Thanks to several good researchers (and friends!), I have been reviewing an independent evaluation of the efficacy of the Teach for America teachers that the board heard a recommendation for on October 11th. My initial assessment of the presentation, unlike that of the board, was that paying Teach for America $550,000 to hire 110 uncertified teachers (especially when the system just finished laying off 154 teachers in the spring), was not worth the money.
Yet because we’re living in a time when teachers are insulted, mocked, and dismissed as incapable of doing anything at all other than “stealing money from the public,” it’s important to evaluate the performance of the Teach for America teachers as well. (Yes, there are actually people who believe that paying teachers $36,144 a year to educate our children is too much. Paying a teacher one dollar an hour, per child is too much. But I digress.) As such, a more extensive evaluation of how Teach for America teachers perform compared with certified teachers is an important comparison.
Luckily, the Education Policy Research Unit of Arizona State and the Education and the Public Interest Center of the University of Colorado at Boulder (Wardynski’s old stomping grounds–well, for about eleven months anyway) have done the actual research that I, frankly, don’t have time to do.
Education and research provides countless benefits to a community, doesn’t it?
Mr. Carpenter, Executive Director of Teach for America, Alabama, offered his opinion to the board on the 11th claiming that Teach for America attracts “new leaders for low income kids.” According to his website, he claims:
we are bringing in talented leaders, forming a critical mass of dedicated, committed people who will fight at every level – as teachers, as school leaders, in politics and in leadership roles all over Alabama – for equal opportunity in education.
His assessment is that the teachers that Teach for America brings to a system are of a higher quality than the teachers that our local and regional colleges and universities can provide.
This assessment of the quality of Teach for America teachers went unquestioned by the board. As the Huntsville Times reported, Mr. Blair said, “I guess one of the things Teach for America really buys us, (is that) they’ve done all of the recruiting beforehand, which saves us time and money.”
So, since the board didn’t see fit to ask if teachers that Teach for America would provide were actually as effective as a traditionally trained teacher (you know, those silly people who decided while they were in college to dedicate their lives and careers to educating our kids as opposed to being a banker or lawyer), I thought it might be a good idea to review the work of those who did ask such questions. Thankfully, Julian Vasquez Heilig of the University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Su Jin Jez of the California State University asked these questions in June 2010.
I highly encourage you to download and read their findings for yourself. You may download the study from the National Education Policy Center’s website.
The covers three main questions:
- Do TFA teachers perform as well as non-certified or emergency hired teachers?
- Do TFA teachers perform as well as certified or traditionally trained teachers?
- Does experience make a difference in the performance of TFA teachers?
Again, I encourage you to download and read their study for yourself, but here’s a quick summary of their peer-reviewed findings.
Do TFA teachers perform as well as non-certified or emergency hired teachers?
Yes. Typically TFA teachers perform on about the same level as a non-certified or emergency hired teachers. They raised reading scores and mathematics scores at equivalent levels as non-certified teachers.
As both groups have at least college degrees, this is to be expected. But since TFA teachers aren’t only replacing non-certified teachers, but are replacing certified teachers as well, a comparison between those groups would be useful.
Do TFA teachers perform as well as certified or traditionally trained teachers?
No. Typically, TFA teachers do not perform on the same level as a certified teacher with equivalent experience. Heilig and Jez found that, “studies indicate that the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers.”
Does experience make a difference in the performance of TFA teachers?
Yes. Experience, and completion of the certification process (which typically takes two-years), causes students of TFA teachers and traditionally trained teachers to perform on an equivalent level. Their scores in reading are equivalent to traditional teachers in reading, and at times better in mathematics.
So experience for both groups makes a difference in their performance. Students of experienced teachers perform better than students of non-experienced teachers. The issue then becomes how do we keep our teachers past the first two years of employment?
This is a major issue for TFA teachers who make only a two-year commitment to teaching before they return to their field of choice. More than 50% of TFA teachers leave teaching after the two year commitment is completed. After three years, that number jumps to 80% or more.
In other words, TFA teachers don’t see teaching as a career, and the overwhelming majority of their teachers leave after three years (or right about the time the deficiencies in their training have been overcome by experience).
Thus, TFA has developed a system of funneling teachers into systems that works extremely well for TFA. After all, if we hire 30 TFA teachers next year, by the time the proposed TFA contract of three years, 110 teachers and $550,000 dollars has come to an end, 80% of those teachers will then need to be replaced.
Which will initiate a renewal or likely expansion of the TFA contract for an additional three years, or longer.
Students of TFA teachers do not perform as well as students of traditionally trained teachers. TFA teachers cost more to recruit and train than traditionally trained teachers. TFA teachers overwhelmingly leave the teaching field before these deficiencies are negated by experience.
So, why are we thinking of hiring 110 new TFA teachers over the next three years when we just this spring laid off 154 certified teachers with at least a year of experience?
It’s as inconceivable as most of the superintendent’s recommendations and board decisions of late. Hopefully the board will ask these questions before they approve this contract with TFA, but if history is any indication, they won’t.
Once again, those who are in need of the highest qualified teachers get the least qualified.
Although they still haven’t posted an agenda for tomorrow night’s meeting on the website, the School Board should be meeting tomorrow evening at 5:30pm at the Merts Building, 200 White Street, North. So the agenda has now been posted. The board will be asked to vote on the Teach for America contract tomorrow night. I have shared this study with the board; it will be interesting to see if anyone raises questions based on it. With the decision to rename the new Lee High School something else, and to relieve the current Lee High School principal of his duties as principal once the school is occupied next year, I expect the meeting will be crowded. I will be in attendance. As always, the meeting will be broadcast on ETV (Comcast 17, Knology 99), and at the Huntsville City Schools website. I will also be live-tweeting the meeting @russwinn. You can follow on Twitter or on the Geek Palaver Facebook Page.