United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a national student labor organization that fights for workers’ rights, launched this week the “TFA Truth Tour,” which they characterize as a campaign to fight back against the corporate robber barons of education reform on college campuses by exposing the truth about Teach for America.

The tour will visit 15 college campuses to educate students who are considering joining Teach for America about how its business model works.

From USAS’ press release:

Imagine your favorite professor. Now imagine that this professor will be replaced by someone who has only been trained for 5 weeks and will only be at your university for two years. They don’t know anything about you, they don’t know anything about the community at your university, and they don’t know anything about your life and how it relates to your capacity to learn. Now imagine that this isn’t happening just to your favorite professor, but to every professor at your university. As you can tell, this is a situation that would devastate and destabilize your university.

That’s what’s happening in K-12 public education. For example, in Chicago the Board of Education slashed the budget for schools and fired teachers, yet increased its financing of TFA from $600,000 to $1.6 million and brought in over 300 TFA corps members. In Newark, the superintendent, an TFA alumnus, is likely to fire 700 teachers and replace most of them with TFA corps members. But as one study noted, TFA “is best understood as a weak Band-Aid that sometimes provides some benefits but that is recurrently and systematically ripped away and replaced.”

In order to operate, TFA depends on its partnerships with universities to get corps members certified to teach in each state. While teaching, corps members must attend classes at a university, which in some programs can lead to a master’s degree. In effect, TFA uses our universities’ names to make up for its own weak training programs and convince state boards of education that its members are “highly qualified” to teach.

But students are refusing to allow this to happen any longer. We are joining together with parents, teachers, and TFA alumni to expose the truth about TFA.

At a TFA Truth Tour stop at the University of Pennsylvania, half the room was filled with students considering TFA:

“I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve head of students at schools being told, ‘If you get a job offer from Goldman Sachs you can defer that offer and still do Teach for America and then carry on with your real career,’” said Jan Van Tol, a national organizer with USAS. “That runs counter to what we believe, which is that teachers should be well-trained, well-educated professionals. Teaching is not a hobby you just do for two years.”

Last year, North Carolina’s lawmakers decided to ditch the renowned NC Teaching Fellows program and instead funnel more money to Teach for America.

The NC Teaching Fellows program awarded $6,500/year scholarships for tuition at an in state college to North Carolina high school students interested in teaching. In return, students were required to teach for four years in North Carolina after graduation. The highly regarded program had high retention rates, with 75 percent of Teaching Fellows continuing to teach into their fifth year, whereas Teach for America’s retention rates are poor: only 28 percent of TFA teachers remain in public schools beyond five years, compared with 50 percent of non-TFA teachers.

GTNThis summer, approximately 450 teachers in North Carolina could receive $10,000 bonuses if they are selected for the Governor’s Teacher Network (GTN), a federally funded initiative that will ask teachers to share their best work around instruction and professional development in exchange for a pay bump.

Gov. Pat McCrory, along with the NC Department of Public Instruction, established GTN with funds from the federal Race to the Top grant. Teachers who apply and are selected to participate in GTN will serve for one year as Race to the Top-aligned instructional and professional development experts, in addition to their normal teaching duties.

Applicants are expected to submit project proposals, which could include developing professional development sessions and materials, or creating unit plans, lesson plans and assessments for the state’s Home Base system, a suite of web-based technology tools designed to elevate teaching.

“The Governor’s Teacher Network is a fantastic opportunity for teacher leaders to offer their very best thinking and expertise to support their peers across the state,” said Gov. McCrory in a press release. “Their work will directly result in North Carolina teachers having access to more resources that will help them help students achieve at greater levels.  Best of all, these resources will be designed for NC teachers, by NC teachers.”

The proposal sounds similar to a plan McCrory floated last summer, when he announced his intention to use $30 million of Race to the Top funds for an Education Innovation Fund that would reward 1,000 top teachers with $10,000 stipends. That proposal was met with criticism by State Board of Education members at a meeting shortly after his announcement. Read More

Steve Ford, former editorial page editor for the News & Observer, breaks down the latest statistics from the National Education Association on state level public education financing in today’s NC Policy Watch column, “Crossroads for Teacher Pay.” North Carolina still ranks pretty low in NEA’s survey, sitting at 46th in the nation in teacher pay for the second year in a row.

Here’s the overall picture, drawn from census and budget statistics: North Carolina shapes up as a state with below-average wealth, below-average overall levels of taxation and below-average revenues committed to the schools.

Of particular concern to teachers, and of particular importance as a factor in school quality, is the state’s teacher salary structure. The NEA’s survey confirmed that during the 2012-13 school year, the latest comparison available, North Carolina continued to rank toward the back of the pack. Its average teacher pay was $45,737, or 46th in the country and $10,366 below the national average.

And while state-level funding per pupil looks good for North Carolina at first glance, remember that localities don’t pay into their local school systems to the same degree as their counterparts in other states — it’s incumbent on the state to fund the majority of the state’s local school budgets. Combined state and local level funding per pupil actually puts North Carolina at the bottom — 48th in the nation, just above Tennessee, Arizona and Idaho.

Read Ford’s full analysis here.

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Sen. Jerry Tillman with Wake Forest filmmakers

Yesterday, during a meeting of the NC Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force, Sen. Jerry Tillman and
sergeant-at-arms Mr. Philip King approached the press section of room 544 of the Legislative Office Building to speak with two documentary filmmakers from Wake Forest University.

Monica Berra, co-director of a film that will look at the sweeping changes brought to North Carolina’s education system thanks to recent legislative actions, told NC Policy Watch that first, sergeant-at-arms King, and then Sen. Tillman, told her and her colleague, Tom Green, that they could not film the meeting without prior approval.

“Are you members of the press? Did you check in with someone,” prodded King. Read More

Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, told teachers in her district last week that she would fight to get all teachers pay raises, not just for 25 percent of teachers in the state, who must accept 4-year contracts in exchange for tenure, or only for beginning teachers as Gov. Pat McCrory has proposed.

From the Carteret County News-Times:

The Appropriations Act of 2013 is designed to phase out teacher tenure by 2018. As a first step, the law requires school boards in 2014 to give $500 pay raises and four-year contracts to 25 percent of their eligible teachers. In exchange, teachers who accept the raises and contracts agree to give up tenure. Principals evaluate teachers and decide which ones qualify for raises, with the school board giving final approval.

“This is not a good way to ask a principal to evaluate you for raises when you all work in teams. That is a bad plan,” she said. “If we want to stop tenure, then just stop tenure. Don’t keep it hanging out there like a carrot for raises.”

Ms. McElraft said she also disapproves of a proposal by Gov. Pat McCrory to give raises to new teachers instead of all teachers.

She said she planned to ask that money set aside for the 25 percent and new teacher raises be used instead to give all teachers a pay raise.

“As far as I’m concerned all of you should get raises. Was I happy with all that went into the education budget this year? Absolutely not. But in order to get the budget passed, sometimes you have to approve things you don’t agree with.”

Ms. McElraft said when Gov. McCrory and legislators took office, they inherited a $3.5 billion state budget deficit. Plus, the state is facing an astronomical cost for Medicaid, which has hurt the economy even more. She said half of the state’s population is now on Medicaid.

Many teachers who attended the meeting at Bogue Sound Elementary fought back tears as they explained to McElraft how difficult it is to be a teacher in North Carolina.

For teachers such as fourth grade teacher Jason Vanzant, not getting a pay raise in several years has caused him to get a second job on the weekends.

“I work two jobs and have since 2007,” said Mr. Vanzant, choking back tears. “I work 15 hours a day here, then eight hours on Saturday and several hours on Sundays. I’m cleaning bathrooms and it’s actually demeaning. But you do what you have to do to teach in this county. It doesn’t give me much time for my family. I guess what I’m trying to say is ‘help.’ ”

While McElraft supports pay raises for all teachers, she did say she opposes career status, also known as teacher tenure, which is set to be completely eliminated in North Carolina by 2018. Career status offers teachers a hearing by a third party in the event they are demoted or dismissed.

Members of the N.C. Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force will meet today at 2:00 p.m. to discuss ways to create an alternative compensation system for educators.