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.