On August 22, 2013, WAFF ran a story about the Teach for America teachers (TFAers) working in the Huntsville City School system during the 2012-2013 school year.
While this wasn’t the first time that TFAers were working in HCS, it was the first time that they were working here in significant numbers. According to the Jim Abath of WAFF there were 27 TFAers working in the district during the 12-13 school year which was up dramatically from about 4 working in the district (and almost entirely at Martin Luther King Elementary) during the 11-12 school year.
Hiding the TFAers and Their Data
When the district entered into the 1.7 – 1.9 million dollar contractto run over the next four school years from 2012-2013 through 2015-2016. (It’s the “or more” wording in the original contract that makes it so difficult to nail down. On November 12, 2011 Dr. Robinson shared with me an email from Dr. Wardynski stating that the total number of TFAers that the district would hire over the four-year period would be as follows:
- 2012-2013: 40
- 2013-2014: 50
- 2014-2015: 50
- 2015-2016: 50
It seems that the district came in a bit under that number last year. According to the August 2012 Check Register, HCS wrote a check to Teach for America in the amount of $145,000 (Check #1013839).
As is detailed in the contract, we pay–on top of salaries and benefits for a TFAer–$5,000 per year, per teacher for two years for TFA’s “help” in recruiting and training TFAers.
So assuming that the check for $145,000 was for the first year, that means that we paid TFA for 29 TFAers, not 27 as reported by WAFF.
Then on April 25, 2013, the district wrote a second check to Teach for America in the amount of $150,000 (Check # 1023524).
I assume that this check was to cover the second year of the first TFA cohort hired in August 2012. If that is correct, then we have just paid for 30 TFAers for the 2012-2013 school year.
My assumption is that the district, as is their practice, underestimated the number of TFAers they have employed.
It is also possible that the total hired in August was 29 and that two of those 29 decided to quit. There were numerous rumors across the district that at least two TFAers decided that teaching just wasn’t for them, and so they quit. I’m uncertain where the 30th TFAer went.
Of course, since HCS wouldn’t confirm the total number hired, nor where they were being placed, this is difficult to confirm.
I have managed to confirm that we are currently employing nearly 60 TFAers in our schools. In fact, TFA of Alabama is regularly bragging that Huntsville is their fastest growing city in the state. That’s right. An organization that was created to assist in the staffing of schools that have historically not been able to hire teachers has made Huntsville, Alabama, a district that a year before signing the contract fired 254 highly qualified, certified teachers, who wanted to make education their career.
TFA has doubled the number of TFAers in this district during a year when 315 district employees have voluntarily left the district.
One would think that if TFAers were as amazing as Robinson, Blair, and Wardynski claimed that they were that they would be thrilled to publish their names, the schools they teach in, and all of their astonishing data.
But they aren’t.
Kinda makes you wonder why, doesn’t it?
Wardynski Claims There Is No Data
Evidently WAFF felt the same way. You see Wardynski, and others, persisted in telling WAFF that the only data they had, you know–from the man who claims that data drives every decision he makes–that they only have data on just five math TFAers and five reading TFAers all at Westlawn.
When WAFF asked for additional data on other TFAers in the district, Dr. Wardynski responded that, “that’s all the data they have, that there isn’t any standardized test to gauge history or science teachers.”
When pressed further, he responded, “they didn’t have numbers on science because the state didn’t require it.”
Here is the sum total of TFAer mathematics data that the district shared with WAFF:
There are five data points on this math chart for one school.
Here’s the sum total of TFAer reading data that the district shared with WAFF:
There are five data points for reading on this chart for one school.
That’s it. Up to potentially ten TFAers representing either 27, 29, or possibly 30. (Note, WAFF claimed that they had data on 7 teachers. I’m not sure where that number came from based on this data. You can download the slides that Wardynski shared with WAFF from their site.)
These slides came from a presentation that Dr. Cathy McNeal made to the board of education back in February. You remember, this was the data where she claimed, “I’ve never seen growth like this. It’s phenomenal.”
It’s interesting though that the information that the district provided WAFF on August 22, 2013 was modified from the February 7th presentation. You can download the original presentation from February from the district’s site.
Here are the slides from the board meeting:
You’ll note that two of the TFAers are labeled as “Dynetics teachers” in this chart meaning that Dynetics is providing support for these two teachers.
Wait a second: I thought Wardynski claimed that he didn’t have data for teachers of science because, “there isn’t any standardized test to gauge history or science teachers.”
Yes, our TFAers are corporate sponsored. And no, the level of sponsorship wasn’t detailed. But we do know that the district is paying their salaries and an additional $5,000 per year for these two Dynetics sponsored TFAers.
I wonder what that extra “sponsorship” is buying, don’t you?
Here’s the reading chart from February:
In this chart Intergraph and COLSA are sponsoring two TFAers.
According to “SMARTParty,” and organization of Huntsville “prominent individuals” (many of whom have the last name of Battle) designed to organize fundraisers for our TFAers (because evidently paying TFA an extra $5,000 per teacher, per year isn’t sufficient) the company sponsors allow TFAers to “expand opportunities for their students through exposure to resources and prominent individuals throughout the Huntsville Community.”
Why are companies only sponsoring TFA classrooms and not all of our classrooms?
Now, ask yourself, if local corporations are sponsoring TFAers in the district, and we know exactly which TFAers are being sponsored by three corporations, how likely is it that Dr. Wardynski doesn’t know how each TFAer has performed in the past year?
The Data Given To WAFF Was Modified
Hold onto that question for a moment as we consider these charts from February. These were also found in the slide given to WAFF with one crucial difference. I wonder if you can spot what it is?
Lakeisha Agun is a curriculum specialist.
Debbie Lynch is a collaborative teacher
Freddie Stokes is a social studies teacher.
That’s right the district’s slides from February showed the names of teachers with the highest scores in the district in reading and math. The slides that the district provided to WAFF for their story in August redacted the names of those teachers from that data.
I wonder why? Could it be that it would be harder for the district to claim that they didn’t keep data on the TFAers because “the state didn’t require it?”
TFA Data Does Exist, Wardynski Just Doesn’t Want to Share
So in February the district had and displayed data from most of the teachers in the district. This data was so precise and detailed that it even tracked collaborative, curriculum specialists, social studies, and yes, even science teachers.
It would seem that the superintendent wasn’t being exactly clear when he claimed that there wasn’t data on history or science teachers because there aren’t standardized tests to gauge teachers of those subjects.
You see, the STAR test of reading and math is used to gauge teachers of all subjects from Pre-K to Twelfth grade regardless of the subject they actually teach.
Furthermore, Wardynski has, time and again stated that every decision, every single decision made in this district will be based upon data from teacher evaluations all the way up to school closings. Wardynski claimed on February 16, 2012:
When you measure and hold people accountable amazing things happen. . . . So where’s there apprehension, I strongly encourage staff to become comfortable with this process. Because we’re going to know where our children are, and we’re going to make sure they’re moving forward.
I’m curious? How exactly does one hold people accountable, how does one “know where our children are” without keeping the data?
That’s the two-edged sword, isn’t it Dr. Wardynski? Data is fine and wonderful when it shows and supports your preconceived notions. But when it doesn’t, well then we just have to claim it doesn’t exist.
Dr. Wardynski is incorrect. The data that WAFF was asking for does, absolutely exist.
Hell, it was posted on the walls of our schools over the entire summer.
The data to show how TFAers are stacking up next to our other, you know–actually trained teachers–is available. Dr. Wardynski just simply didn’t want to publish it.
Again, it makes you wonder why, doesn’t it?
Could it be that despite all the claims that TFA makes for how amazing their teachers are (which are quickly and effectively, and humorously debunked), despite all the “SMART” parties that are hosted by the Battles and employees of the school district, despite the claims by TFAers like Jesse Frank that claim that TFAers are “competitive with the veteran teachers across the district,” the Huntsville City Schools district refuses to release the data from the STAR test that might support some of their claims.
What exactly is the district trying to hide concerning the nearly 60 TFAers that we’re now employing and throwing parties for?
He who lives by the data will die by the data. I’m sure someone famous said that once upon a time.
Raw data is meaningless … it may tell you where you are … but not why. The objective interpretation of data may be useful, but only within the constraints of a level playing field. There are too many factors outside the scope of the teacher’s control (parental involvement, student interest, environment, … etc). “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure”. Also, for the data to be credible implies that it must be verifiable (trust but verify), so there must be a “quality assurance” program to sample or audit the data. Data analysis is critical … data is worthless unless trends are explainable and predictable. The notion that a student’s knowledge or a teacher’s performance may be reduced to a single data point is fatally flawed.
I agree that the data is flawed. However, that data forms the basis of everything that happens in this district. It should therefore be made public so that we can assess it’s value for ourselves.
Dynetics provides tutoring over the lunch period for ‘their’ TFA teachers, they pay for them to take field trips also. I wrote to the Mayor and Kenneth Anderson, from the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and to every sponsor on the (not so) SmartParty website. I explained to them how having a fundraiser for a corporation that will earn $300,000 from us this year is a slap in the face to every teacher that has to post needs for soap, paper towels, tissues, etc. on the HCS website. I didn’t get a particularly good response. When I explained that I would be holding a protest outside of the Museum of Art during the fundraiser I was accused of being a trouble maker. I was asked how the Parents that have their children in TFA classes felt….I explained that the parents don’t even KNOW! Who would think to ask their child’s teacher what their certification is and what their degree is in? I know I never would have! I am happy to say that these parents are starting to ask questions….and thanks to the info like you have in this blog Russell they are opening their eyes to what is happening. Are we trouble makers? No, we are educators. These parents will think and feel what they chose to….But they HAVE the right to have all the information….and we ARE NOT the bad guys for giving it to them. After being contacted by one of the people on the SmartParty committee I chose to cancel the event on Thursday. She has claimed to be ‘about education and ALL of our teachers’ here in Huntsville and has offered to have a fundraiser for them. I am taking her at her word. I will post the info about the event as soon as I know. I explained my views on TFA has NOT changed…but I can agree to not interrupt their event as long as there is something in it for our Lifelong educators. You see….I absolutely can build bridges when I work with people that want to meet me half way. Keep up the investigative work Russ….your work is awesome!
This information hurts my heart. I have always wanted to be a teacher. The love of teaching children is what has kept me in the classroom for almost 20 years. To improve my classroom practice, I have paid for advanced degrees on my own and spent nearly 6 years after school, on the weekends, and over the summers taking classes. I will admit that I have received a modest pay raise for each degree, I am still making well under what other professions would make with similar amounts of education. I don’t do this for the money. We don’t do this for the money. Every day, I am insulted enough to know test scores of my class are the main basis for judging my effectiveness as an educator. I am discouraged daily by the increasing pressures placed on me to make sure my data goes up by reading a curriculum script (per admins) But to know that TFA teachers are being sponsored and praised leaves me speechless. The morale of experienced teachers is at an all time low. We feel we are being pressured to quit or retire or leave. This is just one more stab for experienced, trained educators. Thank you Terri. Thank you Russ. And thank you to those who know what is going on and want to speak up for us. And no I don’t want to use my real name because I am already an outspoken teacher who has been targeted. I don’t need another arrow my way because I already feel my job is threatened.
I agree Just a Teacher. Did you know that the original 4 TFAs got to have dinner with Wardynski? I lost track of the parties and accolades they received. They received an awful lot of support and professional development too. They were allowed to do things in their classroom that the rest of us NEVER were allowed to do. I think it is ironic that Wardynski will not share the TFAs test scores. It can be done without naming the teachers.
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