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Teacher Association President Speaks Out Against Teach For America

Cobb County Association of Educators President Connie Jackson said there are better ways to address the achievement gap than turning to Teach for America.

South Cobb Board of Education member David Morgan has been vocal about his support of Teach for America for almost a year. At tonight’s school board meeting, members of the board will vote on a proposal from District Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa to hire 50 Teach for America teachers to work in South Cobb schools.

During , several members expressed their skepticismof the plan and of Teach for America as a program.

The members said that the timing of the proposal is off since the county is looking at cutting 350 teaching jobs to narrow its $62.4 million deficit. Others said the program would not work in Cobb, that hiring individuals who lack an education degree or education experience was not a "

Local teacher organizations have also expressed their opposition of TFA. Cobb County Association of Educators has sent out an email asking its members and supporters to come out on Thursday and show their opposition at the Cobb Board of Education meeting.

Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, said the proposal is “an affront” to teachers in the county and that TFA is not needed because the county already has plenty of teachers.

Jackson, who has taught for 15 years and spent the last five at Smyrna's Griffin Middle, said she understands the issue at hand is the achievement gap in South Cobb schools.

“Teach for America is a quick fix, but the achievement gap is not a quick fix. It needs immediate action…We need to address the source of the problem, and it’s not a lack of quality teachers,” Jackson said Wednesday.

“You want to talk about closing the achievement gap, let’s set up partnerships between the teachers and the PTSAs and work on building the bridges between the teachers and the parents,” Jackson continued.

“Let’s put a dictionary and a thesaurus in the hands of every single student in every single South Cobb school and then teach them and their parents how to use a dictionary and a thesaurus. I mean, those are things that can impact the achievement gap. I don’t think that Teach for America will truly impact the achievement gap,” Jackson said.

Parents at Saturday’s town hall meeting hosted by Morgan wanted to know, if TFA is voted down, what solution would stand in its place to offer a level playing field for their children.

Jackson believes the answer is in partnerships between faculty, community members and parents. She has applied for and been awarded two separate $5,000 grants. She is currently using one of the grants to establish a techer partnership program, which she hopes will help boost the low morale of one South Cobb intermediate school and help bring about an enthusiastic workforce at the South Cobb school.

The second grant will be used to establish a support program for new teachers, which will kick in when new teachers are hired in May.

“If we can do it through grants through our organization, why can’t Cobb County?”

Jackson said the achievement gap is not due to a "lack of enthusiastic, educated, highly qualified, certified teachers” in Cobb, and that the money from external donors should be used in a different way to help close the achievement gap in South Cobb.

However, Hinojosa said there were 125 vacancies at South Cobb and Pebblebrook alone last year.

Jackson said the vacancies mentioned by Hinojosa and Morgan were “natural vacancies” which resulted from attrition or because the district has decided not to fill the positions.

“If you can’t get teachers in East L.A., this is a great option. If you can’t get teachers that want to teach in downtown D.C., this is a great option,” said Jackson, emphasizing that Cobb does not have a lack of teachers.

Jackson also said that none of the opposition she heard has anything to do with community members not wanting a program associated with urban, impoverished areas in their own backyard.

She said the backlash is a result of being told that the district could bring in 50 TFA teachers who lack the education background while cutting 350 teaching jobs to close the district’s $62.4 million deficit.

“It really just boils down to ‘we don’t need that in Cobb,’” Jackson said.

Instead, Jackson said the money from external donors should be used to better train Cobb’s current teachers, who are already demoralized because of current work conditions.

“This is not the climate to create good teachers,” Jackson said, referring to the district’s mandated five furlough days for teachers, increased days off for students and increased class sizes.

“You have a demoralized workforce who is facing major cuts, not only to their money, but to the quality of the education they can provide and an increase in class size…and then on top of it, this?” Jackson said.

“It’s time that we are treated like the professionals that we are," she said.

Morgan said that teachers who oppose Teach for America teachers coming into their schools may feel threatened.

Jackson disagreed. “Teachers don’t feel threatened because they don’t think they can achieve,” Jackson said. “Teachers feel offended. There’s a huge difference.”

Should teachers be offended by Teach for America teachers being brought into South Cobb schools? How else can the district address the area's achievement gap? Tell us in the comments below.

 

Alicia Innocent January 26, 2012 at 10:03 PM
This should be highly offensive to teachers that are already in the South Cobb schools,but at the same token the TFA program may be an avenue used for a wake up call. The thought of having to bring other educators in the school system signifies that there is an apparent issue. I'm quite certain that this is not the first attempt to discuss issues in reference to the achievement gap in South Cobb. In my opinion, there needs to be better training,more student-teacher interaction and serious assessments of what is lacking in South Cobb schools. It would be imperative to do some research on schools that are excelling to find out the contributing factors. Are the teachers putting effort into helping children afterschool if needed? Is there constant communication between teachers and parents to include them in the success or lack of in the classroom? Are teachers being paid what they deserve or are they underpaid (there could be a correlation between the rate of pay and the zeal to teach and be involved)?The achievement gap is not going to be alleviated overnight,but TFA can possibly bring more to the table until there is a resolution. The concern of bringing in 50 TFA teachers that "lack the education background" should not be a factor. Teach for America only chooses the best of the best with students most likely holding 3.5 GPA'S and higher from top schools. The passion of TFA workers may make a huge difference on a child's learning experience.
janis stevenson January 27, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Jackson should be ashamed of herself. She calls herself an educator? S Cobb has got to move off center to start closing the achievement gap. TFA is not going to close it in 2 years but TFA is a quantitative step in the right direction. All south cobb parents have heard for years are proposals that never come to fruition. Board members tell us to move or to talk to a principal or if only parents were more involved. Parents move to east cobb and phone it in. There arent any title I schools in East Cobb. Kids there are rested, fed and have opportunities outside the home to learn. That is not always the case in Title I schools. Hand out dictionaries and thesauruses to parents and teach them how to use them is Ms. Jackson's solution? Wow. that suggestion is so far removed from reality! TFA is not about replacing the good teachers. Not all South Cobb teachers are bad but bring in some young go getters, folks focused 100% on sparking children's love for learning and we just might be on to something. The teachers that should be worried are the ones that arent good and yes they do exist and they continue to get passed around from school to school in cobb co. to the detriment of our children. Why wouldn't teachers be totally jazzed about teachers that may jump start the whole s. cobb area, teach them a new trick or two, energize staff and administration? How can it possibly NOT be worth the chance- especially at no cost to the tax payers?
Leo Smith January 29, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Great points again Janis. "Teacher monopoly = Good. Bank monopoly = Bad." Does anyone see that the hands off my industry attitude lead's to societal harm? It also, by squashing internal competition, lowers the respect for and quality of that industry. Remember when bankers where once highly respected?? There are many "non-teachers" making money and comfort off of the public education status quo. I am all for advocates, but there must be balance.
Linda Rehkopf January 30, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Why are teachers so afraid of TFA scholars -- and that's exactly what they are, scholars. Is the teacher union even familiar with what a TFA scholar does in a school, or for an individual student? Sigh.

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