Hamilton County school board postpones Teach for America partnership decision

Hamilton County school board postpones Teach for America partnership decision

October 18th, 2018 by Rosana Hughes in Local Regional News

This story was updated Oct. 18, 2018, at 10:08 p.m. with more information.

After a lengthy discussion, the Hamilton County school board voted Thursday to postpone its decision on whether to approve a five-year contract with Teach for America.

Board members will meet at some point next week to take a vote in order to meet Teach for America's Oct. 29 deadline for teacher confirmations. However, a specific date was not agreed upon.

Teach for America is an organization that recruits and trains college graduates to teach in high-needs schools. The potentially controversial contract comes with a $250,000 annual price tag, or $1.25 million over its full, five-year span. Early termination is an option after one year, if both parties agree.

Upon hearing the presentation and/or having done their own research on the organization, a handful of board members were ready to vote to approve the contract Thursday night.

School board member Joe Smith said he was concerned that, if the board didn't go ahead and vote, the district would miss out on exceptional teachers.

"Let's don't kick this can down the road," he told his colleagues.

For teachers applying for the spring semester, the deadline is fast-approaching, Dailey said. Oct. 29 is when teachers who applied early will learn if they've been accepted and where they'll be placed. After that, applicants have until Nov. 7 to accept or decline the offer.

But other board members, including Chairman Joe Wingate, said they wanted to do more research before they agreed to a five-year contract.

Wingate, specifically, was frustrated with the urgency of the request to vote. He said he was tired of the board being presented with partnership proposals either passed or too close to deadline.

"I'm a native Chattanoogan," he said. "The area I represent, I grew up in. And when I make votes ... I gotta live with those votes ... I'm not going to sit here and say I'm against what we're doing. I want us to staff however we can. I just, we're talking about a potentially $1.25 million contract."

Historically, the Teach for America program has been criticized for its model of recruiting recent college graduates and placing them in low performing schools for two years after only five to eight weeks of "intensive summer training," according to the organization's website.

Some Teach for America alums have voiced their concerns about the program not preparing them adequately to become teachers, something that takes traditional teachers four years and multiple semesters of in-the-field training.

The short, two-year commitment also has been questioned. In New York City, for example, an eight-year study of 850,000 fourth- and fifth-graders indicated that students in schools with higher teacher turnover score lower in both English language arts and math. And schools with more low-performing and black students were more strongly affected by higher turnover.

But in recent years, the organization, under new leadership, began making changes to address some of those problems, including placing teachers in areas with which they were familiar and making diversity recruitment a priority.

Teach for America programs already exist in Memphis and Nashville, which is reaching its 10-year anniversary. And in 2016, 49 percent of Teach for America teachers received a 4 or 5 score on the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System for teacher effectiveness, which indicates they are meeting or exceeding expectations. Of all other teachers, only 29 percent attained that score.

Additionally, Eric Dailey, deputy executive director for the Chattanooga site, told board members that Teach for America teachers continue teaching at higher rates than their peers, and when they do leave the classroom, many move on to leadership roles in education.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423- 757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.