RI Teaching Fellows Program Exposed?

Just saw thisfrom Diane Ravitch’s blog and wanted to post. It’s an email sent to Ravitch from a former participant in the RI Teaching Fellows Program. And it does not paint a pretty picture of the organization. Kudos to Theresa Laperche, the writer, for opening up about her experiences.

There has been so much debate about educational reform and about Michele Rhee and her Students First organization. I am compelled to describe my experience this past June with the Rhode Island Teaching Fellows Program, a Rhee brainchild. The Teaching Fellows work along the same lines of The New Teacher Project but the Teaching Fellows is an alternative route to teacher certification. The premise is to attract people from the public sector and after 5 weeks of training they will be employed as first year’s teachers in high needs urban schools. The catch phrase is “Let’s close the achievement gap” and get your teaching certification in an alternative route program-well yes I know all about the achievement gap and only starting to realize all the components at work and I decided to re-enter school to become a teacher and this program sounded perfect. I could not have been more wrong!   We start week one learning this militant type tactics of behavioral control-such as “Do it again” “Do it now” and “Slant” to name just a few-we practice this over and over again in a highly structured environment where our every move is scheduled and monitored. We are told where to sit, when to stand and when to speak-they occasionally mix up the tables I believe so friendships are not formed and “talk” starts.  We have lunch in groups with our coaches. We are actually scheduled to meet with our coaches for “debriefing” where we are told not to talk and only answer with yes and no. We watch videos of children in which these tactics are employed in other States. Students are drilled on how to line up, hands by side, mouths closed-told which way to turn and what muscle to move next. They are instructed like they are in the military or prison. All the kids in the video are of course black-these behavioral control tactics are of course not utilized in white schools. A strict agenda is posted in the morning requiring us to adhere to it without question. We are at this point working 16 hours a day and not thinking clearly at all. We are then told to start working on lesson plans that we will implement in the field experience component in the evening and e-mail them to our coach for a review. This lesson planning has to be evidently self-taught as I have taken no education courses, which is one of the requirements of the program. The second week of the program we begin the field experience component is a 4 week 2.5 hour class consisting of students requiring summer school to recover credits. These are the very students we are supposed be so concerned about with the achievement gap. After 1 week of training we are individually thrown in front of this class of 22, still being monitored by training team members. I will argue that I am NOT an effective teacher after one week of training and these kids WILL suffer because of it. By the third day, 6 of my students were not in class and I believe they will ultimately drop out and as an inexperienced RI Teaching Fellow I am completely responsible; it is reprehensible what we are doing to these kids. At the end of this 5 week period we are then placed in an urban school where we are allowed to teach under an emergency teaching certification. At this point we are required to join the TNTP academy where throughout out the year we attend classes and workshops to get our own teaching certification after one year. So the premise is that to qualify for the $5500 educational grant through AmeriCorps you must work in a high need urban school in Rhode Island, what is called the urban4-Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, and Central Falls. These are exactly the only districts we are allowed to apply to. We are also enrolled in AmeriCorps and will receive our educational grant of $5500 after one year of service. The cost of this TNTP academy is $6ooo-hmmm…so I will argue that the Teaching Fellows Program doesn’t care one bit about closing the achievement gap but in fact victimizes our low income minority students to achieve their own agenda which is enrollment in the TNTP academy and to fill their own pockets with outlandish salaries. . I saw advertisements on employment agencies sites for jobs within the Teaching Fellows organization paying anywhere between $60-and $78,000.00 per year-a lot of income to certify perhaps 20 teachers a year in the State of Rhode Island and my guess is less than half of those will stay in the high needs urban public schools. When I began the program there where 28 fellows; I was the fourth to drop out by the eighth day. I believe this organization is syphoning money from public education grants to serve their own purposes and the students that are being harmed are the low income black and brown students in these high needs urban schools. Michelle Rhee and this organization need to be stopped. I have decided to continue on and obtain my M.A.T. and become an effective teacher the proper way in two years and not destroy the lives of unsuspecting students on my way. I am continually looking for ways to expose this organization for what it is and hope it’s days are numbered before any more harm is done to these students. –Theresa Laperche

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Aaron Regunberg is a community organizer in Providence and a state representative in House District 4.

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