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Teach for America Closing Its Office in Detroit

Ohanian Comment: A budget crisis is causing Detroit to make massive layoffs. This reporter seems to imply that it is not reasonable that the first to go would be those who are not certified. I would just suggest that there are plenty of caring oldtime teachers too and that it is not unusual for the 'last hired, first fired' rule to hold. Certainly it's useful to put a human face on tragedy, and I'm sorry that an idealistic young teacher is victimized, but I'd like to see more ink spent on the economic forces driving such decisions.

Caring new teachers like Ryan Gall get hugs from former students and attentive respect from current ones.

These days in Detroit, they may also get pink slips.

After spending two years bouncing around to five classes in two schools to fill in where needed, Gall will have to look for another job because of the Detroit Public Schools' budget crisis.

The district must cut 900 teaching positions and 2,300 other employees because of a budget shortfall of $78 million this year and $91 million next year. Uncertified teachers such as Gall will be cut first.

"Seniority outranks ability," Gall said. "It's very frustrating as a new teacher to see that."

Gall is one of 34 Detroit teachers who are part of a national program called Teach for America. These teachers are idealists who left other professions or impressive colleges nationwide to teach in Detroit.

The program will have to close its 2-year-old Detroit office, making Detroit the first city of 21 sites nationwide to withdraw from the program in more than a decade.

Gall, 25, teaches fifth grade at Westside Multicultural Academy. He led a group of students who won a trophy in a robot-building contest and after school, he plays basketball with boys who need extra attention.

He has used some of his $28,000 yearly salary to buy five sets of books and refrigerator magnets with his phone number on them for his students to take home. In four months, he helped 80 percent of the 36 kids who were in his class earlier this year increase their reading skills by one grade level.

District spokesman Mario Morrow said officials' hands are tied when it comes to preserving Teach for America jobs because the participants are all still going to school for their certification.

"We understand the benefits of Teach for America," Morrow said, "But we have to look at No. 1, our finances, and No. 2, the problem as it exists with certification."

Gall will be certified when he finishes classes at Wayne State University in December.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, all teachers must be highly qualified by 2006. To be considered highly qualified, teachers must be state certified or pass a state licensing exam and have a bachelor's degree. Highly qualified teachers must also prove competency in the subject area they teach.

Wendy Kopp, founder and president of Teach for America, said the program's teachers meet the federal description of highly qualified in all of its sites except Michigan. But commitment cannot be measured so easily.

"They have come out of this thinking change is needed and change is possible," Kopp said of the program's Detroit teachers.

Patrice Mosley, whose daughter Precious is in Gall's class, said losing Gall could make her rethink whether to look for a new school for her son. "He's a creative teacher, a caring teacher," Mosley said. "For this school to lose him is horrible."

— Chastity Pratt
TEACHER LAYOFFS: Idealists the first to go
Detroit Free Press


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