Teach For America? Wiser course for Cobb is to forgo program
January 26, 2012 12:25 AM | 2816 views | 15 15 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Is poor teacher quality a big reason why so many schools in south Cobb have tended to underperform through the years? New Cobb School Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa would seem to be saying yes, based on his push to hire 50 Teach For America instructors to work in those schools. Those hirings would take place at the same time that the system might have to eliminate 350 teaching positions in order to get its arms around a $62.4 million budget deficit for the coming year.

The school board is slated to vote on Hinojosa’s proposal this evening.

The Teach For America program hires recent college graduates with degrees in a variety of subjects — but not teaching — and then rushes them through a brief “boot camp” to give them a patina of teaching skills before sending them straight into the classroom in low-income areas. If the school board goes along with Hinojosa, it would cost $8,000 for each of those teachers to attend the five-week camp, money which Hinojosa said would come from a private entity. He has not disclosed its identity, but has said that the Cobb Chamber is involved in raising the necessary $400,000. That money would be in addition to their starting salaries and benefits as teachers on the county payroll.

“It has a tremendous record of success all over the country,” said Hinojosa, who implemented the program while superintendent of the Dallas, Texas system. “I think it would be a strategy that would help us.”

When questioned by the MDJ, Hinojosa said the district had yet to determine how to measure the effectiveness of the Teach For America teachers should they be hired.

The super has the support of board member David Morgan of southwest Cobb, who says the teachers would help close the achievement gap between his schools and others in the county.

“There’s a canyon (in achievement) that sits between where my post is and the rest of the district, and when it comes to reform efforts, pretty much the people who are against it want us to keep doing what we’re doing,” Morgan said. “If a person keeps saying ‘Let’s keep doing what we’re doing’ and it’s yielded the canyon of achievement gap, then what they are truly saying is ‘We’re OK with what’s going on.’ I don’t follow the logic.”

Yet Hinojosa is finding the program a much tougher sell to a number of other board members.

Board Chairman Alison Bartlett notes that the district already has a partnership with one of the state’s best education schools, Kennesaw State University, and that it lets its students do their student teaching in Cobb.

“KSU is giving us highly qualified teachers,” she said. “Why would we hire someone without experience?”

Board member Kathy Angelucci noted that a disturbing 43 percent of the Teach For America teachers in Dallas departed after completing their two-year commitment.

“I’m very concerned about the attrition issue with Teach For America,” she said. “The other thing is the message it sends to our Cobb teachers. It bothers me because I think the message is, ‘You’re not good enough, so we’re having to bring someone else in.’”

And board member Lynnda Eagle said the timing is not right for the program in Cobb.

“With the budget and teachers looking at increased class size, teachers are a little bit nervous, and I don’t know that morale is as good as I would like for it to be,” she said.

Eagle, a retired teacher, also rightly noted that Cobb should find out what type of teaching strategies Teach For America is using in low-performing schools and then copy them. That would surely be cheaper and simpler and probably more effective. Our teachers could use the new strategies year after year after year, rather than the county having to import a new batch of rookie teachers every two years. The county’s in-service teacher training programs should turn their focus on imbuing such skills, rather than just on generic teaching.

Cobb is hardly begging for teacher applications as it is, having received roughly 20,000 during the past two years. Does it really make sense to hire recent graduates with degrees in other subjects and then hastily try to “retrofit” them as teachers at great cost when there are so many applicants who have already paid their own way to earn their teaching degrees, and are eager to work for the county system? Considering how many under-achieving schools we have in south Cobb, hiring a mere 50 teachers for a system of 106,000 students would be like trying to light the Georgia Dome at night with a single match. And considering Cobb’s downwardly mobile economic demographic profile, the number of such schools, and the need for such teachers, is bound to increase in coming years.

The proposal also leaves the appearance that Cobb is about to discard hundreds of experienced teachers while simultaneously hiring 50 others at entry-level salaries, which would be disastrous for teacher morale. And with no goals announced for measuring the program, it smacks of the “pancake plan of education” — just layering new program on top of new program.

It also is highly unusual for a public board to approve funding for a new program without knowing where that funding is coming from. And if the hinted funding falls through, the county is in no position to fund it itself.

Teach For America might be a great program, but in light of its cost and in light of the Cobb School District’s dire budgetary forecast, the wiser course would be to forego it for now.
Comments
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just wonderin'
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January 28, 2012
While TFA teachers might be a great idea in a different economy, it really is a slap in the face to current teachers (and those who might be RIF'ed for the new, even-leaner budget) to suggest that they don't know their subject material and are therefore incompetent.

Here's an idea: why not beef up current vocational and technical programs at these schools for the unmotivated students who comprise the discipline problems? Let them learn a trade so they can support themselves after they get out of school.

Then, the students who are interested in college-track programs would be able to learn, and flourish doing it. That's the real problem at these schools, not the lack of competent teachers.
THE TRUTH
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January 26, 2012
When you have an area of weakness on the battle field, you send in more troops to that area to provide support. We are in a day-to-day war for our childrens future and the South Cobb Area needs more troops in the battle. This is not a fix all, but 50 more persons in South Cobb classrooms taking an interest in our childrens education and future can't be all bad.
anonymous
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January 27, 2012
More troops? It's the same number of troops, just the "replacements."
anonymous
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January 29, 2012
Thats right THE TRUTH. Because the problem has nothing to do with the culture of

"the hood" in which:

-Single teenage parent, multi-child (different father) families are widespread and studying for school is "too white" to be cool.

-The epidemic of young black men slaughtering other young black men (on a daily basis ---I wonder how many killed or maimed each other at the parties last night?) takes a vary far back seat to the outrage over a local (Gwinnett Co)teacher who would dare make reference to "slavery" in a math question posed to elementary school kids ("How dare dey be so insensitive to us descendents of slavery - you know, the slavery that ended in dis' country over 150 years ago? Outrage! Dey holding us down, brothers. Now go out and pop a few 9mm rounds into another brother to show you gots what it takes to have "cred" in da' hood!).

-Being and NBA or Rap star is the only acceptable vocation for folks in the hood.

Sorry, but the problem is in the Hood. Not the the teachers that service the hood.

Of course, you can ignore anything said above. It is , after all, "very raaaaacist", right? Remember, denial ain't a river in North Africa (if you had studied you would have known that).
Tom Smith
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January 26, 2012
A dopey proposal.
Pros vs. Cons
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January 26, 2012
TFA or no, the only real solution here is

professional pay and treatment for teachers

(Yeah, like that's going to happen). The

Middle Class in the U. S. is stuck with a

Democratic Party that wants to steal from

them and give it to the Poor, and a Republican

Party who wants to steal from them and give

it to the Rich. The funding of public schools

(and the people laboring in education)now has the

lowest priority in national, state and local

politics that it's had in over 60 years. Let us

pray.
John Adams
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January 26, 2012
Great editorial, MDJ! Using TFA to "outsource" 50 teacher jobs to less experienced, less qualified, and more expensive younger teachers is a bad idea. And doing this right now, while 350 teachers are facing possible layoffs and all CCSD teachers are looking at more furlough days and only a 1/2 step raise, is even worse. Isn't there something better we could do to improve schools with $400,000 from our mystery benefactors, that won't make the turnover problem worse in the long run and which won't decrease teacher morale even further?
Double Edged Hacthet
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January 26, 2012
When did John go from being a CCSD hatchet man to

being an advocate for classroom teachers? Did he

have a "road to Damascus" experience? Just asking?

These strange times are making for some strange bed

fellows.
John Adams
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January 27, 2012
Great question. After eight years working in HR at 514 Glover St., it was time to do something more positive. You can only spend so much time in the Central Office before you start to lose faith in the system and lose touch with the schools. Towards the end, I often found myself the only person advocating leniency for teachers in trouble, and the only person who refused to steamroll teachers and their legal rights. Not a "Road to Damascus" experience per se, more of a gradual "Commute to Damascus." It seems that my timing was good, given the scandal rocked HR a few months after I left. Take it from me, the system works much better when teachers know their rights and have strong advocates.
At least 15
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January 26, 2012
KSU is about to graduate at least 15 teachers that have been specifically trained to teach in high-risk schools. They have been student teaching in these schools in Cobb County for two years. It is a great partnership between KSU and the CCSD that will help to close this gap.
Just a thought.....
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January 26, 2012
There are definite pluses to the Teach For America program. That being said, now is not the time to venture down this path. There is a morale problem with our teaching staff county-wide, and to ask them to give up more money and threaten them with lay-offs, only to bring in the Teach for America people, is a slap in the face.

S. Cobb presents a whole list of issues, not the least of which is parent involvement. While Teach for America could have some great results, there are other things we could do to make a difference.

My challenge to Dr. Hinojosa is to mobilize the community instead of throwing money at the problem.
Editorial My Foot
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January 26, 2012
Who wrote this? The MDJ Staff? Way to be objective!
anonymous
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January 26, 2012
"Forgo it for now" - best line in the article.

Better solution: Some think that our higher performing schools are higher performing due to administration and teachers. When the system loses the "400" positions this year due to attrition, let's play 50 card pick up and transfer South Cobb and East Cobb admins and teachers. Let's give those teachers the donated bonuses and see what happens!

It is my opinion that the teachers/administrators in South Cobb are just as professional as any in the county, and that test scores in both areas would increase slightly, but then plateau.

Dare to try that hypothesis Dr H and CCSB?
Anon parent
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January 26, 2012
I totally agree with "anonymous". I would like to see the principals moved around. The South Cobb administrators would inherit a different set of issues in the high performing schools, but I think this would be a good use of resources in Cobb. In fact, there are some principals who need to take some of their "groupies", and let all of them try to do this job.
cannot believe it
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January 26, 2012
There are plenty of people that have real-world experience that have opted to go back to school to become educated in best practices and behavior management techniques. Teach for America is for areas that have a deficit of teachers - not for when we have an abundance of teachers looking for jobs. Is this superintendent a one idea person that thinks since it worked in the past it will work now? We had a teacher shortage in the past - we do not now - wrong message, wrong time, wrong solution.
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