San Francisco Principals Ignore School Board’s Rejection of Teach for America

Published August 5, 2016

Some San Francisco elementary school principals have hired Teach for America (TFA) recruits for the 2016–17 school year, defying the board heading the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), which chose not to renew its contract with TFA earlier in 2016.

Teach for America is a taxpayer-supported program that, as California Policy Center President Ed Ring reports, “attracts some of the top college graduates in the United States to spend two years teaching students in underprivileged communities.”

Despite facing a statewide teacher shortage, the SFUSD board voted in May to reject 15 Teach for America recruits by not renewing a contract they’ve had with the organization for the past eight years.

The San Francisco Chronicle‘s editorial board wrote in a June op-ed, titled “San Francisco Was Wrong to Chase Out Teach for America,” the school board’s decision was “foolhardy” and that it was “especially regrettable to lose these teachers when they were ready to serve in some of the hardest-to-fill positions: science, math, special education, and bilingual education.”

Teachers Union to Blame?

The Chronicle says the state’s teachers union was behind the SFUSD board’s decision, writing, “So who would object to [the Teach for America] program? Teacher unions, quite vociferously.”

Lita Blanc, the United Educators of San Francisco union president, said in response to the board’s decision, “I actually commend the district and the superintendent for making that decision to back away from TFA at least for the time being.”

Beginning in mid-July, elementary school principals started, in opposition to SFUSD’s determination, hiring eight intern-credentialed TFA teachers, the Chronicle reported. SFUSD Vice President Shamann Walton said he was “upset to hear this is happening.”

Unions Feel Threatened

Patrick Semmens, vice president of public information for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, says teachers unions over the years have continually fought against allowing nonunionized forces to influence education.

“This fits into an ongoing narrative of union bosses trying to protect their territory,” Semmens said. “When it comes to vouchers, charter schools, laws that let parents take over a school, and now Teach for America, I think [teachers unions] view this as competition and something that is a threat to their monopoly. Traditionally, teachers unions put union power before everything else, whether it’s profits in the private sector or students and parents in the education sector.”

Semmens says forced payment of union dues gives teachers unions unearned power and ability to influence government policy in their favor.

“When it comes to forced union dues in a non-right-to-work state like California, a lot of that money gets funneled back into politics,” Semmens said. “In the last election cycle, close to $2 billion was spent by unions nationwide on politics and lobbying. The vast majority of that is from general treasury money, which includes dues from teachers and other workers who will be fired if they don’t pay. That’s a good racket to have, but it’s not necessarily good for students or teachers.

“When they see Teach for America, where they have young teachers coming in who are probably very enthusiastic and want to do what’s best for students even if that’s not what’s best for the union, I think they probably view that as a threat to their power.”

Making Teaching Unattractive

Ring says it’s surprising anyone would want to teach in an environment dominated by teachers unions.

“The real mystery is why there are still any good teachers left in the system,” said Ring. “Why would anyone want to work in an environment like that, where you come in and you care about students and you’re talented and you work very hard to get through to all of your students and get good educational results, and in the classroom right next to you somebody just shows up every day and doesn’t do anything?” Ring said. “They make as much money as you do, and if they stick around, they get increases every year just like you will.”

Semmens says teachers unions work for their own interests, to the detriment of those who pay for the schools and the children who attend them.

“Teachers unions work for the benefit of teacher bosses first and foremost and not necessarily all the teachers—and definitely not students or taxpayers,” said Semmens.

Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.