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March 5, 2015

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Q&A - Victor Wakefield:

TFA an ‘investment’ in education

Group’s leader says it’s well-suited to help CCSD fill teacher vacancies in high-poverty areas

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Some lawmakers have questioned Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposal to include $2 million for the nonprofit Teach For America, which trains teachers for the Clark County School District. The Sun asked Victor Wakefield, the executive director of TFA in the Las Vegas Valley, about the program and the governor’s proposal.

What would TFA do with the $2 million?

This state investment would allow Teach For America to recruit, train and support 50 additional teachers for critical subjects in high-poverty CCSD schools each year of the biennium. Teach For America teachers fill vacancies in high-poverty schools. The investment will help us better meet the demand from our district, parents and principals across Clark County. Last year, more than 80 requests from principals for additional teachers went unmet.

We intend to leverage every state dollar with $4 from other funding sources, including foundations, corporations and individual donors. In essence, this commitment from the state will help us apply $10 million over a two-year period toward a proven solution: recruitment and development of strong teachers and leaders committed to helping kids rise up through education and break the cycle of poverty.

Critics have said TFA has a high turnover rate — the number of people who leave the school district after their two-year commitment is up — and so they see this as a poor investment. How do you respond to that?

Teach For America corps members and alums will quickly tell you that their commitment to students is never “up.” These individuals begin with at least a two-year commitment to teach in high needs classrooms, but the majority of our teachers stay beyond two years. In the Las Vegas Valley, two-thirds remain in education beyond the two-year commitment.

Today, 165 alumni live and work in our community, including more than 100 who remain teachers in CCSD; 17 who have nonclassroom roles in the district, such as literacy coaches or administrators; and 25 more impacting education in our community through other channels, like nonprofit leadership, higher education and policy.

We believe that the impact of the teaching experience — be it two years or 20 — will reinforce their passion to be lifelong advocates for students. Most will do this as lifelong teachers or school or district leaders, and others will be advocates for students from other fields such as law, policy, medicine or nonprofit leadership. It will take leadership at all levels of the system and targeted support in other sectors to make good on our promise to our kids and families.

Some people question why the state would give money to a nonprofit organization to train teachers instead of working through the public schools. Why should the state give TFA money? Couldn’t the Clark County School District do what TFA does on its own?

An investment in Teach For America is an investment in an additional talent pipeline for Clark County schools and the leadership capacity of the community. Teach For America actively recruits at more than 450 college campuses year-round attracting a diverse group of leaders from all across the country to teach in high-need classrooms in Las Vegas. Additionally, in a school system that is a majority minority, it is critical that we try to mirror the student population. Our current teaching corps is comprised of nearly 40 percent people of color, which outpaces the district average by nearly 20 percent. As we grow, we’re looking to increase that number.

To ensure that the community investment reaches as far as possible, we are committed to collaboration. It takes a communitywide movement to make change for education. Over the past two years, we’ve developed strong collaborative relationships with the Public Education Foundation, the Clark County Education Association and Communities in Schools of Southern Nevada. Our teachers also enroll in the UNLV certification and master’s program while teaching. There are so many pockets of excellence in our community, and we see our role as helping to break silos in education and drive toward a common vision of ensuring that we provide an excellent education for every child.

What do you see as TFA’s role in Nevada?

Teach For America has an important role in Nevada in the short term and long term. We have a critical teacher shortage right now, especially in hard-to-staff subject areas and at our high-poverty schools.

There are hundreds of permanent substitutes in our schools, especially where kids are already coming in behind because of the challenges of poverty, and Teach For America is part of the solution by recruiting and developing teachers who have a positive impact on student achievement and their school culture as a whole.

Superintendent (Pat) Skor­kowsky recently said that hiring new teachers is one of the district’s top priorities, and we’ve been asked to play a larger role.

In the long term, Teach For America is an investment in leadership for education. Alumni of Teach For America are contributing as dedicated teachers, school and district leaders, education advocates and organizers, elected members of the State Board of Education and founders of nonprofits focused on student success.

How does TFA measure success, and how does the program here measure up?

Teach For America has a comprehensive, data-driven approach to recruiting, training and developing talented recent college graduates and career-changers to teach successfully in low-income communities. A growing body of rigorous, independent research shows that TFA corps members are having a positive impact in their classrooms. Since 2009, studies done on teacher effectiveness in three states — Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee — have concluded that Teach For America is the top provider of new teachers in the state.

An independent study of this magnitude has not been conducted in Nevada, but we do know our teachers are having a positive impact. Eighty-five percent of principals who work with our teachers report that they have made a positive impact on their schools. In addition, Teach For America-Las Vegas Valley has produced at least one Clark County New Teacher of the Year every single year since the 2005 school year. The 2012 winner, Ryon Tanara, was recognized for his extraordinary efforts to lead a large percentage of the nonproficient seniors at Canyon Springs High School to pass the writing proficiency exam. The 2011 winner, Chris Reger, had 88 percent of his eighth-graders pass the algebra honors exam versus a 28 percent pass-rate the previous year.

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  1. If TFA candidates are really that "good," why can't they find jobs related to their chosen major or degrees? They did not become teachers in the first place because it was not something they "want" or "like" to do. Yes, as a college freshman, one may still be unsure what it is he or she wants to do when they "grow up." But four years in college should make a person mature enough to know if helping children will make them feel happy and accomplished.

    Teaching is not an afterthought. It is a commitment that begins early in life. It is that knowledge and commitment that make one an excellent teacher. Teaching is not something you do while you wait for something better to come along. That is why we have so many ineffective teachers. It is because they are always waiting for something better to come along instead of focusing on making teaching better. Yes. Some TFA teachers find they love it, but more of exceptions than the rule. Without commitment, I am not sure what will sustain them in the long haul.

    A few questions:

    CCSD has a human resources division with at least a hundred employees and whose main function is recruitment, selection, and placement. Why? Is it not doing its job?

    CCSD has CPD and RPDP departments with at least another hundred employees and whose main function is teacher training. Why? Are these departments ineffective?

    CCSD has an ARL (Alternate Route to Licensure) program. The program accepts applicants with degrees other than education and train them to be teachers in high need areas (special ed and at-risk schools). This is exactly what TFA does. Why? Is the CCSD program ineffective? If so, why is the program still in effect?

    What exactly does TFA do that the aforementioned departments/division/program cannot do?

  2. There are 2 sides to every story, and this interview with Victor Wakefield provides only 1 side. It involves corporations and government dictating in a top-down manner educational policy and practice, and leaves out the very public, citizen, resident, whose life is tremedously impacted by their actions behind closed doors.

    A few years ago, I posted my concerns about the "PIPELINE" to which Wakefield refers to as being,"An investment in Teach For America is an investment in an additional talent pipeline for Clark County schools and the leadership capacity of the community."

    My response only gains credibility with the test of time citing a Winter 2011 article by Joanne Barkin, "Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools," found online at:

    The corporate/public school relationship leaves out the parent, the high stake-holders, in the entire equation of a child's education. Joanne Barkin writes, "All children should have access to a good public school. And public schools should be run by officials who answer to the voters. Gates, Broad, and Walton answer to no one. Tax payers still fund more than 99 percent of the cost of K--12 education. Private foundations should not be setting public policy for them."
    See the Barkin interview on YOUTUBE:

    Another thing lacking in the LV Sun's interview with Victor Wakefield, are the national statistics that include ALL TFA corp members, not just those who "succeeded". If you are curious, read accounts from all sides, hosted by a former TFA recruiter, Gary Rubenstein on these links, for not only him, but many others who are still in TFA, former recruits, etc.:

    Teach for America's former teacher speaks out on:

    Part 1 of 2
    In this case, public ignorance is not bliss.
    Blessings and Peace,

  3. Part 2 of 2

    "THE NEED" is is corporate America telling politicians who tell school districts who tell citizens that there is a need and they will do everything possible to insure that need by sending lobbyists to move academic goal posts (No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core State Standards, Growth Model, Star System, etc.) and create testing, curriculum, consultants, new textbooks and educational materials, towards that end.

    Furthermore, at the beginning each school year we have "numbers day" or "count day" where a in-seat headcount is taken and classrooms and their assigned teachers may be created or dissolved, depending on that day's number count. Teachers get "surplussed", or they end up moving on and out of the district and state, sometimes go on disability, retire, whatever. Any educators high in years and pay scale, if still in the classroom, are routinely pressured and targeted. If they don't make the jump to administrative positions, coaching, or as strategists, life becomes challenging. These last few years have been intense in that vein. So, the need for substitutes is created when this "numbers day" practice continues each and every year. This arguement by Victor Wakefield, "There are hundreds of permanent substitutes in our schools, especially where kids are already coming in behind because of the challenges of poverty," makes NO sense if district folks were not in such a hurry to REACT to the ever-changing numbers. They could change that, and it would lessen the need for "substitutes" at our at-risk schools immediately by retaining licensed, professional, highly qualified teachers that were originally hired.

    There is a great deal of talent that is being managed to suit the demands of governmental politicing and corporate interests, not what is in the best interest of the student/child of the little guy, everyday citizen and their family.

    Real change and educational reform cannot truly happen when those who are affected most, are on the other side of those closed door meetings that they are not privy to.
    Blessings and Peace,

  4. Commenter Tanker 1975 asks an important question, about that $2 million, which seems to be the standard going on with other states governors, as Texas.

    Tanker1975 stated, "How many teacher positions does CCSD need to fill? I believe the number is over 1000 and perhaps as high as 2000. CCSD pays Teach for America $2500 per teacher and the salary and benefits for the teacher. Why does TFA need $2,000,000? What is that money paying for? That works out to $40,000 per teacher.

    Don't forget that arbitrators decision this year that rolled back contractual pay increases for CCSD teachers so that CCSD would have the money to hire additional teachers.

    Why does TFA need $2,000,000?"

    Where is the story about the $2 million for TFA? What is the breakdown? Thank you.

    Blessings and Peace,

  5. Teach for America has two main cheerleaders: Elaine Wynn and Governor Sandoval.

    Governor Sandoval promised to fire one in five teachers - then he implemented leguslation to do this. He doesn't value veteran teachers or the teaching license or public education. As he has proven over and over again - with his policies and where he chooses to spend money. So it makes sense that he would want to hire brand new, inexperienced, and untrained teachers to be replacements to skilled labor. And his policies caused that - pink slipping of 1400 licensed teachers at the same time that 150 TFA were hired.

    Elaine Wynn has become an education expert. Never in the classroom but if you are wealthy - people assume you must know something about - everything? Having observed Wynn buy school board seats in elections and carefully manipulate herself and minions into positions of power - including Alexis Gonzalez-Black a failed TFA teacher, and wife to a TFA Nevada Heavy. Millions to buy State School Board seat? Now heavily pro-TFA? Which has been used as a union- busting tool in Vegas?

    Business is behind TFA this is clear. TFA may be great business practice. It is terrible educational practice. The research has shown TFA fails. The last thing cash strapped Nevada needs is to spend 3 or 4 times the cost for TFA teachers. And place inexperienced TFA in at-risk neighborhoods where kids need someone who has a license. Our kids deserve a real teacher not someone who will experiment on them and leave.

  6. TFA is sorta like paying a recruiting firm to locate and screen potential employees. Since CCSD pays the negotiated salary and benefits, the $2500 recruitment/placement fee merely adds to CCSD's costs. Does a TFA recruit add more value than a teacher secured through the existing recruitment process? Does a TFA recruit stay longer than a teacher secured through the regular recruiting process? If those can be answered positively then TFA might be useful. The data suggests, however, that TFA does not pass a cost analysis review.

  7. It is the principle of the whole thing.

    Parents: have you ever inquired about your child or children's teacher's teaching credentials???

    Now, more than ever, you SHOULD! If your child or children are attending an "at-risk, high poverty, TITLE 1" school, it would be prudent on your part, to know at all times the qualifications of who is in that classroom teaching your chilld or children. Quality of services rendered is usually much better when planned, and that goes for education, family planning, building a house, or a highway. There will be more mistakes and more problems that can be avoided, with proper preparation, training, and supervisory feedback.

    Teach for America teachers only begin with a 5 week summer institute training before jumping from the frying pan into the fire of trying to teach at-risk children. As with any service you pay for, you trust the ability of that person providing that service, you expect proper content training, and field experience/internship. As an example, you would not likely allow a doctor to perform surgery on you with just a 5 week summer institute training. Same for dentists, electricians, plumbers, nurses, lawyers, etc.

    Yet, trusting parents, trusting taxpayers, entrust the most precious possession of their lives, the loves of their very lives, their child(ren), into the care of those who truly are ill-prepared and not qualified to have them. Unbeknownst to the unsuspecting parent, their child will be a practice subject for a novice teacher in training, a college grad who signed up to change the world for the better while learning to do it (and make those learning curve mistakes all along the way) on your child without your full knowledge nor consent, nor the child's for that matter. The Powers that BE have decided in the name of budget, there are "acceptable losses" and so far, THEY decide who is and who ain't.

    Part 1 0f 2
    Teaching is a passion and is also a career choice one commits to for the duration.

    Blessings and Peace,

  8. Part 2 of 3
    To Commenter Willyksu, thank you for coming forward and chiming in! You brought up a great point,to which I will agree: Teach for America teachers are better suited to teaching within their college degree field of specialty as single subject teachers. YES to that. The difference between teaching elementary and secondary does make a difference in terms of using TFA corp members. The nature of working with more mature, older students who more or less have school expectations and structure down, make them a much more desirable student than a young child still learning the nuances of school, and the routines.

    I also have a "unique" perspective, having taught high school science, and ran a Community School with K through 12 students, as well as put in years at the elementary level; all were at-risk, besides being a business owner before formally becoming a teacher.

    It bothers me a great deal that parents are not in the loop regarding TFA notification and possible impact, nor are they given a choice. From Federal government, to State government (which includes our Governor and Lawmakers, and the illustrious lobbyists, to local players in politics, that has from the top administration, principals, teachers, and those who are organizational support), we occassionally see, read, hear news releases, but never have such conversations that seemingly include those who really are stakeholders: parents, students, and taxpayers. How can there be TRANSPARENCY talking about educational "investment" when we are not inclusive?

    Over the years, I have watched the evolution, going from a "teamwork", and a "it takes a village" attitude and practice, to a "top-down" directive leadership style. More and more, parents have been intentionally left out, locked out, told they must make appointments, rather than be welcomed at our schools.

    In turn, education and educators receive less support from parents at the home. Children don't just learn at school (as some are beginning to say in the school culture on the playgrounds, hallways, and homes), but they learn outside of school, while at home and everywhere.

    Teaching is a passion and is also a career choice one commits to for the duration.

    Blessings and Peace,

  9. It is the principle of little to no transparency using TFA as pawns in school districts to reduce financial liability by reducing the number of highly qualified veteran teacher positions. Those teachers who: continue to update their education and skill sets to maintain licensure, who planned their life career to stay with the district for the duration of their teaching careers, who EARNED every cent of their salary and benefits over many years of loyal, dedicated service teaching in the community where they live, work, have their families, and pay taxes.

    The lack of TRANSPARENCY means that those whose lives are most affected, are not knowledgeable about the details and plans affecting them, and that includes the Governor allocating $2 million for Teach for America to do what? Also, behind closed doors, even veteran teachers just might be negotiated out of COLAs and benefits because of the very presence of TFA, and nothing is being done about that. Parents are clueless about what to expect for their child in school---will their child have a TFA teacher who is NOT a professionally trained teacher?

    The unintended or intended consequences can be haunting. But the lack of transparency violates public trust, something that is hard won back once it is lost. Two million dollars could go a long ways in retaining our best teachers in the district, by paying them what they are worth, instead of making them pay to keep their jobs.

    The "doing more with less" just doesn't cut it when every year there are MORE administrators added to the list who receive higher pay, while those faithfully serving in the classroom trenches have larger class sizes, more behavioral children with less help for them, experience more pay and benefit cuts, and having to do more clerical work because of less staff. Every year, more teaching staff leaves the school they have been with for decades, out of anguish, fear, and disappointment.There is no balance in the equation.

    Will they hear,"Well done, good and faithful servant" or will they be pushed into the decision of leaving although it was not a part of their life career plan?

    Only this week, did a veteran school teacher, out of frustration with how teaching in our schools has evolved for the worse, posted a public YouTube on her resignation on May 23, 2013:

    Honestly, it seems that the only ones winning in the educational business (which is a people business!) are those with the money and power---it ain't the students and their families, nor the long-term, career teacher whose life has revolved around school, career,and family.

    Blessings and Peace,

  10. As a taxpayer, I would like a complete breakdown on where every taxpayer cent goes to when Governor Sandoval gives $2 Million to Teach for America. Transparency is vital when every cent is fought over by competiting agencies in our state, as certain industries pay little to no taxes (thanks to Constitutional exemptions) all the while exploiting Nevada's infrastructure, natural resources, and people (worker force). We have a corporation (Teach for America) asking taxpayers to give them money blindly, trusting our government representatives to do right by us. Transparency, please.

    To Bsalkowe, it is something to celebrate and be thrilled about creating positive student engagement and outstanding student outcomes! You guys are rocking it with SWOT, and I am thankful you have come up with something (magic perhaps?) that is stirring the minds of young people into life, living it to the max, and shining by improving their outcomes. Please pass it along to the rest of us, because by sharing (not hoarding) the spark of goodness, it builds a mighty fire---count me in--I am all for it!!!

    Current school culture challenges: Consequences of the NEW, mandated, Teacher Evaluation forms. All too often, those who have a great idea keep it to themselves until they can do a "Staff Development Presentation" or "Grade Level Meeting" for those wonderful "4s" on their yearly evaluations. The current system prevents or deters sharing and making learning outcomes better, if you can imagine that. If a teacher has something great to improve student outcomes, usually they won't share it, because they keep it and practice it themselves and wait until when and then they get administrative and peer recognition, to insure getting those "4s' on their evaluations, only will they then, reveal this cool super special strategy. Another motive is about going COMMERCIAL and now selling their fabulous ideas online. Competition has now gone on steroids.

    Hoarding or not sharing is not what I support nor practice, but it is now common in the education culture and school sites, and perhaps you (Bsalkowe), and your colleagues are breaking out of it and making some headway, influencing others that WE ALL must cooperate and share the wealth on behalf of our learners. Thank you for that. And congratulations!

    Blessings and Peace,