Even leaving aside the sleazy innuendo about researcher Jane Hannaway* (stay classy NEA!) this National Education Association email (below), from the organization’s executive director, is startling in its tendentiousness (in case you were wondering why there is so much misunderstanding about the research on Teach For America, here’s why…). Other methodologically strong studies confirm what Hannaway found, for instance the Mathematica evaluation of TFA. And, the NEA fails to mention that the studies they lean on have been challenged on non-trivial issues, even by colleagues of the researchers. No one is saying that TFA teachers are hitting the cover off the ball, but at a minimum they’re certainly not worse than others including veterans. Still, even if one takes the NEA assertion at face value, the proper comparison is the actual labor market in the communities TFA serves, not some hypothetical labor market that currently doesn’t exist and unfortunately won’t for the foreseeable future. Moreover, if TFA teachers are such trouble, why are superintendents clamoring for them? Also, I’m not sure how you’d quantify “predominate” but KIPP has an awful lot of TFAers in various roles and their schools are pretty good…
In any event, none of that is really the point here anyway. Even with TFA’s robust recruiting, the 4,100 teachers they are preparing for this fall is a trivial number in relation to the overall teacher workforce, the natural job turnover that occurs every year in the field, or the number of teachers who might be laid off in this downturn absent government intervention. In other words, this little crusade is ideological not substantive. Here’s my take on the broader reason TFA matters and sparks bad behavior like this. If the AMA acted in this fashion there would be an outcry, no? I thought we wanted education to be like medicine…
From: Wilson, John [NEA] [mailto:JWilson@nea.org]
Sent: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 4:15 PM
To: State-Presidents [AFF]; State-Executive-Directors [AFF]; Rose, Robin [CA]; Ogles, Mary Bruce [AL]
Subject: : TFA
We are beginning to see school systems lay off teachers and then hire TFA college grads due to a contract they signed. I hope this will be helpful to you. Please let us know if this occurs in your state.
You’ll want to be aware of these studies (attached) which show that TFA recruits are significantly less effective in their first two years than beginning teachers who are fully prepared and certified – and beginning teachers in general are less effective than experienced teachers. In all of the independent studies, more than 80 percent of TFA recruits have left teaching by year 4, just as they are beginning to become effective, costing districts about $20k apiece to replace them and adding to the high turnover rates in urban districts – which itself negatively affects school performance.
The only studies that have found TFA recruits to be as effective as other teachers (including the recent Urban Institute North Carolina study they are touting – which was conducted by the mother of a TFA employee, Jane Hannaway) are those that compare TFA recruits to other teachers who are even less likely to be certified and prepared – because they are teaching in schools that have generally become dumping grounds for underprepared teachers serving low-income and minority teachers. It is a race to the bottom – which saves money but costs lives – in these schools.
There is no study that shows that schools in which TFA teachers predominate are succeeding. In fact a recent study that was done in Oakland shows that the schools with them largest numbers of 1st and 2nd year teachers (mostly TFA and New Teacher Project recruits) have a huge negative hit on achievement, wiping out the effect of all the other reforms they have tried to implement.
*Disc. She’s a friend, colleague, and occasional co-author. And she fly fishes…
Update: Ed Week’s Sawchuk has more.
Update II: Don’t miss the comments section of this AP story on TFA’s recruiting numbers. Here’s a taste: “these “teachers” will be hand picked socialists, and will use every moment of class room time to “teach” their rotten agenda!”