Teach For America Signs Contract with Nampa and Caldwell

nampa logo_0I was present for the Nampa School Board meeting this past Tuesday, and presented along with a few other speakers to the board against signing a contract with TFA.

Sadly, the Trustees voted unanimously to proceed hiring Teach for America recruits starting next school year.

Some interesting items of note came out during the meeting; for example, former Luna Idaho Deputy Superintendent Roger Quarles, now working for the Albertson Foundation, has been working with Teach for America by meeting privately with districts around the state, including Nampa, to help TFA make their pitch.


In addition, it appears that the Albertson Foundation, at least for Nampa, is covering the entirety of the first year head-hunter fee to TFA.  Next year the district will be responsible for $1,500 per TFA recruit in their second year, and the price of first year TFA will be negotiated.

A small victory: the district is only signing a one year contract with TFA instead of the traditional two year document.  After a year, they will have to make another vote to proceed with their relationship with TFA.

Below is what I presented to the board.


Thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight.  My name is Levi Cavener.  I am a special education teacher at Vallivue High School.  I am also a patron living in the Nampa School District, and I manage the website Idahospromise.org

Everyone present in this room shares something in common: we deeply care about the education of our students.  Every single person in attendance tonight truly wants to provide our young people with the best recipe we can in order to ensure their educational success, and set them up for a successful future.

It is because of this shared, common goal, that I have asked to speak to you tonight.  Under consideration tonight is a proposal to sign a contract with Teach for America.

Let me be clear:  I agree with TFA’s mission statement:  I too believe that one day all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.  However, that is precisely why I am strongly urging the Board to reject forming a relationship with Teach for America.

As you may know, Teach for America recruits do not arrive with a degree in the content area they are teaching.  A graduate in gender studies, for example, may be placed at the head of a mathematics classroom.

Neither do they come equipped with any substantial pedagogical training or classroom management preparation.  Instead, TFA recruits arrive with a whopping 5 weeks of training over a brief summer camp.  That’s right, 20 whole days!

Indeed, a recent Washington Post article critiqued TFA’s brevity in training writing,  “Even filling every moment of the day as they do, there simply isn’t enough time in five weeks to prepare novices for the classroom.”

The product you are being asked to purchase is a teacher with training wheels.  Unlike best-practice procedure in which a student spends three or more years of study before being placed at the helm of a classroom, and even then only under the direct supervision and guidance of a certified instructor that is also inside the classroom through a student-teaching program, a TFA instructor arrives without a degree in the content area they will be asked to teach as well as missing any substantial student-teaching preparation.

Indeed, I can think of no other profession which would even consider what Teach for America is asking of you tonight.

I know I don’t want a lawyer representing me in a courtroom whose credentials only consist of an “intensive 5 week summer camp.”

I certainly don’t think anyone in this room would be ok stepping onto Boeing 747 aircraft with a pilot that has only 5 weeks of training under his belt.

I know there isn’t a soul in this room that would allow a surgeon to place a scalpel anywhere near their body if they knew the surgeon had only had 20 days of med school.

Would you want to take swimming lessons from an instructor,  who himself, is still wearing floaters on his arms? I don’t think so.

Yet, that is exactly what you are being asked to bring to Nampa School District tonight.  You are being asked to place an unprepared individual at the head of our greatest and most cherished resource:  our students and children.

This is an especially troubling idea if you consider allowing a TFA recruit to lead a special education classroom.

Working with students with disabilities requires extensive training: not just in terms of research-based interventions and instructional techniques, but also special education case-law that keeps our district out of mediation, the courtroom, and in compliance with federal and state laws.

I know the last thing NSD wants is to be embroiled in even more lawsuits than are currently working through the docket from violation of special education case-law.

Unfortunately, employment of a TFA recruit invites such lawsuits because the individual arrives with little to no training in special education case-law, such as requirements for Individualized Education Plans, Eligibility Assessment, and other procedures required in the Idaho Special Education Manual, federal law through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Not only are you being asked to allow this person into your schools, you are being asked to pay for it to the tune of  $5,000 dollars per recruit.

I am aware that the Albertson foundation has offered to pay for the first year’s fee.  However, keep in mind that TFA recruits are 2 year contracts. It is only a matter of time until this district would start paying thousands of dollars to this organization.

Also keep in mind that the recruit that arrives isn’t likely to stick around long.  Indeed, retention is so low that renowned Dr. Diane Ravitch, a former Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Dept. of Education and author of the critically acclaimed education research titled Reign of Error, frequently refers to TFA as “Teach for Awhile” because the turnover rate is abysmally high.

In fact, award winning Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig of Educational Policy and Planning at University of Texas at Austin has concluded that only, “20-30% of TFA members stay in the classroom 3-5 years, and only 5% are still teaching in their initial placement by the seventh year.”

This means that the recruit that is hired to fill that “hard to fill position” will become a permanent rotating door of loss for Nampa School District.  Each time a TFA recruit leaves they will take with them a hefty fee the district provided, the cost and time resources of professional development courses and training, along with significant teacher mentoring from within the building.

Turnover is so abysmally high that many districts, such as Durham, North Carolina,  that were once ardent supporters of TFA, have since voted to completely end their relationship with TFA.

One Durham School Board Trustee made a statement about the decision to eliminate Durham’s relationship with TFA. The statement is as follows: “The Teach For America program only has teachers commit for two years. So there’s a lot of turnover. It’s almost like creating a revolving door.”

Unsurprisingly, this lack of preparation also has a genuine impact on student learning.  Perhaps the most exhaustive and comprehensive peer reviewed study of its kind was conducted by the University of Texas At Austin which tracked student achievement data of over 132,000 students and 4,400 teachers over 6 years. It concluded:

Controlling for students’ prior year achievement and demographic characteristics, classroom and school characteristics, and teachers’ experience and degrees, the study found that certified teachers consistently produced significantly stronger student achievement gains than uncertified teachers, including Teach for America teachers.  Uncertified TFA teachers had significant negative effects on student achievement for five of six tests (The sixth was also negative but not significant).  On 5 of the 6 tests, the negative effect of having an uncertified TFA teacher was greater than the negative effect of having another kind of uncertified teacher, depressing student achievement by between one-half month to 3 months annually compared to a fully certified teacher with the same experience working in a similar school.

Voters supported the recent supplemental levies because they knew the key ingredient required for their children’s success lay in the ability to attract qualified teacher on paper and in practice.  As a result, they supported the district during the worst of times.

However, I shudder to think of what such a fiscally conservative community would think if they became aware that the district was considering paying an outside agency to provide an ill-qualified “corps member” to place at the front of their children’s classroom.

I understand the conundrum.  Some teaching assignments are hard to fill.  So let me leave the Board tonight with some solutions since I have spent such a large amount of time dwelling on this problem.

First, pay teachers what they are worth.  Indeed, the restored furlough days and movement on the salary scale has already mediated many of the problems needed to attract qualified teachers.  It is a good step in the right direction, and one that more parents and teachers in this district and surrounding communities need to hear.  Our district should be proud of this current positive trajectory.

However, some positions, like special education, math, and science are still hard to fill.  If the board is seriously considering paying out an additional 5 grand in addition to a teaching salary to pay for an unqualified TFA recruit, would it not make much more sense to offer that same $5,000 dollars as a stipend to highly qualified education professionals willing to accept these hard-to-fill teaching positions and who would be a long time community member as well?

Indeed, that solution allows the board to attract, and retain, an actual highly qualified teacher on paper and in practice.  It also demonstrates the district’s commitment to be fiscally responsible with the dollars their patrons provide them with.

Another option is for the Board to grow their own professionals from within the district by offering to reimburse some of the cost, perhaps 5000 dollars of the cost, of sending an existing teacher back to school in order to earn an additional endorsement in the area of need; say special education for example. Again, this would be fiscally responsible as it keeps the money local and ensures the district ends up with a long term positive investment in their human resources.

This might be an especially appetizing option to paraprofessionals currently working in the district as well, particularly for special education classrooms.

I would also ask the board to consider if there are currently teachers employed by the district with certifications and endorsements for these hard to fill positions, but who have instead chosen an alternative teaching assignment.

According to your local Association president, there are indeed many such employees fitting this bill. I would ask the board to consider what incentives have been offered to these staff members to switch into these hard to fill positions.

Such incentives may solve the problem completely by utilizing existing highly qualified staff already working for the district.  Now that is a win-win for our students, education professionals, public education, and our community as a whole.

In closing tonight, I would ask the board this simple question:  Are you comfortable sending your own child into a classroom with a “recruit” that does not have a degree in the content they are being asked to teach and who has no background in what is needed to be a long term effective education professional?

Are you satisfied that five weeks of training has sufficiently prepared this teacher to provide excellence in education our district is pursuing?

Does this person arrive with legal and pedagogical training in working with minority student populations like Special Education and English Language Learners?

There is nothing new or innovative about TFA. Our students deserve better than this.  I am asking every Trustee of the Board this evening to vote no on pursuing a contract with Teach for America.  Our students deserve qualified teachers on paper and in practice, not teachers with training wheels.

I would be happy to provide hard or electronic copies of any and all sources I referenced tonight at your request. I strongly urge you to make a data driven decision utilizing unbiased peer reviewed research on TFA.

Thank you for your time.


1 thought on “Teach For America Signs Contract with Nampa and Caldwell

  1. Mary Ollie

    With 49 million from the Walton Family Foundation and the support of Idaho’s own vulture philanthropy TFA is an instrument of privatization. Teacher’s associations remain as one of the very last organizations that protect the rights of workers so it follows that the 1% want these to go away. TFA is poised to take over Idaho’s rural schools and to undermine teacher organizations in all schools. The end game is privatization. Who will speak truth to power? http://hechingerreport.org/content/teachers-losing-jobs-teach-americas-expanding-whats-wrong_15617/



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