A new look at Teach for America
Around the country today thousands of young Teach for America recruits are getting a crash course in how to teach students in low-income urban and rural schools, a job they have promised to do for the next two years.
The recruits are recent graduates from elite colleges, most of whom do not have a background in education, and they have been the subject of a running debate about how well they can serve needy schoolchildren.
Teach for America began in 1990 with 500 teachers in six communities and has grown to more than 8,200 individuals teaching in 39 rural and urban areas, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, the Mississippi Delta, and the Washington D.C. region.
Following are highlights of a new review of independent researchvidence on the program, an analysis conducted by Assistant Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig of the University of Texas at Austin and Assistant Professor Su Jin Jez of California State University at Sacramento.
*More than 50 percent of Teach for America teachers leave after two years and more than 80 percent leave after three years. [About half of all teachers nationwide quit after five years, according to the National Education Association.]
-Teach for America proponents say that the program is aimed not only at supplying teachers to needy schools but also improving the teacher labor supply and shaping individuals who will care about education in their future jobs on Wall Street, in Washington, or elsewhere outside the classroom.
*Studies indicate that students of novice Teach for America teachers perform significantly less well in reading and math than those of credentialed beginning teachers.
*Most studies find that those Teach for America teachers who stay long enough to become fully credentialed (typically after two years) appear to do about as well as other similarly experienced cedentialed teachers in teaching reading, and do as well as, and sometimes better than, a comparison group in teaching math.
--The study said it is difficult to know if that is a result of additional training and experience or from attrition of less effective Teach for America teachers.
*About a third of Teach for America’s operating costs are paid by the public through federal, state and local funds. For example, in 2008, the program was funded this way: 33 percent from public funds, 26 percent from foundations, 20 percent from individuals, 15 percent from corporations, and 6 percent from special events.
*Teach for America teachers make up about 0.2 percent of the country’s several million teachers.
The analysis concludes that proponents who see the prgram as providing urban and rural schools with “outstanding recent college graduates,” and opponents who see it as only a short-term remedy that “may not even be better than what it aims to fix” are both correct. It says:
“The studies reviewed in the previous section indicate that, in the short-term, when compared to other underprepared teachers hired into many high-need schools, they may compete well with similarly trained and situated non-TFA teachers (even if just marginally better and only in mathematics).
"However, TFA opponents are correct, too. TFA teachers appear less effective in both reading and mathematics than fully prepared entrants teaching similar students, at least until the TFA teachers become prepared and certified themselves.
"While the small number who stay this long are sometimes found to be more effective in mathematics than other teachers, their attrition rate of more than 80 percent means that few students receive the benefit of this greater effectiveness, while districts pay the costs of high attrition. In addition, TFA provides only a (small) fraction of America’s teachers to a small number of America’s schools, and likely has little to no impact outside of its participating schools. Unless it starts admitting larger swaths of college seniors and potentially watering down the quality of its corps members, it will not ever comprise more than a small fraction of America’s teachers.
"Finally, even in the limited cases when TFA has a positive impact, it is consistently small; other educational reforms may have more promise such as universal pre-school, mentoring programs that pair novice and expert teachers, eliminating tracking, and reducing class size in the early grades."
It recommends that policymakers and school districts:
*Support Teach for America staffing only when the alternative hiring pool consists of uncertified and emergency teachers or substitutes.
*Consider the significant recurring costs of Teach for America, estimated at over $70,000 per recruit, and press for a five-year commitment to improve achievement and reduce re-staffing.*Invest strategically in evidence-based educational reform options that build long-term capacity in schools.
Marjorie Stamberg writes:
Thanks to Joan for pointing out this Interesting new study on the effectiveness of "Teach for America," (of Michelle Rhee fame), which recruits teachers out of the "elite" universities and sends them into troubled inner city schools for a two-year stint. See the article on one of the Washington Post education blogs, which includes a link to the actual study.
This comes after a major piece on TFA by Barbara Miner in the journal "Rethinking Schools" ("Looking Past the Spin -- Teach for America," Spring 2010). Teaching for a couple of years and then going on to your "real" job -- i.e., lawyer or doctor, is becoming the hot new thing, like running your own charter school (in fact, to the extent TFA graduates stay in education, which is not much, they tend to be administrators of one sort or another). TFA's own presentation practically says that this looks good on your resume.
The new study says more than half of the Teach for America teachers leave after two years. In Houston, 85 percent of the TFA teachers were gone after three years, compared to less than half of their non-TFA colleagues. This study reports that while TFA was originally sold as a way to recruit teachers for hard-to-staff schools, now it is overwhelmingly being used to replace experienced teachers.
But look at the stats on effectiveness. Surprise, surprise, it reports that the novice TFA teachers are less effective in teaching reading and math than experienced credentialed teachers. And those TFA teachers who last more than the two years become more effective to the extent that they have more classroom experience and have taken advanced education courses. In other words, that small group of TFA teachers who stay, develop into effective teachers, in the same way as the rest of us. Like duh.
TFA by the way, has just won the right to sidestep any credentials' process that requires university credits; instead they will be certified through the programs in a direct internship.
Thus the ed "reformers" are carrying out their agenda to downgrade teaching from a profession requiring academic credit to a "skills based" vocation. They think they can more cheaply staff the classrooms with two-year recruits, most of whom will go on to their "real" professions -- lawyers, stock brokers, etc. Even if education is reduced to "test prep," this ain't going to work. And forget about critical thinking, or introduction to the world. But then, improving education was never what programs like TFA were about. It's purpose is to bust the unions and to replace experienced teachers with low cost temp labor.
HOWEVER, and this is a big however. We need to keep in mind that some very dedicated teachers come into our profession through this route, and we need to reach out to them. The UFT has to do far more to find a way to advocate for new teachers entering the school system. Otherwise, the DOE can set experienced and novice teachers against each other. Klein & Co. are already doing this and it is hurting our solidarity.