New IES analysis out this morning conducted by Mathematica about Teach For America and Teaching Fellows programs (pdf). Looked at secondary (middle/high) math teachers. Here’s the punchline:
TFA teachers were more effective than the teachers with whom they were compared. On average, students assigned to TFA teachers scored 0.07 standard deviations higher on end-of-year math assessments than students assigned to comparison teachers, a statistically significant difference. This impact is equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide.
Teaching Fellows were neither more nor less effective than the teachers with whom they were compared. On average, students of Teaching Fellows and students of comparison teachers had similar scores on end-of-year math assessment
There is much more in the analysis, TFA teachers outperformed comparison groups of teachers, including traditionally credentialed and veteran teachers. Couple of things to keep in mind:
First, this isn’t new evidence. This study confirms what multiple previous analyses (from Mathematica, Urban Institute, states like TN, LA, and NC, etc…) have shown. Rigorous studies consistently show modest or significant positive effects – and perhaps more importantly given the context of the advocacy debate, they don’t show harm. It’s only among the advocates whose job it is to go after Teach For America and the education media (with their lazy approach to research, methods don’t matter, contrast a good study with a flimsy one for balance, say “research is mixed” when you can’t figure it out) that the effectiveness issue is even considered a live one.
Second, it’s reasonable to accept these findings and still have concerns about Teach For America as an educational strategy. One would hope, however, that we could recognize those concerns as normative and discuss them accordingly rather than the tiresome debate about whether Teach For America teachers are systematically doing harm or are, on average, less effective.
Third, beware sweeping generalizations and ecological fallacies. Today’s study reaffirms previous findings about Teach For America overall (in this case math teachers) but doesn’t mean every Teach For America teacher is spectacular. There is variance within the pool. Likewise, anecdotes about those teachers on the low end of that variance should be considered in the context of this overall evidence base. The plural of anecdote is not data.
Finally, I think it’s the juxtaposition of the two primary results of this study that is the most interesting thing here. Teaching Fellows on par with other teachers (which is not a bad result considering the recruiting issues) but Teach For America outperforms. From my own analysis of Teach For America I think it’s their screening and selection process – and in particular the screens for non-reportable traits such as tenacity, sense of efficacy, and belief about children’s potential – that makes the difference. Today, with 5000+ people entering the Teach for America Corps each year, TFA does not disproportionately pull its teachers from Ivies (only two Ivies in the top 10 feeder schools last time I looked), is diverse relative to most programs, and doesn’t fit with any of the other pervasive advocacy-driven misconceptions about it. Instead, they’ve figured out how to identify good candidates from a wide-range of schools at some scale.
Regardless of what you think of Teach For America that’s an innovation and there is some learning there that could benefit hiring in the field overall. It’s quite different from how labor market issues are approached overall in K-12 education and how most hiring occurs. In fact, it shows how silly and unhinged much of our education debate is that many of the same people attacking TFA simultaneously argue for a greater focus on selection like [insert country du jour here].
41 Replies to “Screen Play: New Study On Teacher Effectiveness Again Points To Selection As Key”
All studies everywhere show that the quality of the teacher makes a difference. If you don’t accept the research, just go with common sense.
When I started teaching in 1964, urban districts were so desperate that “anyone” could get a job in the “inner-city.” In contrast to this, the affluent suburbs insisted on fully-qualified teachers with regular credentials (no “emergency” credentials need apply).
Now, fifty years later, it’s the same old thing. The affluent public schools and the private schools all insist on fully qualified teachers while the poor kids get someone right out of college with six weeks of training. (Take a look at the faculties and their qualifications at the elite private and public schools. )
It’s time to defeat the status quo of the unqualified, inexperienced teachers for mostly poor children of color. This has been the hidden shame of education and it needs to stop now. One action every state can take today to ensure a better education for every child is to have high standards for entrance into the teaching profession and to stop making exceptions just for the poor kids. Shame, shame, shame.
Because of this post, I just started a petition for California to stop issuing “temporary” or “emergency” credentials to people who are not fully qualified to teach. Although California has high standards for entry into the profession, every year under-qualified young people are placed in classrooms populated with mainly poor children of color. With the current surplus of teachers, there is no reason for this.
Please support high standards for entry into the teaching profession and insist that these standards are met by ALL teachers.
Did you not understand the post or the study, Linda? The same tired points, no matter what the research.
If you support high standards for all teachers, you certainly won’t mind GPA cutoffs or standardized test score threshholds, which several traditionally certified teachers don’t have to meet. TFA, in contrast, has both. There is no evidence that a master’s degree helps student advance student achievement. So when you say ‘experienced’ or ‘fully qualified to teach’, what are you basing that on? Seat time? Taking courses that have been acknowledged by both districts and deans of higher ed to not have an impact on instruction?
When you answer those questions, and cite any data at all to back up your arguments, perhaps your points can be taken seriously.
“For the average child in this study, who scored in just the 27th percentile in math compared to her peers across the country, having a TFA teacher will help her move up to the 30th percentile–still a long way off from grade-level math proficiency.”
For another, the study shows that experience matters: “The bias against first-year teachers is borne out in the data. The students of second-year teachers outperformed the students of first-year teachers by .08 standard deviations–a larger gap than the one between the students of TFA and non-TFA teachers. And even though TFA recruits did well in this study, that doesn’t mean teachers reach their pinnacle after two years on the job. To the contrary, the researchers found that for teachers with at least five years of experience, each additional year of work was associated with an increase of .005 standard deviations in student achievement. “
Yes, I did read and understand the post. Perhaps TFAs do better than other new or experienced teachers but there are not that many of them. Also, how do we know those test scores are valid? By now, “everyone’ should realize that many teachers drill the students on the tests. You might accept the research that says young Mr. Smith, who just graduated from Harvard, gets better results from experienced Miss Jones, but I do not.
It’s in the best interest of students to have all teachers meet high standards. We need to think of the many and not just the few.
What do I mean by “fully qualified to teach?” I mean that the person should have to meet state standards for a clear credential. Almost all states require an advanced degree (as does Finland) plus some type of internship (student teaching).
When in doubt, look at the schools most frequented by middle and upper income Americans. Almost all have elementary teachers who are graduates of Teachers College, Bank Street or some other prestigious universities. The high school teachers often have doctorates. There are no TFAs in these schools. You won’t convince any of the parents that young Mr. Smith, who just graduated from Harvard, will do a better job than Miss Jones, who’s been a mainstay at Scarsdale High for years. People are not stupid.
I’m sure there are some unlicensed doctors, nurses, hairstylists, plumbers etc, who are better than people with credentials. However, a credential usually ensures a certain standard of competence. If you want to practice medicine, law, or cut hair, don’t ask for a “temporary” certificate because you won’t get one. It’s time to have the same high standards for teachers. Our kids deserve it.
I have worked with TFA teachers and this doesn’t surprise me. They are schooled to take it as a given that they should place a great deal of emphasis on getting higher test scores. The study design matches up well with what TFA values.
At the $4000~$7000 finder fee TFA charges school districts, TFA better get better test scores.
Is that 3 point difference in percentile worth $4000?
There is much here left un-opened. One must read all of the study design caveats to appreciate how little this study contributes to the purported effectiveness of TFA graduates: “TFA and the Teaching Fellows programs may attract different types of candidates than other routes to certification—these differences can arise both from the programs’ approaches to recruitment and selection and from the teachers’ decisions on which programs to apply to and attend. Therefore, differences in effectiveness between TFA teachers and comparison teachers, and between Teaching Fellows and comparison teachers, do not reflect the effectiveness of the programs alone. Instead, they reflect the influence of both differences in the types of individuals who choose to enter teaching through TFA or a Teaching Fellows program versus some other training program and differences in the recruitment and selection procedures and training and support the programs offer. The study cannot rigorously disentangle these components.”
Let’s just acknowledge the huge caveat in the room: TFA can generate short-term gains in some areas, over certain time frames. When TFA can demonstrate sustained gains AND* show why their program works, the rest of us will take notice.
*There is this, from the study cited in this post: “TFA focuses its recruitment efforts on new college graduates, targeting seniors at many of the nation’s most distinguished colleges and universities.” That’s about as much as anyone knows about TFA’s theoretical stance. All TFA promotes is the energy or dedication or some other affective attribute of its teachers to account for its purported successes. So upper-class white graduates of elite colleges go into underprivileged schools and do AWESOME things. That’s the model?
YES. Why are they uniquely qualified? Oh, you say TFA has minority members–who happened to attend elite colleges and universities? Oh, you say TFA has minority members from community colleges? No? What is the TFA difference Andrew?
TFA, like so many other manufactured social/feel-good “movements” before it, advertise impacts and feelings and short-term fixes. Look at their website. There is no there, there. It’s just marketing. It is what one expects from an undergraduate thesis: trouble is, how in the hell did Kopp sell an undergrad thesis as credible? Credit where it’s due. Shame where it is deserved: on the DOE, and on each and every school district which has chosen to allow TFA members to be qualified to teach.
Let’s take this from their website: “Since then, nearly 33,000 participants have reached more than 3 million children nationwide during their two-year teaching commitments.” What does “reached” even really mean? No one knows because TFA does not elaborate. It might sound good to a funder, a school board member, but please, it means NOTHING. It’s marketing.
“Rigorous studies consistently show modest or significant positive effects – and perhaps more importantly given the context of the advocacy debate, they don’t show harm.” What? If you have to mention that last clause, your position is lost.
“It’s only among the advocates whose job it is to go after Teach For America and the education media (with their lazy approach to research, methods don’t matter, contrast a good study with a flimsy one for balance, say “research is mixed” when you can’t figure it out) that the effectiveness issue is even considered a live one.” This is not my job. I go after TFA because it is a fraud and I want to promote what works in education. TFA sounds great but it does not work as advertised and is not supported by credible educational research.
So Linda, I’m guessing you have no evidence to back up your claims. You want us to take your word for it. Basing an education system on your anecdotes, while appealing, probably isn’t best.
Jeff your point about minority candidates makes no sense at all. TFA’s corps are more diverse than many of the school districts they work in. You can criticize the ‘lazy approach’ to studies, but until you find some evidence that TFA has more costs than benefits, you’re just stating your opinion, based on anecdotes.
I wasn’t aware of sharing anecdotes. I’ll write as concisely as I can:
Most states have high standards for teachers but often issue “emergency” credentials, mostly to people who teach poor children of color. Let’s support fully credentialed teachers for all children. Let’s put an end to the long tradition of placing the least experienced teachers in the most challenging schools.
Thank you for reminding me to make my message as direct and clear as possible.
Thanks Linda, but that still doesn’t provide any evidence.
-Upon what do you base the statement that most states have high standards for teachers?
-Conditional licenses have been a practice for over a decade. Originally started to fill high-need areas such as secondary math and science–where some of the largest urban districts have hundreds of vacancies, and colleges of ed graduate far too few graduates–these licensees usually have to pass subject matter tests and complete pedagogy coursework.
-You have no evidence that the ‘credentials’, many created with the influence of colleges of ed and teachers’ associations, are correlated with the factors that impact student achievement.
Do you mean
Most states have high standards for teachers (standards which have been proven to have no meaningful correlation with student achievement)…
but often issue “emergency” credentials (the credentials again having had no effect, positive or negative, on student achievement)….
mostly to people who teach poor children of color (because teachers in traditional public schools vote with their feet, and therefore vie for limited jobs in suburban schools, more often than taking open jobs in urban schools, and often migrate from urban schools to suburban ones, but rarely in the other direction)?
If so, I agree!
Yes, emergency credentials are issued mainly to people who teach poor children of color. This has been an American tradition for over fifty years. It’s true that this is mainly due to the migration of teachers to the suburbs but recent economic events have provided a unique opportunity to hire fully qualified (that is, with clear credentials) teachers for all children. Sadly, even with many qualified people available, urban districts are still hiring the less qualified and experienced (and cheaper) teachers. The key word, of course, is “cheaper.” I predict this disgraceful practice will cease once the American people realize that the nation’s children are “our children” and their education is critical to the strength of the country. All children deserve a fully qualified teacher.
Let’s stop the shameful practice of placing the least qualified teacher in the most challenging schools.
“All studies everywhere show that the quality of the teacher makes a difference. If you don’t accept the research, just go with common sense.”
While I would edit slightly to include the caveat of school-based factors, the whole point of the study was to show where these teachers came from – which is TFA. While you may not like it, fact is that they are getting it done where others are not. And not only that, they are convincing tens of thousands of college seniors to line up at the doors of schools where nobody wants to work. So let us pause and at least acknowledge they are in to something.
As a former TFAer, I’ll echo what Andy said – their bread and butter is assessing the intangibles. And while I wish every low-income student had access to a teacher with those, fact is our “qualified” teachers don’t have it at the same scale as those that come through TFA. And, I suspect, secondary math teachers through TFA have a much broader depth of content knowledge than their peers, which no doubt helps.
You are forcing me to refine my language, which I appreciate. I’ll try one more time:
State standards for the licensing of teachers should apply to individuals working with all children regardless of race, wealth or ethnicity. There should be no exceptions for poor children of color.
Let’s stop the shameful practice of placing the least qualified and experienced teachers in our most challenging schools.
Case and Michael, stop shilling for a fraud. Don’t try to change the debate; I know what you’re trying to do here and it won’t work. Answer my question: where is the theory that supports TFA’s purported success?
“According to the organization, 65 percent of its teacher corps is Caucasian, 12 percent is African-American, 8 percent is Latino, and 6 percent is Asian American.” And who knows how many that represents? Those who graduated or those who lasted just two years before going on to something better or those who have stayed after five years? Oh, well I guess it does matter as those numbers don’t add up: “Aimee Eubanks Davis, executive vice president, People, Community and Diversity at Teach for America, said that, among new hires at the organization, 18 percent are African-American and 13 percent are Latino.” http://diverseeducation.com/article/17087/#
Case, this means nothing, “TFA’s corps are more diverse than many of the school districts they work in.” Many? More? Seriously? Is TFA more diverse than American education, as a whole? Yes. By design. And by itself, means nothing except good marketing. It’s about the elite schools, that was my essential point–don’t try to twist my words around.
Anecdotes? What anecdotes? Your(?) own TFA website is full of personal, emotional testimonies, not STUDIES, not RESEARCH. There is no theoretical foundation.
Michael: “And not only that, they are convincing tens of thousands of college seniors to line up at the doors of schools where nobody wants to work.” This is rhetorical hyperbole and I think you know it. You could say, “TFA has convinced over 30K…blah, blah, blah…” But no, you use the active voice. TFA has been around for many years. And just because any organization convinced anyone of anything does not mean that the organization is worthwhile–wanna play logical fallacies?
“but until you find some evidence that TFA has more costs than benefits, you’re just stating your opinion, based on anecdotes.” How would you like your cost/benefit ratio, Case? Over easy or scrambled?
Over easy, Jeff. If your last incoherent response was any sign, that’s probably all you can handle.
The beauty of google (page 15 starts the discussion on TFA and their recruitment strategies): http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/11/pdf/chait_diversity.pdf
And yes, the whole point of the study this thread is based on says yes, it is worthwhile to utilize TFA teachers (if student learning is the goal of our schools).
What’s interesting here is that I’m not even one who drinks the TFA kool-aid and have very valid criticisms of them as an organization; however, when you aren’t even able to stop, take a deep breathe, and acknowledge that they are on to something others are not, it’s hard to have a constructive conversation. I think this scene from Newsroom sums up the state of Education in America today (spoiler alert: the first step in acknowledging we have a national teacher recruitment/training/support/retention problem means we have to first admit there is one and be open to others for solutions):
I haven’t read the study, but the author’s conclusion isn’t accurate.
“On average, students assigned to TFA teachers scored 0.07 standard deviations higher on end-of-year math assessments than students assigned to comparison teachers, a statistically significant difference. ”
Statistical significance exists when samples are 2 full standard deviations or more higher, not a mere .07 of one standard deviation. The report’s conclusion thus states that TFA students performed .07 standard deviations higher than the average – think the 50.7 percentile of all students.
From the Washington Post article here (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/09/10/teach-for-america-is-a-deeply-divisive-program-it-also-works/)
According to previous research by Carolyn Hill and her colleagues, students’ average growth in math achievement over a single school year is about 0.27 standard deviations in the middle and high school grades. Therefore, if a gain is expressed in standard deviations, then dividing that gain by 0.27 gives you the fraction of the school year that is equivalent to that particular gain. For instance, a gain of 0.07 standard deviations (the achievement difference between students of TFA teachers and students of comparison teachers) is equivalent to about one-fourth of a school year (0.07 / 0.27 = 26 percent). If you assume that a school year consists of roughly 10 calendar months, then 26 percent of a school year translates into about 2.6 months of math instruction.
Nope. You’re conflating 2 things.
One is the SDs associated with error. That’s the two we use for significance. The other measures the magnitude of effect size. That’s the .07.
In this case, the .07 magnitude was well above the 2SD level.
It doesn’t matter. Young teachers often drill the kids on the tests and math is a lot easier to do this with. Because Mathematica likely used test scores given to them by the schools, we know those tests were not secure or professionally administered. (Think DC or Atlanta) So the small improvement in math could mean, and probably does, that the teachers drilled the students on test items. If excellent teaching were the critical variable, then the students would have had a small gain in language arts as well.
To put it as simply as possible: I do not accept the findings of this study. The true purpose is probably to justify placing inexperienced teachers in schools populated mainly by poor children of color. Shame, shame, shame!
I look forward to the link to your research that actually backs up your claims since, as you are probably aware, you can’t just “not accept” the findings of research if they contradict your beliefs. That’s the point of doing the research!.
In the meantime, I stick by my previous statement, which is the first step in solving a problem is admitting there is one.
Have you ever been to graduate school and observed the “research” in education and the social sciences? I have and that’s why I can ‘not accept’ the findings of some of this “research.”
If the TFAs did do somewhat better in the area of math, that doesn’t prove that they were better teachers. It could mean that they drilled on test items, as I said. We don’t know.
I’ve been trained through both TFA and graduate school. Being perfectly blunt – grad school was terrible and probably one of the top three wastes of my time and money. And while TFA is not the best out there, TFA training does incorporate “research” on what works. You can find it here:
And, in terms of whether or not they were better teachers, again, if your the whole point of school and teaching is to educate students on the material, then yes, TFA teachers were better.
Linda, you are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.
“If the TFAs did do somewhat better in the area of math, that doesn’t prove that they were better teachers. It could mean that they drilled on test items, as I said. We don’t know.”
Yes. We do know. If you won’t read the study, maybe you’ll read the Washington Post article about it where this issue is addressed in plain English:
“Critics could still argue that this could mean TFA teachers are just better at “teaching to the test,” rather than teaching real math skills. But as the Mathematica researchers note, this concern is misplaced. “At the middle school level, we measured performance on state math tests, high stakes tests. We knew they were taking them seriously,” Clark explains. “But the flip side is that they might have been teaching to the test. At the high school level, since students are assessed at every grade level, we instead administered a test which was subject-specific, for algebra I and algebra II, geometry, and general high school math. The teachers had never seen it before and could not have been teaching to the test, and we also found effects at the high school level.” Indeed, the effects at the high school level are stronger than at the middle-school level. If TFA teachers were teaching to the test, they weren’t doing a great job of it.”
Sometimes these issues are better explained and understood when viewed from a completely different vantage point.
Each year many people immigrate to the United States and many are physicians from South America. Of course, these people must gain American licenses to practice here.
Now let us suppose that someone noticed that the physicians from Uruguay seemed much capable than American doctors. In fact they did a study and found that these Uruguayan doctors did indeed get slightly better results than their American counterparts. Now, let’s suppose that someone suggests, “Let’s give them a provisional license and let them practice in the ‘inner-cities.’ The people there will get better treatment than they have now.”
Well, don’t even suggest that. No, no, no! However, researchers might want to find out why these doctors are better and try to incorporate positive findings into the training of American physicians. My guess is that most people would find that to be a good idea. But placing them without regular licenses in clinics for poor people as regular physicians would not fly. They might be hired as assistants while getting their US training, but that would be the extent of it.
If TFAs are better teachers than traditionally trained teachers, the implication might be that we need to find out what it is that makes them so. From what I’ve read, it seems that most applicants to TFA are good students from selective universities. If that’s true, then we need to have higher standards for entry into the teaching profession. I certainly would agree with that. In fact I have long been an advocate for higher standards for teachers.
For many years now, under-qualified (i.e. without clear credentials) and inexperienced teachers have been sent to the schools that serve mainly poor children of color. This is a national disgrace and must stop. It needs to stop today.
Please support high standards (as determined by each state) for K-12 teachers and insist that these standards apply to the teachers of ALL children.
My comments above about physicians from Uruguay are hypothetical and not based on facts.
Linda, here’s a more straightforward way to look at it:
You think that schools serving mainly poor children of color are treated badly by policies about how teachers are assigned. We agree about that! It’s a travesty. Now let us suppose there is a program that brings teachers to these schools, teachers who produce on average 2.6 months worth of extra learning for those students. My guess is most people would find that a good idea!
2.6 months of extra learning per year is not “slightly” it is HUGE for students most especially poor students of color.
Happily though it sounds like you agree with the point of the original post anyway: Let’s learn from TFA. We agree again!
By the by, how foreign doctors are treated is not a model:
It’s as crazy as teacher credentialing.
*bang head against desk*
Linda, I think you’ll appreciate thsi story. My first day at TFA induction, our Executive Director at the time said something very profound that I didn’t understand at the time. She said, “TFA’s ultimate mission is to not exist.” Now, not many people are interested in putting themselves out of business; however, you have to at least appreciate that TFA understands that when all kids have access to a great teacher, they won’t be needed.
Where you continually lose me is on your definition of a great teacher. What TFA is proving (as are a vast array of other industries) is that the traditional “credential” isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. Or, more to the point, there is so much variance within every program that what you define as credential (or output) is not a useful indicator of performance. What matters is the inputs you utilize. And yes, you hit on one – TFA corps members generatlly have higher aptitudes than their teaching peers. While other high performing countries have already shown us the way on this, what makes TFA interesting is their focus on the “intangibles” that are harder to measure. So, while your older peers line up to get out of the fire (i.e. move to the burbs), TFA folks are lining up in droves to jump right in.
The solution lies not in fixing TFA – the solution lies with the folks already in the classroom stepping up, organizing against the traditional human capital structure (seniority, placement, etc. that all promote the exodus to suburban/higher income schools), and putting their money where their mouths are to get the job done with low-income students.
Until that time comes, TFA is not only better than traditional programs, it’s what urban superintendents are turning to (and rightly so) to help better the life prospects of the students we all serve.
Michael, your 5:03 comment…
You banged your head against your desk. What, not the Captain Picard face palm? “Now, not many people are interested in putting themselves out of business; however, you have to at least appreciate that TFA understands that when all kids have access to a great teacher, they won’t be needed.”
Michael, those of use with age and experience and expertise on our side have heard that one about a million times. That you throw that tired gambit out there shows that either you or your benefactors or likely both, do not get it. DO NOT GET IT. And when you say grad school was bad for you–it was bad for you. Why in the freaking world would anyone else consider your opinion of any value? MY grad school-and there were three–were the BEST. So who wins, you or me?
“Linda, I think you’ll appreciate thsi [sic] story.” Really? That’s another opening gambit for a salesperson, not an educator or researcher. Enjoy your Kool-Aid, Michael.
“The solution lies not in fixing TFA – the solution lies with the folks already in the classroom stepping up, organizing against the traditional human capital structure…” The unions certainly have their issues but y’all from TFA are trying to obfuscate the issues are not doing anyone any benefit and in fact, you are behaving just like you accuse the unions of behaving. You can’t even bring yourselves to call out the NEA or AFT directly. No, you have to go the cowardly route and talk about “traditional human capital structure..”
What the TFA research has consistently shown is that TFA does a good job of teaching math in middle school and high school and a poor job of teaching everything else. If TFA were truly interested in helping students, it would focus on producing upper grade math teachers and dissolve its other programs. The problem is that TFA has become an organization more focused on its own self perpetuation than on its original mission of actually helping poor and minority students.
To use Linda’s analogy, it is as if doctors from Uruguay were found to be above average obstetricians but terrible surgeons who botched their operations and harmed their patients. Someone might argue that we should encourage Uruguayan obstetricians to practice in the US. But no reasonable person would suggest that we allow surgeons who have been proven to do a bad job should be allowed to practice in the United States.
Thank you, Ray. You have expressed yourself well.
I have a story myself:
When my talented sons graduated from Harvard and Stanford, I suggested a career in education. Both “boys” started screaming with laughter and hitting each other hysterically on the back. When I asked what was so funny, my older son said, “Come on, Mom.” In other words, it was so obvious that well-educated middle class graduates of selective universities would not want to be teachers, that it wasn’t even worth the bother to explain it. Defensively I replied, “Well, how about college teaching then?” My younger son said, “That’s a completely different job.” And so it is.
The lack of respect for teachers of children in our country is widespread and deeply imbedded in our culture. This attitude of “Let anyone with a college degree from a good college teach those poor children” and “But let’s not do it for more than two years because it’s not a real job” is extremely damaging to the profession and to the students in our schools.
A study of the history of all professions will show that having firm standards for a particular profession results in a stronger profession that is able to attract and retain better qualified practitioners.
It’s time for the teaching profession to have high standards for entry into the profession (as determined by individual states). Once those standards are established, no exceptions should be made.
Please support strict licensing requirements for teachers all children.
It is unfortunate to think that passing certain tests and meeting test requirements established by the state makes you suitable for your profession. I am a special education teacher and currently in my 5th year of teaching. I teach for a low income public inner city school. All of my college courses, completing class projects, tests, quizzes, papers, and completion of standard tests did not prepare me at all for this profession. It was not until my first year of teaching that really taught me how to be a teacher and what it meant to be a teacher. A teacher is there to instruct, inspire, and encourage. A teacher is there to provide knowledge and lead the path through the system of education. So essentially, it does not matter what educational background you have but that you are able to relate and lead. TFA does just that. Yes, they take individuals with various educational backgrounds and put them in front of students and expect them to educate, but they do it with the premise of guidance. They base their candidates on their quality and not just their test score or educational background. I was expected to be a good teacher because that was the focus of my college degree and I passed the state Praxis scores. I unfortunately had no guidance my first year and learned how to be a good teacher through trial and error. TFA provides the needed support for individuals who enter the classroom for the first time and begin a career of teaching. How do I know this? Well I have friends who have enter TFA and they could not be happier. No, I do not have education research to back up my claims but I do have personal experience as a teacher and someone who has an educational background and “teaching certificate”. (which is just a piece of paper provided by the state). Again what makes me a good teacher is my real-life experience, my ability to grow each year, and my dedication to education and my students. To understand if TFA works and is effective, talk to someone who was a part of TFA, talk to a student who had a TFA teacher, or an administrator who had a TFA teacher in their school.
Linda/Retired Teacher: “A study of the history of all professions will show that having firm standards for a particular profession results in a stronger profession that is able to attract and retain better qualified practitioners.” OK, then do you support higher, firmer standards for evaluating performance of teachers once they are in the classroom? It seems like that’s a very logical next step from that statement, no? Not that this means you have to support tying VA scores to evaluation as the sole measure. But if we want higher standards, you have to do more than just better licensing requirements, right? And if you are all about better licensing requirements – where’s the outcry to improve traditional pathways, per Jack’s comment above?
“In other words, it was so obvious that well-educated middle class graduates of selective universities would not want to be teachers, that it wasn’t even worth the bother to explain it.” And yet isn’t that exactly part of the problem TFA is doing: convincing parts of that very demographic that teaching – especially in low income communities — is incredibly important and worthwhile? Yes, many may move on before 5 years in, but that’s hardly because they think teaching is too easy or “not a real job” or somehow not a respectable profession. Talk to a significant sample of TFA alums who left the classroom and you will realize that’s simply not the case
“Let anyone with a college degree from a good college teach those poor children” – the TFA selection model certainly takes more into account that graduation from a “good college”. That’s hardly a fair assessment of the criteria used by TFA or other alt cert pathways. Isn’t the point of the original post — that selectivity matters — in line with your very push for a higher bar into the classroom? Now, I agree with you that preparation matters, too, and there are plenty of valid critiques of alt-cert paths on that front. But it seems like we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we dismiss TFA and alt-cert programs on that critique alone.
Jack and Matt:
From your comments, I suspect that I am not getting my ideas across very well. Before I answer your questions directly I’d likely to share two more stories. I’ve already told one of these frequently, but I feel that it is important in making my point:
My son’s roommate at Harvard wanted to be a high school teacher like his father, who really enjoyed the job. The father also taught in a European country where high school teachers were highly regarded, so his son saw the job as very desirable.
When the “boys” were in their junior year, I couldn’t contain my curiosity, so I asked the roommate, “Are you getting any pressure to drop your goal of becoming a high school teacher?” He answered, “Yes, but I want to be a teacher and that’s what I will be.”
Well, he is not a teacher. He went on to earn a doctorate and is now employed by the Peace Corps, surely an admirable job but is it more important than being a teacher? Will he have the same impact as his dad? Perhaps.
The second story is also quite common but I’ll just give one example: A woman received her Ph.D. in history with the intention of teaching at a college. However, because of the economy she was unable to secure a position so she took a job as a high school teacher at a very exclusive private high school. However, she told all her family and friends “not to broadcast it because I’ll never get a job at the college level if they know.” No one found out and a year later she was appointed Assistant Professor at the local college. Now, some years later, she’s chairman of the department and has tenure.
I’ll continue this in a new post.
My stories demonstrate the low regard we have for K-12 teachers in our country. Strangely, this low regard is quite common in English-speaking countries. The job of teacher of children is thought of as “women’s work” and not worthy of a lifetime commitment. Teaching adults IS a career worth pursuing but teaching children is not. Why this is so is complicated but from what I’ve gleaned from history, I’d say it’s gender related. Whatever the reasons, this job is not thought of as sufficiently challenging or rewarding to talented college grads. TFA people, who don’t think enough about teaching to prepare for it, always teach in schools with poor children of color. It was the same fifty years ago, but they weren’t called TFA (many were avoiding the Vietnam War by opting to teach in the “inner city.”). As soon as they could, these people left the classroom.
Needless to say, this cultural characteristic has a very negative effect on the teaching profession and on the education we are able to offer our children.
Without meaning to (hopefully) Teach for America reinforces the low regard our citizens have for teachers. By encouraging college grads to take the jobs for two years without preparing for the challenges of the classroom, TFA sends out this message: Anyone with good grades can teach; and (of course) you don’t want to spend too many years as a classroom teacher. It also insults the mainly working class teachers who received their training at the state universities. Common sense alone should tell us that this cannot help the profession or the children it serves.
Now to get to specific questions:
Jack: I believe strongly that the course requirements for teachers should be rigorous. In addition to a Bachelor’s degree in one subject, a prospective teacher should earn a Master’s to prepare for his intended grade level and should do an internship to prove that he can do the job. I do NOT advocate for weak preparation. To me, TFA preparation is very weak; I want more.
Matt: Yes, I do support higher standards for practicing teachers but of course it can’t be done with a two-dollar whole class test. Have we lost our senses? A teacher, like all other professionals, must be evaluated by multiple measures: classroom observations by other professionals, observation of student progress, surveys of parents, interviews etc. Basically all teachers should be mostly evaluated by their peers, as college teachers are.
I am not advocating the dismissal of TFA. I’d like to see the organization recruit talented people for careers in education. Once recruited these people would study for clear credentials. Perhaps TFA could pay their tuitions in exchange for teaching in urban districts. The goal should be to keep talented people in our classrooms. After all, is there a more challenging job in the United States than teaching our children? I don’t think so. (When my kids were little, I used to look at their pediatrician doing his “well baby” checks, and think “My job is so much more complicated than his.” Of course, I never said that.)
One more point about the reported superiority of TFA teachers in the area of mathematics: Every teacher of low-performing children will tell you that it’s much easier to prepare students for math tests than language arts tests. In many (most?) poor schools, the children get higher scores in math because it’s so much easier to do test prep (not cheating) in that subject. A truly “better” teacher would get higher scores in all subjects. So this research does not impress me.
Actually, we all agree that teachers need to be very well prepared. But I want to see an end to the shameful practice of sending inexperienced people without clear credentials into our most challenging schools. How is this even legal? Do some TFAs do a better job? Yes, but so do uncertified hair dressers, barbers, doctors, nurses and CPAs. But all these people must still have a regular license. That’s what I want for teachers.
Please advocate for fully credentialed teachers for all children. We can do better and I believe we will.
Gary Rubinstein’s take on all this is, as always, well worth a read: