A Hit and A Miss From Catalyst Chicago…And, NBPTS-TFA Teacher Quality Debate Immodesty

New Catalyst is out, several interesting articles on alternative certification. And, among the offerings, two with national implications. Worth reading is Alexander Russo’s look at supplemental services in Chicago. Note the Department of Education’s tough talk on oversight…yeah right, don’t hold your breath! Russo notes that Chicago may have captured the market just in time to lose it all.

Less worthwhile is a look at Teach For America (TFA). TFA places exceptional recent college graduates in hard-to-serve schools for a two-year stint. After that about two-thirds stay involved in education in some capacity and the rest go on to other pursuits. That means –surprise! — TFA teachers are less likely to stay for a third year. Critics are outraged and apparently this is news.

Sure, it would be ideal if more TFA teachers stayed on but, as the article points out, these young people have many opportunities to choose from. And, there is general agreement that they do a good job in the classroom while they’re there and – gasp – help the children they serve which, after all the adults are done fighting, is the goal. No?

Retention matters, but so does context. TFA works in the most troubled schools where students are least likely to have good teachers now. Beating up on TFA about retention is a classic case of making the perfect the enemy of the good. Besides, according to the article, actual Chicago principals seem pretty happy with their TFA’ers. Let’s stop ascribing all sorts of goals — that are not actually their goals– to TFA and then castigating them for falling short of these various strawmen.

Also in Catalyst, TFA critic Barnett Berry gets a few licks in about the recent TFA study. Apparently modest gains are sufficient to laud the National Board For Professional Teaching Standards, but not good enough for TFA. And, released just Wednesday, here is another study (by some TFA critics, incidentally) where small gains for National Board teachers are big news! In fact, here’s Berry’s organization lauding that very study, too. Their analysis soberly notes that, “It is always important to understand the methods researchers use to answer their questions.” Indeed it is! Modest gains aside, this new study is basically a self-response study, the National Board teachers elected to participate, they were not a random sample…take with much salt…(Pssst! National Board advocates, stick with Goldhaber!)

So hmmm…where does that leave us? Establishment types like the National Board, so modest gains there are great news! Establishment types very much dislike TFA, so modest gains there are cause for great concern… OK, fair enough!

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