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.

Transforming teacher ed

Relay Graduate School of Education, based at New York City’s Hunter College,  aims to “transform teacher education to fit the needs of urban schools,” writes June Kronholz in  Education Next.

The school trains novice teachers, usually without an education degree, in New York and New Jersey. Most teach in charter schools or are Teach for America teachers working in low-performing district-run public schools. All must show their students are making progress to earn their degrees.

During their second year in Relay’s two-year masters-degree program, elementary-school teachers are asked to show that their own students averaged a full year’s reading growth during the school year. They must also set a reading goal for each child, perhaps two years’ growth for a child who is three years behind, for example. Students can earn credit toward an honors degree if 80 percent of the children they teach meet their individual reading goals.

Elementary teachers must show students averaged 70 percent mastery in another subject, usually math, and middle-school teachers must show 70 percent mastery in their subject.

About 40 percent of Relay’s instruction is online. Teachers attend twice-monthly night classes, once-monthly Saturday classes, and two summer terms taught by master teachers and “charter school heavyweights.”

I logged onto an online lesson for a module titled Engaging Everybody, taught by Doug Lemov, managing director of Uncommon Schools. In the 3¾-hour lesson, Lemov lectured for three or four minutes on each of four techniques that he promotes to keep youngsters involved in class, techniques he labels “wait time,” “everybody writes,” “cold call,” and “call and response.” Each of Lemov’s minilectures was followed by a few pages of online reading from his book Teach Like a Champion, and an essay question or two that students answer online. Then came several short videos showing teachers using each technique in the classroom, with Lemov noting the teachers’ use of an apt pause or effective gesture.

. . . Next came practice scenarios—what do you do if only three children raise their hands to a question about angles?—online group exercises, and instructions to prepare a lesson plan that incorporates the techniques.

. . .  At the second Engaging Everybody evening class, Relay students are expected to present a 10-minute video of themselves using the techniques in their own classrooms.

Teachers pay about $4,500 for the two-year program with philanthropies covering about $13,000 and charter schools and federal grants funding the rest of the $35,000 cost.

UM crafts national standards for teacher ed

The University of Michigan’s TeachingWorks is developing national standards for teacher education, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Aspiring English instructors were supposed to be mastering their craft in the teacher education class Francesca Forzani observed.

Forzani, a former English teacher, looked on in horror as the students spent an entire semester debating what a high school reading list should look like. More contemporary or classical literature? Perhaps multicultural books?

“They never practiced anything as simple as introducing students to a text,” said Forzani, who observed the class as part of an auditing process.

Forzani, associate director of TeachingWorks, said education professors discuss issues and theories but devote too little time to the practical challenges of teaching. As a result, more than 60 percent of teachers say they weren’t prepared for the classroom in a federal survey.

TeachingWorks will stress “leading a classroom discussion, crafting small-group projects and conferencing with parents”  and 16 other teaching skills.

. . . the goal of TeachingWorks is to highlight traits that every good teacher needs, whether the fourth-grade math class they’re leading is in Tacoma or Tampa.

Forzani hopes TeachingWorks’ standards will be used not just by college-based teacher education programs but also by alternatives such as Teach for America.

Teach for America grows, but . . .

Teach for America‘s expansion is raising questions, reports AP. With experienced teachers facing layoffs, do high-poverty schools need inexperienced teachers, however bright, who commit for only two years in the classroom?

“There’s no question that they’ve brought a huge number of really talented people in to the education profession,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, which advocates on behalf of low-income and minority children, and a longtime supporter of TFA.

But, she said, “Nobody should teach in a high poverty school without having already demonstrated that they are a fabulous teacher. For poor kids, education has to work every single year.”

High-poverty,  high-minority schools employ nearly twice as many teachers with fewer than three years’ experience, AP reports.

One third of TFA graduates are still teaching, according to the organization. Sixty percent work in education, including administration, starting new schools or developing policy.

In Why I did TFA and you shouldn’t, Gary Rubinstein explains why he no longer recruits for TFA. Twenty years ago, TFA recruits took “jobs that nobody else wanted,” he writes. The alternative to a “barely trained” TFA teacher was “a different substitute every day.”

The 2011 corps is nearly 6,000, twelve times as big as the cohorts from the early ’90s. Unfortunately, the landscape in education has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Instead of facing teacher shortages, we have teacher surpluses. There are regions where experienced teachers are being laid off to make room for incoming TFA corps members because the district has signed a contract with TFA, promising to hire their new people.

TFA has spawned arrogant education reformers who are “assisting in the destruction of public education,” Rubinstein charges.

In a follow-up post, he writes about how he’d fix TFA.

So here’s my plan: TFA becomes a three year program with the first year composed of training, student teaching, substitute teaching, and being paired up as an assistant to a corps member who is in her second year of the program, which is her first (of two) years of teaching.

First-year recruits would train at a university while grading papers, calling parents and subbing for a second-year TFA teacher, he proposes.

You will tutor kids after school. If necessary, you will cook dinner for the teacher you assist. First year teaching is a two-person job and you will be the behind the scenes person who does a lot of the dirty work so that the second year corps member can succeed. You will also be subbing throughout your city. Perhaps you have to sub twice a week. Do that for a year and you will have no trouble facing your actual classes in your second year.

With a year of preparation — and an assistant — the first year of teaching wouldn’t be so traumatic, he writes. Perhaps more people would want to remain as teachers, building on their first two years of experience.

 

Teach for America outperforms in Tennessee

Teach for America teachers in Memphis and Nashville outperformed both experienced and new teachers, according to a state report card on teacher training. Teachers trained at Nashville’s Lipscomb University also did well.

Nine teacher training programs, including Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee-Martin, Middle Tennessee State and the Memphis Teacher Residency were cited for failing to compete with the quality of new teachers from other programs.

Memphis Teacher Residency, which recruits college graduates from other careers, posted low scores for high school teachers but relatively high scores for teachers in grades four through eight.  

 

Study links TFA selection criteria to gains

Teach for America teachers rated high on academic achievement, leadership and perseverance are more effective math teachers in grades three through eight, concludes a new study (pdf) by Will Dobbie of Harvard. Leadership and belief in TFA goals was linked to English gains, but less clearly. Teacher Beat reports:

TFA selects its recruits through a detailed selection process that uses a mix of scored assessments, including essays, a group activity, recommendations, and a sample teaching lesson.

The qualities it measures include: achievement (academic GPA or work performance), leadership (performance in leadership role), perseverance (ability to work through obstacles), critical thinking (outlining solutions to problems methodically), organization (attention to deadlines and clarity of instruction), motivational ability (ability to keep students on task), respect (attitudes toward low-income individuals), and fit (whether the candidate believes TFA’s goals are attainable).

Critical thinking, organizational ability, motivation, and respect for others were not linked to classroom effectiveness.  However, students in third through fifth grade taught by a teacher who scored higher on the respect measure were less likely to have a behavior infraction.

 

A corps of change agents

Teach for America‘s former teachers have formed a powerful corps of education change agents, according to  an Education Next study.

While much of the debate around Teach For America (TFA) in recent years has focused on the effectiveness of its nontraditional recruits in the classroom, the real story is the degree to which TFA has succeeded in producing dynamic, impassioned, and entrepreneurial education leaders.

“ TFA is one among a small cadre of organizations that currently includes New Leaders for New Schools, Education Pioneers, and Teach Plus” that are developing education leaders.  It’s an explicit part of TFA’s mission.

Recently, TFA started a new program, the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, which explicitly promotes innovation and entrepreneurship in the education sector. The program facilitates connections between alumni interested in starting education ventures with established social entrepreneurs. The initiative supports TFA alumni who are applying for fellowships such as Echoing Green and the Mind Trust, provides tools for developing fundraising plans and grant proposals, and publishes a newsletter that includes information about funding opportunities and management strategies.

The KIPP network,  YES Prep Public Schools, New Schools for New Orleans and The New Teacher Project were founed by TFA alumni.

The study looked at founders of entrepreneurial education organizations. Where did they start?  TFA was the most common answer with fewer leaders coming from San Francisco Public Schools, Newark Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools, AmeriCorps, the White House Fellows program, McKinsey & Company, and the United States Department of Education.  Top managers also came from KIPP, founded by TFA alumni, and from consulting firms and large urban school districts.

It seems clear that explanatory factors include the criteria by which TFA recruits, the organization’s strong and purposive culture, the skills that corps members develop, and the opportunities provided to alumni. Just to take one example, by providing talented young college grads with classroom experience, TFA confers upon them a degree of credibility that opens doors that might open less readily for others.

TFA looks for leadership ability in recruiting new corps members, the study notes. TFA alumni who become education entrepreneurs are more likely to have worked in New York City or the San Francisco area, which have strong entrepreneurial cultures. As education entrepreneurs, they tend to focus on instruction and staffing rather than finance or management.

TFA should be judged not only on whether its recruits continue as teachers but also on the impact of those who leave the classroom, the authors conclude.

Accountability for education schools

How well are ed schools preparing tomorrow’s teachers? The National Center on Teacher Quality will evaluate the quality of the nation’s 1,400 education schools.

. . . very little is known about the quality of teacher preparation programs—their selectivity, the content and pedagogical knowledge that they demand that their teacher candidates master, or how well they prepare candidates for the rigors of the classroom.

The review will be based on 17 standards “based on the highest caliber research on education and best practices of states and countries with excellent education systems” and vetted by national experts in a variety of fields.

NCTQ field-tested the methodology in analyzing education schools in Texas and Illinois.

U.S. News & World Report will publish the review annually, starting in the fall of 2012.

Alternative routes to teaching will be included only if they’re housed at education schools, writes Teacher Beat. That will exclude Teach for America and district-created teacher-prep programs.

Selling the idea to education deans may be difficult, Teacher Beat notes.

NCTQ’s Texas review was criticized by deans there even before the results came out.

In Texas, deans objected to the fact that the ratings were based on reviews of syllabuses and materials culled from websites rather than in-depth visits to schools. They argued that important topics might not be listed on such outlines. The forthcoming reviews are going to be based on a similar methodology, so anticipate more back-and-forth in this vein. (In fairness to NCTQ, ed. schools grumbled in the past about accreditation visits, too.)

NCTQ’s review will look at how well would-be teachers learn classroom-management skills, understand assessment and demonstrate expertise in their content area, among other things. In addition, programs will be judged on how well student teaching experiences are organized and whether the program collects data on graduates’ performance in the classroom.

Barnett Berry writes about building the 21st-century teaching profession in Ed Week.

TFA recruits produce higher scores

Teach for America recruits are the most effective teachers in Tennessee, except for math teachers from Vanderbilt University, concludes a report card by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

By contrast, reading scores were low for students taught by teachers trained at the University of Memphis, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, UT-Martin and several smaller colleges, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Teach for America, which recruits high-performing college graduates to the classroom from all disciplines, racked up the highest student scores among new teachers in reading, science and social studies.

Even compared to students of veteran teachers, students of TFA teachers had the highest test scores in reading. Vanderbilt teachers’ students took top honors in math.

The report card analyzes student test score data for public school teachers who have been on the job up to three years.

The Tennessee Board of Regents now requires education majors to complete one year as a student teacher, instead of a partial semester, and to pass an evaluation based on tapes of their teaching.

University of Memphis, one of the eight teacher training programs that rated low in effectiveness, may raise admissions standards for prospective teachers, a spokesman said. But that will be balanced with its “public mission.”  I think that means producing black teachers.