June 19, 2013 by juicefong
Disclaimer: Yes, I do work for Teach For America. No, no one asked me to write this post on TFA’s behalf, and no one knows I’m writing it. What you’re reading represents only me and my thoughts. You’re welcome to fact correct me or otherwise comment. Let’s have a nice discussion, shall we?
Oh man, people are good. Last month, Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union, successfully lobbied Governor Mark Dayton to veto a $1.5 million allocation to fund Teach For America’s program there, where TFA has about 80 teachers and over 300 alumni of the program. In fact, Education Minnesota spent $659,000 in lobbying for just the first five months of 2013—that’s nearly half the TFA allocation. (A good spend of teacher dues, is it?)
Teach For America was dealt another blow on Friday when the Minnesota Board of Teaching went one step further and basically said each new TFA corps member would have to be individually approved by the their 11-member body, rather than allowing principals to hire them directly. Which is crazy. What system do we have where a state body intervenes with what should be a decision made at the school level? And what, you’ll convene like once a month to approve new teachers? No one who acts with a sense of urgency would work that slowly. I digress.
One of my very favorite colleagues, Crystal Brakke, heads Teach For America’s Twin Cities region. Crystal tweeted a link to her segment on Minnesota Public Radio today where she was joined by Executive Director of the Minnesota Board of Teaching, Karen Balmer. (Full list of the board’s members is here.) I transcribed a couple of her responses and I’m laying some other facts down since Karen straight up avoided the answers:
Host: “Now, the new board members that you’ve mentioned were appointed by Governor Mark Dayton. They have connections to Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union. Is that why these variances were rejected? Does Education Minnesota have a problem with them?”
Karen Balmer, Executive Director of the Board of Teaching: “You know, I don’t know Education Minnesota’s position specifically on the request for these variances. We do have six of our 11 members are teacher members and I know that several of them have…they’re active locally on a number of fronts…”
Hmmm…last month Education Minnesota mobilized its forces to get a veto by Dayton of the $1.5 allocation for Teach For America…I know this isn’t news to Karen. It’s in the “Strib.” (Did I say that right?) I’m pretty sure Education Minnesota is looking to make life difficult for Teach For America in the Twin Cities, so let me help you give the straight answer, Karen: It’s “Yes.” We’ll get to that “active locally” business in a bit.
Later you hear:
Host: “Is there too much union strength on the Board of Teaching?”
Karen Balmer: “You know, I would hope that, the board of teaching is one that is taking a sincere and deep look at any policy issue that comes before them and I think they are grappling, as Crystal said, with a number of critical policy issues right now. I don’t think it’s accurate to line folks up in one direction or another. I think that there are a number of perspectives on any of these policy topics that we have before us and would hope that we could engage those in a really earnest manner, in a deep way and in a way that honors the complexity and the nuance of each of these different policy topics that we’re wrestling with.
Five of the board’s 11 members are not only part of the union, but they are members of the Education Minnesota’s leadership! Two other members on the board represent colleges of education, another faction that benefits greatly from Board of Teaching policy decisions. So yeah, Karen. There is too much union strength on the board.
This governor-appointed group is ruled by the educational establishment, a powerful lobbying force that is protecting the status quo, which in Minnesota looks like this:
Four-year high school graduation rates:
Native American 45%
It’s politics, I get it. Governor Dayton appointed a board that makes decisions about licensure and teacher policy that’s now full of union heads and people who represent schools of education (one of their ed schools did not fare so well in the rankings released today). Seems like a conflict of interest, actually. This Board of Teaching could pass policies that either ensure a steady supply of union membership (with mandatory teacher dues to keep things running) or ensure that colleges of education hold a monopoly over the teacher licensure method, thus keeping them in business.
I’m not wholesale against teachers unions or schools of education. No reason why they shouldn’t organize and help their members. My parents are both retired public school teachers, and I’m thankful for the life given to my brothers and me because of what their unions did for them. But I am against groups who out of politics and self-preservation are stifling what could be great solutions to what is clearly an education crisis. Like one of my other colleagues suggested: If you don’t like Teach For America, then put us out of business by doing it better. I can’t wait for the day when TFA is gone—it will mean that we finally do have an equitable system of education in America.
But until then, I guarantee you: TFA will be there, fighting for change.