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Posted at 1:16 PM ET, 11/21/2010

Teacher runs into power of Teach for America

By Valerie Strauss

Here is another of the many desperate emails and letters from teachers that education historian Diane Ravitch, author of the bestselling book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, receives every day.

Ravitch has emerged as the country's most prominent independent voice in opposition to the current wave of "school reform" that is supported by the Obama administration, and as a result, public school teachers by the thousands have written to her.

This was written by a fully certified, traditional-track teacher in Baltimore who asked, out of fear of retaliation, that I use no identification. The teacher refers in the first graf to a post I did about Ravitch's challenge in a recent speech to Teach for America.

Here's what the teacher wrote:

I am writing simply to express my gratitude for your challenge of TFA. As a young teacher, committed to the teaching profession, hoping to make a career out of teaching in geographical areas where need is high, I had significant trouble finding a job in Baltimore City.

Even though I was fully certified, degreed in education, had student taught, and had ample years of educational experience under my belt, schools in one of America’s most challenged school districts could not or would not hire me because I was not associated with a cohort program like TFA or our local Baltimore City Teacher Residency.

Because of the generosity of a caring and understanding principal, I was fortunate to find a job, though I had to fight for it. I am succeeding now and helping to close the achievement gap [in my classes] mostly due to my training and the fact that my commitment is to my students and to the profession and not to Wendy Kopp [founder of Teach for America].

I have spoken frequently with some other traditionally trained young teachers in my district. They have also expressed that finding a job was unreasonably difficult because of programs like TFA. One particular young, fully certified teacher told me that she felt like she was treated like a second-class teacher compared to TFA teachers. Due to her extensive training and the resultant strength she possesses in the classroom, her feelings should have been exactly the opposite.

I have also heard that some school administrators have confirmed that qualified candidates were available for hire, but they were forced to hire people through alternative certification programs. It must be made clear that this is not a problem particular to any school in my district, or my district as a whole as both groups undoubtedly want the best teachers to work for them.

The problem is that the national "anti-teacher/pro-non-traditionally-trained-teacher" educational climate has infiltrated as far as the hiring practices for young teachers. This fact, along with what once was a dramatic teaching shortage, has granted TFA a stronghold on teacher hiring and teacher preparation in struggling districts. By this, whether intentionally or otherwise, TFA nearly kept me and many others from working for children that need our help.

It is tragic that I was nearly excluded from pursuing what I want to be my life’s work because Teach for America pretends to have the solution, of which, highly-qualified and prepared teacher candidates are not a part.

It is tragic that school systems nationwide are accepting this solution at the expense of those who choose teaching as a life-long profession.

It is tragic that highly talented, intelligent college students who are pursuing their teaching certifications during their time as undergraduates are rewarded with a confusingly unreceptive welcome.

It is tragic that our students who desperately need consistency in their lives, are being subjected to TFA, a program whose two-year commitment breeds instability in our students’ lives. And for those alternative certification teachers who outlast their commitment, they deserve to be commended for being better for education as a whole than the program which brought them to the field in the first place.

Despite all of this frustration, I still plan to work for the children of Baltimore, beyond the unimpactfully short 2-year commitment of TFA. I am a teacher because I want to be, not because the economy is weak, or because I needed to pad my application for an Ivy League law school.

I am a teacher because I am proud of this profession and the work that teachers everywhere do.

I am a teacher because the children need teachers who would rather Teach for Children for a career instead of Teach for America for two years. Because of this, I dramatically oppose the expansion and support of TFA and hope that educational leaders once again realize the power of adequately prepared and intentioned young teachers.

I thank you for the time you have spent hearing my story.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | November 21, 2010; 1:16 PM ET
Categories:  Teachers  | Tags:  diane ravitch, teach for america, teacher training, teachers, wendy kopp  
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Comments

amazing and courageous! please keep writing, please keep telling the truth, please keep defending your profession!

Posted by: realannie | November 21, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Teach For America are American public education's "Scientologists", a parasitic cult slowly and steadily worming its way into the nation's public school systems. TFA presents an existential threat to our public schools in that its ultimate aim is to fill them with young mercenaries posing for a couple of years as teachers and then suck the life from them when the order comes down from Wendy Kopp and the TFA's corporate high command.

Posted by: natturner | November 21, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Hi, I'm a 20 year old college graduate from UT-Austin. I have a final interview with Teach for America in less than 10 days, and I'm both anxious and excited about the prospects of joining up. I am very thankful that teachers like this man/woman are teaching our students and making an impact in their lives. It's sad to me, though, that he/she feels the need to attack programs like TFA that strive for similar goals. If he is truly for lowering the achievement gap, there would be no issue here.

Statistics show that TFA teachers have a significant impact in the communities to which they are sent to teach. This impact does not overshadow the impact of fellow educators, in fact it's arguable that the two are directly related. A new voice, a new way of teaching, a new approach to interacting with students could enrich any school that has stuck to tradition for centuries.

But I must say that a lack of availability of teaching jobs is by no means a direct result of Teach for America. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and secondary school teachers, held about 3.5 million jobs in 2008." Compare this number to the 4,500 recruits TFA had in 2009, and you see that TFA teachers make up less than .1% of educators nationwide. And in Baltimore, where this individual had such a difficult time getting hired, there are only 320 TFA recruits, compared to the 22,000+ elementary, middle and secondary school teachers. (also BLS statistic).

So I must say, this story makes no sense to me! If he/she had a hard time finding a job in Baltimore, it was not the fault of TFA or their recruits.

Thank you.

Posted by: Hunter12 | November 21, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Correction, TFA teachers make up less than **1%** of educators nationwide, sorry!

Posted by: Hunter12 | November 21, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

In an economic situation like this one school systems should be even more careful about programs like TFA. It costs more to have a TFA recruit than it does to have a traditionally trained teacher because the district pays TFA as well as the salary of the teacher. There is no money to spare in school systems today so, all other things being equal, we should be hiring traditionally trained teachers. (I'm not convinced all other things are equal, though.)

Posted by: Jenny04 | November 21, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Excellent post and I so agree!! I'm a veteran teacher and completely understand what this teacher has written. The bottom line is that principals have been led to believe that ed school grads are less brighter, less creative, than TFA or teaching fellows from non-traditional programs. This is crap and just plain insulting.

Posted by: chelita | November 21, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

I'm not against Teach for American in principle, but I think they really need to examine their assumptions, attitudes, and practices. Young people, right out of college, and despite having gone to an excellent college, cannot solve the problems plaguing urban districts. Some will fastically succeed, most will be middling, and there will be a few stinkers as well. Just like it is for everyone else.

My emerging beef is their desire to move into policy positions after putting their time in. I'm speaking of people like Jason Kamras and other IMPACT team members like Scott Thompson. They may have some good ideas, but their bureaucratic, top-down approach to creating impact in schools is flawed and I hope some member of the press can take them to task. They are applying a cookie-cutter approach to each teacher in each school, and it is not working in most environments or for most teachers. The resentment and derision expressed towards their prescriptions is growing. Schools are unique and teachers are unique and these people are incompentently trying to manage them from their boardrooms, cubicles, and laptops.
They assert through IMPACT that teachers should follow formulaic procedures for classroom management and subject matter. Every teacher I know resents being put into a box by outside interference. Kamras would have hated dealing with IMPACT as a teacher. I assert that he is failing in his role as IMPACT architect and Teacher Capital something or other.
Someone needs to scrutinize his work as he is attempting to scrutinize the work of teachers across the District.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | November 21, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

I am currently a second year teacher in Prince Georges County and am getting my certification through Teach For America. It was enlightening to hear about the challenges faced by traditionally trained teachers find employment due to spaces reserved for people in alternative certification. I do want to challenge a few statements you did make. I don't think any of my colleagues would ever say they place TFA and Wendy Kopp ahead of our children. Our children and our desire to see them succeed are the reason we chose to do TFA. I am grateful that TFA provided me an opportunity to enter teaching and provide additional support, but my top priority is unquestionably to my students. There are people who join TFA to pad their resumes unfortunately or because the economy is weak. However, 2/3 of TFA teachers remain in education as teachers, administrators, etc. In addition, time spent in the classroom is something no one can ever forget. There are TFA alums in the fields of social work, medicine, law, etc. We need people who have worked directly in the classroom to enter those fields to attack the achievement gap from all angles. So one misconception I hope is erased is the idea of TFA teachers cutting and running after their two year commitment.

I was also hoping the reader can expand on the instability s/he thinks TFA teachers bring. One thing I know that seems more prevalent with TFA teachers (but my no means exclusively) is that we give out our phone numbers for homework questions, stay after school pro bono for tutoring, etc. So to that extent we try and provide as much education stability.

The other point I would raise is that our country does not view teaching as a prestigious profession when compared to professions like law, business and medicine, so many highly qualified students do not even consider education as a career. Countries like Korea and Finland with top rank education systems only accept people as teachers who are in the top 1/3 of their college graduating classes. One day, I hope an organization like TFA will not be needed to attract top recruits into teachers. Instead, education schools will be flooded with applications for people seeking high quality training. However, TFA is one way of bringing in talent to the fold. I never considered teaching as an undergrad, but now I'm convinced I have found my passion and look forward to staying in education. My path is far from unique.

One thing I love about my school is that the traditionally trained veteran teachers have embraced the other TFA teachers and myself as partners in this effort to give students the education they deserve rather than viewed us as an encroachment into their profession because they see that we are all here for the children. While this may not change your view of TFA, I hope that all teachers, traditional and alternative, will collaborate for the students at the school level.

Posted by: jdh23 | November 21, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

thetensionmakesitwork says, " Kamras would have hated dealing with IMPACT as a teacher."

He also probably would have been rated down, because math scores in his school declined while he was there.
http://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/page/2/

Posted by: efavorite | November 21, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

hunter12 - I notice you mention statistics several times without linking to an official source of your information.

For instance, you say, "Statistics show that TFA teachers have a significant impact in the communities to which they are sent to teach."

Please provide the source of that data, and also tell us exactly what impact TFA makes. The quote above is so broad as to be meaningless. As a TFA finalist and recent grad from a good school, you must know that.

It could refer to a positive or negative impact and and to many different aspects of the community.

Posted by: efavorite | November 21, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Now TFA becomes an excuse for teachers not finding a job. A convenient punching bag. Look at the data in JDH23's post. The majority of TFA's are staying in the "profession."
There ought to be -- and there is, if you read and listen and talk to ed. experts -- a view that traditionally trained teachers present more of an effectiveness problem (look at their classroom ed. results) than TFA-originated teachers. And the latter are a negligible part of the teacher population.


I sense that the teacher who wrote to Ravitch--jjudging by her clear, grammatical English and articulation--was above average. The Balt. Schools may not be doing much hiring because of a low quit/termination rate and flat and shrinking enrollments. Being shut out is not her fault. And there must be a pretty good reason that the system preferred TFA's, and it is not about cost.

Posted by: axolotl | November 21, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

jdh23 says, "However, 2/3 of TFA teachers remain in education as teachers, administrators, etc. "

How long do those 2/3s stay in? for their careers? for a few months? maybe just one year past their commitment? You don't know, because it isn't published - I checked.

It's just a misleading statistic, promulgated by TFA, based on an in-house TFA study, using self-reported date from the 57% of the alumni who responded to the survey.
http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/24_03/24_03_TFA.shtml

I’m not a math major, but that’s not very convincing. I suggest that you stop citing that statistic, because more and more there are people like me, who do not take what TFA says at face value.

Mentioning that 2/3s stay in, without knowing how long they stay, is just a step above hunter12’s assertion about TFA's “significant impact.”

Posted by: efavorite | November 21, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

efavorite: read Hanushek's study, and many others. No. of years of experience yield a flat effectiveness curve after just a few years. And there's plenty of evidence -- especially at DCPS -- that long tenures do not produce the teachers' fair share of educational attainment. And masters degrees have nil effect.

Posted by: axolotl | November 21, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

efavorite here's a really interesting study on Houston schools with TFA teachers:
http://www.nctaf.org/resources/news/press_releases/documents/Stanford-teacher_certification_report.pdf

My point was more related to his assertion that TFA teachers were 'taking' the jobs of good, certified and experienced teachers. I said there are 320 TFA teachers in Baltimore, while there are 22,000+ elementary, middle and secondary school educators in the area. In my eyes, TFA is not the reason he could not get a job, since TFA teachers make up 1% of Baltimore teachers:

http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_0720.htm#b25-0000

25-2012
25-2021
25-2022
25-2023
25-2031

Posted by: Hunter12 | November 21, 2010 7:15 PM | Report abuse

So highly qualified teachers are now fighting with TFA Ivy Leaguers over spots working in Baltimore public schools? And still we are told that these schools are "bad," and lack the competent educators needed to close racial achievement gaps? Will America ever face up to the fact that these gaps are the natural result of differing average levels of inherent brainpower?

Posted by: CharlesMcKay1 | November 21, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

So highly qualified teachers are now fighting with TFA Ivy Leaguers over spots working in Baltimore public schools? And still we are told that these schools are "bad," and lack the competent educators needed to close racial achievement gaps? Will America ever face up to the fact that these gaps are the natural result of differing average levels of inherent brainpower?

Posted by: CharlesMcKay1 | November 21, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

People like axolotl, who constantly promote the TFA fake-reform agenda, know it's smoke and mirrors. You can't justify a history major "teaching" science to students, after a 5-week training program (at least not with a straight face). The ultimate goal is to privatize inner-city education(ie the US prison system) and ensure that there is no educational growth. The Kaplan's of the world are guiding the debate, bombarding us with constant propaganda(teachers are the enemy) to complete their agenda. Folks are starting to see thru Rhee and her ilk, hence the election results.

Posted by: isupreme | November 21, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

Unmentioned is the special grant TFA received from the federal government recently.
I believe this one was for $50 million, whereas in the past, the amount has been around $20 million.
This handout from the government provides the majority of TFA funding, including th esalaries of over $200,000 to Wendy Kopp and other TFA leaders.

Posted by: edlharris | November 21, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Hunter12,

You remind me of the mistakes that many young college graduates make in any career, that somehow you know better than people who have worked in a profession for many years. My sister has 15 years of experience in teaching in high poverty schools she and her colleagues are continually tweaking their ways of teaching. I know that over the years, her teaching methods have changed through professional development and collaboration with colleagues. You shouldn't assume that just because it is a high poverty school that the teachers are "stuck" in their teaching methods. I doubt there are very few teachers who actually teach the same way their entire careers. If that is what TFA is asserting, shame on them.

Posted by: sammann | November 21, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

sammann I never said I know better, I am just showing that this teachers assertion that TFA is taking jobs from seasoned educators is unfounded, since TFA teachers make up 1% of teachers nationwide.

Posted by: Hunter12 | November 21, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

No offense to any TFAer trying to make a difference, but the organization is like a cult. They have an inspirational leader, a doctrine that they all spout out with religious fervor, and a belief in that doctrine that is counter to reason. Thinking that poverty is inconsequential in urban areas is sophomoric and damaging to those of us grinding it out every day.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | November 21, 2010 8:01 PM | Report abuse

My husband is in the army, so we move frequently and I have felt as frustrated as the blog writer at hiring practices (even though TFA doesn't place anywhere around here). I don't believe TFA should be taking the place of more qualified hires, but the BIGGEST issue here is not measuring teachers by their performance. I know first hand that there are sub-par teachers in the classroom now, and they should not be allowed to remain in the classroom. Don't tie everything to test scores, but teachers need to be held to a high standard just like students do! My moves are out of my control, and I am beyond frustrated knowing that simply because someone got here before me they get to teach, and I can't prove myself as a great teacher. I think in this economy TFA is a minor (and probably a temporary) contributing factor, but this issue of hiring is EVERYWHERE. We need to look at performance in the classroom not just in hiring but also in who is ALREADY there. There is certainly more dead weight in the classroom now than there are TFA teachers getting jobs.

Interestingly, I am a TFA alum, hired back in 2006 when my elementary school was awarding bonuses of over $1,000 for teachers to come to my placement school (TFA members didn't get the bonus) because it was so hard to staff. I often felt looked down upon at first as well, because no one was familiar with TFA at my school. That lasted until they realized I was a hard working, dedicated teacher who had high expectations for my students. Then it didn't much matter HOW I became a teacher. My loyalties were never to Wendy Kopp, they were always to my students. Now, I have some serious issues with TFA, and was always a bit of a rebel corps member because I took issue with how they did lots of things. I have almost no relationship with the organization now and simply consider myself a 'teacher'. But the bottom line is that TFA teachers make up a very small number of the profession and they are generally VERY hard working. Not to say they should EVER push out a veteran teacher, but this is a new issue with the economy the way it is.

Posted by: acasey3 | November 21, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

acasey3, interesting...can you detail the problems you see with the organization?

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | November 21, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Look again at Hunter12's wise use of statistical analysis to debunk the anecdotal malarkey of the original post. TFA is not usurping jobs from qualified professionals eager to teach in the most impoverished districts in the nation. TFA is a drop in the bucket and schools are darn lucky to get both those outstanding college graduates and the other traditionally trained people who are willing to teach in those schools.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | November 21, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Read the book, "Learning on Other People's Kid" and you'll most likely gain some insight into "problems" experienced by acasey3.

Posted by: lacy41 | November 21, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Although I have not researched the idea, my guess is that TFA recruits perform a little lower than new teachers from Ed schools (especially in the Language Arts arena). I also bet that that they can grow into great teachers. In the final analysis, I'd bet that they will do nothing to solve the problem of helping children in urban areas. The whole idea is just that: an idealistic dream that mostly helps TFA alum pay for college bills.

Posted by: DHume1 | November 21, 2010 10:12 PM | Report abuse

a response to jdh23, since I also teach in Prince George's County, where I am in my 16th year of teaching. Prince George's desperately needs stability in its teaching corps. As it is, we may well lose a lot of teachers because we are the one district in the state who has had to furlough teachers (4 days), those of us who are National Board Certified lost out $5,000 district stipend which also costs us our $2,000 state stipends, and yet the district will still see a shortfall of perhaps another $50 million next year. We should not be paying extra for TFA candidates, most of whom will NOT stay in the district beyond their 2 years.

Also, your statistics on TFA are flat out wrong. I am afraid you may have drunk too much TFA koolaid. I would suggest anyone who wants an unbiased examination of TFA read Barbara Torre Veltri's book, "Learning on Other People's Kids." Barbara was involved with TFA recruits for a number of years, and what she has to offer should open some eyes.

There are some exceptional teachers who come out of TFA. Most struggle when they begin. Which is unfair to them and to the students they teach.

It is interesting that the highest scoring nation, Finland, insists on a long training and a slow induction, exactly the opposite of what TFA advocates.

If you are truly committed to teaching, that's fine. Then your motivation for TFA is not the $$ for grad or law school, or the preferential admission to prestigious post-college programs. Hopefully you survive your first two years, that you are able to find appropriate mentors to help you along your path.

If you do stay, you will be very much the exception, notwithstanding claims by TFA of how many of their people remain in education. They don't remain as teachers, and what we really need is more committed, dedicated teachers who will help rebuild our schools.

Posted by: teacherken | November 21, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

David/DH
It is as likely as your idealistic dream -- unfulfilled. Your speculation is much valued, nonetheless, for its deep insight, professor.

Posted by: axolotl | November 21, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Hunter12 – the link you provided is to a TFA study I’m already aware of that has been well publicized for this major finding:

“we find that certified teachers consistently produce significantly stronger student achievement gains than do uncertified teachers. Alternatively certified teachers are also generally less effective than certified teachers. These findings hold for TFA recruits as well as others.”
http://www.nctaf.org/resources/news/press_releases/documents/Stanford-teacher_certification_report.pdf

There is one mention of “community” in it on page 9, and it’s completed unrelated to your claim that, “"Statistics show that TFA teachers have a significant impact in the communities to which they are sent to teach."

This is just a blog, but if you had presented false evidence like this on a term paper, you’d flunk, at least you would have at my school.

Also, your second link, that provided information about Baltimore hiring patterns, has no relation to the writer’s account, which was simply about her own experience and what she had heard from others looking for teaching jobs. You are not in a position to call her anecdotal accounts false using statistical information.

Posted by: efavorite | November 22, 2010 12:00 AM | Report abuse

Sarah,

You used the pronoun "it." Well, the basic rule is that the pronoun refers to the last noun/subject used. So, I can't make heads or tails of what you just wrote. I could come up with some assumptions, but that would be brainless of me. Can't really respect anyone who makes uncritical assumptions.

Have a nice turkey dinner this week, Mythmaker.

Posted by: DHume1 | November 22, 2010 12:16 AM | Report abuse

"Also, your second link, that provided information about Baltimore hiring patterns, has no relation to the writer’s account, which was simply about her own experience and what she had heard from others looking for teaching jobs. You are not in a position to call her anecdotal accounts false using statistical information."

efavorite- What Hunter12 is in position to do by providing statistical information (and the documentation you requested) is to challenge the implication in the anecdote that TFA teachers are taking away jobs that would otherwise be going to qualified teachers coming through the traditional grapevine.

"the link you provided is to a TFA study I’m already aware of that has been well publicized for this major finding:"

“we find that certified teachers consistently produce significantly stronger student achievement gains than do uncertified teachers. Alternatively certified teachers are also generally less effective than certified teachers. These findings hold for TFA recruits as well as others.”

The fact that Hunter12 has cited a study which TFA uses to support its position is irrelevant, unless you can somehow demonstrate that the evidence is flawed.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | November 22, 2010 12:28 AM | Report abuse

Let the TFA promoters experiment on the reformers’ children in the private schools before bringing their one-size-fits-all approach to public schools.

If Gates, Duncan, Broad, Bloomberg, Kopp, etc. believe their own rhetoric, hire TFA recruits to implement test prep worksheets, collect data, execute relentless progress monitoring, exploit standardized testing, and use mass produced curriculum kits in the schools their children and grandchildren attend.

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | November 22, 2010 6:18 AM | Report abuse

@Hunter12

Your inexperience shows. For some reason, you don't seem to grasp that the contracts districts make with TFA and some charter-managed organizations operate within the context of the political climate. In other words, many organizations are taking over schools and teaching jobs not because they are necessarily better but because they have clout.

In Philadelphia, this is most certainly the case. We had a hiring freeze over the past year but brought in TFA teachers. Why?! In a city like Philadelphia, which has many excellent teaching universities that send students into public schools for years, it makes no sense to hire people who have never set foot in a city classroom. No one in their right mind could suggest that it makes teachers better to teach in tough classrooms when they have no experience.

These decisions are not about building or maintaining an excellent teaching force in poor schools. This is about allowing corporations to get a piece of the pie known as public funds. It's a disgrace.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | November 22, 2010 6:38 AM | Report abuse

Patrickmattimore, Hunter12 was quite definite about refuting the writer’s account citing statistics:
“But I must say that a lack of availability of teaching jobs is by no means a direct result of Teach for America. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics… So I must say, this story makes no sense to me! If he/she had a hard time finding a job in Baltimore, it was not the fault of TFA or their recruits.”

Regarding the effect of TFA, again he specifically mentioned statistics ["Statistics show that TFA teachers have a significant impact in the communities to which they are sent to teach."] This concept was not even addressed in the report he cited when asked to back up his claim.

As I said earlier, this is just a blog, but such deceitful use of statistics wouldn’t fly in a university setting.

Posted by: efavorite | November 22, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Hunter12, please do the children of America a favor and STAY OUT OF THE CLASSROOM.

Our children, particularly those in urban areas need qualified teachers, unqualified wannabees who naively believe that five weeks of crash training will equip them to teach.

Posted by: sanderling5 | November 22, 2010 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Re the post:

So I'm seeing two different hater talking points on Teach for America. First, that it provides too few teachers to be more than a drop in the bucket. Second, that it's so numerous that no other teachers can even get jobs.

These criticisms are opposites, the moderately intelligent person might notice.

Posted by: educationobserver | November 22, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

to patrickmattimore - a point of clarification

the "TFA study" Hunter linked to and I referred to, was not a study done BY TFA, it was a study done ABOUT TFA.

If you click on the link provided twice above, you will see that the findings are critical of TFA and do not address its impact on the communities it serves.

Posted by: efavorite | November 22, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Educationobserver says: "it provides too few teachers to be more than a drop in the bucket. Second, that it's so numerous that no other teachers can even get jobs."

No, the moderately intelligent person might notice that the person who says that TFA is a small percentage of teachers is a TFA supporter, not a "hater."

And the writer didn't make the point that TFA was "so numerous" but that some administrators were showing were showing preference for TFA over traditionally trained teachers.

Posted by: efavorite | November 22, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

People like Diane Ravitch (and Strauss, her flack) are always criticizing Teach for America because their numbers are so small in comparison to the 300,000 new teachers that need to be hired every year in America. The hater talking point here is that Teach for America is so small that it can't possibly make a difference in any meaningful sense.

But then there's the opposite hater perspective: Teach for America is stealing all the jobs!

Posted by: educationobserver | November 22, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

efavorite,
Really unclear here as to what point you are trying to make.
TFA is a tiny percentage of teachers. They get some of the brightest students in the country who would have been unlikely to spend ten minutes inside a classroom and put them into some incredibly hard-to-staff classrooms for at least two years. Many stay around longer; others go into administrative and educational policy making functions and all of them come out of the program with some appreciation of how tough it is to teach in the types of situations to which they are subjected.
This isn't about traditional teaching versus TFA. It's about doing some things to try and improve delivery of services to the hardest-to-reach kids, this teacher's vendetta notwithstanding.
The average teacher training program in this country sucks. I went through one of them. What I gained could have been taught in five weeks. My real learning took place in an urban public school classroom over ten years.
You are demanding statistics to rebut a personal narrative by someone who claims (s)he had "ample" experience under (her) his belt but was being displaced by a TFA teacher (with no evidence incidentally as to why (s)he couldn't find a job).
Instead of going on the stump against the stats here, why not make it clear that your real target is TFA? Better yet, take some time and go read as much information as you can in support of TFA.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | November 22, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

There aren't jobs in teaching anymore! New teachers are having trouble finding jobs all over the country, even in areas TFA does not place. The main problem has been budget cuts - and they will get worse next year when no one has stimulus money - forcing layoffs. Many districts have been forced to consider increasing class sizes (see Raleigh, L.A. among others), thus needing fewer teachers. In Baltimore the problem is clearly compounded by the placement of TFA teachers, but that is not the only reason.

I said it before and will say it again - we need to elevate the teaching profession and hold educators accountable (I say this as a teacher myself!). Why are so many teachers in the classroom whose students aren't making adequate progress? I know its hard in low-performing areas - thats where I teach! - but those teachers simply don't belong in the classroom, and we need to get experienced, strong teachers like the author in THEIR places. I know teachers who spent whole days on their cell phones or relied only on worksheets to teach their students. Why is this okay? Oh, because they have been there for 5 years and have seniority. In my opinion, those teachers deserve more anger and hatred than TFA.

I say this being fairly anti-TFA (though I am an alumni). No, TFA teachers should not be taking jobs available to more qualified applicants. Unfortunately, many of those applicants could have been more qualified, dedicated, passionate, effective, than the teachers already at the school! Remember, TFA has been in Baltimore for YEARS, long before the recession and when they needed to place people in hard-to-staff schools because no one wanted to teach there. I wish the brightest and best teachers were clamoring to get into those tough schools. Unfortunately, they weren't. And for the most part, they still don't choose to teach in those areas. I assumed because I teach in low-income areas I would be able to find a job more easily. The economy has been tough on everyone, even teachers. TFA isn't the only problem, or even the biggest.

Posted by: acasey3 | November 22, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

A few pieces of information reiterated by others:

1) 1% of teachers nationwide are TFA. Unless somehow these teachers are also taking multiple positions, I doubt that the author's assertion is true.
2) I have yet to meet any TFAer that joined the movement for Wendy Kopp. I highly doubt the credibility of someone's external perspective on the internal motivations of TFA teachers.
3) The author did not bring up any issues with the effectiveness of TFA teachers. There's no reason to bring up one's own qualifications without comparing it to the competitors.
4) TFA teachers have just as difficult a time finding jobs as other new teachers. It was so difficult for me to find a job during my first year, and the fact that I was TFA didn't help at all.

Posted by: mliang1987 | November 22, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Patricklattimore says:” You are demanding statistics to rebut a personal narrative by someone who claims (s)he had "ample" experience under (her) his belt but was being displaced by a TFA teacher (with no evidence incidentally as to why (s)he couldn't find a job). Instead of going on the stump against the stats here, why not make it clear that your real target is TFA?”

My target is people who misrepresent TFA. As I have said many times, I’m not against TFA, I’m against glorifying TFA. TFAers are presented as highly qualified teachers, which they are not. They are recent grads who were highly successful academically in college. Like many others concerned about educating children living in poverty, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put people with the least experience and training into the most challenging positions where kids need the most help.

I asked Hunter12 to provide evidence for the statistics he said he was basing his conclusions on. He was unable to do so. I want people like Hunter12 to stop spreading misinformation so that fewer people will hear and accept misinformation. It would be good training for him as a teacher.

Posted by: efavorite | November 22, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Time for Professor David DHume1 to intervene and end this argument about TFA. He's mythified that anyone would understand his insights.

Posted by: axolotl | November 22, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

efavorite: I said that the writer's assertion that TFA in some way prevented him from finding a teaching position is unfounded. I gave you this link as evidence:

http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_0720.htm#b25-0000

Here is the information on this page that I am referring to - the number of teachers in the Baltimore MSA:

25-2012 Kindergarten Teachers, Except Special Education: 1,540
25-2021 Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education: 10,530
25-2022 Middle School Teachers, Except Special and Vocational Education: 4,540
Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Vocational Education: 6,250

So as I said, there are 22,000+ teachers in Baltimore. There are 320 TFA teachers as of 2009 in Baltimore. 320/22,000=.0145, or 1.45%. That number is not significant, and I don't believe TFA prevented that man from getting a job.

The other study I linked was done at Stanford University.

I linked this because I think it's a fair assessment of the effects of TFA on the Houston Independent School District. Which is an important distinction to make, since this study only contains statistics regarding TFA's effectiveness in HISD, not the nation. HISD has a disproportionately large amount of ESL students than other districts, which is a reason the APRENDA statistics are included in the study.

Take a look at Table 5. I don't have to tell you that positive is good and negative is bad. This table describes the correlation between certification status and student achievement gains on the TAAS and SAT exams, for non-TFA teachers. You can see that all but six or seven of the statistics are negative, meaning the teachers are having a negative effect on student achievement gains - so, the students are doing worse.

Table six hows the same information for TFA/certification status versus student achievement gain. Yes, uncertified TFA teachers have similar negative effects on student gains. But certified TFA teachers are positive on 3/4 of the TAAS and SAT columns, meaning their students improved more than non-certified teachers and comparably to certified teachers, in some cases more. For example, certified TFA teachers had a significantly positive effect (+1.27) on student achievement gain in the Math TAAS, which is much higher than any certified teacher's respective statistic.

The reason I chose to link this study is because it shows that the TFA teachers are doing as-well in some areas, and better in others. And it's giving college graduates a good job for 2-3 years after their graduation, rather than sending them into unemployment. An added perk is that 15% of TFA teachers teach beyond their 3rd year. Since the contract is 2 years, I feel this is a success. Since TFA teachers finish their certification after two years, those 15% are definitely certified, and as shown above, statistics show that certified TFA teachers have positive effects on student achievement gain in Math/Reading TAAS and SAT Math scores.

Posted by: Hunter12 | November 22, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Hunter12 – thanks for getting back to me.

Regarding the writer of this piece, my point is that statistics can’t be used to refute someone’s personal experience. It doesn’t matter if TFA is only 1% of teachers, if there is a policy to favor TFA applicants in the city where the writer is applying for jobs. The writer can’t prove that this is a regular practice of TFA and you can’t use statistics to prove she hasn’t had her negative experience.

Of course her claims aren’t proven, either. She is anonymous and we can’t check with the principals she spoke with.

Now if the writer had claimed something like the sun stopped moving whenever she applied for a teaching job, then she would be discredited, because we know that is not possible within the laws of nature. As it stands, however, your statistics don’t negate her claim, which is possible, though unproven, unrelated to the percentage of TFA teachers.

As for the Stanford study you cited, your original claim was that “"Statistics show that TFA teachers have a significant impact in the communities to which they are sent to teach."

The Stanford doesn’t address community impact at all. It shows that TFA teachers are a lot like other teachers with similar experience and certification, in other words, not special at all - at least when it comes to teaching ability.

As for the advantage of “not sending college graduations into unemployment” – violins please. Seriously, I am sympathetic to new college grads looking for a job. I was once in that position myself. However, the grads in question are top students from top schools, some of whom have wealthy parents with lots of great connections. They are the college grads most likely to find employment and the least in need of a federal jobs program like TFA that helps pay off their tuition debts. “Thems that has, gets” they say, and TFA is a perfect example of that.

Besides, this is all about the kids, right? They need the most prepared teachers possible – not just some recent grad with a bright future who goes into teaching temporarily to avoid temporary unemployment.

Good luck with your TFA interview. Be careful not to imply that you can’t singlehandedly raise your students' scores three grade levels on sheer enthusiasm and determination, or you’ll be out on your ear.

Posted by: efavorite | November 22, 2010 11:17 PM | Report abuse

The Baltimore MSA includes more than just the City of Baltimore. It also includes Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County and Queen Anne County. TFA only has teachers in the City of Baltimore schools, which is the school system that the teacher applied to, and not in the counties that also make up the Baltimore MSA. According to the City of Baltimore Public School website, it only has 11,000 employees and 10,000 are school-based. Some of those school-based employees are not teachers. There are less than 10,000 teachers in the City of Baltimore and not 22,000 as you assert.

Also directly from the TFA's Baltimore region page for the 2010-2011:

•In Baltimore City, our corps members represented almost 50 percent of new hires.

This is what I found on the Baltimore schools website for the 2010-2011 school year:

Teach for America added 164 new
members in 2010-11, expanding the number
of students taught from 10,850 to 19,282, a
nearly 50 percent increase in two years.

There are 83,000 students in the City of Baltimore schools, so 23% are taught by TFA teachers. There are likely less than 8,000 classroom teachers in the city so actually TFA makes up 4% of teachers and nearly 1/2 of recent hires.

Posted by: sammann | November 22, 2010 11:54 PM | Report abuse

When I read about the research that tells us that master's degrees don't improve the effectiveness of a teacher, I got the greatest idea:

If we no longer require the doctorate for university professors, we can save an enormous amount of money on faculty salaries. In this way expenses can be greatly reduced and tuition can be lowered. More students will then be able to attend and more of our citizens will graduate from college! Also, do physicians really need all those years of study? If a cardiologist just cut short his residency, think of how much cheaper routine heart surgery would be.

Seriously, if we used a little bit of common sense in education, we might get somewhere. We seem to advance from one stupid idea to the next while other advanced countries succeed with the tried and true methods of higher salaries, enhanced working conditions and respect.

Obviously a teacher at any level must be a lifelong learner in order to be truly effective, whether or not this can be "proven." Teachers probably need a lot more education, especially in terms of supervised internships. (But wouldn't that cost more money? NOW we're getting somewhere!)

Einstein said it best: "Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts."

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | November 23, 2010 1:05 AM | Report abuse

"Regarding the writer of this piece, my point is that statistics can’t be used to refute someone’s personal experience."

This personal experience is being used to suggest that TFA generally is taking jobs away from otherwise qualified teachers.
"I have spoken frequently with some other traditionally trained young teachers in my district. They have also expressed that finding a job was unreasonably difficult because of programs like TFA." (Writer's words).

That is also the tone of the piece. ("Teacher runs into the Power of Teach for America"). And this letter is just another "of the many desperate emails and letters from teachers...".

It is appropriate to rebut a personal anecdote with statistics, especially when the author adopting the anecdote implies that it is more generally applicable. This isn't refuting someone's experience it is putting that experience into a larger context.

Not to mention that the writer's letter is a little overblown to begin with.
tragic near exclusion from pursuing her (his) life's work
tragic national ed decisions
tragic unwelcome job market for school of ed grads
tragic that students gain no consistency b/c TFA contract is only two years

The last point is perhaps the most inane since students are with teachers for only a year anyway. The impact is on that year's class.

Anyway Hunter12 thanks again for providing your evidence. Unfortunately the psychological principles of belief perseverance and confirmation bias nearly guarantee that those who came to this thread anti-TFA will leave it the same way.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | November 23, 2010 4:54 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Sammann’s for doing that research. I googled the sentence “In Baltimore City, our corps members represented almost 50 percent of new hires.” And was led directly to the TFA site:
http://www.teachforamerica.org/the-corps-experience/placement-regions/baltimore/

Oddly, I couldn’t find the sentence there. Perhaps it has been scrubbed. Sammann, how did you find that? In the future, please post the links. The info of yours that I’ve checked is accurate, but it’s taken me time to check it.

I also found this in the Baltimore Sun:
“The [TFA] corps is growing from 163 in 2008-2009, to 243 in the current school year, to 318 by the 2010-2011 school year.” http://www.bcf.org/NewsroomEvents/ViewArticle/tabid/184/smid/655/ArticleID/91/reftab/243/t/Major-Gift-from-Meyerhoff-and-Becker-Will-Help-Double-Teach-For-America-Corps-Size/Default.aspx

It does not prove the writer’s claim, but it makes it a logical possibility. If more TFAs are being hired, it follows that fewer non-TFAs are, unless the overall number of teachers is increasing. Doubtful, as hires are generally down. But this could easily be checked. If anyone here does it, please provide the links to support what you find.

I found this sentence of Sammann’s - “Teach for America added 164 new members in 2010-11, expanding the number of students taught from 10,850 to 19,282, a nearly 50 percent increase in two years” – on the Baltimore city school website.
http://www.baltimorecityschools.org/216710112162656613/lib/216710112162656613/PDF/FastFacts2009_10.pdf

This provides more evidence that the writer’s experience could have happened. It’s logical that if a school system received a gift to hire more of a certain kind of employee, that the system would obliged to fill those slots before hiring others, even if the others were more qualified on paper.

Posted by: efavorite | November 23, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Linda R/T – Great ideas (not). Here’s another one (not). Now that “research shows” that advanced education is not needed for educators to excel at their craft, TFA should immediately drop the tuition benefit to its new teacher hires. Thank of all the money that could be saved in needlessly educating people who already have all the formal education they will possibly ever need to be teachers.

Who knows, future research may also show that the smartest people from the best schools are fully prepared to teach grade school after just two years of college.

Then TFA could actively recruit the finest college students to enter TFA after their sophomore year to help needy children, without all the wasteful money spent on getting a batchelor's degree.

Posted by: efavorite | November 23, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

efavorite that's a good point. I have nothing for you - but I can say that the day when TFA recruits make up more than 5-10% of any given city's teachers will likely not come - and if those few teachers are making a difference, well then the effects are bitter-sweet. My feeling is that it's likely there may not be AS many teachers applying to these positions in low SES areas, so there's not a direct relationship between TFA'ers hired and certified teachers displaced. Unfortunately, there's no way to really argue that point objectively.

Anyway, efavorite and patrickmattimore1 this was a fun discussion, but let's leave it at this relatively positive note - since in the end, this is just a comment thread on a Washington Post article...we're not saving the world here! But talking with people who are intelligent enough to form an opinion is always fun. Happy Holidays

Posted by: Hunter12 | November 23, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Patrickmattimore says, "the psychological principles of belief perseverance and confirmation bias nearly guarantee that those who came to this thread anti-TFA will leave it the same way."

Please consider this: "the psychological principles of belief perseverance and confirmation bias nearly guarantee that those who came to this thread defending TFA at any cost will leave it the same way, despite evidence to the contrary.

---

I find it truly frightening the extent to which people's fixed beliefs can allow them to ignore, deny and refute information that challenges their beliefs.

Posted by: efavorite | November 23, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

efavorite that's a good point. I have nothing for you - but I can say that the day when TFA recruits make up more than 5-10% of any given city's teachers will likely not come - and if those few teachers are making a difference, well then the effects are bitter-sweet. My feeling is that it's likely there may not be AS many teachers applying to these positions in low SES areas, so there's not a direct relationship between TFA'ers hired and certified teachers displaced. Unfortunately, there's no way to really argue that point objectively.

Anyway, efavorite and patrickmattimore1 this was a fun discussion, but let's leave it at this relatively positive note - since in the end, this is just a comment thread on a Washington Post article...we're not saving the world here! But talking with people who are intelligent enough to form an opinion is always fun. Happy Holidays

Posted by: Hunter12 | November 23, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the conversation, Hunter12 and Happy Thanksgiving

Posted by: efavorite | November 23, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

efavorite,

Here's a link for the TFA website that has the info: http://www.teachforamerica.org/the-corps-experience/placement-regions/baltimore/#teaching

I think this organization is very unrealistic in their expectations. I see that the St. Louis and Chicago regional directors place the blame for low SAT/ACT scores directly on bad teaching.

http://www.teachforamerica.org/the-corps-experience/placement-regions/st-louis/

http://www.teachforamerica.org/the-corps-experience/placement-regions/chicago/

The directors indicate that they can change that. Really? SAT/ACT scores are dependent on teaching? This organization is out of its mind.

Posted by: sammann | November 23, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

sammann, SAT/ACT exams are used to measure college-readiness in high school students. Many universities base acceptance on these scores, since they feel SAT/ACT scores predict student performance in college, like the LSAT is suppose to do for law students. So if the goal of high schools is to prepare students for college, then to suggest that SAT/ACT scores and teacher effectiveness are mutually exclusive would be unreasonable no?

Posted by: Hunter12 | November 23, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

The goal of high school is to prepare students for college or career readiness. Not every child belongs in college. To do so would devalue the worth of a college education.

SAT/ACT scores are greatly influenced by parental education and income levels. I don't think SAT/ACT scores predict much. I graduated in the top 5% of my high school(a Fairfax County Public School) and college class and yet my SAT scores were probably fell in the ~70 percentile. High Schools that only prepare students for college are doing their students a disservice. It is wrong to judge teacher effectiveness on SAT/ACT scores.

Even Fairfax County knows all its students will not go to college so the high schools provide technical and vocational training. Students can earn technical certifications along with their H.S. diploma so they can enter the workforce directly out of high school. Those students may choose to go to college later or not at all so at least the school system is trying to provide them with skills that would be valuable in the workforce. Schools that don't prepare their students to enter the workforce directly out of high school as well as college are doing their communities a disservice.

Posted by: sammann | November 23, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I don't disagree with Patrick's posts, although it's generally true that in certain districts, TFA candidates receive automatic preference over credentialled candidates for who knows what reason. Moreover, the relevant comparison is not TFA candidates to all teachers, but TFA candidates to non-tenured teachers, which is a smaller number (and thus higher percentage of competition).

However, "The average teacher training program in this country sucks."--while that's true, understand that TFAers take the same teacher training program concurrently.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | November 23, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

" I don't think SAT/ACT scores predict much."

Wrong. They predict, with near-perfect accuracy, whether or not the student will be in remedial college courses. Grades are lousy for this purpose, as are transcripts of completed courses.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | November 23, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Really, Cal. My SAT scores were not high, but I never had to take a remedial college class. My college tested everyone in math and writing as part of our orientation. I tested high enough to be placed in Advanced Writing and Calculus. I didn't take AP English pr AP Calculus in high school. I know plenty of people with much higher SAT scores than I had, who flunked out of college because they couldn't handle it. So sorry, I don't believe in the power of the SAT.

Posted by: sammann | November 23, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

Your belief is irrelevant. It's a fact that low SAT scores will put a student in remediation, barring a higher performance on another standardized test. Check any college website.

And give the thread a break from your self-obsessed anecdata. Find a mirror. It's about the only way you'll have an interested audience.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | November 24, 2010 1:24 AM | Report abuse

there is so much misinformation, half truths and blatant lies in the comments above that it renders the discussion irrelevant. 2/3 of TFA teachers stay in the profession? not according to every study I've seen on the subject. TFAers make a significant impact on the schools? what does that even mean? TFAers are better prepared than traditional teachers--in a 5 week summer training institute? really?

TFA is just another effort at deprofessionalizing teaching as a career--and, sadly, its working.

Posted by: jakedrew | November 26, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

btw--its irrelevant how many teachers there are in the US, only how many are being hired immediately in Baltimore, where the author is from. the other figures being bandied about are red herrings. its a fact that TFA has contracts with large urban school systems requiring them to hire TFA candidates preferentially--and to pay finders fees to TFA in addition to teacher salaries and benefits. some schools have been compelled to hire TFAers when fully certified teachers have been available, in clear defiance of teachers union agreements.

i'm glad a few TFAers who commented say they care about kids--that should be nothing more than an assumption for all teachers. the simple fact that TFA expects only a 2 or 3 year commitment from their "teachers" tells us everything about how they value teaching.

more troubling is the fact that TFA exists only in poor urban school systems, and with students of color. implicit in this arrangement is a belief that its OK for TFAers to learn how to teach "on" other peoples' kids, especially if they are poor and minority students. why are there no TFA programs in wealthy, predominantly white schools? well, first off, the parents in those schools wouldn't stand for having their kids taught by a never ending carousel of short timers--and second, TFA's leaders know that suburban schools have no interest in hiring teachers without certification, and who won't be staying beyond 3 years.

Posted by: jakedrew | November 26, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/DN-teachforamerica_28met.ART.East.Edition1.4b86360.html

Posted by: Hunter12 | November 28, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

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