Bruno: What's The Point Of Teach For America?
I liked John's post about Teach for America and the "burden of proof". Experimenting in education is fine, but when a reform group commands as many resources as - for example - TfA, it really does have some obligation to prove its worth.
What complicates things is that it's not at all clear what Teach for America is trying to prove in the first place.
You might assume that the point of TfA is to staff classrooms with high-quality teachers. This is the commonsense view, and Teach for America encourages it in a variety of ways, for example by touting any research indicating that corps members are about as effective in the classroom as other teachers.
Arguably, the fact that TfA teachers are (roughly) as effective as traditionally-certified teachers reflects poorly on traditional teacher preparation.
That does not, however, "prove" that Teach for America is a worthwhile reform initiative.
If TfA teachers are of average effectiveness but have higher rates of turnover - which is both financially costly and bad for student achievement - then the program as a whole is not obviously an improvement over the status quo.
More to the point, Teach for America conspicuously fails to include "staffing classrooms with high-quality teachers" as part of its mission. To the extent that its stated mission focuses on teacher supply at all, it is in the context of giving future "leaders" a little bit of teaching experience before they go into something else (ideally) education-related.
But if "the point" of TfA is to incubate future education leaders and innovators, what does their burden of proof consist of?
They offer as evidence much less research on this issue, and what they do offer is much more vague. There is some evidence that corps members are substantially more optimistic about the prospects for disadvantaged students and somewhat more likely to be involved in education in one way or another.
Still, it's not clear what those impacts of TfA amount to in practice. Presumably we should care not just about whether more people are more interested in education, but also about exactly what they're doing and whether educational outcomes are in fact improving as a result.
And it also matters whether the best way to go about recruiting future leaders is to develop an entirely new, elaborate alternative-certification scheme rather than simply recruiting from the pool of existing teachers.