Teach 4 America: Union Busters?

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t4aNew Orleans Reading the New Orleans Times-Picayune this morning was troubling.  I had thought about this problem before, but was confronted with too many telling and disturbing statistics to continue to ignore it today.  Like everyone, I want to believe that Teach for America and similar programs are good, not just for the young folks who sign up, but for the students, schools, and systems.  The numbers make me wonder and worry though if districts and principals in New Orleans are the only ones using such programs to engage in union busting, age and experience shopping, and other discriminatory – and cost saving – practices, or is this the general experience everywhere?

In New Orleans teachers are being “surplused.”  Given that literally thousands of teachers were fired (not laid off) in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans and that the population has been increasing steadily since then, these teachers were working last spring are simply not being rehired.  Since New Orleans is also ground zero in the charter school world, this also means that the combination of the district and principles are pushing out seasoned, experienced teachers and in many cases hiring Teach 4 America types.

There was some controversy in the article between whether or not the Recovery District was worse in 2008 than in 2009 and how much of the blame rested on principles versus the district, but the bottom line seemed to be the same:

  • Teach 4 America and related programs are cheaper.
  • Teach 4 America spokesperson in New Orleans simply and callously said that “completion” is better – but that’s about job slots not about who can do the teaching job.
  • Teach 4 America turnover is phenomenally high because of inexperience, inadequate training, and the rigors of the workplace, i.e.  the classroom.  How is this good for students?
  • Teach 4 America folks are uncertified and replacing senior teachers who ARE certified.

All evidence is that teachers are the solution to most education issues, not the problem. A system produces the way teachers teach and how they use their time, so this fungability of people and the cheap tradeoffs that are being encouraged here are worth a hard look.  Add the scandal of union busting that in post-Katrina New Orleans took the largest union in the city, the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO/AFT) and vacated their contract and broke their local from over 5000 members to only hundreds (though growing now without an agreement), and we really need to look at whether we are getting good young teachers with heavy idealism, or young people desperate for a resume building job in a bad economy who are tossing seasoned professionals out on their ears.

I’m not liking this.