Friday, May 16, 2008

NY Times Drinking the Kool Aid on Teach for America

Today's NY Times had an editorial praising TFA. They will grasp at any straw.
Some excerpts:

To maintain its standing as an economic power, the United States must encourage programs that help students achieve the highest levels in math and science, especially in poor communities where the teacher corps is typically weak.
... a new study from a federal research center based at the Urban Institute in Washington suggests that the country might raise student performance through programs like Teach for America, a nonprofit group that places high-achieving college graduates in schools that are hard to staff.

Critics have challenged the program’s usefulness, pointing out that the teachers it places are neophytes and that a majority leave the classroom after two years. But the new study suggests that talented young people can have a lasting effect even if they do not make a career of teaching. According to the study, Teach for America participants who worked in North Carolina between 2000 and 2006 had more impact on student performance than traditional teachers did, as measured by end-of-course tests. The difference was observed in several areas of science and was strongest in math.

Two years is by anyone's estimate a minimum amount of time to learn even the basic ropes of teaching. Traditionally trained first year teachers for all the critiques of these programs do get a lot of teacher training than can prove useful. I was also an instant wonder in a special program to attract men avoiding Vietnam to elementary schools in the late 60's and was very deficient compared to the teachers who came through education programs. It took me about 2 years to make up the gap.

Make sure to check out the Debunking TFA blog for counter research.

And Eduwonkette is right on the case today with this:
A special shoutout goes to the New York Times editorial board for making national policy recommendations based on the Urban Institute's study of Teach for America in North Carolina, which included a whopping 69 Teach for America teachers - a .5% sample of all TFA teachers placed during those years.
Set policy based on 69?
Does it remind you of the big deal TNTP's Tim Daly made of those 14 U-rated teachers who were ATR's, also debunked by wonkette.

While the instant teacher concept of TFA people who do not stay as opposed to traditionally trained teachers needs debunking, I know TFA people who do stay are many are fabulous teachers. Some even have gotten over the training they receive that older, traditional teachers are to be shunned. I resent the 2 year wonders (some numbers I've seen are that over 70% leave) who become instant experts on education. Believe me, when you to this as a career, you get insights, often from returning students and their children and even grandchildren, that make it clear the emphasis of the ed reform, union busting movement (TFA is a prime component of that strategy which is the real reason the business community so loves them) will not work until they invest in kids and schools to the same extent they do in wars and bailouts.

Eduwonkette did more extensive do not miss analysis of the study in a previous post here.
A short excerpt:

the authors presuppose that teacher turnover has no effect on the school as an organization, and that teacher quality is solely an individual attribute, rather than the joint product of individuals and organizations. (And what do we make of the tiny effects of experience? Is it possible that the most talented math and science teachers left to pursue more lucrative opportunities?)

It’s nearly impossible to build a stable school community and an ethos of sustained change in the face of regular turnover. Herein we have the classic chicken and egg problem in education: how do we create places where good teachers want to work - a key component of which is a stable professional community – if we can’t get strong teachers to stay? Programs like TFA are a fine band-aid, but they are hardly a solution.



Anonymous said...

What an amazing coincidence. Today, students who have been taking the New York State ELA component exam, listened to a passage about-you guessed it-TFA.
The instructions were to "write a position paper in which you argue that inexperienced people can provide leadership."
They then had to listen to a speech from Wendy Kopp.
The New York State ELA!!!
I am going to write about it shortly, but had to respond to your post.

Anonymous said...


I agree with your post completely...except that it takes a minimum of five years, not two years to master classroom teaching.

Anonymous said...

Wait, why is this a problem? TFA is an important American institution and one of the top recruiters of new college graduates. Do you expect all state documents to act like it doesn't exist forever?