Study: TFA teachers raise math scores

Teach for America recruits raised disadvantaged students’ math achievement more than traditionally trained teachers, concludes a Mathematica study for the U.S. Department of Education.

Students of TFA teachers moved from the 27th to the 30th percentile on average. That doesn’t sound like much but it’s the equivalent of two and a half extra months of learning, researchers estimated.

The Mathematica study looked at 45 schools in eight states over two years, 2009-10 and 2010-11. Students were randomly assigned to a TFA-trained math teacher or to a teacher from a different background. (Most of the TFA-trained teachers were in their first or second year of teaching, but about 17 percent were TFA alumni who had three, four or five years of experience.) At the end of each year, students were given standardized math tests and their scores were compared.

Students of inexperienced TFA teachers (with three years or less in the classroom) outperformed students of more experienced comparison teachers, the study found.

Although TFA is often criticized for the fact that its teachers make only a two-year commitment to teaching, the findings suggest that over the long term, continuing to fill a position with TFA teachers who depart after a few years would lead to higher student math achievement than filling the same position with a non-TFA teacher who would remain in the position and accumulate more teaching experience.

Another alternative route to teaching, the Teaching Fellows program, also was analyzed. “Inexperienced Teaching Fellows teachers . . . were more effective than inexperienced comparison teachers; among teachers with more experience, there was no difference in effectiveness between Teaching Fellows and comparison teachers.”

While TFA and Teaching Fellows recruit from elite colleges, “college selectivity is not a magic cure-all,” points out Dana Goldstein.

 Teachers here who attended selective institutions did not outperform other teachers, regardless of whether or not they participated in TFA or the Teaching Fellows. That finding is in line with  new data from New York City new data from New York City linking student achievement back to the colleges teachers attended. In that study, NYU and Columbia grads were not significantly more effective than graduates of Hofstra or CUNY.

Traditional teachers were more likely than TFA or Teaching Fellows teachers to have majored in math. However, TFAers and Fellows earned higher standardized test scores in math. Higher teacher test scores correlate with slightly better outcomes at the high school level, but not at the middle school level, researchers found.

Goldstein speculates that TFA teachers perform well because they’re “incredibly mission-driven,” believe they can close the achievement gap, choose to teach in low-income schools and work very hard. In addition, TFA’s training emphasizes tracking student outcomes and raising standardized test scores.

‘Converted’ school fires activist teachers

Half the teachers at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles were fired this month as part of the latest plan to turn around the low-performing school, writes Dana Goldstein. The “conversion” got rid of Alex Caputo-Pearl, an activist teacher and reform leader. One of the first Teach for America recruits in 1990, Caputo-Pearl taught in high-poverty Los Angeles schools for more than two decades. He helped design the Extended Learning Cultural Model, which drew federal and philanthropic dollars to the troubled high school. He led Crenshaw’s Social Justice and Law Academy, a small school within the school with high expectations.

For their final project, (10th graders) had to analyze a data set that included test scores at various schools; neighborhood income levels; school truancy rates; and incarceration rates.

In math, students graphed the relationship between income and social opportunity in various south L.A. neighborhoods. In social studies, they read conservative and liberal proposals for school reform and practiced citing data in their own written arguments about how to improve education. In science, students designed experiments that could test policy hypotheses about how to improve education. And in English class, they read Our America, a work of narrative non-fiction about life in the Ida B. Wells housing projects on the South Side of Chicago.

Some Crenshaw students were placed in paid community-service internships. Others worked with local colleges to conduct research in their neighborhoods.

With 30 different administrators in seven years, Crenshaw relied on teachers to lead the reform effort. Test scores began to grow, especially for African-American and disabled students, Goldstein writes. But the district has rejected teacher-led reforms at Crenshaw.

Superintendent John Deasy announced in November that Crenshaw would be reconstituted with three new magnet programs on the arts, entrepreneurship, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). There will be more Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate offerings and no Social Justice and Law Academy.

Teacher had to reapply for their jobs. Cathy Garcia, the teachers’ union chair, charges the district targeted reform leaders, Social Justice teachers and experienced black teachers who live in the neighborhood. She lost her job too.

Cities are breaking up large comprehensive high schools across the country, Goldstein writes. In New York City, the small specialty schools are superior to the big high schools, according to research from the New School. But who gets to go?

. . . students whose schools close may not end up enrolled in those better schools; instead, a significant number of them will be enrolled by default in the nearest large high school that is still open, which itself has extremely low test scores. That school, in turn, will eventually be shut down, creating what the New School researchers call a “domino effect,” in which the most disadvantaged teenagers are shuttled from failing school to failing school, while those with more active, involved parents win spots at new schools.

. . . only 6 percent of students whose schools are shut down end up enrolled in a school within the top achievement quartile, and 40 percent of students from closed schools ended up at schools on academic probation.

Smaller, themed schools seem to be better for kids, Goldstein writes. But the transition may leave behind the students who need help the most.

At Crenshaw, a “politically and intellectually challenging” themed school-within-a-school reform was dumped and its leaders dispersed. That’s “discouraging,” Goldstein writes. It certainly doesn’t encourage the remaining teachers to become leaders.

Tiger Rhee

In Radical: Fighting to Put Students First, Michelle Rhee touts her skills at firing people — and buying them off — writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in a Wall Street Journal review of the book.

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To get union approval for performance pay and a new teacher evaluation system, Rhee raised millions of dollars from foundations.

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty backed Rhee — and lost his bid for re-election. Rhee resigned from the chancellorship and founded StudentsFirst to lobby for school reform.

The daughter of Korean immigrants, Rhee “was urged by her Tiger Mom to go to law school,” writes Riley. Instead, she volunteered for Teach for America.  She almost quit after her first year at a tough Baltimore school, but her father told her to finish what she’d started. In her second year, she asked for advice from the best teachers and found new ways to “push her students harder and keep them interested.”

As chancellor in D.C., Rhee “became livid” when she learned a sign at a Washington school that read: “Teachers cannot make up for what parents and students will not do,” Riley writes. As a Tiger Reformer, Rhee thinks effort always pays off.

When she was a child, Rhee attended school in Seoul, South Korea for several months, she writes in Radical. Every child in her class of 70 was ranked, publicly. “Rather than damaging the souls of the less accomplished, the rankings focused every family on moving their children up the ladder.”

Needed: More ideologues, less kumbaya

“Can’t we all just get along?” asked Rodney King. No, answers Matt Barnum on Dropout Nation. School reformers and traditionalists have different ideas on “what’s best for kids.”  Ideas matter.

A Teach for America alum, he criticizes TFA President Wendy Kopp for writing, “We have to stop thinking of ourselves as locked in an ideological battle and focus on doing everything in our power to give students today the education they deserve.”

. . . Kopp seems to create a dichotomy between ideologues –those “locked in an ideological battle” – on the one hand, and those who want to do what’s best for kids, on the other. In actuality, ideologues not only want what’s best for kids, they actually have ideas – some good, some bad – for how to achieve results. Reformers emphasize school choice, parental empowerment, and teacher quality; traditionalists focus on class size, early-childhood education, and wrap-around services.

It seems to me that part of the problem in education is not too many, but rather, too few ideologues.

Traditionalist Diane Ravitch and union leader Karen Lewis have engaged in increasingly vicious attacks, writes Barnum. Reformers have employed “harmful and distasteful rhetoric.”  He favors “discussing ideas over demeaning people.”

At times, compromise may be necessary Barnum concedes. But not always. An “uncompromising, ideological vision of change to our education system may, in fact, be what’s best for kids.”

Finance wannabes try Teach for America

With hiring slow on Wall Street, business and economics graduates are applying to Teach for America, deferring the search for a finance job, reports the New York Times.

In the last several years, hundreds of such would-be finance professionals and management consultants have taken their high-powered ambitions and spreadsheet modeling skills to the classroom.

. . .  Teach for America says that its 2012 class contained about 400 recent graduates with a major in business or economics. Of those with professional experience, about 175 worked in finance.

The new recruits bring valuable analytical skills to teaching, reports the Times.

Ross Peyser, a 2011 graduate of Cornell and a second-year teacher in New Orleans, was once an intern at Oliver Wyman, a financial services consulting firm. As a teacher, he still plays the role of data analyst, creating Excel spreadsheets to diagnose his students’ learning needs.

. . .  “I had a stronger basis to do my data analysis compared to all the other teachers in my school,” Mr. Peyser said.

Teach for America requires only a two-year commitment, which means that many corps members leave the classroom just as they’ve hit their stride as teachers. “Of its 28,000 alumni, two-thirds remain in education roles, including as principals and superintendents (about half of those educators are in classroom settings),” TFA tells the Times. But turnover rate is likely to be higher for those with a shot at high-paying finance jobs.

AFT seeks national ‘bar’ exam for teachers

Teachers’ colleges would set higher standards — at least a 3.0 grade point average — and would-be teachers would have to pass the equivalent of a bar exam, proposes the American Federation of Teachers in Raising the Bar. That includes prospective teachers with alternative certification.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards would develop an “exam measuring content, pedagogy, and practice — based on a cohesive set of teaching standards crafted by practitioners,” reports Stephen Sawchuk on Ed Week‘s Teacher Beat. NBPTS might use the performance assessments that are under development, said CEO Ronald Thorpe. “This is not about reinventing the wheel.”

But the details are unclear. How will teaching competence be measured? Will one style of teaching — let’s say “guide on the side” — be required? What happens if the failure rate is higher for blacks and Latinos than for whites and Asian-Americans?

Everyone wants to professionalize teaching, writes Andrew Rotherham on Eduwonk. But “what if education isn’t really like law or medicine?”  What if “there isn’t a field-wide core of knowledge or skills all practitioners must have?”  We don’t  know what “makes a great 10th-grade English teacher or 12th grade government teacher,” beyond content knowledge, he writes.

A national exam would “level the playing field,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Maybe all the alternative certified teachers will pass with flying colors. But if only 10 percent of [Teach For America] passed it and 90 percent of the students from Teachers College passed it, that would say something.”

Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina look at how teachers from various preparation programs do in the classroom, responds Rotherham. Teach for America teachers do well.  The quality of other alternatively certified teachers varies. If Weingarten is trying to “reassert control over a rapidly decentralizing field” by freezing out TFA, that’s a waste of time.

Why not find out whether candidates can actually do what they’re being hired to do? Actual live teaching as part of the teacher hiring process remains stunningly rare.  I’d be a lot more excited if the AFT announced it wanted to pursue more of a guild model and see what we can learn from that approach. Even better if the union wanted to do training and put its brand behind the teachers who carry its label (in some cities AFT chapters do solid professional development). Instead, we’re once again trying to develop a test to address a problem everyone is aware of  but few have the political fortitude to take on: Most of our teacher preparation programs just aren’t very good.  We don’t need a test to tell us that, we need serious reform.

It’s a “serious proposal to raise standards for new teachers as part of a broader effort to strengthen the profession,” writes Fordham’s Checker Finn. But, among other things, he’s worried by the vagueness of AFT’s call for “an in-depth test of subject and pedagogical knowledge.”

There is no hint of what in-depth knowledge might mean for a U.S. history teacher versus a geometry teacher versus an art teacher, nor does it address what sort of testing arrangement might gauge whether an individual possesses enough of it. (We know that the current arrangement—with most states relying heavily on the “Praxis II” test—does not do this well. We also know that some states do not take this issue on at all.)

NBPTS, which board certifies veteran teachers, hasn’t shown “much interest in subject-matter knowledge,” Finn writes. “Pedagogy, yes. Even lesson-planning. But not the causes and consequences of the Civil War or the ways that atoms combine to form molecules.”

Update: Putting the teachers’ union in charge of certifying teachers is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast.

Teaching for America in the ‘Terrordome’

After Teach for America’s five-week teacher boot camp, Heather Kirn Lanier was assigned to a Baltimore high school known as “The Terrordome.”  Students roamed the hallways or barged into classes to disrupt lessons. While she was teaching one day, a student lit her classroom door on fire. Her book, Teaching in the Terrordome: Two Years in West Baltimore with Teach for America, recalls her frustrations at Southwestern High School, now closed.

Southwestern was too big and impersonal, Lanier tells the Baltimore Sun.

A small, close-knit community, where the principal knows every single student by name and where the teachers work in teams, would have been helpful. It wasn’t until I got to know my students and their problems that things started to click.

Lanier praises the teachers who stayed on the job, avoiding burnout. After two years, Lanier left K-12 teaching. After earning a master’s degree in creative writing, she taught remedial reading and writing to immigrant Berkeley students.

LA study: New teachers get worst students

In Los Angeles Unified, new teachers get the weakest students, reports a six-year study by the Strategic Data Project.

The study also found “significant disparities in effectiveness among the district’s elementary and middle school teachers, as measured by students’ standardized test scores,” notes EdSource Today.

Researchers found that the difference between a math teacher in the 75th percentile – those whose students performed better than three quarters of other students – and a teacher in the 25th percentile was the roughly equivalent benefit to a student of having eight additional months of instruction in a calendar year (technically one quarter of a standard deviation).

New teachers hired through Teach for America and the district’s Career Ladder program that helps aides become teachers were more effective in math than other novice teachers by two months for TFA and one month for former aides. However, most TFA teachers leave after two years, while Career Ladder teachers usually stay for the long haul.

Forty-five percent of laid-off teachers ranked in the top two quartiles in effectiveness, the study found. All layoffs are based on seniority.

Of the teachers who were laid off, 45 percent were in the top two quartiles of effective teachers in Los Angeles Unified. Source: SDP Human Capital Diagnostic in the Los Angeles Unified. (Click to enlarge.)
Los Angeles teachers with advanced academic degrees earn more, but are no more effective, the study found. However, “teachers with a National Board Certification outperform other teachers, by roughly two months of additional math instruction and one month of additional ELA instruction over a year.”  Most board-certified teachers in Los Angeles work in high-performing schools.

Can we get a real teacher for once?

Working as a volunteer teacher for underprivileged children was fulfilling, writes “Megan Richmond” in The Onion.

Was it always easy? Of course not. But with my spirit and determination, we were all able to move forward.

Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher, fourth-grader “Brandon Mendez’ responds. |

Just once, it would be nice to walk into a classroom and see a teacher who has a real, honest-to-God degree in education and not a twentysomething English graduate trying to bolster a middling GPA and a sparse law school application. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a qualified educator who has experience standing up in front of a classroom and isn’t desperately trying to prove to herself that she’s a good person.

I’m not some sort of stepping stone to a larger career, okay? I’m an actual child with a single working mother, and I need to be educated by someone who actually wants to be a teacher, actually comprehends the mechanics of teaching, and won’t get completely eaten alive by a classroom full of 10-year-olds within the first two months on the job.

How about a person who can actually teach me math for a change? Boy, wouldn’t that be a novel concept!

“We’re not adopted puppies you can show off to your friends” on Tumblir, Mendez writes.

I can’t afford to spend these vital few years of my cognitive development becoming a small thread in someone’s inspirational narrative.

Via Teach for America’s new blog, Pass the Chalk.

 

Time to retool Teach For America

Teach For America should seek a four- or five-year commitment from recruits, writes teacher Jared Billings in Education Sector. Two years is not enough, even if some ex-TFAers go on to do other work in education.

Being a great teacher has to be one of the hardest jobs in the world. I knew I had found my passion the first time I stood at the front of a classroom at Jordan High School in South Los Angeles during my TFA summer training five years ago. But it took me several years of teaching psychology, government and world history to feel truly competent. Those first couple of years in the classroom are a huge learning curve for any teacher, and it seems arrogant to think that just because the TFA kids went to good schools and got good grades, they’ll instantly be able to teach. It’s no wonder the longtime teachers at some schools resent these upstarts.

In a survey of the 2000-’02 cohorts, 60.5 percent of TFA teachers said they continued teaching after their two-year commitment. But after five years, only about 28 percent remained in teaching. Only 22 percent stayed in the classroom after two years in a more recent study of TFA teachers in Jacksonville, Florida.

Wendy Kopp, CEO and founder of TFA, addressed this issue last month in an interview with NY1 news: “Our applicant pool fell in half when we asked for a three-year commitment. It doubled if we asked for one year. The reason this plays out is that 22-year-olds think that two years is the rest of their life.”

. . . Rather than bend to the student’s perception that teaching is not prestigious enough to do long term, TFA should instead use its vast resources to encourage students to see teaching as the end goal, and TFA as a viable means to that end.

TFA is now the top employer of graduates from elite universities. However, “the achievement gap that TFA says it is committed to closing will require new, gifted teachers to join the profession and stick with it for far more than two years,” writes Billings.