Tuesday, November 24, 2015

DO WE REALLY WANT TEACH FOR AMERICA INTERNS TEACHING SPECIAL ED STUDENTS IN LAUSD? A letter from a TFA Special Ed alum …and a petition to sign if you choose

smf writes:

This open letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) from a Teach For America alum was posted on the Cloaking Inequity website  http://bit.ly/1TdAWzT.

The author was assigned to teach special education in California for 2014.


Dear LAUSD Board,

As you move forward with your plan to hire more Teach For America special Education corps members, I would like to urge you to think very critically about the effects of putting these teachers in classrooms.

As a ’14 Special Education corps member, I am well aware of the ineffective training that TFA and LMU provides, and how that deeply affects our students in the classroom. I am ashamed of my naivety in thinking that five weeks would be enough time to even remotely prepare me for my position as a special educator.  

I understand the need for teachers, especially special educators and know that this is a nationwide crisis that needs to be addressed, but Teach For America is not the answer. They are a Band-Aid fix that is quick to fall off, leaving our young people even more vulnerable and underserved. Teach For America places unprepared, untrained, and overwhelmed teachers into special education classrooms and the only thing it causes is more harm and a larger education gap.

The education we received during summer institute around actually working with and providing services for diverse learners was sub-par at best. We didn’t even see an IEP until the last week of institute, let alone receive instruction on how to write these legal documents. In a district where special education students are already underserved, what does it look like to send someone with four to five weeks of teacher “training” into the classroom? How can we truly believe that we are providing adequate support for our special education students?

On my first day in the classroom I was provided with copies of all 30 (above the legal limit) of my students’ IEPs and was expected to coordinate with their general education teaches how we would work together to provide them with all of the services they had a legal right to as per their IEPs. How was I to work on reading comprehension goals with students when I hadn’t learned proper intervention strategies? How was I to work on extensive social/emotional/behavioral goals when I had no experience either learning about or working with students who qualified for special education under Emotional Disturbance?

TFA corps members are notoriously underprepared, and most will willingly admit this. It is no secret within my corps year, however, that Special Education corps members were the least prepared. With university courses that were irrelevant to our positions (elementary reading lesson planning for teachers placed in high school resource positions, etc.) and minimal support from TFA themselves (Special Education leads who had only 2 years of experience, “cram sessions” that completely disregarded our immediate needs in the classroom), we were set up to fail.

What we need are quality teachers who understand the diverse needs of our students. We need teachers who have been extensively trained, not thrown into a five-week crash course of lesson planning and behavior management. We need to think about how to retain current special educators and how to develop real and effective teacher training programs. We do not need TFA.

Teach For America has about 80 new TFA teachers in LAUSD. They recently received mid-year LAUSD board approval for a 31% (25 position) increase in the size of their corps specifically to “teach” special education. The Board of Ed approved the contract with TFA without debate or discussion as an item on the Consent Agenda at the November 10 board meeting, Report 101-15/16 of Contract #4400003941. The Board Informative is on Page 66 of the electronic document/meeting materials (although it's labeled page 53) in a process described by others as “…it was hidden in the consent calendar with attachments of attachments buried deep”. 

Colorful language for a bit of the old monochromatic opaque transparency.


Similar efforts to place TFA corps members in Special Ed classrooms  in Chula Vista and  Santa Ana Unified School Districts  failed earlier this year  after public outcry. But those districts held actual discussions about the controversial contracts with TFA.


The question becomes: Do we really want well-meaning but undertrained amateurs (being paid doesn’t make one a “professional”) teaching our most vulnerable students?

If you think the answer is NO, maybe you want to sign the petition following.

The pro-charter/pro-®eform media (LA School Report) says this petition drive is driven by “anti-charter activists” :A group of anti-charter school activists is circulating an online petition that calls for LA Unified to rescind a contract with Teach for America (TFA)…”

Gentle readers, this has nothing whatsoever to do with charter schools. Nada, Zero, Zilch.

  • Cancel the contract that pays TFA to recruit untrained interns to teach our vulnerable special education students.
  • Identify reputable programs to recruit graduates and student teachers who are committed to the teaching profession, to our schools and our students.
Petition Background

This is to urge the LAUSD school board to immediately rescind its contract with TFA for special education services. Our most vulnerable students deserve the most qualified professionals possible.


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