Bruno: TFA Is Great At Recruitment (Which May Not Matter Much)
I didn't initially think much about this short article about business and economics majors postponing lucrative careers in finance to spend a few years with Teach for America.
Blogger Andy Rotherham, however, was annoyed by the coverage of such teachers' effectiveness. And it's fair to say that the discussion in this case is almost entirely evidence-free.
Still, Rotherham's defense of TfA raises more questions for me than it answers.He makes two points: that studies support TfA teachers' effectiveness, and that TfA's real strength is in recruitment, not training. His interpretation of the research - that TfA teachers perform "as well or modestly better than other teachers" - is generous, but not unreasonable. (I'd say it's an over-simplification.)
If TfA's recruitment is so effective, though, why are their teachers only roughly "as good" as those who enter through other routes? As far as I can tell, the fact that TfA teachers aren't dramatically better (and don't demonstrate greater retention) implies either that TfA's training is substantially inferior or that their recruitment strategies don't matter much.
If Rotherham is right on both of his points, that would seem to imply that TfA's training is quite poor. My instinct is that he's actually overestimating the importance of recruitment strategies. I don't have hard evidence, here, but I can certainly speculate.
I actually fit the profile of a TfA recruit in some ways - I graduated (with honors!) from a prestigious university, for example - and indeed I applied but didn't get in. But it's not obvious to me what about my background better prepared me for teaching. I am also not aware of research indicating that high-performing graduates of prestigious schools do consistently better in the classroom.
Moreover, I haven't seen any evidence that traditional teacher training is markedly superior to TfA's methods. My own training - at the same prestigious university where I did my undergraduate work - certainly left a great deal to be desired. Nor do I often hear other teachers - especially newer teachers - speak highly of their own traditional programs.
All of which indicates to me that while Teach for America has made a name for itself in part by aggressively recruiting an "elite" corps of recent college graduates, those recruitment strategies may not matter much. That would be an interesting result in its own right.