Mike Kueber's Blog

November 13, 2011

A reader’s response to my post about to age discrimination at City Year

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 5:49 pm
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Several weeks ago, I posted an entry in my blog about City Year and age discrimination.

City Year is a nonprofit organization that is attempting to improve public education by partnering with public schools to keep at-risk students in school and on track to graduate.  In my blog posting, I compared City Year to the more famous nonprofit Teach for America (TFA):

  • “While TFA performs through temporary teachers (a non-education college degree) with a two-year commitment, City Year does its thing through temporary teachers’ assistants (young high school grads) with a one-year commitment.”

A major similarity with both programs is that they emphasize working through idealistic young people.  They differ, however, in that TFA does not actually require that its teachers be young, whereas City Year actually requires that its teachers’ assistants be 17-24.  I wondered it that was compliant with America’s Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

A few days ago, a reader of my blog sent me two informative comments on my City Year entry, and I decided to post them below for the benefit of readers who otherwise would never see the one-month old comments.  The first comment indicates that, although Teach for America does not overtly discriminate (de jure) against oldsters, someone is alleging that they discriminate in fact (de facto).  The second comment attempts to justify age discrimination by programs such as City Year.

  1. Teach for America is not immune from ADEA litigation, and their ability to successfully defend the argument that hiring older workers would interfere with their long-term objectives is about to be tested. The most recent round of selection (or ‘admission’, as Teach for America refers to it) of new TofA corps members excluded a former college professor with 15 years of experience, including 7 at a university where more than 99% of the students were classified as ‘ethnic minority’. It is hard to imagine the basis for an argument that successfully defends the preferential selection of enthusiastic but inexperienced recent college graduates over experienced educators with proven skills, especially for placement in some of the most disadvantaged school districts in the country.
  2. To your point about the narrow age range for ‘City Year’ participants: some educational support programs (such as City Year) depend on a ‘mentorship ladder’ model, which critically depends on the development of ‘emotional investment’ between the support program team members and the students they seek to assist. I don’t know specifics about City Year’s organizational model but have witnessed the positive benefits of similar programs that were structured around the ‘mentorship ladder’ model. Since these programs use ‘emotional connections’ as an implicit part of their program design, their age restrictions are, in my opinion, justifiable for pragmatic reasons, There is no exclusionary privilege associated with ‘City Year’ that forbids the development of companion programs utilizing older workers in a similar capacity, with nuances in ‘tone’ due to the age differences between students and program members. The development of a ‘City Year’-like program for older workers is most likely inhibited by the cost and availability of older workers for this type of program. Given the number of parental volunteers currently in demand in many school districts, the use of older workers seems like fertile ground for new educational support programs.

October 5, 2011

City Year and age discrimination

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:05 pm
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Teach for America (TFA) is a non-profit organization founded by Harvard student Wendy Kopp in 1998.  Its objective is “to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting the nation’s most promising future leaders to teach for two or more years in low-income communities throughout the United States.”  According to Wikipedia, the organization intends for its temporary teachers “to gain the insight and added commitment to tackle the root causes of America’s achievement gap throughout their lives.”  TFA has succeeded far beyond anything Kopp could have reasonably expected, and the book Class Warfare describes how TFA alumni are in the vanguard of education reform in America and how they played an invaluable role in the development and implementation of Race to the Top.

Last Sunday morning I was listening to a community affairs show on radio Y100 and heard the guest describe a local organization – City Year – doing good work that sounded remarkably similar to TFA.  According to Wikipedia:

  • “City Year is an education-focused, nonprofit organization that partners with public schools to provide full-time targeted intervention keeping students in school and on track to graduate. In communities across the United States and through two international affiliates, our teams of young AmeriCorps leaders support students by focusing on attendance, behavior, and course performance through in-class tutoring, mentoring, and after school programs that keep kids in school and on track to graduate.”

Like TFA, City Year has an Ivy League pedigree.  It was founded in 1988, ten years before TFA, by two Harvard law students.  While TFA performs through temporary teachers (a non-education college degree) with a two-year commitment, City Year does its thing through temporary teachers’ assistants (young high school grads) with a one-year commitment.

President Clinton was so impressed by City Year that in 1993 he created AmeriCorps to help support City Year, VISTA, and similar domestic programs.  AmeriCorps programs are currently staffed by approximately 85,000 new workers each year.

City Year’s funding is 26% from AmeriCorps, 26% from foundations, 20% from corporations, 14% from individual donors, 8% from other government sources, and 6% from in-kind donations.  City Year currently places its 1,400 corps members, aged 17-24, in 21 cities across the country, including San Antonio.  Among the academic-support and after-school programs performed by the members are the following:

  • Teach students in grades 3-5 about leadership, teamwork and community service.
  • Run City Year After School, in which students grades 3-5 participate in a variety of enrichments, including art, music, cultural awareness, dance, environmental issues and many more.
  • Provide one-on-one and group tutoring to improve literacy and math scores.
  • Promote a positive school climate by hosting a variety of evening and weekend events designed to engage students, their families, the school community and the local community.
  • The Young Heroes and City Heroes programs for middle school and high school students respectively are leadership and service programs run by City Year corps member teams, run from December to May on Saturdays. In the morning of Heroes Saturdays, have themes on social issues such as hunger, homelessness, ageism, drug abuse, and racism. During these days, heroes participate in workshops and perform community service projects.
  • City Year San Antonio serves high-need, low-income students who are at risk of academic failure.  In addition, school-based service, corps members make a positive impact in communities throughout the city by completing transformational neighborhood improvement projects that transform communities.

Did you notice that City Year targets kids aged 17-24?  In this time of rampant age discrimination in America, I wonder how City Year is able to blatantly discriminate against the non-young. Both TFA and City Year are clearly directed toward young kids, and TFA could argue that, as a practical matter, its objective of long-term reform would be put at risk by placing older persons into the program.  But TFA doesn’t officially include an age requirement, whereas City Year does.  This seems analogous to a state medical school declining to spend its resources training a 60-year-old person to be a doctor.  But compliance with the law and practicality are two different things, and I don’t think practicality can justify violating the law.

Maybe I’m missing something, but this appears to be a lawsuit waiting to happen.  Unless the federal government is immune from ADEA litigation.

December 13, 2010

Charter schools in the Rio Grande Valley – IDEA and the PSJA

One of the first postings to my blog concerned American education policy.  The posting was based primarily on a book by educator Diane Ravitch.  Ravitch recognizes the promise of charter schools, but is more concerned that they will hurt those left behind in public schools.  Last week, the Texas Tribune published an article on a successful charter-school network in deep South Texas – IDEA – that was expanding its scope by developing a training program for area teachers and principals.  (Don’t ask me what IDEA stands for; I’m sure it’s cute.)

IDEA was founded in 1998 by two veterans of Teach for America (TFA), the program that places graduates from primarily elite colleges without a typical teacher’s education in low-income areas for a two-year commitment – kind of like a domestic Peace Corp.  There are currently 192 TFA teachers working in the Rio Grande Valley. 

IDEA started small in Donna, TX and by all measures has been a success.  With the help of large grants from the federal government and private foundations, it will meet its goal of 11 campuses, 22 schools, and 8,000 students by 2012, and the Texas Education Agency has rate each IDEA school as “exemplary.”  Further proof of success – there are 14,000 kids on a waiting list to enroll in an IDEA school in the Valley.  That sounds like the movie documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” which I haven’t seen yet, but it is on my list of things to do.      

The Texas Tribune article, which was also published by the New York Times, was not a broad review of the IDEA charter schools, but rather focused on the collaboration of charter schools and traditional public schools (technically charter schools are public schools).  This cooperation strikes many as odd because these two types of schools are supposed to be mortal enemies engaged in a battle to the death. 

The Obama administration, which is a big supporter of charter schools, borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars and made that money available through Investing in Innovation (I-3) grants, with some of that money designated to promote charter-district collaborations. 

IDEA, in coordination with the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District and Teach for America – sought a grant to create the Rio Grande Center for Teaching and Leading Excellence (RGC).  Against all odds – only 49 applicants from a national pool of more than 1,700 – the PSJA-IDEA-Teach for America partnership was the sole winner from the state of Texas. 

According to the Texas Tribune article, the RGC is intended to train teachers and principals. 

  • First-year teachers and those recruited from elsewhere will attend the center for a few weeks of training over the summer. They will also go to multiple sessions throughout the year and can call on the center for extra help. In all, about 1,200 educators will pass through the center over the next four years.

That purpose is a bit inconsistent with the initial press release from the local congressman, Ruben Hinojosa, who announced (as politicians are wont to do) the grant earlier year.  According to Hinojosa, training is only a small part of what the RGC and more of its focus will be recruiting:

  • IDEA and PSJA will work together with Teach For America to create a program that will recruit, select, onboard, evaluate, reward, support, train and retain teachers and school leaders for both IDEA and PSJA schools.  Dr. Noel Tichy, who designed and helped launch the New York City Leader ship Academy, will be the evaluator of the program.The goals of the program are to increase the number of new and experienced teachers and other instructional leaders and at the same time reach more students through high-quality education.

    “Our goal is to bring highly effective teachers in every classroom and exceptional principals in every building,” said Tom Torkelson, President, CEO and Founder [actually, co-founder] of IDEA Public Schools. “We want to help our teachers identify their goals while offering them full support to become successful in the classroom and in their careers”.

    The estimated number of students who will be served in a four year period is 50,365. The grant is for the period of October 1, 2010 through September 30, 2014.

(Leave it to a politician to substitute the number of students served by this program instead of the number of teachers and principals – $8 million for 50,365 students is more effective than $8 million for 1,200 teachers and principals.) 

This focus on recruiting is consistent with the education strategy espoused by many educators.  The Texas Tribune article described this strategy by quoting Ed Fuller from the Center for Teacher Quality, “South Texas really has to rely on their own homegrown talent,” said Ed Fuller, a senior research associate for the Center for Teaching Quality. “You get into this vicious cycle.”  According to Fuller, many South Texas students who decide to enter teacher training programs have low SAT scores. When they graduate from the teacher training and earn their certification, many of them also tend to score low on certification tests. Research has demonstrated that those who had low scores are often less effective teachers.

The bottom line is that IDEA schools are succeeding like any other successful American business engaged in free enterprise.  Many years ago I made up a name – enlightened capitalism – for an economic system that minimizes some of the ugly features of dog-eat-dog, greed-is-good capitalism, and perhaps that is what we have with Rio Grande Centers for Teaching and Leading Excellent.  (I wonder if the name was a pun for Rush Limbaugh’s Excellence in Broadcasting.) 

I believe the IDEA people sincerely want the PSJA system to succeed, even if that success cuts into the IDEA waiting list.  If this collaboration of IDEA, PSJA, and TFA is successful, it might ameliorate author Diane Ravitch’s concern that public schools will become a ghetto for losers.  Possibly this competition of ideas will accomplished what charter-school proponents have always hoped for – i.e., competition will raise everyone’s level of performance.  But America has to be willing to allow institutions to fail.  Creative destruction is an essential side effect of innovation and progress. 

Good luck, PSJA.