Archives for category: Teach for America

Mercedes Schneider continúes her close reading of the Senate reauthorization bill, crafted by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patti Murray. This is part three. The others are linked inside her post.


You will find this an interesting post. You will see that the bill penalizes states that cut their education budget by more than 10%; that it allows but doesn’t mandate merit pay; that it includes a big loophole for Teach for America; and much more.


Mercedes is going through this bill line-by-line. Members of Congress would learn much by reading her reports.

Josh Kaplowitz joined Teach for America to help others and was assigned to a D.C. public school where he had trouble controlling a class of second graders. One of them was especially rambunctious and demanded to go to the bathroom repeatedly. What happened next is not clear. The child said the teacher pushed him out of the room and to the floor; the teacher said he guided him out of the room. Kaplowitz was accused of assault. He was arrested, taken to a police station, detained overnight, fired, and sued for $20 million. The district eventually settled with the mother for $90,000. It was a nightmare for all involved.


A decade later, after he had gone to law school, married, had children, and was working for a law firm in D.C., Kaplowitz got a message on Facebook from the student who had accused him of assault. He was in college, playing football, and doing well. He wanted to meet Kaplowitz. Kaplowitz had to make a decision: to meet or not to meet?


What happens next is a fascinating story.

The Texas legislature has a set-aside for Teach for America. Way to go, TFA lobbyists!

But that’s not all. The two-year TFA turnover won’t be counted as teacher turnover:

TX HB 1060

A teacher who is employed by a school district through participation in a program that requires a two-year teaching commitment in an underserved area or low-income community and who leaves employment with the district after the two-year commitment is not considered for purposes of reporting teacher turnover information under Subsection (e)(3).

Matthew Di Carlo of the Albert Shanker Institute of the American Federation of Teachers is neither pro-TFA nor anti-TFA.


Here he reviews the latest study of TFA by Mathematica.


It has been widely reported that the study found little or no difference between the test scores of the students taught by TFA and by regular teachers. TFA saw that as a victory, since it presumably showed that no training or experience was needed to achieve the same results. Others saw it as a repudiation of TFA’s oft-repeated claims that their recruits were superior to career teachers.


Di Carlo parses the results and reaches this conclusion:


Now, on the one hand, it’s absolutely fair to use the results of this and previous TFA evaluations to suggest that we may have something to learn from TFA training and recruitment (e.g., Dobbie 2011). Like all new teachers, TFA recruits struggle at first, but they do seem to perform as well as or better than other teachers, many of whom have had considerably more experience and formal training.


On the other hand, as I’ve discussed before, there is also, perhaps, an implication here regarding the “type” of person we are trying to recruit into teaching. Consider that TFA recruits are the very epitome of the hard-charging, high-achieving young folks that many advocates are desperate to attract to the profession. To be clear, it is a great thing any time talented, ambitous, service-oriented young people choose teaching, and I personally think TFA deserves credit for bringing them in. Yet, no matter how you cut it, they are, at best, only modestly more effective (in raising math and reading test scores) than non-TFA teachers.


This reflects the fact that identifying good teachers based on pre-service characteristics is extraordinarily difficult, and the best teachers are very often not those who attended the most selective colleges or scored highly on their SATs. And yet so much of our education reform debate is about overhauling long-standing human resource policies largely to attract these high-flying young people. It follows, then, that perhaps we should be very careful not to fixate too much on an unsupported idea of the “type” of person we want to attract and what they are looking for, and instead pay a little more attention to investigating alternative observable characteristics that may prove more useful, and identifying employment conditions and work environments that maximize retention of effective teachers who are already in the classroom.


For me, the problem with all such studies is the assumption that the best (perhaps the only) way to identify the best teachers is by comparing changes in test scores. Great teachers supposedly get higher scores than mediocre teachers. I think that places far too much faith in standardized testing and in the assumption that education is solely measured by those tests. It makes the tests the arbiters of all things, even though most teachers do not teach tested subjects. Test-based findings are even more suspect when the children are very young.

Julian Vasquez Heilig, who recently moved from the University of Texas to California State University at Sacramento, is one of the nation’s leading authorities on Teach for America. He has studied their performance over time (see here and here), and he is not a fan. When Mathematica released its latest study of TFA, Heilig read it closely and analyzed the findings. TFA boasted that the study showed that its teachers were just as good as those who had studied education and intended to be career teachers. Some readers gleaned from this finding that “anyone can teach, no professional preparation needed,” that is, if they graduate from a highly selective college and are admitted to TFA.


Heilig digs deeper and has a different take on the study. The main finding, he says, is that Mathematica found no statistically significant differences in the groups of teachers they studied. However, he points out, the TFA teachers were overwhelmingly white, and few had any intention of staying in teaching as a career.


He notes that the test of “effectiveness” in pre-K-grade 2 is a five minute test:


Equally effective at what?…Mathematica utilized performance on the Woodcock Johnson III for the Pre-K-2 results— which takes 5 minutes to administer. Thus, the effectiveness of TFA teachers compared to Pre-K – 2nd grade teachers is based on a five minute administration to capture letter-word identification (Pre-K – 2) and applied problems for mathematics Pre-K – 2). Furthermore, one of the more egregious issues in the study is the aggregation of grades is that of the states that have Pre-K programs, more than half of states do not even require Pre-K teachers to have a bachelor’s degree. The report does not state that lack of a degree was an exclusion criteria and it is explicit that community preschools were included, so it appears than an aggregate that includes not only alternatively certified but also non-degreed teachers worked to TFA’s advantage. Should we really be impressed that TFA teachers outperformed a group that could have included non-degreed teachers? And they do it twice: with kindergarten and with grades K, 1, and 2.


What are the lessons of the study? Heilig writes:


So the [TFA] teachers were— on average— young, White, and from selective colleges. They had not studied early childhood in college and had very little teaching experience. They reported a similar amount of “pedagogy” (primarily the 60 hours from the five week Summer Institute), and more professional development (as we discussed above, they viewed it not very valuable). TFA teachers also reported less student teaching experience before they entered the classroom. They also were more likely to be working with a formal mentor (I mentioned David Greene’s point about the drain on mentors due to the constant carousel of Teach For America teachers in and out of schools here). As new teachers, they spent more time planning their own lessons, but were less likely to to help other teachers. Finally, TFA teachers were less satisfied “with many aspects of teaching” and less likely to “plan to spend the rest of the career as a classroom teacher….”


In conclusion, read at face value, here is the message Mathematica appears to promulgate with the report:


We do not need experienced (read: more expensive) teachers when non-experienced, less expensive teachers get the “same” —though not statistically significant— outcomes.
We do not need a more diverse workforce of teachers, again, because TFA teachers, who are overwhelmingly white, get the same outcomes.
Is TFA really in alignment with a vision for providing every student a high quality teacher? Or do they, Mathematica et al. just keep telling us that they are?


For myself, I have read many times that Teach for America invites young people to “make history” by serving for two years. And Wendy Kopp has frequently said that “One day,” all children in America will have an excellent teacher. I have a hard time understanding the logic of these claims. If the TFA teachers get the same results as current teachers, how is that “making history”? If most TFA recruits leave after two years, how does that lead to the conclusion that one day all children will have an excellent teacher? If TFA persuades policymakers that teachers can do a good enough job with no professional preparation, doesn’t that decimate the idea of teaching as a profession? If anyone can teach so long as they went to a selective college, how does that raise the standard for teachers? If our policymakers prefer churn, with teachers leaving every two or three years to find their real career, how is that good for students? How does TFA improve the profession? It doesn’t. It eliminates it.


For his fearlessness, for his willingness to stand up to those with money and power, for his willingness to present the evidence as he finds it without fear or favor, I place Julian Vasquez Heilig on the honor roll of this blog. He is an example to all researchers of the ethics of his profession. To be an outstanding researcher requires years of study, scholarship, discipline, dedication, and experience. Sort of like being a great teacher.

 reports a wonderful story from Arizona, where public education is underfunded and embattled as a result of years of budget cuts and yet another round of deep cuts:

“Nearly 50 Phoenix-based Teach for America members and alumni are asking TFA to return a $500,000 budget set-aside. They say public schools – which will see a net loss of about $100 million under the new budget – need the money more than TFA does. ‘There is a massive contradiction that exists when an organization that claims to work for the education of all children is part of a process that robs Peter to pay Paul,’ the group said. However, the organization’s Phoenix arm already said it intends to accept the state funds.”

More from the New Times:

A new study by Mathematica Policy Research finds that young corps members in Teach for America get no better results than other teachers.


Normally, this would not be big news, since TFA teachers have only five weeks of training. But for years, TFA has boasted that their young people were far superior to other teachers who had gone through professional preparation programs. Now, TFA leaders are claiming to be satisfied that their five weeks of training allows them to do just as well as those who spent a year or more learning to teach. The implicit logic of their perspective is that teaching is not a profession and that no preparation is needed beyond five weeks of TFA training. However you slice it, the TFA message degrades the profession. No profession would be considered to be a profession if any bright young person could succeed with only a few weeks of preparation. One cannot even imagine doctors or lawyers or accountants boasting that they were successful with a five-week training program.


The Mathematica study may not end the debate about the value of TFA. Its biggest fans seem to be the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and other foundations that want to support the proliferation of non-union charter schools with low costs and high teacher turnover. Walton gave $50 million to TFA; Broad collected $100 million from a group of foundations for TFA. And Arne Duncan gave TFA $50 million. TFA’s special contributions to American education, it appears, are to staff non-union charter schools and to demonstrate that teaching is not a profession.

This is a stunning letter from Gary Rubinstein to TFA. Gary knows that reformers like to refer to public education as “the Blob,” but he knows that TFA has its own Blob, where no one really knows who is making decisions.

Gary takes this opportunity to give some sound advice to TFA, which I will summarize.

Gary writes:

“What you need to do first is take a long look at yourself in the mirror. What is your plan? Do you hold meetings for staff members to do more responses for your growing ‘On The Record’ webpage where you respond to critics? That’s just not gonna do it. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re going about it all wrong. You should not be thinking “How can we change our communication strategy so that people don’t think that what we’re doing is hurting education?” People like me and other critics will see right through that. As they say, actions speak louder than words.

“No, if you really want to get critics off your back, you’ve got to start asking a different question. You have to get the staff members together and ask “What sorts of things are we doing that are bothering the critics so much? What is it about those things that we have such trouble stopping doing them? Do we want to stop doing them? What would it take to stop doing them.” These are the kinds of questions, amorphous TFA Blob, that you need to be asking yourself.”

First, TFA should stop the teacher-bashing. They should stop smearing current teachers. This is a slimy way to recruit new corps members (“join TFA to save children from their lousy teachers”).

Gary says: “Imagine that you were an organization looking to help people who wanted to become firemen. Being a fireman is a noble thing. You could say “Save lives. Be a fireman” or “Fight fires alongside some of the most heroic men and women in this country.” See, no fireman bashing. No, “The firemen in this country are failing because there are too many fires still to put out. You need to come in and show those lazy unionized firemen how it’s done.” So my first piece of advice is to find a way to celebrate the career teachers in this country rather than feed the teacher bashing narrative that is driving away old teacher and scaring away potential new teachers.

Second, stop lying. Stop using fraudulent statistics about how terrible public schools are as a way to recruit new members. Stop making false claims about charter schools that “graduate 100%” of their students, when typically 50% of their students didn’t make it to senior year. Stop claiming that 1/3 of TFA members remain in teaching when only 20% stay for a fifth year.

Third, if you are going to have an audit of your activities, hire a genuinely independent auditor, not a firm that will write a puff-piece about how wonderful you are.

Fourth, slim down. You have 2,000 staff members and an annual budget of $300 million. That seems excessive for training only 5,000 recruits.

Last, you hang out with a bad crowd. Most of them don’t know anything about education. Maybe you just want their money and power.

Gary writes:

“I guess the most obvious and most powerful, while the least knowledgeable, friend of TFA is the current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. An example of how out of touch he is, he recently said in a television interview: “The vast majority who drop out of high school drop out not because it’s too hard but because it’s too easy.” To me, this is like the Surgeon General saying in an interview that you can contact Ebola by dancing the Hokey Pokey with the family member of someone infected by the disease. If the Surgeon General said something so inaccurate, the newspapers would be all over it, but it’s only education so who cares if the head of the US Department of Education knows what he is talking about. In some parallel world where TFA does not depend on money from the US DOE, you would be railing against the fact that our education system is being led by someone so naive.”

Will Gary get an answer?

T.C. Weber, blogger known as Dad Gone Wild, says it is time to end the Achievement School District experiment in Tennessee.

Then-State Commissioner Kevin Huffman persuaded his friend Chris Barbic to launch the ASD as an all-charter district made up of the state’s lowest performing schools. Barbic had created the YES prep charter chain in Houston. He promised that the ASD schools would all be in the Starr’s top 25% in five years.

The ASD has been embroiled in community protests and financial mismanagement from the start, writes Weber. It is nowhere near its goal.

He writes:

“I will show you more of what we’ve come to expect from the Tennessee’s ASD, which is more sloppy work and inattention to detail. Since inception, its been nothing but one issue after another for the ASD. In the past they’ve failed to report their per pupil spending, even though all other districts were able to. Back in September, reporter Ezra Howard analyzed the state data and showed that local efforts in Memphis were performing better than the ASD. October came and Bluff City, an education blog out of Memphis, reported the city in near revolt against the ASD. To close out the year, they engineered a hostile takeover of a Nashville school. Perhaps a few more Happy Hours are needed.

“When looking at this audit it becomes clear once again that the Achievement School District’s forte is not in the details. Details like, failure to have contracts overseen and ensuring that they are in compliance with regulations, allowing Charter Management Operators to get paid before they paid their vendors, and billing salaries to the wrong programs. The amounts of money are albeit small and therefore for many not that concerning, but I would argue that, when coupled with the entire body of evidence, it shows a pattern of behavior. A pattern that is not beneficial to the students or the tax payers of the state of Tennessee.”

Weber concludes:

“Governor Haslam has made a welcome change at the top of the Department of Education, but like with any illness, the body can only heal when all of the infection is removed. Chris Barbic and the Achievement School District were brought here by Kevin Huffman through their shared experience as Teach For America members. Time proved that Kevin Huffman was not a good fit for Tennessee. Time has also shown that TFA is not a great fit for Tennessee. They are a part of the past and Tennessee needs to look forward. It’s time to add the Achievement School District to that list of failed experiments and embrace policies that will take us into the future, before the damage is irreversible.”

Teach for America is reducing its corps members in Memphis, according to Chalkbeat.

“The organization is projecting placements of 110 new recruits in Memphis-area schools during the 2015-16 school year, down from 185 last year….

“TFA’s presence has not been without controversy. While school administrators in Memphis have struggled to find and keep qualified math and science teachers to work in some of its lowest-performing middle and high schools, local hiring of young, mostly white TFA members coincided with layoffs of many older black teachers amid significant budget cuts.

“Local teachers’ union officials have maintained that TFA recruits aren’t qualified and equipped to teach students in low-income environments.

“The district is required to pay TFA a $5,000 annual fee per recruit, most of which comes from a $90 million grant awarded to the district in 2009 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That money – designated for programs that improve teacher effectiveness in Memphis schools – soon will run out.”


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