TFA vs. UNC teachers

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.

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  1. Combining this article with the Stanford fail below, I’m pretty sure that a degree in education may in fact hinder teaching ability. Take a reasonably competent individual, fill up his/her head with a bunch of ed-u-speak theory and nonsense, produce a muddled, incompetent teacher. Repeat. How do these institutions get away with charging tuition? Oh, I know: because of the cartel of unions and academia protecting their own interests over the interests of their victims, I mean students.

    Thanks goodness for the teachers who know the actual content of their subjects and have the common sense to disregard all the gobbldeegoop, close their doors, and just teach.

  2. I think the truth is closer to the idea that education schools don’t start with the brightest scholars while TFA does. When you compare an education major with a math major, and then ask them to teach math … which one do you feel would do a better job? Teach social studies, science, etc?

    The problem with all of this is that the TFAs aren’t planning to be there long term and that’s a problem. They are continuously reinventing the wheel and making redundant progress.

    If the TFAs were planning to stay, I’d be a lot more willing to mentor them and help them along. As it is, they come in with a vastly superior attitude and refuse to consider that anyone else can really help them – the effort to break through that isn’t worth it. They aren’t going to harm the kids compared to a typical, experienced teacher so I let it go.

    It’s just a shame to see the ability and not be allowed to help them draw it out – then we’d have more like the Mrs. R that I remember.

  3. Regarding Stanford, they don’t offer a major in education. According to their web site, they offer a minor in education *or* an honors program “for undergraduates interested in supplementing their major field(s) of study with courses and research in the field of Education.”

  4. Cardinal Fang says:

    Teach for America recruits very smart, talented new college graduates, who, as Curmudgeon says, don’t stay in teaching. So while it’s interesting that very smart, hardworking teachers can teach even without a lot of experience or teacher training, those teachers are not the solution. They leave. They will never be the majority of teachers.

    We need to figure out a solution that works for teachers of average ability and average intelligence, because that’s who will be the teachers of the future.

  5. “What works?” is an empirical question which only an experiment (in public policy, a federal system or a competitive market in goods and services) can answer.

    Studies which relate student performance to teacher credentials find no advantage for teachers with College of Education degrees versus teachers with emergency certification and a degree in the subject. In __Teach Your Own__, John Holt related a suit which some Texas school district brought against a homeschooling family in which the family produced an expert witness (a Professor of Education; they’re not all losers) who testifid that students of teachers with advanced degrees in Reading Instruction did worse than teachers with just a B.A. in Elementary Ed.

    Colleges of Education coursework subtracts value.

  6. SuperSub says:

    Interestingly enough, the Chancellor of SUNY (State University of New York) made a speech outlining major changes to be made in the system, including more practical experience for soon to be teachers and less theory.

  7. Gee, it sure is funny. The study is in a PDF format, and I used the search feature in Adobe to search for “Teach for America” and this is the ONLY return I got:

    <blockquote<In the present analyses, teachers who entered NC schools through the Teach for America program are included
    in the “all other teachers” category.

    That’s it, nowhere else are Teach For America mentioned by that specific name. Since its been more than 20 years since I have a statistics class I’m willing to admit I may be missing the data. However, if the claims made Jay Schalin were so dramatic I can’t imagine why it isn’t mentioned in the summary.

    What the story DOES say is UNC teachers were compared to teachers trained outside the UNC system, be it from other universities, other states, private universities and alternative certification.

    However, I did find this:

    The magnitude of the average difference between being taught by a beginning teacher and teachers on the job for at least five years is sometimes quite substantial. In elementary school mathematics, for example, students gain about 6 points per year on their tests on average. The
    average difference in being taught by a beginning teacher amounts to the loss of approximately 17 days of schooling. In middle school mathematics, year to year growth slows to about 2.7
    points. Due to the fact that students gain at a slower rate per day during middle school, the effect of being taught by a beginning teacher in middle school is equivalent to a loss of almost 39 days of schooling. The effect of having a first year teacher for middle school mathematics is roughly
    equivalent to the loss of 20% of instructional time during that year

    Whoops! Looks like experience DOES matter.

    To sum it all up, I think Jay Schalin is full of crap and is hoping no one takes the time to actually read the study he is “quoting”. Not surprisingly he is an economist. Check into the “reform” crowd and most are either economomics or political science degrees, which means they don’t know jack about teaching.

  8. Nobody argues that first-year (or second-year) teachers are as effective as experienced teachers. There is some debate about when additional years of experience no longer correlate with improved results: After three years? Four years? Five?

    I’ve added a link to statements by Gary Henry, a public policy professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and lead researcher, on the Teach for America results. Schalin is quoting Henry. I don’t know why its not in the pdf.

  9. Looking at my test scores, my state tested students (sophomores) are achieving at the same level as five years ago, maybe slightly better. Obviously I was able to push kids over into proficiency at that time and have maintained that ability. That’s all the test shows. My students’ AP scores have been steadily rising. The cuts on those tests are far higher. If a test doesn’t measure advanced achievement, I look like I flat-lined early in my career.

    TFA’ers are obviously smart and the program obviously appeals to their sense of competitiveness and drive to be at the top (ie. it’s hard to get accepted). Someone like that is unlikely to be normally attracted to teaching, a field that is not at all competitive and carries no social cache (a person who is driven to be at the top of their class isn’t likely to be motivated to join a field in which they are told they are stupid all the time).


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