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Update: TFA Questions Reuters Article

My-wicked-earl-02-large1Below is TFA's response to Stephanie Simon's article in Reuters last week in which the nonprofit expresses appreciation for Simon's focus on alumni impact but also claims that its internal reviews of effectiveness were underplayed and Heather Harding's comments were misunderstood. (They don't quibble with the charter placements number Simon used, which seemed pretty notable to me.)  

I don't know if this is new for TFA to respond to articles, or whether they even sent this out, but it's certainly an interesting peek into how the organization sees itself and how it reacts to media in 2012.  I can't wait for you to see my book chapter about TFA's earlier efforts at working the media (and political) machine, which is currently being edited and will be out in the early fall from AEI.

Teach For America response to Reuters’ article (provided by TFA):

We were glad to see that the recent Reuters article and sidebar article on Teach For America highlighted the mission and impact of our organization over the past two decades. As the sidebar story rightly notes, Wendy Kopp always envisioned Teach For America as a “lifechanging” organization. We were especially pleased to see several alumni recognized for their impact including KIPP cofounders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, Louisiana schools chief John White, and Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson. Their leadership is helping to open doors of opportunity for thousands of underserved students.

However, we were troubled that the article did not accurately characterize the research base around Teach For America. In describing the research, the reporter downplays the rigorousness of both internal and external reviews of Teach For America, and cites data from independent studies to give the impression that Teach For America is inconsistent at best.

The reporter uses an out-of-context quote from our former research director, Heather Harding, to inaccurately imply that internal reviews of Teach For America teachers are unreliable. While internal reviews are not as rigorous as external ones, they still have plenty of merit. In fact, Teach For America relies on a wide range of research—both internal and external—to help us constantly improve our methods of preparing teachers for the classroom.

While the article highlights the most recent report on teacher preparation programs by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, it neglects to mention the most striking finding: the commission named Teach For America the top-performing program in the state. This echoes findings from similar studies done in North Carolina and Louisiana, both of which also named Teach For America as the most effective teacher preparation program in the state. A growing body of independent research has shown that Teach For America corps members are effective across school subjects and age groups.

The reporter also makes only minimal acknowledgement of the contributions of our alumni highlighted in the sidebar article. There are now over 28,000 Teach For America alumni nationwide; over two-thirds of them are still in education, despite the fact that only one in six corps members say they considered a career in education before joining Teach For America.

Drawing on their experience as corps members, our alumni are having a significant effect on the direction of public education in the United States. We wish that this article would have more accurately represented not only Teach For America’s research base, but the impact our corps members and alumni have had on American public schools over the past 20-plus years.

Comments

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If I recall correctly, this isn’t the first time Reuter’s has under-researched a bit. I’m not exactly the biggest fan of every TFA effort, but that article was just sloppy.

No, Heather's comment was not taken out of context -- it was SPOT ON!

When I was a CM, individual CMs were tasked with printing PDF files of standardized tests off of a 'toolkit' CD and then administering them throughout the year, returning with the results at the end of the year in a TFA-provided (or CM-created, it didn't really matter) spreadsheet.

Any CM -- and some probably did -- could have 'cooked the books' to appear as if they made significant gains.

Again, Heather's comments were most certainly accurate, and that's why TFA is most vocal in suggesting they were 'taken out of context' -- whatever that means...

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