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City school board seeks evaluation of Teach for America, BCTR recruits

Updated: Teach for America teachers do have to pass the Praxis exam to teach in Maryland.

The Baltimore City school board has requested that the district follow through on a plan to assess the effectiveness of teachers who are alternatively certified through programs like Teach for America that for years have funneled teachers into the city's struggling schools.

The city school board approved last week the $880,000 contract to hire and train 125 to 150 Teach For America teachers for the 2013-2014 school year. 

The board also approved a $735,000 contract to hire the same amount of teachers from the Baltimore City Teaching Residency, another alternative certification program the district annually recruits from for its high-need areas.

While the contract amounts did not increase from last year, school board members questioned whether the district was getting enough bang for its buck, particularly from Teach for America.

“A lot of these teachers come to us with bare minimum training and they’re in the struggling schools where students need more," said Commissioner David Stone, who also serves as vice president of the school board. "I'm very concerned...I think our students deserve more."

Stone noted that in November 2011, an external review of retention trends, achievement data, etc. of teachers from BCTR was set to begin. He requested the results of that report, and joined other board members in asking for a similar review of all alternative certification programs.

Stone drilled in on the fact that Teach for America teachers are trained over the summer before standing in front of a class in the fall.

He used a recent flight to emphasize his sentiments about the short training window, saying, “If I knew my pilot had five weeks of training, I'm pretty sure I would get off.”

According to city school officials, of the 600 teachers hired for this school year, half were recruited from the Baltimore City Teaching Residency and Teach For America.

Other school board members said that while they would also be interested in receiving more information about the effectiveness of teachers from the programs, they applauded those who step up to teach in the city's most struggling schools.

“I appreciate those who raise their teach in our schools," said Commissioner Peter Kannam.

Kannam said he thought it would be beneficial to compile a similar report on principals who go through alternative leadership programs, such as New Leaders for New Schools.

Commissioner Bob Heck said that he was comfortable that the nearly $6,000 per-teacher invested in each TFA teacher provides them with double the training. He also pointed out that some teachers come from Ivy League backgrounds.

"The people who are making the commitment are not coming from underachieving programs," Heck said.

Stone agreed that Teach For America teachers "have stepped forward when others have not."

“I know how hard they work," he said. "I’m sure they work especially hard considering the lack of training they have. They deserve tremendous applause.”

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