By Victor Skinner
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Teachers at Grand Rapids Union High School are upset over a plan to replace many of them with Teach for America recruits as part of an effort to dramatically improve academic outcomes.
“We specifically object to the Teach for America clause, which indicates that non-certified, non-highly qualified staff would be considered as replacements for displaced (Grand Rapids Education Association) positions,” teachers wrote in a letter to the Grand Rapids school board, according to MLive.
Union High School is on a list of failing schools that could be taken over by the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan – a statewide reform school district that’s slated to expand beyond the 15 schools it currently runs in Detroit, the news site reports.
Union High School has been among the lowest performing 5 percent of schools in Michigan for the last three years, “based on student achievement, achievement gaps and student growth over time in reading and mathematics,” Mlive reports.
Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal proposed that the school board implement a turnaround plan for Union High that calls for replacing the school’s leadership and half the staff. To hire new teachers, Neal wants to launch a talent recruitment initiative that includes, but is not limited to, Teach for America candidates.
Teach for America instructors are recent college graduates who are trained specifically on successful methods to instruct students in urban schools. They’re typically high-achieving graduates and professionals who commit to a minimum of two-years of teaching in low-income districts.
Participants in the Teach for America program are usually less concerned with collective bargaining issues and securing union perks than they are about improving student learning. The progress they’ve made with challenged students across the nation has been impressive.
The GREA is undoubtedly concerned about losing members, and the dues revenue they generate. It wants the public to believe that Teach for America educators are not qualified or capable of doing any better than GREA teachers.
But the sad fact is they can’t do much worse.
Students at Union High School deserve to receive a much better education, Neal said.
“Unfortunately, we … have far too many schools that are underperforming, with too many students not achieving at high levels,” Neal said at a recent board meeting. “We can and, frankly, we must do better and we must do so very quickly as the threat of one or more schools being taken over by the Education Achievement Authority has never been greater.”