by Jack Hassard on February 12, 2012 2 Comments
Teach for America Rejected in Georgia’s Cobb School System
Cobb County, Georgia’s second largest school decided not to consider the superintendant’s request to hire 50 Teach for America (TFA) non certified college graduates to work in under-performing schools in South Cobb. According to an editorial in the Marietta Daily Journal, Dr. Michael Hinojosa, the county’s new superintendent (formerly superintendent of the Dallas ISD) had worked with th e Atlanta office of the Teach for America program behind the scenes to bring the new teachers to the school district.
Teach for America recruits and then trains the teachers in 4 – 5 week summer sessions before they assume their teaching responsibilities, which are usually in low-income neighborhoods, initially in urban schools, but now in school districts that will agree to sign contracts to pay for the TFA training.
According to an Open Records Request, Dr. Hinojosa and Shyam Kumar, executive director of Teach for America Metro Atlanta had worked together to bring 50 TFA teachers to South Cobb, and discussed ways of raising the $8,000 per TFA for summer training. It was revealed that Kumar met with three influential Cobb citizens, including Shan Cooper (ge neral manager of Lockheed Martin Marietta), Barry Teague (executive developer Walton Communities), and Sam Olens (Georgia’s State Attorney General), all of whom agreed to find ways of funding the effort.
It was assumed by TFA and the superintendent that the deal would be approved by the school board, but the board was unaware of any of the negotiations, or how the contract would be funded. Before a recent board meeting, the chairman of the school committee removed the item from the agenda. It was also revealed that the three women school board members were against the idea, while four male members of the b0ard were in favor of it. One school board member changed his mind, and as result the chairman pulled the item.
The School District
Cobb County is located west and north west of Atlanta and includes cities and towns including Marietta, Powder Springs, Acworth, Smyrna, Kennesaw, Austell, and Mableton. The county serves 106,000 students in 114 schools. The ethnic breakdown of students in Cobb is as follows: White (44.5%), Black (31.2%) Hispanic (16.5%), Asian (4.8%) Native American (<0.1%) The county employees 5,894 classroom teachers.
The 50 TFA teachers would have been place in the Pebblebrook and South High School feeder patterns, located in South Cobb. According to system and state records, schools in South Cobb have been “under performers” based on state achievement test scores (Criterion Referenced Competency Tests–CRCT). But many of these schools are also located in the poorest neighborhoods in Cobb County.
State testing results for 8th grade science were compared between 6 middle schools in South Cobb and 6 schools in North Cobb. I also looked at the data available at the state DOE website to determine the percentage of students receiving free and/or reduced lunches. In Cobb County, 43 percent (46,192) of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches in 2011.
As seen in Table 1, there is a great disparity between North Cobb and South Cobb Schools. CRCT scores are higher in schools with low free or reduced lunches than schools with very high percentages of free or reduced lunches.
This pattern of low performing schools in poor neighborhoods is one that TFA uses to place non-certified teachers into schools in which students have significant learning, and social problems. Research, which is discussed below indicates that students in low performing schools perform better when placed with more experienced teachers, or beginning teachers who have gone through a teacher education program.
Table 1. Comparison of North Cobb and South Schools on the 8th Grade science CRCT and % of free and reduced lunches.
TFA Rejected: Is this a good decision?
There are many reasons to support the decision that the school board made.
However, I am not sure that TFA was rejected for reasons that help us understand the real problems that should be explored and discussed by the school board about teaching and learning in low performing schools.
That said, the fact that Cobb will not be hiring 50 un-certified teachers is a good thing. The research on exploring the effectiveness of TFA and other non-certified teachers generally shows shows that TFA teachers’ students do not o ut-perform other students of teachers’ that were non-certified in mathematics, reading and language arts (Laczko-Kerr & Berliner, 2002). Laczko-Kerr and Berliner also found students of certified teachers out-performed students of teachers who were under-certified. In fact, they found that students of under-certified teachers make about 20% less academic growth per year than do students of teachers with regular certification.
This is an important finding. What it is saying is that “traditional” teacher education programs are much more effective than “alternative” programs, especially TFA. And for Cobb County, there is really no need to recruit TFA teachers when in the metro-Atlanta area there are at least 10 universities and colleges that have vibrant teacher education programs, and provide a source of certified teachers who have gone through experienc ed- and field-based teacher education programs. Indeed, many of these graduates would have completed internships in South Cobb Schools.
The decision not to hire TFA teachers is common sense.
Why would Cobb County board members think that placing inexperienced and non-certified teachers in its most difficult schools is good idea. As one teacher said, because of budget shortfalls, the county is going to lay-off personnel. If there are 50 teaching positions available in South Cobb, why not staff these positions with teachers who have served Cobb County for years, are experienced and certified, rather than by college graduates who have no teaching experience, and are not certified in the State of Georgia?
The research on the effectiveness of TFA teachers does not support the claims that TFA makes on its website, nor does it make any sense to educators and parents that teachers in schools with students who have not don e well should be staffed with inexperienced and rookie teachers. Would we do this in any other profession?