Teach for America plan opposed for Pittsburgh schools

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The board of Pittsburgh Public Schools heard from a dozen people Monday -- most of them teachers -- who oppose the district's plan to bring in Teach for America teachers to take hard-to-fill jobs at its most challenging schools.

The outgoing school board voted 6-3 in November to approve a contract with Teach for America, despite a petition that asked them to defer the decision to the new board -- with four new members -- that took office early this month.

During a presentation last week by a Teach for America representative, several board members challenged the rationale for bringing in the organization. Board members have hinted they may bring the issue up for a vote again.

At Monday's public hearing, speakers urged that the contract approval be reversed.

Mary King, a teacher at Colfax K-8 and Pittsburgh Arsenal 6-8, asked whether the district has conducted an audit of the certifications and positions that are hard to fill within the district, and if the results of such an audit have been made public to attract local candidates.

She and other Pittsburgh teachers said they believed there are local graduates of schools of education who would be interested in the positions.

Kipp Dawson, a teacher at Coalfax, said an individual who has been a substitute at Coalfax for the past six years has never been asked to take one of the hard-to-fill positions but "would love it."

Ms. Dawson said she found it a "slap in the face" and "public insult" to district teachers when school superintendent Linda Lane said she wanted to bring in Teach for America because the district needed "passionate" teachers.

That sentiment was echoed by other teachers who outlined how they have persevered in their classrooms during recent years of budget cuts and increased class sizes.

All of the teachers who spoke, and some residents, criticized the fact that Teach for America teachers -- who are selected through a competitive process -- receive just five weeks of training before they are placed in some of the most difficult schools in the districts where they are assigned and that they are under contract to stay for just two years.

"There are no short cuts to experience," said teacher Susan Karas, adding that "our neediest children need teachers who are in it for the long run."

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