Seattle Showdown: Union-Funded Board Members Trying to Run Teach for America Out of Town

Reports indicate TFA teachers are being harassed by Seattle Education Association sympathizers

SEATTLE – Last year, the Washington Education Association “invested” $11,500 in two candidates who were successfully elected to the Seattle school board.

It appears that investment is already paying dividends for the state’s largest teachers union.

According to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission website, WEA’s political action committee gave $9,000 and $2,500 to the respective campaigns of Marty McLaren and Sharon Peaslee.

Now, McLaren and Peaslee are spearheading efforts to oust Teach for Americafrom Seattle Public Schools, just four months after being sworn in as board members. At last week’s school board meeting, McLaren introduced a motion to terminate the district’s contract with six TFA educators, who have been on the job since last fall.

Nobody has accused the TFA instructors of doing a bad job. It’s just that they take jobs that might otherwise go to overpaid, less motivated union members, and the union won’t stand for that.

The Seattle school board will make a final decision about its partnership with TFA at its March 21 meeting.

Over the past 23 years, Teach for America has recruited top graduates from many of America’s most prestigious universities to teach in troubled K-12 districts for at least two years. TFA instructors are focused on making a difference in the lives of children who are stuck in subpar schools, instead of the union’s agenda of automatic raises, lavish benefits, collective bargaining privileges and partisan politics.

Every TFA member on staff represents one less foot soldier in the unions’ rapidly dwindling army of political activists.

That’s why the teacher unions view TFA as an existential threat.

As the pro-union blog Education Notes put it, “If you haven’t noticed yet, Teach for America and the charter school movement has one major purpose: destroy the teacher union movement.”

A well-orchestrated campaign

It’s no coincidence that union-funded board members have made a priority of ousting TFA from Seattle’s schools. Last spring, the NEA Today – a publication of the National Education Association – ran a story about Seattle Education Association Vice President Johnathan Knapp’s efforts to thwart reformers by electing union friends to the local school board.

“How do we push back on that?” Knapp said. “Getting involved in school board politics is one of the ways to do that.”

McLaren was an obvious choice for the union. Not only is she a union member, but she made it clear in the WEA’s “ candidate questionnaire” that she holds a dim view of TFA.

“Teach for America seems to have been used to bring low-experience, low-priced teachers into our schools, driving out experienced professionals and degrading the quality of children’s educational environment,” McLaren wrote in the questionnaire.

McLaren, Peaslee and union-endorsed Betty Patu all sit on the Seattle school board, and are three guaranteed votes of the four that are necessary in order to kick TFA out of the district.

As unsavory as the union’s bare-knuckled political tactics are, at least they are a legitimate approach to changing the district’s policy.

According to the Seattle Times, one of the district’s TFA teachers has faced “personal attacks on blogs, a lawsuit to get him out of the classroom and an overwhelming number of public-records requests scrutinizing how he came to be hired.”

The paper writes that “activists posted personal information about TFA teachers on a blog. Soon after, there was a burglary at one of the posted addresses.” It’s unclear if the incidents were related.

Despite all of the union attacks, school officials say the TFA teachers are performing well in the classroom.

Even if the McLaren-led effort to expel TFA succeeds, the Times reports that the organization “is finalizing partnerships with other area districts.”

The WEA and its cohorts on the Seattle school board may win this particular battle, but it appears they're destined to lose the war.


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