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NEA Delegates Take Swipe at Teach For America

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In the union's strongest stance yet against the popular Teach For America alternative-certification program, National Education Association delegates approved an item that accuses TFA of taking jobs from other teachers in locales where positions are scarce.

Until now, the NEA had no formal position on the organization, though many of the union's internal resolutions stood in contrast with such TFA practices as its short formal training program. There has long been friction between the two groups, though.

The item calls on the NEA to "publicly oppose" contracts with TFA when they are used in districts with no teacher shortages, or to save money on salaries.

Even before this item got to the floor, its drafters added stronger language, saying that some TFA contracts could be used to "bust unions."

The sponsor, Marianne Bratsanos of Washington State, praised the program for filling hard-to-staff positions but said it has gone too far by placing recruits in districts with no teacher shortages. (She was probably referring to headlines earlier this year out of Kansas City, Mo., where the district was laying off some educators while bringing on others trained by TFA.)

"While this may temporarily suffice when you cannot fill a teaching position, it is not OK where hundreds of experienced teachers have been pink-slipped and are clamoring for limited positions," she said.

She added that the program hurts local colleges of education. And finally, she said "antiunion foundations and corporations substantially fund TFA," naming the Walton, Broad, and Gates foundations. "These corporations work to silence union voices," she said. (The Broad and Gates foundations are past providers of grant support to Education Week 's nonprofit parent corporation.)

TFA will, no doubt, dispute the NEA's characterization. I have a request for comment out to TFA now, and will update the item when I hear back.

UPDATED (8:42 p.m.): TFA spokeswoman Carrie James sent along this statement:

"This year, Teach For America received record interest from schools and districts wanting to hire our teachers, and a record number of applicants for the fourth consecutive year. We will continue to work hard to meet this growing demand for our teachers, which we believe is a reflection of the dedication and effectiveness our teachers bring to the classroom."

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