What has six balls and screws teachers? State lotteries. Virginia is not the only state with this issue.
Seems to me the big AP story on Teach For America’s expansion and the risks missed the real questions and risks. The story went for the easy non-committal angle – the research is “mixed” – and misread the research, too. In fact it’s not mixed, ample studies indicate that TFA teachers – on average – outperform their counterparts including veteran teachers.* It’s why school districts are clamoring for TFA teachers – they’re a better bet than a random draw from the applicant pool. But, there are two big caveats here the AP story ignored and that are actually the crux of the TFA expansion risk question.
First, the TFA margin isn’t enormous, on average TFA teachers outperform but not by leaps and bounds. How will expansion affect that?
Second, the debate assumes – and some TFA proponents perpetuate – an ecological fallacy when discussing the TFA program. Just because TFA teachers outperform on average does not mean that every TFA teacher does. There is a high-degree of variance among TFA teachers, just like other teachers. TFA is a field leader in selecting teachers likely to succeed – in my view that’s the core innovation of the program – but they get some wrong, too. How will expansion affect that?
Overall the quality of the TFA corps has increased as the program has expanded – noteworthy because quality is often inversely related to scale – but like a mutual fund past performance is not a guarantee of future success. That’s why these two questions bear watching as the program grows further.
BTW – Also, more generally lost in the debate about TFA is the extent to which the research today reflects strong practices by TFA or weak practices by most of the field. I think it’s a combination and the teacher training establishment has done a poor job putting forward compelling models, but that’s a question also worth some discussion.