New Teach For America-University of Minnesota partnership coming?

Teach for America wants some kind of partnership with the University of Minnesota, but right now there are more questions than answers. What kind of partnership do they want? Is TFA planning to leave Hamline? Why would the U of M consider a partnership? What does Hamline think of its current TFA partnership?

According to Jean Quam, dean of the U of M's College of Education, TFA first approached her four years ago, hoping to convince her department to host TFA’s five-week summer training institute. Currently, there is no TFA five-week training located in Minnesota. At that time, the College of Education turned down their request. Now, the request is back, and Quam is seriously considering implementing a TFA training program at the university. What has changed?

In a recent information session, Quam said that the University of Minnesota is considering hosting TFA’s training program, but only under certain conditions. While the typical TFA approach is to first recruit promising college graduates, train them in a five-week summer program, and then put them in a public or charter school classroom for two years, Quam says the U of M would insist on a longer training program, possibly up to eight weeks. She also said that the U of M would retain choice over which TFA recruits to work with, and would emphasize a commitment to public education and the teaching profession as a whole for these recruits.

This approach would differ from both the typical TFA training model and the University of Minnesota's current programs for training future teachers. As Quam and Associate Dean of Education Ken Bartlett describe it, the University of Minnesota currently offers a path to licensure through a traditional masters' program, and a new post-baccalaureate program called the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative (TERI). 

The TERI model is still embedded in a master’s degree in education program, and it puts those seeking licensure in a one-year student teacher residency with a local public school. A benefit of this, according to Quam and Bartlett, is that relationships are formed among the student teacher, the classroom teacher, and the children they work with.

TFA-Twin Cities’ Executive Director Crystal Brakke is less definite about what kind of partnership TFA is seeking with the University of Minnesota. In an email interview, Brakke said, "TFA is in a very preliminary conversation with the U about the idea of a potential partnership and areas for possible collaboration should TFA become an alternative certification program in Minnesota (which we currently are not.)"  In states such as Michigan and Washington, TFA works closely with the state universities via TFA-specific teacher certification programs that often include recruits pursuing graduate degrees while they are working as classroom teachers. 

The possible agreement with the U of M would differ from the one that TFA-Twin Cities has had with Hamline University in St. Paul, where Brakke says TFA is considered an "experimental program in their School of Education." 

The short-term certification and classroom placement before beginning MA coursework would be the reverse of the TERI model, where students first spend a year in the classroom with a certified teacher and earn a master’s degree in education before becoming full-fledged classroom teachers.

Brakke says that a goal of TFA is to continually improve how their recruits are trained before heading into the classroom and how they are supported once they get there. She maintains that TFA wants to partner with institutions like the U of M as a way to “…think creatively about ongoing professional development… that will be aligned to what we’re learning teachers most need….”

This may be even more necessary given what Brakke describes as TFA’s current presence in Minnesota. According to her, TFA recruits are being hired for “open, hard-to-fill positions in high-needs schools (in Minneapolis Public Schools and 10 charter schools, as of now) for this fall.” The placement of TFA recruits in such “high needs” schools is the crux of what some teachers, union members, and others object to most about a potential TFA/University of Minnesota partnership. 

One Minneapolis public school teacher, Pia Payne-Shannon, questions the effectiveness, as well as the fairness, of putting the teachers with the least amount of training in front of the neediest students. Payne-Shannon recently taught alongside a TFA recruit in an ESL classroom, and said this recruit reported feeling unprepared and overwhelmed.

Payne-Shannon’s concern is that placing such people in the most difficult teaching circumstances does nothing to help close what she calls the “Opportunity Gap,” with “low income students of color” missing out on the most qualified instruction available. She questions whether wealthier parents would accept TFA corps members in their students’ classrooms.

According to Dean Quam, the University of Minnesota is a research institution, and a possible justification for hosting TFA would be to provide a closer look at what works and what does not in teacher preparation programs. Quam also said that TFA has been in Minnesota for four years now, and the U of M could help it become a stronger entity through its College of Education.

A decision about a partnership with TFA is expected in a week or two. 

Minnesota Teach For America has had two other significant setbacks recently. In May Governor Dayton vetoed $1.5 million in funding requested for TFA, saying that TFA already has lots of money and that, "No competitive grant program was established, no other applications were solicited, and no objective review was made by an independent panel of experts" before the legislature approved the TFA request. On June 14, the Minnesota Board of Teachers voted not to grant temporary teaching licenses to TFA recruits as a group, but rather to require that each new TFA recruit apply for certification individually.  


Related stories: 

OPINION | Confessions of a privatizing corporatist union thug

University of Minnesota in talks to partner with Teach for America

Teach for America faces hurdles in Minnesota


  • Alternative licensure discussed at about 3:18 --ALEC exposed. - by Valerie Valeria on Mon, 06/24/2013 - 11:13am
  • The truth about TFA. - by Megan Bauman on Fri, 06/28/2013 - 6:26pm
  • So, once they develop an 8 week program for TFA, will they close their training for career teachers? Why would someone pay all the money for a traditional teacher education-training program when they can get paid for learning along the way? And why does TFA need to enhance their teacher training, as they have always maintained that their 5 weeks of training was superior to years of training and experience? - by Judy Reinke Bjorke on Mon, 06/24/2013 - 12:21pm
  • What does the University of Minnesota have to gain from this partnership? Where are these recruits actually needed? Charter schools? The state has a system of granting variances to licensed teachers or community experts that are working on their licensure. Why does Quam want TFA to become a stronger entity? Shouldn't the goal be to elevate the craft and profession of teaching instead of training temps? - by Jane Swatosh on Mon, 06/24/2013 - 9:55am
  • Thank you Sarah Lahm. Many people are not aware of this possible partnership. I truly appreciate you taking the time to write this. - by Patricia Wycoff on Sun, 06/23/2013 - 9:50pm
  • The key phrase here is "hard-to-fill positions in high-needs schools." Those protesting the expansion of Teach for America in Minnesota: TFA has enthusiastic candidates ready and willing to tackle the challenging jobs that need to be filled in those schools. Reading the comments from sources and readers here, I see a lot of objections to TFA on principle, but not a lot of answers regarding what organization, entity, or group is ready and willing to do a demonstrably superior job of filling those positions and meeting those needs. - by Jay Gabler on Tue, 06/25/2013 - 11:29am

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Sarah Lahm

Sarah Lahm (sarah dot lahm at gmail dot com) is a writer, blogger, and former English Instructor, and has children in the Minneapolis Public Schools.