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Renton Votes On Teach For America

Ann Dornfeld

The Renton School Board will vote Wednesday night on whether to let the district hire Teach for America teachers. But the district has already quietly hired a Teach for America teacher ahead of the board vote.


This story begins with a mystery: "The Case of the Missing Teach for America Candidate."

At last week's Seattle School Board meeting, the board was supposed to consider the qualifications of a particular Teach for America (TFA) candidate for a teaching position.

But district general counsel Ron English said there was just one problem.

Ron English: "In the last few days, in an effort to confirm that she actually has the qualifications, we've been unable to reach her. We've tried emails, we've tried voice mails, we've tried alternative contacts. And today, mid–day, we made a decision that we would no longer consider her application."

When KUOW contacted local TFA officials, they wouldn't say what happened to the missing candidate.

Turns out, she was safe and sound: She'd been hired by a Renton middle school. That's despite the fact that the Renton School Board has yet to approve hiring TFA teachers.

TFA is controversial because the organization's teachers aren't fully certified. They usually get only five weeks of training before they start teaching. Districts typically pay TFA a fee of several thousand dollars to hire each trainee.

Renton Schools spokesman Randy Matheson says the district wants to open the hiring process to uncertified TFA applicants because the district has trouble finding enough qualified candidates.

Randy Matheson: "So what we wanted to do was just open the doors up to professionals in the community who want to be teachers, who will commit to a program to become teachers, and at the same time have some kind of expertise in a specific field that they could offer in the classroom to students."

Phyllis Silling: "This is a real slap in the face for the professionalism of educators."

Phyllis Silling is president of the Renton Education Association teachers union. She says there are plenty of highly–qualified, fully–certified teachers in the region who need jobs. And she questions the expertise of a new college grad like the TFA teacher just hired in Renton.

Phyllis Silling: "It is about the philosophical problem that we have with people entering the profession with such minimal experience and education to do the jobs that I believe that our students suffer."

TFA says its unique training prepares new teachers at least as well as other teacher training programs. But studies of TFA teacher performance are mixed.

TFA has contracts with two other districts in the region, Seattle and Federal Way. There's been an air of secrecy in past agreements, too. In Seattle, the district agreed to pay TFA $4,000 per teacher funded by unnamed, private donors. The school board refused to approve the contract until the private donors were identified.

There's no fee mentioned in TFA's proposed agreement with Renton.

The Renton School Board will vote on the TFA agreement tonight.

I'm Ann Dornfeld, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW