Tuesday, August 5, 2008

New book about Teach for America

Relentless Pursuit by Donna Foote. Here is what the Weekly Standard says about it:

The last few chapters are especially fascinating for policy enthusiasts as they offer a hopeful look at the changes taking place in public education. TFA teachers at Locke launched a special "academy" within the larger school that was showing promising results. An important component of the academy was an extra period that allowed teachers to spend time with students in subjects where they needed extra help. The TFA teachers persuaded Locke's principal to call a teachers' meeting to discuss making the extra period a schoolwide reform.

When the TFA teachers made impassioned pleas to their colleagues regarding the need for more class time, the teachers' union rep coldly retorted: "If you guys want to work 20 percent more, and not get paid 20 percent more, then vote for seven periods." The teachers voted down the proposal to extend the school day by a 72-to-36 vote. (Interestingly, Locke students supported the idea of a longer school day.)

But the story does not end there. After the 2005-06 school year, several TFA teachers left Locke to start two nearby "Green Dot" charter schools where bureaucracy and union work rules would not be an impediment to student achievement. These schools immediately proved so successful that Locke's principal, Frank Wells, saw the light and decided to join forces with Green Dot. After a protracted struggle with the union, Wells was able to convince a majority of Locke's tenured teachers to sign a petition that would allow the school to convert to charter status. Last year the Gates Foundation provided $8 million to fund Locke's transformation into 10 small Green Dot charter schools, and the new Green Dot Locke campus opened its doors last September--minus 22 incompetent teachers Wells had long sought to get rid of.

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