veteran teachers for help with that, such as us,” Stallworth said last week. “I’m not going to say that we’re jaded, but there are challenges with this group.”
Stallworth also said that teachers who are traditionally trained – meaning they obtained college degrees in education and have classroom experience – make for better teachers than those who don’t have that background.
“Research informs us that clinically prepared education makes a more positive impact on student achievement,” Stallworth said. “The clinical preparation part of that is crucial. Our (education) program is clinically based. They start very early going out to city and county schools learning how to teach. The clinical preparation is not part of the TFA model.”
Minyard said he would have voted yes for the Teach for America program if UA’s College of Education had agreed to help the Teach for America teachers fix the deficiencies that Stallworth said that they have.

Reach Jamon Smith at [email protected] or 205-722-0204.