U training adds to the Teach for America debate

  • Article by: KIM MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 18, 2013 - 10:56 PM

First alternative program under 2011 law needs state approval.

The University of Minnesota will train Teach for America corps members in an eight-week program announced Wednesday that is feeding the debate about how much training a teacher needs before entering the classroom.

The program — which must first be approved by the state Board of Teaching — would be the first established under a 2011 law that called for alternatives to becoming a teacher in Minnesota besides the traditional years of college and student teaching.

That approval, however, might not come easy.

Teach for America (TFA) has drawn opposition from teachers who were required to undergo years of training and who question whether the organization’s current five-week training program is sufficient. The group sustained a blow in May when Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a $1.5 million biennial appropriation that would have allowed the group to add 25 members. Then in June, the Board of Teaching denied granting TFA teachers the blanket license exemptions it had previously allowed.

Teach for America approached the university earlier this year about developing a program under the 2011 law. On Wednesday, the two parties said they had reached an agreement that calls for the U’s College of Education and Human Development to develop a program that will include credit-based coursework and additional training once corps members are placed in schools.

“The core mission of the university’s teacher preparation programs is to ensure that Minnesota’s P-12 students have the best-prepared classroom teachers, regardless of their path to licensure,” said Jean Quam, dean of the College of Education and Human Development. “This agreement outlines a plan to create our state’s first-ever alternative teacher preparation model with high standards for quality and ongoing support for teacher candidates. Given that research is a core mission of the university, we are committed to creating effective teacher preparation programs and engaging in ongoing evaluation of new and existing models.”

Teach for America, which recruits college graduates to work in high-poverty schools for a two-year stint, entered the Twin Cities in 2009. Its 70-plus corps members work in 26 metro-area schools, including charter schools and the Minneapolis public schools.

Voices of oppositions

When news began trickling out this summer that the U was eyeing a partnership with TFA, more than 300 students — mostly from the College of Education and Human Development — and alumni signed a letter voicing their opposition, arguing that TFA sends underprepared teachers into classrooms at the expense of students, many of whom live in poverty.

On Wednesday, they pledged to continue to organize resistance to the agreement, which they believe was influenced by TFA’s political connections and financial resources.

“Basically they are creating two tiers of teachers with this partnership,” said Erin Dyke, a University of Minnesota doctoral student focusing on education and culture. “One serves the elite few who are guaranteed a job after five weeks of training and another who will spend thousands of dollars getting an education, who will study for years and have no guarantee of a job.”

Quam acknowledged the growing opposition to the program among teachers in training. She pointed out that the U already has a one-year post-baccalaureate program that offers an alternative pathway to teaching in addition to its traditional four-year program.

“If I were asked to recommend a pathway to teaching, it would be our most comprehensive program,” she said. “The Teach for America program would be another pathway that would well-prepare teachers.”

Matters yet to decide

TFA program participants will pay a fee to the university that has not been set yet. The revenues will be invested in research that allows the college to study how to effectively prepare teachers in alternative models.

In coming weeks, university officials will begin designing the program, which they hope to offer in the summer of 2014. The University of Washington and the University of Michigan currently offer similar TFA programs.

Crystal Brakke, executive director of TFA-Twin Cities, said she’s hopeful that members of the state Board of Teaching will be open-minded about the U-TFA proposal.

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