AFTie One-L rounds-up some bloggy discussion about teacher quality. She asks a good question about new (TFA) teachers but the assumption on which it is based seems more grounded in AFTie ideology than research and a heretical answer follows. First, while there have been several studies of the effectiveness of Teach For America (TFA) teachers, the only one that is really rigorous found that TFA teachers did as well or better than other teachers, including veterans and ones who came through various preparation routes. To be sure that’s as much an indictment of teacher preparation as an endorsement of TFA, but those are the cards we’re playing today and consequently, on average, hiring a TFA’er isn’t a bad move. Second, as this TFA’er pointed out, TFA is not replacing outstanding veteran teachers, rather they are often going into schools where there would likely just be a warm body were it not for the TFA supply line. Third, and related to the first point, right now research shows that in terms of teacher effectiveness there is more variation within various preparation routes than between them (pdf). Finally, in discussions about TFA and novice teachers in general, “churn” is considered an inherently bad thing in education, but is it? In many cases excessive churn surely disadvantages kids. But you do want some churn. People leaving a profession they decide, or someone else decides, they’re ill-suited for is not necessarily a bad thing — on the contrary. And, though it’s heretical to say, there are certainly some ways of organizing schools, perhaps with a small number of experienced senior teachers overseeing a cadre of novices with more energy than experience, that could be effective in some circumstances. Besides, though it’s also heretical to say, considering the research on TFA, hiring them is a perfectly rational educational and fiscal decision for school districts even as it’s a politically contentious one. Also worth noting that TFA contributes less to churn and more to education’s human capital supply than people commonly assume.
The point here is not that TFA is a panacea, or that teacher experience doesn’t matter, I don’t subscribe to either notion. Rather, it’s that these issues are a lot more complicated than people generally let on.