Teaching well for America

Eduwonk summarizes a Mathematica study of the effectiveness of Teach for America teachers, who are very bright college graduates who promise to teach for two years in high-need schools. Compared to their colleagues, including those who are certified and experienced, TFA teachers are just as good at teaching reading and better at math.

Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, observes:

The fairest “apple to apple” comparison found that new TFA teachers stacked up quite well to other new teachers in the building, so much so that the impact was about the same as if the school had reduced the class size from 23 to 15 students but a whole lot less expensive.

Less than three percent of TFA teachers in the study majored in education compared to 52 percent of non-TFA teachers.

About Joanne


  1. But if they didn’t major in Education, they won’t know the secret handshake and pass-words. How can they possibly teach the children? Oh no!!

  2. Many states now do not endorse a major in education – they want you to major in the subject area you plan to teach. I have an education degree, and I don’t think it makes me a better math teacher. When I lived in Californis 16 years ago, I couldn’t get a teaching job (even though they were desperate for math teachers) because I had a degree in education and not in math! How stupid is that!

  3. Rita C. says:

    I don’t see why they wouldn’t be since teaching is largely learned on the job. Like Jill says, the push is away from majors in education. I have a degree in my subject area. I ended up taking the ed. courses post degree for the credentialing process. They were largely pointless, but they do teach you patience and how to survive in a beaurocracy.

  4. I never majored in education. I got an MA in my subject area after I got my credential. It made me a better teacher.

    I’m all for easing up on the education major requirement, yet I think the student teaching/mentoring stage could be improved. There are many intangibles involved in classroom management that need to be experienced in a supportive, rigorous environment. Too many new teachers are blindsided by the heaps of paperwork and student/parent issues, and we lose many good ones too soon.

  5. I took my first education course in 1958. I’ll never forget it, trying to figure what the heck was the difference between goals and objectives. I’m still not sure.

    Most states have cut way back on education courses required for certification. Still, it helps a lot to understand learning styles, Piaget development stuff, learn how to teach phonics, etc.

    The Teach for America kids get a summer of training, some of it probably useful. If you want to read a hearbreaking journal of one of these teachers, go to google, type in teach for America. About the third item down is Joshua Kaplowitz’s recounting of a year from hell. There is no possible preparation that would have made his year bearable.

    I do know a Teach for America person. She is the best and brightest for sure. It has been a discouraging year for her. She is young and smart and will put in sixty hour weeks because that is what it takes in her situation. We burn those people out really fast.


  6. lindenen says:

    Joshua Kaplowitz wrote an article about this for City Journal. It’s jaw-dropping.

  7. Rita C. says:

    I don’t find it “jaw-dropping” at all.

  8. Chris C. says:

    It seems that the successful Teach for America (TFA) teachers are not taken with folk behaviorism:

    In this study, the majority of the non-TFA teachers believed “memorizing facts, rules, and steps” was important in mathematics, while only 26% of the successful TFA teachers believed it was important.

    Also, most of the non-TFA teachers believed “getting all answers right” was important, while only 9% of the TFA teachers believed it was important to get all the answers right.

  9. Steve LaBonne says:

    Perhaps that’s because many of them have worked in real-world professions where “getting all answers right” is not merely important, but absolutely essential. If I get an answer wrong, an innocnet person might go to jail.

  10. Steve LaBonne says:

    Of course it helps with a comment like that if you proofread it carefully. πŸ˜‰

  11. lindenen says:

    Then good for you, Rita C. ???

  12. I don’t think any teacher would find it jaw dropping.

  13. I didn’t find the article jaw-dropping, either. Before I got my credential, I substituted in two of the lowest-performing schools in my state. I had similar experiences with lack of administrative support and classes in chaos. Granted, I was a substitute, but in talking with other teachers my experience was not unique.

    Teachers going into poor, heavily impacted inner-city schools need intensive training, mentoring, and support. Five weeks is pathetic. Even after going through an intensive year of theory and practice, I’ve seen former attorneys, bankers, and doctors collapse after a semester in some of those schools.

  14. mike from oregon says:

    I’m confused, a possible solution seems so simple to me – you want accountability for students behavior in the class room? You want to be able to affirm or disagree with accusations brought forth by kids and/or parents? Ever heard of video cameras?

    It would be so simple to put one or two video cameras (depending on the layout of the classroom), under/behind one of those dark glass bubbles (so the students don’t know when its on or where its pointing) and have the dang thing tape the goings on in the class room all during the day. Put the extra money into video tapes and have a tape a day per class room (complete with sound). Archive these tapes for a minimum of six months, more like tweleve months. Then, no matter what the accusation, we would turn to the video tape which would have the last word.

    I read the account that Atlas referred to, it was horrendous. Not only should the video camera be utilized, but (as was stated in the article) there should be “disiplinarian” schools available; where a kid with a disipline problem is sent. There, there should be a much stricter set of rules, a camera (again) so false accusations could not be raised, and some type of “guard” resident in each classroom to immediately take care of any problems before they became big problems.

    Public schools are a joke and the liberals have pushed them that way and continue to push them that way. Until we re-introduce discipline in the schools (and respect) the schools just continue to slide and kids continue to not learn.