One week from tomorrow, the Dallas Independent School District's board of trustees will settle in for what's sure to be a calm, reasonable and thoroughly thoughtful discussion about extending the district's contract with Teach for America through the 2017 school year. The cost of the new deal: $3 million spread over five years, with DISD paying TFA $3,000 each year for each new teacher brought into the district, with that number capped at 100 for every school year. Though, keep in mind: That does not guarantee 100 new warm TFA corps members each year. There might be 120 one year; 80 the next.
TFA's been much in the news of late, as district officials and teachers unions debate a program that brings some of the best and brightest into classrooms for mandatory two-year stints, after which 43 percent leave. One district official boils down the debate thusly: When you pay TFA, you get one fired-up Ivy Leaguer ... about half of whom leave in two years." The bossman visited this subject just one week ago. At present, there are 147 TFA teachers scattered around the district -- out of more than 10,000 teachers employed by the district. I can find you at least four trustees (Carla Ranger, still the loudest) who will likely to demand why, when the district's looking to shutter schools and shuffle students and cut loose teachers to save money in advance of $38 million in coming cuts, it will pay TFA $3 million to recruit up to 100 teachers a year.
And yet: Along with the contract with TFA, the district late yesterday posted some data concerning TFA teachers' achievements in the district and principals' affections for those corps members. All of it follows, but says the former, based on the controversial Classroom Effectiveness Index, "1st year TFA corps members outperformed other 1st year teachers in Mathematics and Science in the district, [and] first-year TFA corps members' performance in reading/LA was slightly higher than other 1st year teachers in the district." Says the latter: Of the 40 principals who responded to an independently conducted survey, "an overwhelming majority reported a positive experience with their Teach For America corps members." Kyle Richardson, ex of Marsh and currently of Woodrow, is not alone.
I had a long talk about all of this late yesterday with
Charles Glover, executive director of Teach For America in Dallas. Long story short: He was excited when he got his hands on the preliminary data, more of which will be released during next week's board meeting.
"It took some time for the work we were doing as an organization to be quantifiable, so I was excited to share it," he said. "I was thrilled to see the results we have. That's a key part of the dialogue that's been missing, and now it exists. What we've seen in our tracking and what I know to be the truth is now out there. I am no longer a prophet in my own land. I can say: 'Here are the results.' I am not surprise people demand data, because I would want the same way. It's exciting."
Glover, who served his TFA time in Durham, North Carolina, before coming to run the office in TFA founder Wendy Kopp's hometown(ish), says that $3 million contract with the district really doesn't amount to much -- not when you consider it's spread over five years, not when you consider it's but a small, small piece of his total budget. Says Glover, "I will raise 85 percent [more] for the needs of the district based on that commitment. Or, I should say, I will attempt to raise it."
I'd called him just to get some basic numbers about teachers in the district -- how many and where, some fact-checking stuff. But we spoke for close to an hour; for every question I asked, he asked another. We'll revisit some of that discussion in coming days; there's plenty of time.
But one thing TFA constantly faces is the question: Why is a district paying millions to recruit a fraction of a fraction of teachers, many of whom don't stick around past the two years? Or, as Glover puts it: "How can 100 teachers make an impact?" That's how he hears it most commonly phrased. And this is how he begins to answers it.
"Teach for America is not the sliver bullet," he says. "But as one those 100 once, I saw what our children were capable of, and the more people we have coming into our city with that mindset the better. TFA members aren't idealists. We're realists, because we know what all children are capable of."TFA in DISD ResultsDISDTFA2012Contract TFAPrincipalSurvey
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