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.
8 Replies to “Clips”
With a record number of applicants and research clear that teachers continue to improve during their third and even fourth and fifth years, isn’t it time TFA looks at creating a longer commitment. The economy is right for this as well and getting potential teachers to make a three year commitment as opposed to two may weed out those who can game the admissions process and are in it only for the resume boost. A longer commitment would be a better form of expansion than just placing more corps members.
Robert, you have a great point that TFA’s impact is severely limited by the commitment of corps members to stay beyond two years–however, nearly half of corps members *do* stay in their placements beyond the two years and more than half stay in teaching. Beyond that, it’s important to factor in the considerable investment that TFA is making to turn its alumni into leaders throughout the education sector, as school leaders, founders of new education initiatives like the KIPP schools, and public officials.
There’s a recent study on % of TFA teachers that stay in the classroom after 2 years here: http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news_events/features/2008/05/21_project.php
Valerie Strauss (Mikey in Andy Rotherham’s serious, adult like discussion mode) is at it again, hating on newbie teachers:
Anyone who has children knows that some of the older, experienced teachers are often treasures in their communities. Children hope that they too will be in “Miss Rule’s” science class. It is just common sense that the majority of teachers get better with years of experience. Perhaps the research doesn’t support this, but a lot of educational research is based on standardized tests and we all know what that means. (I’m not certain of this, but I strongly suspect that TFA’s are encouraged to drill their students on the exact test items for the purpose of obtaining “higher” test scores.) At any rate, any and all research based on standardized tests that are not professionally handled and proctored should be considered with a grain of salt.
At the beginning of my career, I hadn’t a clue as to how to teach reading to a slow-learning child or an English Language Learner but at the end I could “teach a rock to read” as one of my colleagues put it. The fact that the “reformers” devalue the older teacher in favor of the young person right out of college should tell us that something is not right.
Linda: Well put. “The fact that the “reformers” devalue the older teacher in favor of the young person right out of college should tell us that something is not right.”
I don’t know much about Westbrook elementary school (mentioned above) but I do know that TFA places Corps Members in schools that are struggling to fill positions with strong teachers, whether they are new or experienced. I’m pretty sure Bethesda isn’t a low-income community, but I’m not positive about that. My point is that it’s important to compare apples to apples.
For instance, at my placement school, the most veteran member of the English department had 4 years of experience and students asked permission to switch out of her class into my mine – although I was a brand new teacher – because they weren’t learning and heard from their friends that my class was better. While I was certainly raw and far from a great teacher, I was teaching my kids far more than she was (based on test scores, anecdotal student comments, and even the classes and work that the school itself asked me to teach). It’s important to compare what a TFA teacher offers to what else is actually available at a given school, not to the ideal 30 year veteran who loves teaching and is reflective on her practices and growth. The non-TFA teachers at my former school entered and exited at almost the same rate, as is the case across the country for those entering the teaching profession.
Unfortunately, those who argue against TFA are often too far removed from the students that TFA helps and instead reside in either the Ivory tower of academia or a suburban paradise.
It’s true, as noted above, that not all TFA teachers are good. Some quit, some fail, some are just not good teachers. But that shouldn’t be an indictment of TFA since research has shown that overall corps members do outperform more veteran peers.
There is variance in other teacher training programs and in the larger population of teachers as well (and in all large enough data sets…) so it’s definitely not a valid criticism. The strength of their recruitment strategies ought to be tested by comparing averages, not variance, and that has shown mainly positive things for TFA.
Nice to hear from another alum!
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