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Bruno: Not A "Win," But New TFA Study Makes Ed Schools Look Bad

3255292803_fff7bd1d29One of the big edu-stories last week was the release of a shiny new study finding that Teach for America teachers are somewhat more effective than teachers with traditional certification, who are in turn only slightly more effective than Teaching Fellows. The study quality is high, but its findings are in line with the totality of the previous research on the subject.

Unfortunately, coverage of this study in particular has tended to frame it as "a win for TfA".

There's something to the "good news for TfA" angle, especially because the program is controversial and a study like this one is a good defense against charges that TfA is cramming classrooms full of incompetent novices.

Still, it's important to remember that Teach for America doesn't really prioritize staffing classrooms with high quality teachers anyway.

TfA is first and foremost dedicating to cultivating future education leaders, so their objective is really just to produce teachers who are good enough on average not to deter principals and districts from hiring them.

If TfA corps members are better than other teachers, that's great but it's not really central to the program's core mission. Arguably, it's not much more than a happy accident for them.

So it's not so much that this new study makes TfA look good, it's that it makes schools of education and traditional teacher certification look bad.

After all, we as a society dedicate rather a lot of resources to teacher training. It takes a lot of time, money, and effort to get a teacher through a year (or more!) of traditional certification, and many more potential teachers are likely deterred by those commitments. 

What are we getting for all of that trouble? Not, apparently, more effective teachers. 

Of course, it's possible that there are other respects - besides apparent math and reading teaching effectiveness - in which traditionally certified teachers are genuinely better. As of yet, however, the traditional sector has yet to demonstrate such benefits to justify its considerable costs.

The question, then, isn't just, "What is TfA doing right?" We also need to be asking, "What are schools of education doing wrong?" - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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Like so many people, you are over generalizing the recent findings. The research has been consistent is showing that TFA does a good job teaching upper grade math and a poor job of teaching anything else. TFA may have something to teach us about selecting and training future math teachers. It has nothing to tell us about other subjects.

Ray -- I think you may be over generalizing. The Mathatica research only looked at math. It said nothing about other subjects.

@Ray - To clarify, I moved somewhat carelessly from talking about this particular study to talking about the totality of the literature. It is true that this new study looked only at secondary math. However, it is consistent with other studies - including studies of reading and elementary teachers - in finding that TfA teachers are not typically less effective than other teachers.

The literature as a whole paints a picture from which we can begin to generalize: TfA seems to turn out teachers who are not significantly worse - on average - than other teachers, including traditionally-prepared teachers. It's that general pattern in the literature that reflects so poorly on traditional ed schools.

Any teacher could tell you that their teacher prep program was largely crap. You don't learn how to teach until you actually have to teach. Should be much more mentoring and real world experience, much less reading and group discussions with others who no nothing about the reality of the job.

Interesting study but I have to agree that nothing prepares you more for teaching than being in the classroom with the kids and being able to learn on the job. From experience, people can tell you all they want and try to teach you strategies but you won't know what will work for a certain group of kids until you meet them.
So maybe TfA is making more competent teachers according to the study but the aspect of getting in the classroom offered by majoring in education and then the ability of a teacher to adapt in the classroom is much more valuable.

The interesting thing to me is that there is a difference between the effectiveness of comparison teachers who went through alternative certification and those who went through traditional means. I was not aware of a study that showed alternative certification led to a measurable and negative difference.

The research on TFA and reading and writing is mixed. Some does suggest that TFA does a poor job with these subjects while other research indicates that TFA does a "not harmful" job. To my knowledge, there is no high quality research that suggests that TFA does a good job of teaching reading and writing.

As a student who is looking to become a teacher in the next couple of years I found this article to be a bit enlightening. I've known of the Teach For America program since my sophomore year and had given it serious consideration, but if it's not really producing better teachers what incentives do I have to not just go the traditional route?
It seems the real issue here is the American attitude towards the institution of teaching. It's almost as if people look upon it as if the person who has decided to teach-and in impoverished areas has "failed". I was just reading another education related article about the differences internationally in education and the U.S. is such a poor performer. A lot of the issues stem from the fact that we don't value our educators, and in doing so we become so desperate that we are willing to take ANYONE. I mean these are the people we chose to leave our children with for eight plus hours a day.
I believe this article reveals the underlying issue- we tout the tiniest jump in performance, which I am not trying to negate, but in comparison to our massive short-comings in teacher training and preparation they mean little. It's just as Paul Bruno says: "So it's not so much that this new study makes TfA look good, it's that it makes schools of education and traditional teacher certification look bad.".

The fact that these organizations are doing something, even if its not the best thing to do, is not necessarily a good thing. It looks to me, though as if this TfA is just something that looks good on a resume for a job and that's about it, and it doesn't have anything to do with helping the overall learning process for the students, which is the most important thing, but it is to help the teacher understand teaching a little better.
I sincerely feel that someone that graduates college trying to get a job teaching doesn't graduate with any kind of education on actually teaching, or really know what to expect on the job other than probably what they saw during their own schooling- they just studied a subject, basically. the only good thing from these programs is that they teach and train these people to help deal with situatuions and become a better problem solver in class room-situations, but they also need to focus on getting better results from the students.

It is important to note the kinds of educators being recruited by TFA. This is definitely a case where the nonessential correlations can be made to imply a false causation. For all intensive purposes, the TFA is really getting people with the ideal mindset to become educators to satisfy their workforce. These people are really expecting a rough experience before they begin, and decide that they are prepared to work with that for a cause that is much more important to them.
As far as my opinion, this doesn't deserve the condemnation of traditional educator training as there is no correlation between the two subjects. In fact, the only correlation that I would derive from this article, is that the author should relearn an extensive list of logical fallacies.

As a student I feel as this information is important and needs to be brought to the attention of everyone. Curriculums need to be altered to satisfy the needs of the students. Teaching methods of teachers now, are out of date. The method of just having a textbook and a board in the front of the classroom is not going to work anymore. We live in a technology age where everything is fast pace and now.
The teachers are being trained with old methods of teaching, and the students are not grasping the information because the work is not appealing to the students. Whether the school system likes it or not, we live in a technology era where technology is the best tool for teaching. TFA’s are younger and more hip to grasping concepts and being able to translate them to the students. So it is no surprise to me that teachers are less effective than and TFA.

I think how to be a good teacher is mostly according to the teacher's personality, maybe TFA can improve the teaching environment but I still think nothing would change if the teacher didn’t do his part

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