Why can’t ed colleges match Teach for America?

On the heels of a North Carolina study that found Teach for America teachers were the state’s most effective teachers comes another affirmation of the elite program that fast-tracks top college graduates into high-need public schools.

I am beginning to wonder why we don’t disband the colleges of education and let Teach for America take over teacher training. The organization seems to have found the right mix –  the nation’s smartest college grads, a boot camp that really prepares them and ongoing support and training while they are in the classroom.

The Tennessee State Board of Education measured the effectiveness of 41 of the state’s teacher preparation programs, including Teach For America-Tennessee.

Released this week, the report found that Teach For America teachers in Tennessee had a statistically significant positive difference on student achievement in every evaluated subject. Tennessee is the third state to evaluate teacher preparation programs. In addition to North Carolina,  Louisiana also examined which teachers were most effective and again Teach for America teachers led the pack.

The Tennessee review found:

–Compared to the mean of all institutions for beginning teachers, Teach For America–Tennessee teachers had a statistically significant positive difference in every evaluated subject (math, reading/language arts, science and social studies).

–Compared to the mean of all veteran teachers in the state (those with three or more years of experience), Teach For America–Tennessee is the only institution to have a statistically significant positive difference in reading/language arts, science and social studies (in math, there is a positive difference but it was not found to be statistically significant).

–More than 40 percent of TFA reading/language arts teachers, 60 percent of TFA science teachers, and 60 percent of TFA social studies teachers are above the 80th percentile of all teachers in the state. Teach For America–Tennessee’s percentages for teachers above the 80th percentile in these subject areas are the highest among the 41 teacher preparation programs studied.

According to the Memphis Commericial Appeal:

The most effective new teachers in Tennessee are being trained by Teach for America, not colleges of education, with the exception of math teachers from Vanderbilt University.

The University of Memphis, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, UT-Martin and several smaller colleges score in the bottom 20 percent for the quality of reading teachers they produce, according to the 2010 state report card on teacher training, released Wednesday.

The ratings are based on the teachers’ student test scores, not their own academic performance.

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.

“What I found really exciting is these results reflect the national studies,” said Brad Leon, TFA vice president in Tennessee and Texas.

“Our corps members are making an impact where they are needed the most.”

The report card, prepared annually by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, includes student test score data for public school teachers who have been on the job up to three years.

Of the state’s 42 teacher colleges or teacher accrediting agencies, eight show dismal results, including the U of M.

Under stricter requirements adopted by the Tennessee Board of Regents, education majors now must complete one year as a student teacher instead of a partial semester. They also must pass a series of tests that include being videotaped as they teach, and must prove mastery of elementary literacy, he said.

The report does not include data on teachers who graduated from colleges outside Tennessee or who are teaching in private schools.

– By Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

104 comments Add your comment

ScienceTeacher671

December 9th, 2010
10:38 pm

Ok, we have three variables here – the intelligence of the TFA applicants, the bootcamp program, and the ongoing support. Which is the most important, or are they all equally important?

B. Killebrew

December 9th, 2010
10:39 pm

Really, Maureen–really?

Robinson

December 9th, 2010
10:41 pm

I wonder the fact that the people who go into the Teach for America programs tend to be more mature and with more life experiences have anything to do with the results. Did the Tennessee study control for entering knowledge? I tend to think that many of education courses are not what new teachers need and would not oppose the disbandment of colleges of education. On the other hand, had they been given opportunities to work with the same group of candidates, will they do any better? Does the study compare TFA against teachers who complete MAT programs – which usually cater to career changers.

HS Public Teachers

December 9th, 2010
10:55 pm

Sorry, but I just don’t believe this study at all. It must be flawed.

Why? I have known a total of 8 TFA teachers that started their careers. Of those 8, 5 could not make it through the first year. 1 quit after year 2. Only 2 are still teaching.

So then, they are only measuring the TFA people that survived the first few years? I wonder what the ’survival rate’ is for the other programs????

just watching

December 9th, 2010
10:55 pm

This is about TFA in TN, not in Georgia. I’m not sure the program here is quite so strong.

Maureen Downey

December 9th, 2010
10:58 pm

@Just, How can we tell? We don’t have value-added measures yet so we could not do the comparisons that they did in NC or TN.
Maureen

Just Wondering

December 9th, 2010
11:01 pm

Teacher Residency is a better program that has strong positive long term results. Boston and Denver have pioneered this type of program. TFA is a filler as it always has been not a replacement of effective teacher ed. What is missing from the ivory towers is true world experiences, in classrooms, so that no one is niave about what they are getting into. In Boston and Denver they have TFA and Teacher Residency. We need to work from both ends to the middle.

B. Killebrew

December 9th, 2010
11:02 pm

Baby and Bathwater

December 9th, 2010
11:18 pm

Just a minor but important point I think the article missed: TFA doesn’t provide certification training. TFA corp members attend a summer institute in the summer before they start teaching in the fall and then once they start teaching, they attend certification courses at a partner institution in their community, often at the very institutions the author seems to advocate disbanding.

That’s not to negate the fact that TFA is getting better results than the status quo. It’s just that we don’t really know WHY there’s a statistically significant difference in the performance of TFA trained teachers compared to other teachers. TFA isn’t a panacea.

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GNGS

December 10th, 2010
12:35 am

The article from New York Times should answer your question.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/12/education/12winerip.html

“Mr. Goldberg, Mr. Rosen, Ms. Carlson, Mr. Cullen and Ms. Biggers count themselves lucky to be among the 4,500 selected by the nonprofit to work at high-poverty public schools from a record 46,359 applicants (up 32 percent over 2009). There’s little doubt the numbers are fueled by a bad economy, which has limited job options even for graduates from top campuses. In 2007, during the economic boom, 18,172 people applied.”
“This year, on its 20th anniversary, Teach for America hired more seniors than any other employer at numerous colleges, including Yale, Dartmouth, Duke, Georgetown and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At Harvard, 293 seniors, or 18 percent of the class, applied, compared with 100 seniors in 2007. “So many job options in finance, P.R. and consulting have been cut back,” said Ms. Carlson, the Yale grad.”

Perhaps having top college graduates to get into teaching is a good idea.

Question Premise

December 10th, 2010
1:37 am

I’m pleased to find out that Teach For America is making a great impact
in the states discussed in the study, but I don’t accept the premise that
there are only two options of performance for educators in the respective
states discussed in the study. There seems to be a zero- sum game
approach to evaluating educators where the prevailing thought is that
educators are either superb or terrible based on statistical analysis of
test scores. A second approach to viewing the data from North Carolina
and Tennessee is to view it from a non-zero sum game that recognizes
that many Teach For America teachers did an exceptional job, but that
the teachers who attended the traditional training in schools of education
also did a good job.

ScienceTeacher671

December 10th, 2010
5:00 am

The article at B. Killebrew’s link definitely shines a different light on the subject.

Of the 80% of TFA teachers and the 50% of “regular” teachers who leave the profession within 5 years, I wonder how they compare to those who remain, both in terms of perceived qualifications (college grades, standardized test scores, coursework, etc.) and in terms of student achievement?

Good teachers are more likely to benefit from the intrinsic rewards of teaching (and heaven knows, the extrinsic rewards are getting fewer and further between!) but the “more qualified” students may be more likely to have other offers and less likely to want to put up with some of the negative aspects of teaching.

Anecdotally, I’ve known a couple of excellent science teachers who taught for a year or two while waiting for admission to med school.

David Sims

December 10th, 2010
5:35 am

Did anyone bother to check the racial distribution of the students whom each of the teachers were teaching? If TFA teachers got a higher percentage of white and Asian students, while the college produced teachers got a higher percentage of black and Hispanic students, then the difference in student mean IQs would bias the result in favor of the TFA teachers.

Teaching Family

December 10th, 2010
5:40 am

1) TFA graduates are top college graduates. Most education majors are average college students.
2) With the exception of Vanderbilt, the university system in Tennesseee is average.

Average education majors in an average university system thrown into high-stakes testing, impoverished students in a classroom, and rising class sizes = poor results.

Change even one variable (in this case the overall academic quality of the teacher) and results improve.

Diane Ravitch

December 10th, 2010
6:02 am

Maureen, there are plenty of studies (see those by Jose Vasquez of University of Texas) showing that TFA teachers do as well as other new teachers, but usually not as well as experienced teachers. However, the nature of TFA is that its teachers agree to teach for only two years. Some stay three years, and a small number remain as teachers. But, by design, the program is a revolving door. In what way will Georgia benefit if it has more really smart college grads who enter teaching for only two or three years? Georgia needs to recruit, prepare, support, and retain teachers who are committed to teaching as a profession of teaching and who intend to make it their career, not an interesting experience for two years. In no other profession that matters would policymakers place their bet on people who get five weeks of training and plan to leave after two years.
Diane Ravitch

Tom Teacher

December 10th, 2010
6:08 am

I wondered when this topic would surface. Gwinnett has its own version called “Teach Gwinnett.” With so many out of work, fully qualified teachers in the metro area, one would question the need for such a program.

Samau

December 10th, 2010
6:39 am

While I see many flaws in the study and in the program itself, I will admit that their standards for admission are far higher than many universities. I had a friend in college who went on to become an English teacher (Ed major) and couldn’t identify a theme in a book or poem to save her life. I can remember reading her essays in college, and the frustration in my professir’s voice when he would call on her and listen to her mindless babble. The girl just shouldn’t been admitted. TFA also requires an interview. I know a student teacher that cannot speak correct English. The students laugh at her, and no principal has had the courage to say, “not in my school.” If an interview would have happened, surely she would have not gotten in. TFA ensures their candidates are bright on paper, and in person. If you want successful teachers, we need to highten our standards for acceptances into teacher prep programs.

Samau

December 10th, 2010
6:40 am

“gotten into the program.

teacher&mom

December 10th, 2010
6:44 am

One study and we’re talking about scraping colleges of educations???

Speechless.

Thank you Diane Ravitch for addressing this topic.

teacher&mom

December 10th, 2010
6:51 am

Even the federal DOE’s own study said that current VAMs misidentify top/low performing teachers around 25% of the time. That means 1 out of every 4 teachers will be labeled incorrectly as either high or low performing.

I’d love to see the TFA’s assessed using the Class Keys. I wonder if their teachers would be proficient or exemplary on rubric?

teacher&mom

December 10th, 2010
6:54 am

I’d also be interested in a 10 year follow-up study on comparing TFA teachers and traditionally certified teachers. I wonder if the gap widens or narrow?

But wait….

How many TFA teachers are left in the classroom at the 10 year mark?

Robinson

December 10th, 2010
7:16 am

I think we should limit the HOPE scholarship to selected disciplines (maybe math, hard sciences, English) and Education. They should also provide all fees and book expenses for teacher education students. Perhaps that will attract more qualified students into teaching.

AnbthonyShorter

December 10th, 2010
7:18 am

I started my teaching career in an alternative certification program called the Mississippi Teacher Corp in 1991. At least twenty of the 25 of the people in this program had recently graduated from Ivy League schools. Many of them were able to pass certification tests outside their college major. Could this be the reason so many TFA teachers are successful? (P.S. I joined the Mississippi Teacher Corp after being rejected by TFA)

catlady

December 10th, 2010
7:20 am

I certainly agree with Samau. We have several teachers and administrators in our school who say things such as, “I have not went to the store yet.” One of them is a EdS degreed speech teacher! These folks should have been weeded out of the teacher pool before they were admitted to teacher ed! When I was a teacher ed candidate a century ago, prospective ed majors had to qualify in speaking and in writing BEFORE being admitted. And this was in Alabama!

The 2 alternately-certified teachers I have worked with were both unmitigated disasters. But they were not TFA.

Teaching Family: Vandy is a PRIVATE university.

Vince

December 10th, 2010
7:45 am

Thanks for the link B. Killebrew. Certainly more believable statistics and more in line with what I have experienced with teachers coming through alternative preparation programs.

Maureen Downey

December 10th, 2010
7:46 am

@teacher&mom, I used to worry about the fact the many TFA teachers leave, but then a researcher made the point to me that he didn’t care if they left after two to four years. They were highly effective while they were in the classroom and there was a long line of TFA teachers in the pipeline to take their place. Is it better, he asked me, to have less effective teachers who stay longer or a revolving door of teachers who are effective while they are in the classroom? I have to agree it is the latter.
Maureen

Vince

December 10th, 2010
7:48 am

I will always find it difficult to accept the idea that it would be okay to put students in a classroom with someone who has no teaching skills or preparation. So the “teacher” may be intelligent and really want/need a job, but I cannot see using 30 students as guinea pigs for a year while the “teacher” learns how to teach.

How fair is that?

Maureen Downey

December 10th, 2010
7:49 am

@teache&mom, Not one study. There was a big study on colleges of ed a few years ago that said most of them were doing a poor job. The former dean of Columbia Teacher’s College was involved. (I attended a program at Columbia where the results were announced.)
I will find a link. And there have been other studies as wll, but the Columbia study was a big deal.
Maureen

Vince

December 10th, 2010
7:51 am

I want to be a doctor.

I wonder if a hospital would hire me to be a surgeon while I go to medical school……

Maureen Downey

December 10th, 2010
7:54 am

@Diane, I agree with you that teacher training in Georgia and elsewhere needs to improve. I do think that TFA provides a model with the most accessible element being the ongoing support. I think we can do that.
The other critical part of TFA — the quality of its applicants — is harder to duplicate as the program has earned a reputation that makes it attractive to top students. I just don’t think that is the case with our colleges of education, which in Georgia still draw their students from the lower end of the achievement scale.
Maureen

What if

December 10th, 2010
7:59 am

Maureen, you’re OBVIOUSLY not reading the research, much less the work of your colleagues at the Post. Go read Valerie Strauss’ work and while you’re at it, the exchanges between Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier at the Edweek “Bridging Differences.” Unfortunately, virtually ALL the research is based on score or pass rate changes on poorly made low bid state tests. What they measure is perhaps 1 or 2 percent (okay, maybe 5%) of what education is. Nevertheless, TFA is not the solution. Teaching is just a tad more complex than what five weeks of boot camp can develop – not to mention the attrition rate for TFA is virtual unity after the kids’ 2-year contracts. On the other side of the fence, you’re right, only a VERY few ed schools are doing their work well (Levine was quite right) – look at what’s there for faculty. Way too often, they’re people who couldn’t cut it in (or hated) the K-12 classroom – NOT to slight the relatively few fantastic ones who run themselves into the ground doing their best. Also dont’ forget the other piece of Levine’s findings – colleges of ed are the ‘cash cows’ for universities – they take much of the huge revenue stream from the poorly regarded ed schools and give it to the prestigious but low cash flow programs. NOTHING is simple, and TFA is no silver bullet. There ARE no silver bullets.

Vince

December 10th, 2010
8:02 am

Maureen…I’m not sure that “Colleges of education….in Georgia still draw their students from the lower end of the achievement scale.”

The problem lies in the various colleges. There are many post secondary schools in Georgia that admit students with low SAT scores, low GPA’s, etc. These schools tend to produce teachers, and graduates in other fields, who have degrees but might not be the ideal candidate to work in your school or company.

I have found graduates from UGA, Emory, Agnes Scott, Peabody (Vanderbilt) in Tennessee to be exceptional teachers and very bright individuals.

teacher&mom

December 10th, 2010
8:11 am

@Maureen…I respectfully submit that your train of thought is exactly what many in the current “think tanks”…Rhee, Gates, Walton, etc. want to sell the public. It only serves to further erode the future of public education. It buys into the mentality that teachers are expendable. Of course, it doesn’t hurt the “bottom line” that TFA teachers are paid beginning teacher salaries. It doesn’t hurt that when you eliminate veteran teachers, you eliminate higher salaries. It also helps speed up those current ed reform fads because no one is left in the building to contribute common sense and experience.

Only in America are we willing to trade the long-term for the short-term.

high school teacher

December 10th, 2010
8:23 am

I graduated from UGA with a degree in English Education. I was the salutatorian of my high school graduating class. I had a 3.7 GPA at UGA 20 years ago. I don’t appreciate being referred to as the lower end of the achievement scale.

Dr NO

December 10th, 2010
8:27 am

If Teach America lowers the overall expense ratio, culls out the deadwood (Teachers, Admins, Supers), better educates these kids then sounds like the direction to take. Currently our education system is broken due to being infiltrated by persons with an “agenda” and these persons need to be sought out and terminated.

Dr NO

December 10th, 2010
8:28 am

high school teacher

December 10th, 2010
8:23 am

With your attitude you sound like part of the problem.

Peter

December 10th, 2010
8:29 am

Enter your comments here

Peter

December 10th, 2010
8:32 am

@Vince, your point that it isn’t fair to put students into a classroom with a new teacher to “wait and see” if they’re effective is definitely valid. The problem is that at present that is how it works for nearly all new teachers (whether from TFA, ed schools, etc.). Shockingly few ed schools actually teach teachers how to teach, and so once they get in the classroom they are as untrained as TFA recruits. I agree with you that this is a problem, but my point is that it’s not a problem unique to TFA.

APS Teacher

December 10th, 2010
8:33 am

@ teacher & mom-

“I’d love to see the TFA’s assessed using the Class Keys. I wonder if their teachers would be proficient or exemplary on rubric?”

All the TFA teachers at my school are on PDPs. However, that has more to do with the fact that they are white than their teaching ability. They are all decent teachers.

Vince

December 10th, 2010
8:38 am

@ Peter…

You may be correct, but the answer lies in the hiring and interview process. I had an opening a couple of years ago and interviewed 35 of the 256 applicants for the position. I hired a young teacher who had just graduated from UGA a few weeks earlier. She presented herself as very bright, talented and creative…and she had a portfolio to show me what she had done in her student teaching….as well as exceptional references. She turned out to be one of very best teachers…even in her rookie year!

Vince

December 10th, 2010
8:45 am

@ Peter..

…and my point wasn’t that it isn’t fair to put kids with a teacher to “wait and see” if they are effective. The point is that it isn’t fair to put a child into a classroom with a teacher who doesn’t know how to teach!

So…I get a brilliant college graduate with a degree in marketing who has not been able to find a job and has decided to go into teaching in order to make a little money. I put this person into a 1st grade classroom and expect them to teach kids how to read????

That’s so unfair to the students that it should be criminal! How do I explain that to parents? “Yes, Mrs. Smith I know teacher X doesn’t know how to keep the kids under control, do reading or math groups, differentiate, write lesson plans, interpret test scores, etc, etc, etc…..but she is really smart!”

Yeah…that’ll work.

teacher&mom

December 10th, 2010
8:52 am

@high school teacher…I agree. I graduated third in my class (granted it was from a small rural school), however, I held my own in college. I made President and Dean’s list several times while taking additional courses. I’m not referring to my ed courses. I’m talking about the chemistry, biology, statistics and calculus courses I needed for my lowly math/science Middle Grades degree.

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What if

December 10th, 2010
9:00 am

@HS teacher, you aren’t. But I’ll bet you’ve also noticed over the years that there’s a WIDE range of raw intelligence in the profession. “Smarts” (and a great ed school) help, but it’s not all that makes a great teacher. As @Vince points out, different universities fill different niches. An ed degree – and the person completing it – from Vandy (or UGA) is simply going to be (frequently) in a different league from someone who got their piece of paper from East Podunk U. that has open enrollment. JUST as the calibre of the business, or engineering, or biology, or whatever degree. Ah, more from @Vince above – - bravo, m’friend. Let’s hope @Peter and others are smart enough to listen to you.

Peter Smagorinsky

December 10th, 2010
9:01 am

First, I always appreciate Maureen’s column, even when I disagree with her, as I do today. I think that when you reduce everything to test scores, you overlook everything else about teaching and learning, which is far more complex than any test score can reveal.

One problem with lumping all “education schools” together is that doing so overlooks the vast differences across the range. Some are terribly under-resourced to the point that they cannot provide students with sufficient preparation, while others have larger faculties and teaching assistants to provide better instruction and supervision. It’s just not as consistent a pool as the oversimplified TFA vs. Ed Schools comparison suggests.

As others have noted in their comments, TFA is a relatively small program that caters to those who have decidedly short-term plans for teaching. I don’t see how this model can compare to larger programs that prepare teachers for careers in the profession. How could you possibly sustain a teacher preparation program that serves the whole profession and turns its graduates over every couple of years?

A final point I’d like to make concerns the extremely brief period of training TFA teachers get. Anyone is welcome to see the work my students produce at http://www.coe.uga.edu/~smago/VirtualLibrary/index.html and decide for yourself if a 5-week boot camp can possibly teach anything that approaches the sophistication of this work.

I have nothing against TFA because I appreciate any effort to improve the way our kids get taught. I just don’t think that Maureen’s argument today holds up under scrutiny.

Lee

December 10th, 2010
9:11 am

Most professions do not throw their newly minted hires “to the wolves.” When my department hires a new accountant, we don’t lock them away in a room and give them the most complex assignments. No, we put them on a team and give them some of the more routine tasks to perform. Over a period of 3-5 years, they are given increased responsibilities gradually.

The same can probably be said about most professions – attorneys, engineers, etc, etc.

When I recall my wife’s first year on the job, she was given a classroom scavenged of all usable equipment, books, and supplies. She was give a class roster made up of the low kids and behavior problems – you know, the kids that the other teachers didn’t want. They basically threw her in a room, shut the door, and walked away. A lot of long hours and tears were experienced during that first year.

The above scenario probably happens more often than not, and is probably the root cause why a significant percentage of teachers leave the profession within the first five years.

Teacher training programs, whether TFA or college schools of education, can only provide the baseline. To me, the most important period is that critical first year. When I read that TFA provides “….ongoing support and training while they are in the classroom”, that makes the most sense.

The bottom line is that schools have got to get better at bringing new teachers on board.

Dr. Tim

December 10th, 2010
9:11 am

As a graduate of the Peabody College for Teachers (Vanderbilt) I can tell you that it makes a difderence where you go to school, Admissions standards need to be higher in Ed programs, particularly graduate programs.

Maureen Downey

December 10th, 2010
9:13 am

@Peter, But how do you explain that three states — using value-added measures — find that students do better when they are taught by TFA teachers? I understand your concerns about judging teachers on test scores — although that is the way that education has long defined quality whether judging students by SAT scores or schools by CRCT scores. But given that test scores are the determinant, why is it that TFA teachers outperform teachers coming out of education colleges? Responding to the point that these teachers are often short-timers, that is all the more reason for them to under perform since this is not their life work and their futures don’t depend on how well they do.
I certainly think that there are vast disparities in the quality of teacher ed programs in Georgia, and that UGA does a better job than many other programs, but I still wonder if the key is the high caliber of student drawn to TFA.
Maureen

Maureen Downey

December 10th, 2010
9:15 am

@high school teacher, I certainly know that there are bright students choosing teaching, but that is not the case across the board.
Maureen