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 last week’s school board work session, 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 "panacea" and that it would send a message to Cobb teachers that they "are not good enough."
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.