Teach for America teachers with six weeks of training outperformed teachers with two years of University of North Carolina education classes, writes Jay Schalin in Ed Schools, Leave Those Teachers Alone! in the Pope Center’s Clarion Call.
UNC studied The Impact of Teacher Preparation on Student Learning in North Carolina Public Schools (pdf) to figure out “what kind of teachers get the most out of their pupils,” as Professor Gary Henry, the lead researcher, put it.
. . . middle school math students with Teach for America teachers tested as if they had an additional 90 days of instruction — when the entire school year is only 180 days of instruction.
The study looked at how much students improved in a year controlled for students’ prior achievement levels, family incomes, teachers’ pre-college preparation, and so on.
. . . in five of nine measureable categories—overall high school, high school math, high school English, high school science, and middle school math, students with Teach for America teachers significantly outperformed students with UNC-trained teachers. In high school social studies, middle school science, elementary school reading and elementary math, their performance was roughly equal to their UNC-trained peers.
TFA teachers do best teaching specific subjects in secondary schools. Schalin suggests they make up for less teacher preparation with deeper knowledge of the subject matter.
Lateral-entry teachers — people with non-education degrees given three years to earn certification — did not outperform UNC-trained teachers. Hopes for NASA engineers eager to become math and science teachers never materialized, Henry says. Most lateral-entry teachers were business or psychology majors.
UNC needs to take another look at its elementary education major, Schalin suggests. Future teachers spend less than half their time learning how to teach reading, math and science.
UNC requires elementary education majors to take nine credit hours of education theory classes, but only one four-credit course on teaching reading plus two one-credit courses on “emergent literacy” and “literacy across the curriculum,” Schalin writes. One four-credit course is devoted to teaching math and one three-credit course to teaching science.
Six credits are devoted to classes on teaching English Learners and students with disabilities. Students must earn another six credits for “Working with Socially Diverse Families” and “Culture, Society, and Teaching.”
Update: Henry, a UNC-Chapel Hill public policy professor, called TFA a “boutique operation,” saying, “We need an industrial model.”
TFA teachers make up only 0.3 percent of North Carolina’s K-12 public school teachers, but middle school math students taught by TFA members gained the equivalent of 91 days of learning over their peers, Henry said.
The study found first-year teachers are much less effective than teachers with five or more years of experience.