The Facts About Our Work In Newark

Executive Director of Teach For America New Jersey weighs in on recent misconceptions.
Monday, February 24, 2014


A head shot of a middle-aged woman with short dark brown hair smiling against a gray background, wearing gold hoop earrings and a gray blazer.


The rancor about education in Newark is getting incrementally more inflammatory and Sunday, a line was crossed in the blogosphere.  Bob Braun’s piece, Newark: 700 teachers may be laid off, many replaced by TFA is full of toxic inaccuracies that have the potential to damage trust among parties who must continue to be in dialogue in order to reach real solutions for students and teachers alike.  I was moved to reply because this kind of rumor spreading, this insistence of stringing together unrelated vignettes into conspiracy theories, is exactly the undercurrent compromising our ability to move forward to a place where children in New Jersey are our first priority and as a result, are equally equipped to pursue college or career options.

To work on behalf of kids, we have to believe and act as if the facts matter. In that spirit, for everyone committed to understanding the complexities of education and its associated policies and processes, five truths from Teach For America-New Jersey:

  1. Newark Public Schools has not confirmed a number of openings for the upcoming 2014-15 school year, or how many TFA teachers they may want to consider.  As the executive director managing the pipeline of available teachers from TFA, I can tell you it will be nowhere near 300 as claimed.   There are currently 65 TFA teachers in NPS schools (48 in their first year, 17 in their second year). Based on previous conversations with the district we were anticipating providing up to 40 TFA candidates for NPS in the coming year, a small percentage of the new teachers they were anticipating hiring.  The overwhelming majority of new teachers in NPS this school year, fully 80%, came from sources other than TFA.  No one, NPS or hiring principal, is under any obligation to hire candidates coming through TFA next year or any year.  Principals interview TFA teachers along with all other candidates and make their decisions based on what is best for their schools.  Layoffs at the district level affect all district employees, including TFA teachers.
  2. Teach For America teachers teach in high need schools and are often a desirable talent pipeline for high need subject areas.  Certain positions, such as special education, science and math are hard to fill and there is overwhelming demand for additional sources of talent for those roles. Teach For America New Jersey is one such source of talent for principals to consider. 
  3. In 2013, Walton Family Foundation made an announcement regarding a grant to Teach For America-New Jersey. The grant provided financial support to recruit, train and develop 370 teachers over two school years  (including the current school year) for both district and charter openings.  Positioning this grant announcement which is more than six months old as related in any way to the current school board proceedings is purposefully misleading. 
  4. The size of our corps, which is quoted on our regional website includes placements outside of Newark, including surrounding communities of Passaic, Paterson, Elizabeth, Orange, and Jersey City.  Attempts to draw parallels between the number of TFA teachers across New Jersey, and emerging details about the staffing plan at the district level are manipulations of data to suit divisive purposes.
  5. TFA teachers come from a range of educational and professional backgrounds, and over 70% of our regional alumni remain in education after their two year commitment, including some of Newark’s most celebrated educators and 20 school leaders.  One third of our first and second year teachers have roots in New Jersey, including alumni of state schools such as Rutgers, Montclair State University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and William Paterson University of New Jersey.

Fatimah Burnam Watkins is the Executive Director of Teach For America New Jersey.


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