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The TFA insurgency and its uses
February 19, 2013 9:13 AM   Subscribe

[Teach for America's] goals derive, in theory, from laudable—if misguided—impulses. But each, in practice, has demonstrated to be deeply problematic. TFA ... underwrites, intentionally or not, the conservative assumptions of the education reform movement: that teacher’s unions serve as barriers to quality education; that testing is the best way to assess quality education; that educating poor children is best done by institutionalizing them; that meritocracy is an end-in-itself; that social class is an unimportant variable in education reform; that education policy is best made by evading politics proper; and that faith in public school teachers is misplaced.
Teach for America's hidden curriculum: neo-liberalism, union-busting, and the teacher as cultural tourist. [Via.]
posted by Sonny Jim (76 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
After twenty years of sending academically gifted but untrained college graduates into the nation’s toughest schools, the evidence regarding TFA corps member effectiveness is in, and it is decidedly mixed. Professors of education Julian Vasquez Heilig and Su Jin Jez, in the most thorough survey of such research yet, found that TFA corps members tend to perform equal to teachers in similar situations—that is, they do as well as new teachers lacking formal training assigned to impoverished schools. Sometimes they do better, particularly in math instruction. Yet “the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well,” Vasquez Heilig and Jin Jez discovered, “than those of credentialed beginning teachers.” It seems clear that TFA’s vaunted thirty-day summer institute—TFA “boot camp”—is no replacement for the preparation given future teachers at traditional colleges of education.

That's not surprising is it? I thought the idea behind Teach For America was that there weren't enough teachers to begin with, and that TFA might work as an effective stopgap by motivating graduates who otherwise might not teach with the promise of future money for continued education. Obviously a boot camp will never replace a teaching degree, but are there enough teaching degrees out there to go around?
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:28 AM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think there's a real shortage of teachers. If anything, there's a shortage of realistic expectations of what you need to pay teachers in troubled schools, and if anything, this just masks the problem. What's needed is more full-time permanent teachers willing to teach in places like that, and covering the shortages with well-meaning-but-ineffective TFA kids does not improve things. Stopgap solutions are meant to be temporary.
posted by Ex-Wastrel at 9:33 AM on February 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


There's no shortage of teachers. There's a shortage of teacher salaries. Double or triple those and any "teacher shortage" will disappear pretty much overnight, with a win for everyone.
posted by DU at 9:36 AM on February 19, 2013 [29 favorites]


Man, I knew a bunch of TFAers in 2002 that were only in town to do their two years. One still is a fabulous special needs teacher, but the rest absolutely hated just about everything about their jobs and couldn't wait to bail with that gold star on their resume. I get that TFA is run by smart people who want to change the world, but it just seems more like a self-serving careering club. Maybe they will take this kind of scrutiny and criticism to heart.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:38 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


And, I'm not a teacher, but even the smart ones need a few years to acclimate and develop the right kinds of boundaries and sensibilities to really hit their stride as educators.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:40 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


...are there enough teaching degrees out there to go around?

I think the problem is that, increasingly, students are deciding to not go into teaching, due largely to the deplorable state of what being a teacher means in the US today. I mean, would you go into a field where low pay and long hours area given? Where your chosen profession is regularly and very publicly villainized? I sure wouldn't.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:41 AM on February 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


I am not attacking the article's arguments but it is worth being aware that this is a piece from Jacobin, and is only hosted by Salon. Jacobin bills itself as "a magazine of culture and polemic" and comes from a pretty radical leftist perspective. As such it is going to use words like "liberal" differently than more mainstream publications.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:42 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


A recent look from inside the machine.
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:43 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The article makes the excellent point that a fundamental premise of TFA -- a shortage of credentialed, conventional-career-path teachers -- is simply no longer true, if it ever truly was. Outside of a few sub-specialties, districts of all descriptions (big and small, metro and rural, high-achieving and -low) are overwhelmed with credentialed applicants for vacancies who would happily take the current salary and benefit packages, or are laying off credentialed teachers outright.

However, of all the things that smart young people do out of liberal sentimentality, TFA has to be one of the most harmless. The students aren't hurt (and maybe even are helped), the school districts save money, and the teachers can go on to private sector work with a clean conscience, or stay in policy with a far more realistic view of the challenges of low-achieving schools than they can derive from reading blogs and news stories about them.
posted by MattD at 9:43 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a pretty effective critique of Teach For America, and the educational reform ideology in general. He gets a bit loosey goosey at the end, but his punches land.
posted by klangklangston at 9:44 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


A recent look from inside the machine.

On balance, that seems like a much more useful article than the Salon polemic. Salon's editor should have limited the piece to 5 uses of the loaded word "insurgency".
posted by Burhanistan at 9:47 AM on February 19, 2013


I don't think there's a real shortage of teachers. If anything, there's a shortage of realistic expectations of what you need to pay teachers in troubled schools

Compounding the problem is tying school funding to local property taxes, and therefore the vagaries of housing markets, which have been undermined by bankers eager to take the money and run. I imagine historians and sociologists twenty years from now will be able to draw a straight line between a generational downward trend in educational performance standards and the housing crash of 2008. All of which continues playing into the hands of conservatives who want to dismantle public education even further, to the point of dissolution, thus enabling profit-taking by religious schools and other private educational outlets, and keeping the rest permanently under-educated and docile.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:47 AM on February 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


I agree with MattD's take. I have a lot of friends who did or are doing TFA or work in education in some way, either teaching, doing research, or working in the ed reform movement. I think it's great that many, many kids that I went to school care enough about improving education in this country enough to work in the field in some way.

Even if someone is only using TFA as a springboard to an MBA or a consulting job at McKinsey, at least she was exposed to the reality of daily life for underprivileged kids for a while, and she might donate to pro-education causes and vote for politicians who will work to reduce the pernicious achievement gap in this country.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:50 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was studying to be a teacher briefly in a graduate certification program. We regularly interacted with certified teachers finishing their MA. The vast majority of those students had not yet been hired and were merely getting a specialized degree in hopes of future employment.

Meanwhile, unless you student-taught in one of the rich suburbs you had a class with well over 30 students in it.

Plenty of teachers. Not enough money to keep the ones you have and hire the ones you need. But heck, property taxes went down that year saving me $12 and costing the schools several hundred thousand dollars.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:52 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


are there enough teaching degrees out there to go around?

There's no teacher shortage... it's actually very hard to get a job in teaching right now, and has been for years. I know people who've been subbing for years waiting for a job offer. My school hasn't hired anyone new for about 5 years, mostly because the primary grades have gone from 20 kids to 25-35, depending on where you are... which happened because there's no money. I have 26 this year and classes are still pretty small at my school.

The problem with the whole education reform movement is that has the wrong target... poorly-performing students are a symptom of the insane income inequality in the US. Kids without access to proper nutrition, healthcare and family stability just aren't going to do as well in school. Countries (like Finland) with high taxes and big safely nets are the ones whose children do the best in school, and vice versa.

And we have Wal-Mart throwing a fit over paying for employee healthcare.
posted by Huck500 at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2013 [31 favorites]


The students aren't hurt (and maybe even are helped)

Aren't some of the students hurt by having a teacher who isn't qualified? I mean, quoted above: “the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well,” Vasquez Heilig and Jin Jez discovered, “than those of credentialed beginning teachers.”
posted by lullaby at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


MattD: “However, of all the things that smart young people do out of liberal sentimentality, TFA has to be one of the most harmless.”

I don't mean to be too cynical here, but if eighteen percent of Harvard seniors and twenty-two percent of Yale seniors are applying for something, you can make a pretty good bet that they aren't doing it out of "liberal sentimentality."
posted by koeselitz at 9:56 AM on February 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


That's not surprising is it? I thought the idea behind Teach For America was that there weren't enough teachers to begin with, and that TFA might work as an effective stopgap by motivating graduates who otherwise might not teach with the promise of future money for continued education.
I don't think there's ever been a shortage of people who want to be teachers - the problem is that there isn't enough money in budgets to hire enough teachers. And TFA teachers get the same salary as other new teachers in their districts. It's not like they're working for free.

TFA always seemed kind of elitist - it's like: why the focus on ivy-league students? Like if you go to a state school you can't teach 3rd graders? Given the sheer number of teachers in this country, focusing only on ivy-leauge people means you're never going to have enough people to make a big dent.

And they do push this charter school/ anti-teachers-union agenda (obviously, TFA teachers aren't going to care about things like teacher tenure and the strength of union protections)

I remember reading this article about a TFA recruit who tried to teach in Washington DC and ended having a horrible experience and then accused of smacking a kid: here's the article and goes into detail about how the principle treated him badly, citing him for not passing enough students even though they weren't doing the work, and so on.

The thing is, if he'd had a stronger teachers union he could have had more tools to deal with it, but in his mind this was just a temporary thing, he could ignore the bad stuff and he didn't have to worry about being fired unfairly at all.

But either way, they seem way to small of an organization to make a huge difference just by supplying teachers (either good or bad). But what a lot of people say is that they end up promoting and spreading the whole "school reform" ideology
posted by delmoi at 9:58 AM on February 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


And, yeah, as someone who wants to be a teacher and is having some trouble doing it, TFA does kind of annoy me.
posted by koeselitz at 10:01 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't mean to be too cynical here, but if eighteen percent of Harvard seniors and twenty-two percent of Yale seniors are applying for something, you can make a pretty good bet that they aren't doing it out of "liberal sentimentality."
You don't think they have liberals at Harvard and Yale?

Also, I don't necessarily think it's the case that only liberals have what MattD called "liberal sentimentality" You might just as well call it "Noblesse Oblige", the sense that the upper classes should do stuff for the poor - that doesn't mean they want to up-end the class system itself. Look at Jenna Bush becoming a school teacher and her sister working at charitable NGOs and whatnot.
posted by delmoi at 10:04 AM on February 19, 2013


are there enough teaching degrees out there to go around?

There's no shortage of teachers. There's a shortage of teacher salaries.

The local Sylvan Learning Center keeps posting to Craigslist with offers of $11-$13/hour for state-certified teachers. And that's part-time only, so no benefits.

In the words of Principal Seymour Skinner: "Welcome to Dick Cheney's America"
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:10 AM on February 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


delmoi: “You don't think they have liberals at Harvard and Yale?”

I meant that the type of people who go to the effort of getting into Harvard and Yale (I have known some, and this is no disparagement of them at all) are not the type of people to make career choices based on sentimentality of any kind. There are aberrations, but when you're talking about a fifth of students graduating from an Ivy League school applying to a certain program, you can make a good bet, I think, that there's some resume-worthy status associated with that program that's driving applications.

I mean, take the counter-position. Are a fifth of the students graduating from Harvard and Yale truly making their career choices based on moments of liberal sentimentality?
posted by koeselitz at 10:13 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean, take the counter-position. Are a fifth of the students graduating from Harvard and Yale truly making their career choices based on moments of liberal sentimentality?

I get the point you're trying to make, but maybe you should just leave it at "not many of them remain in teaching after completing their initial two years of service" instead of diving any deeper into career choices or sentimentality.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:22 AM on February 19, 2013


The general resume value of TFA is greatly exaggerated by the public and well understood to be very modest by the applicants from elite schools.

Law school is far more impressed by working a few years at GE or as a junior division officer on a destroyer. There is a HUGE disadvantage to a career in finance in opting out of a junior and senior year recruiting not remotely compensated by people looking kindly upon TFA. It's not comprehended at all in the career or academic sequence of someone who wants to practice medicine or do science.

People do TFA because they don't want to go straight to grad school and because they have an authentic, if perhaps underreasoned, desire to do something good and an interest in education practice and policy.
posted by MattD at 10:26 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


RonButNotStupid: “I get the point you're trying to make, but maybe you should just leave it at ‘not many of them remain in teaching after completing their initial two years of service’ instead of diving any deeper into career choices or sentimentality.”

That's a good way of putting it, yes.
posted by koeselitz at 10:29 AM on February 19, 2013


MattD: “People do TFA because they don't want to go straight to grad school and because they have an authentic, if perhaps underreasoned, desire to do something good and an interest in education practice and policy.”

Well, I'm absolutely not here to tell anybody why they're doing anything. Like I said, I was probably being too cynical anyway. I have had the same experience Burhanistan described in his first comment above, but that's just my experience.
posted by koeselitz at 10:37 AM on February 19, 2013


Burhanistan: "Man, I knew a bunch of TFAers in 2002 that were only in town to do their two years. One still is a fabulous special needs teacher, but the rest absolutely hated just about everything about their jobs and couldn't wait to bail with that gold star on their resume. "

Playing devil's advocate here, a 50% "success" rate actually seems pretty darn good, considering that the churn/dropout rate for new teachers entering the system through more "traditional" channels is often just as high.

If we found a way to recruit long-lasting special needs teachers that had a 50% success rate, I'm pretty sure that most districts would hail it as a revolutionary breakthrough.
posted by schmod at 10:49 AM on February 19, 2013


> Playing devil's advocate here, a 50% "success" rate actually seems pretty darn good,

Was more like 1 out of 9 that I knew, so more like 12%. But that's just one person's anecdote.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:52 AM on February 19, 2013


In my experience people applied for TFA because they didn't know what else they wanted to do, didn't want to go to grad school right away, and felt like they might as well put in an application. I think the high application rates at Harvard and Yale have as much to do with the heavy recruiting at those schools as anything else. (And note that applying is not the same thing as accepting. A fifth apply; fewer will actually accept. This article suggests that for Harvard, about one fifth of those who apply will actually join TFA.)

I also felt like TFA was really helped by the fact that my school (at least in my time) did a lousy job with career services overall -- the options were Big Finance (management consulting/hedge funds), TFA, a few other places who set up booths at the career fairs to recruit on-campus, and then a lot of blank looks. God help you if you had a non-standard major and didn't have existing connections -- there are high-paying career options for petroleum engineers, but the career center hadn't heard of them.
posted by pie ninja at 10:55 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I read and hated this article. Andrew Hartman (at his "second tier university") seems to have a real issue with the work of Wendy Kopp and her husband. But where are Andrew Hartman's suggestions as to how to help improve inner city schools? I work in one, I'd love to know.
posted by bquarters at 11:08 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


schmod: “Playing devil's advocate here, a 50% ‘success’ rate actually seems pretty darn good, considering that the churn/dropout rate for new teachers entering the system through more ‘traditional’ channels is often just as high. If we found a way to recruit long-lasting special needs teachers that had a 50% success rate, I'm pretty sure that most districts would hail it as a revolutionary breakthrough.”

I looked around to try to find some data on retention rates for TFA; this article has some numbers, at least:
Last October, Kappan magazine reported on a survey in which 60.5% of the 2000-'02 cohorts of TFA teachers reported that they continued teaching after their two-year commitment. But after five years, only about 28% remained in teaching. More recently, a study of TFA teachers in Jacksonville, Fla., found that only about 22% continued teaching after their two-years.
posted by koeselitz at 11:11 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have taught alongside a number of TFA teachers and they all have several things in common:

*They were doing it because they cared about the kids and wanted to make a difference.
*They were all extremely smart, extremely motivated, extremely hardworking people.
*In my opinion, they all had the potential to be great teachers - TFA picks its recruits well.
*They were all overwhelmed by being in the classroom at first. Then again, so is everyone.
*They all got to be good teachers by the end of their second year.

And that is when their commitment ended.
I know a few who stayed in the classroom for a third year but so far none who stayed beyond that. Which is the real problem as far as I am concerned. It takes time to hone your craft as a teacher (studies show it takes 8 years to reach maximal effectiveness).

The collateral damage is what TFA does to the image of the teaching profession - it supports the currently popular view that anyone can just show up and teach for a few years with no real training. Which is a huge crock. Teaching well is so hard and we need people who are committed to do it for the long haul. Then we need to pay to keep them.
posted by mai at 11:33 AM on February 19, 2013 [22 favorites]


Compare the retention rate with 'regularly' hired teachers. Take a look at the vacancy rates in teaching when the program started (I was recruited in an international hiring program- nyc at least was desperate at the time)....think about the value of bringing highly educated and motivated people into the schools...then tell me again the downside- that they don't stay long enough?! Are the schools better off with some of my coworkers who are not particularly sharp, clued in or compassionate but stay for 25 years to collect their paycheques?

Working conditions in public schools are generally unpleasant and if you have options, generally you leave. Before railing against TFA, why not do something pro-active to try to help the schools to make them more enticing places to work?? And yeah, something does need to happen with the unions and allowing incompetent people to be fired, I agree.
posted by bquarters at 11:42 AM on February 19, 2013


this is a better jacobinmag article: A Nation of Little Lebowski Urban Achievers

With donor cash comes a set of beliefs, awkwardly transplanted from the business world to the classroom: the management guru’s vision of empowerment as a personal struggle, the CEO’s conviction that individual success is limited only by a lack of ambition, life as a series of goals waiting to be met. The type of advice once reserved for dieters, rookie sales associates, and the unemployed is now repeated to public school children with new age fervor: Think positive. Set goals and achieve them. Reach for the stars. Race to the top. It’s never too early to network. Just smile. Like the promise of A Nation at Risk, these admonitions are at once wildly idealistic and bitterly cruel: “You forfeit your chance for life at its fullest when you withhold your best effort in learning … When you work to your full capacity, you can hope to attain the knowledge and skills that will enable you to create your future and control your destiny. If you do not, you will have your future thrust upon you by others.” Convert every challenge into an opportunity, or else.

{...snip...}

The movement towards higher standards and market-based reforms ignited by A Nation at Risk took place within the historical context of an intensifying stratification of resources along race and class lines, and the division of people into leaders and subordinates is an intrinsic aspect of education reform. Its leaders are overwhelmingly adult administrators, philanthropists, and venture capitalists (usually men) while the people who are most affected by it are teachers (usually women) and children with comparatively little or no economic power. The crisis we face is one of inequality and wealth distribution, not a vague collective decline towards sloppiness.

It is questionable whether public schools have actually “failed” on a national level, but even if that’s the case, the failure is systemic, not the product of the inexplicable, synchronized mediocrity of a few individuals who need a little encouragement. The religion of self-improvement is a way of redirecting criticisms or outrage from socio-economic structures back to the individual, imprisoning any reformist or revolutionary impulse within our own feelings of inadequacy – which is why the process of improving our nation’s schools has taken on the tone of a spiritual cleansing rather than a political reckoning. Now, instead of saying “our socioeconomic system is failing us,” an entire generation of children will learn to say, “I have failed myself.”
posted by ennui.bz at 11:47 AM on February 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


I also felt like TFA was really helped by the fact that my school (at least in my time) did a lousy job with career services overall -- the options were Big Finance (management consulting/hedge funds), TFA, a few other places who set up booths at the career fairs to recruit on-campus, and then a lot of blank looks. God help you if you had a non-standard major and didn't have existing connections -- there are high-paying career options for petroleum engineers, but the career center hadn't heard of them.

Yes; for folks who have some sort of liberal arts degree without plans to go into engineering, finance, law, medicine, etc., Teach For America plugs into that "this is a discrete and linear recruitment process" hole. That's extremely appealing for those college students who have never been off of a clear track before.
posted by threeants at 11:53 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know a few who stayed in the classroom for a third year but so far none who stayed beyond that.

Ah, you mean they left for a job that paid more with less grief?

Teachers are woefully underpaid and expected to perform miracles in a classroom of 30-40 kids each day. That any of them can manage to do more than babysit is astounding. Having subbed and worked as a SPED para, I will tell you that most teachers have my total respect. Can't afford to sub anymore because the teachers that were let go are usually the ones called in, and am no longer a para, because they slashed the positions.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:54 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I started applying to TFA as a senior (with absolutely no clue about what I wanted to do with my life), and couldn't bring myself to lie through my teeth on the "So, why the hell do you want to do this?" essay that was required as part of the spplication.

I doubt that "I need a fucking job and some direction in my life." would have scored very highly, even though 90% of the TFA applicants that I knew might as well have written the same thing.

(And, yes. The Career Services department at my Liberal Arts college is terrible/clueless enough that I'm basically never going to recommend the Liberal Arts to anybody that doesn't explicitly want to teach professionally.)
posted by schmod at 12:08 PM on February 19, 2013


I had a friend do this program and spoke very highly of it. He also stayed in the classroom for a third year, then left for grad school afterwards. He possessed all of the qualities that mai mentions above. This was an enlightening article though.
posted by ageispolis at 12:17 PM on February 19, 2013


couldn't bring myself to lie through my teeth on the "So, why the hell do you want to do this?" essay that was required as part of the spplication.

Yeah, the one reason I like the TFA concept is that there's absolutely no way to know that you'll like teaching/be a good teacher until you actually get into a classroom and do it. I kind of went into teaching as a last resort, and found that I love it... if I inherited a billion dollars tomorrow I'd still teach, no question.

I personally feel like I make enough money as a teacher (I'm speaking for myself only, here; there are teachers in my district who make $120,000/year...YMMV greatly) but the more money and benefits you offer for teaching, the more people will give it a shot and the more likely it is that you'll find those who are best suited for it.
posted by Huck500 at 12:24 PM on February 19, 2013


What I find most frustrating about this article (and a lot of anti-ed-reform-polemics) is the casual dismissal of the idea that testing is of value in measuring schools. The author throws out "Educational progress was to be measured by what students produced (outputs) rather than by what resources were invested in schools (inputs)" as though this was self-evidently wrong. But ffs, what sort of lunatic would measure educational progress by inputs?!?! If your school is inputting lots of money, but your students can't read, then your school is visibly failing, and something needs to change. The outputs (student abilities) are exactly what matters; the inputs are instrumental.

This is the big "propose something better" that anti-ed-reform people really blow. As a liberal, I like the idea that state institutions that are failing to help people should be accountable to the federal government (that's what civil rights lawsuits are for). And I view failures of measurement (i.e. stat-juking) as loopholes to be closed, not proof that the whole system should be thrown out; it's only libertarians who think that the fact that pollution exists means we might as well shut down the EPA.

Sure, inputs matter---anyone who runs a business should know that starving a department of funds will hurt that department's productivity. If a school's test scores are bad, it's important to have a system to evaluate whether they have sufficient resources, not just blame the teachers. But without some way to measure accomplishment, you will never accomplish anything. If the author can suggest a better way to measure outputs than testing, I'd love to hear it. If not, he has nothing of worth to contribute.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:36 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


BlueHorse: “Teachers are woefully underpaid and expected to perform miracles in a classroom of 30-40 kids each day.”

That does seem to be the crux of the problem, yeah. However we look at it, getting teachers to stay is the thing to be done.
posted by koeselitz at 12:56 PM on February 19, 2013


My impression is that elementary schools in the ghetto are trying to solve a problem at the wrong place in the chain of causes and effects, but elementary schools, even in not so poor areas, are more about culturalization than instruction. These kids don't want to be there and classroom management is the most important skill a teacher needs, which is the code phrase for having the students too afraid of you not to sit still and look like they're paying attention. This is the skill that takes so long to learn. As for the best way to teach an actual subject, no one seems to agree, anymore than they can agree how to tell if your teaching was successful or not and this seems to be imposed from the top down. My own belief is that teaching happens in the context of a relationship and if that occurs, it's not because of having the right sort of things in your lesson plan.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:24 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pet peeve--can the world please stop using the term "education reform" to refer solely to Michelle-Rhee style busting of teacher's unions, merit pay, high stakes tests, etc? It makes it hard to talk about other kinds of reform efforts that don't adhere to the corporate model.

As for TFA specifically, here's a little-known fact; they have their own 501(c)4 dedicated to grooming alums with corporate-reformist views for office. That organization's own web site is remarkably thin on details; if you didn't know any better, you'd never realize there's any tie between LEE and TFA. If TFA's political agenda is so noble, and their candidates so qualified, why should they be so secretive about it? I'd trust TFA a hell of a lot more if they were up front about the kind of "reform" they ultimately support, instead of forcing people to read between the lines and figure out what "hiring the best and brightest" actually means.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:26 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The position of the ed-reform-backlash crowd seems mostly to be, educational outcomes are determined in the womb or shortly (very shortly, in the case of literacy outcomes) thereafter. Therefore, they seem to say, the quality (however measured) of the teaching corps is a) not something worth inflecting, but b) shut up, we have the best teachers in the world, and c) the existing structure of the teacher corps must be held constant because it disproportionately favors less-favored groups (women over men, minorities over whites, etc)

I (and the science, I think) agree with the premise. What follows from the premise, though, is either a dramatic upscaling of early childhood interventions (to influence things like syntactically-rich environments for infants) or, a dramatic decrease in spending on the existing education regime. Keeping things exactly the same - or funneling more money into a system with the same structure - seems like the last thing you'd want to do.
posted by downing street memo at 1:33 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


IMO, Diane Ravitch's articles Schools We Can Envy and more particularly How, and How Not, to Improve the Schools are better explorations of the problems and pratfalls of Teach for America. Worth reading for anyone just coming into this debate.

Teach for America does kind of bug the heck out of me. I think the comparison to the Peace Corps is apt, because they have very similar goals for the volunteer- the Peace Corps is at least explicit about the idea that a volunteer's role is to basically be nice and make people like Americans while possibly improving some farming techniques or teaching public health or whatever. But kids only get one shot at learning third-grade science (and more broadly, only a few shots at learning that they can succeed in school, that school is a place where good things happen, etc) and if their TFA teacher blows it, it's blown, the end.

It doesn't seem right to me to have low-income and otherwise disadvantaged kids disproportionately getting an underprepared teacher from TFA, while the benefit of the program in personal growth and career development accrues to the corps members, not the students. TFA is attractive to young grads of elite schools because it's low-investment; you don't need a credential or a master's. But students in low-performing districts need high investment. They need highly-qualified, experienced teachers (among many other things that society has denied them). Enthusiasm is not an investment.

The outputs (student abilities) are exactly what matters; the inputs are instrumental.

The disagreement is in whether the tests actually measure the outputs they purport to test, whether those outputs are actually good outputs to measure or try to achieve, and whether the outputs can be gamed. On the last, at least, we have found that districts will simply cheat on the tests, either directly at the classroom level by literally changing the answer sheets or telling the kids what the right answer is, or indirectly at the district level by weeding out low-performing students. If we measured inputs instead, the measures would become more difficult to game.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:37 PM on February 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


"The position of the ed-reform-backlash crowd seems mostly to be, educational outcomes are determined in the womb or shortly (very shortly, in the case of literacy outcomes) thereafter."

I don't think that's accurate at all; it reads like a straw man of the pro-education, anti-"reform" side.
posted by klangklangston at 1:47 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see a lot of good points here, and agree that the article deserves a skeptical read...one place where the piece really lands, though, is the importance of the ideology at play here. Yes, there may be different ways to evaluate these programs, but what I can offer from anecdotal observation of my own years as a (non-TFA) volunteer and researcher in a very poor, rural part of the US is that the program basically handed its teachers a "cosmopolitan, brilliant us vs. parochial, slow-witted them" script. Practically of these 22-24 year-olds had complete disdain for their administrators (unless they were "lucky" enough to be placed in the one TFA alum-founded charter school operating in the region - then the problem became one of a system that all but guaranteed cataclysmic burnout), their senior colleagues, and basically the whole society that they were placed in because they all appeared inertial and not immediately supportive of whatever exuberant, idealistic and unfortunately, often uninformed ideas the TFA volunteers had.

I thought this was the most counter-productive part of the whole program; that in stoking an esprit du corps so strongly oriented around bringing neoliberal enlightenment (individualistic, heavily market-inspired and results-oriented, extremely skeptical of local and traditional ways) to education, the program basically encouraged idealistic young people to hate the communities they originally set out to help. Whereas I, an Americorps volunteer with few expectations (let alone TFA's messianic ones) placed on me, got to hang out and actually enjoy the local scene. I even helped the community get some program grants and computer equipment, all while making plenty of stumbles along the way.

I'm not saying the community hate happened everywhere, but it happened enough (my observations are based on about 4 cohorts of 5-10 volunteers each) that it made me very skeptical of TFA overall, despite liking the idea of infusing underprivileged schools with fresh energy.
posted by LoneWolfMcQuade at 1:48 PM on February 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


I don't think that's accurate at all; it reads like a straw man of the pro-education, anti-"reform" side.

Well, that part is less opinion and more actual science. But Ravitch, et al (and I agree with them) always land on the point that educational outcomes are for the most part socioeconomically determined, and the affect of teacher inputs are marginal at best.

I'm just saying, that means that the existing education system, designed to inflect learning outcomes long after critical periods in infancy have passed, makes zero sense at all. And that a more effective system either a) lowers costs by scaling back ineffective interventions or b) actually inflects outcomes by intervening earlier in kids' lives.
posted by downing street memo at 1:56 PM on February 19, 2013


The disagreement is in whether the tests actually measure the outputs they purport to test, whether those outputs are actually good outputs to measure or try to achieve, and whether the outputs can be gamed.

Can the outputs be gamed? Definitely---all outputs can. Which is why one must always monitor any monitoring system. Other than that---if the author can suggest better outputs to measure, the suggestion would be welcome. But just railing against the idea of testing outputs is pure nihilism, a dismissal of the very idea of teaching as something worth doing.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:59 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Compare the retention rate with 'regularly' hired teachers. Take a look at the vacancy rates in teaching when the program started (I was recruited in an international hiring program- nyc at least was desperate at the time)....think about the value of bringing highly educated and motivated people into the schools...then tell me again the downside- that they don't stay long enough?! Are the schools better off with some of my coworkers who are not particularly sharp, clued in or compassionate but stay for 25 years to collect their paycheques?

I'd love to see an argument against the position taken by the Salon article, if only because a lot of the sources I've relied on for information about education reform tend more towards the article's position than not, but you haven't made one. That article basically lists the intuitive beliefs underlying TFA and makes the case that those beliefs are either misguided or outdated. All you've done here is pretty much reiterate those same intuitions, as if the article never happened. A real response, some actual insight, and a few facts on your part would be appreciated.
posted by invitapriore at 2:09 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


"The position of the ed-reform-backlash crowd seems mostly to be

If you read any further in this post you start to drift into the fantasy world of Strawman Lane.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:15 PM on February 19, 2013


It is very rarely that people agree with straw men, Pope Guilty.
posted by koeselitz at 2:35 PM on February 19, 2013


If you read any further in this post you start to drift into the fantasy world of Strawman Lane.

Obviously your role in these threads is favorite-mongering drive-by artist, but there are any number of examples at the end of Easy Google Search Drive - here's one, yesterday, from Ravitch - characterizing educational attainment as a primarily socioeconomic problem.

That's something that is borne out by the science. But while it proves the corporate ed reform crowd wrong, it doesn't prove the anti-reformers right. In fact, it necessarily implies massive changes to the way we do education.
posted by downing street memo at 2:35 PM on February 19, 2013


"Obviously your role in these threads is favorite-mongering drive-by artist, but there are any number of examples at the end of Easy Google Search Drive - here's one, yesterday, from Ravitch - characterizing educational attainment as a primarily socioeconomic problem. "

While Ravitch describes problems with education as primarily socioeconomic, that does not mean that she argues that teaching inputs are marginal, and you seem to be rather distorting her view by minimizing to the point of absurdity the effects of teaching.

Because you've overvalued one premise and dismissed the complimentary ones, you've ended up with kind of an absurd endpoint that doesn't actually represent anyone's views nor reasonable education policy.
posted by klangklangston at 2:49 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd love to see an argument against the position taken by the Salon article, if only because a lot of the sources I've relied on for information about education reform tend more towards the article's position than not, but you haven't made one. That article basically lists the intuitive beliefs underlying TFA and makes the case that those beliefs are either misguided or outdated. All you've done here is pretty much reiterate those same intuitions, as if the article never happened. A real response, some actual insight, and a few facts on your part would be appreciated.

Really? Sorry my response, based on my feelings about where I work and what I have seen in the past 11 years in my New York City public school teaching job, doesn't rate as "real" to you. I don't have time (or actually the interest now, thanks) in breaking it down any further. I'm going to keep doing my laundry and remind myself again why I find some Metafilter commenters a bit much sometimes.
posted by bquarters at 3:41 PM on February 19, 2013


In my floating around the career fair as an undergrad, I spent some time talking to the LAUSD, who like TFA will hire a just-graduated math major with no teaching credential. But that was basically where the similarity ended. They had a more robust training regime and greater support for new teachers (I just re-checked TFA again, who have "managers of teacher leadership and development", excuse me while I vomit), they wanted five years of your life, they proceeded from the assumption you were interested in being a teacher for life, even if it wasn't in LA. And... almost nobody talked to them.
posted by hoyland at 3:48 PM on February 19, 2013


I meant that the type of people who go to the effort of getting into Harvard and Yale (I have known some, and this is no disparagement of them at all) are not the type of people to make career choices based on sentimentality of any kind. ... I mean, take the counter-position. Are a fifth of the students graduating from Harvard and Yale truly making their career choices based on moments of liberal sentimentality?
Well, it may simply be a continuation of the resume padding type of stuff people like that do to get into Harvard or Yale, especially if the program is that popular. It's also possible that there may be a mix of motivations, and people think that they are doing something good even if they make the decision to do it.

It sounds like they also do a lot of recruiting as well, so people they might be soaking up most of the people who might go to work at other NGOs if they knew about them.

However, 1/5th is just 20%. Even if most of the people entering Harvard are a certain type, that's not going to hold true for all the students. Saying the average Harvard student is a particular type of person doesn't mean you can assume every single one is, that's ridiculous. I mean, Natalie Portman went to Harvard, she doesn't seem to fit the stereotype.

But basically the point is that saying "a typical Harvard student is like X" does not mean that more than 80% of them are that way.

Plus there are going to be lots of people from wealthy families who don't even need to take high paying jobs.
The position of the ed-reform-backlash crowd seems mostly to be, educational outcomes are determined in the womb or shortly (very shortly, in the case of literacy outcomes) thereafter. Therefore, they seem to say, the quality (however measured) of the teaching corps is a) not something worth inflecting, but b) shut up,
Yeah, if you're not going to bother understanding or even paying attention the other side's arguments to begin with, why even bother replying? Obviously, that is not what anti-ed-reform people believe. The view is that poverty and/or bad parenting is the root of problem, and that alleviating poverty will fix most of it (as poverty will exacerbate bad parenting as parents have to work all the time to feed their families, need to stay in chaotic situations because they can't afford to leave, etc.)

Now, obviously your social status in this country pretty much is determined in the womb.

The other part of the argument is that most of the ed-reform policy ideas have been implemented, and haven't succeeded in improving things. Charter schools, for example don't see any better outcomes then regular public schools. More and more testing might give you a better idea of how badly you're doing, but it's not going to fix anything.

And it's especially problematic to try to test individual teachers and "hold them accountable" for their students grades. It means good teachers have an enormous incentive to avoid teaching underprivileged kids as much as possible if they want to have a successful career, because if the problem is the parents/poverty then they're going to be the ones taking the fall.

The basic problem with the ed-reformers is that 1) They tend to be people who just you can just sprinkle "free market" or "competition" dust on things to make them better, rather than actually analyzing what needs to happen. Yes, the true free market produces efficiencies, but only through brutal competition where some companies do go out of business, and some markets just aren't served if they're not economically viable. A true free-market school system would mean just not even bothering to educate people in inner cities.

2) They don't seem to understand how to actually use data in a scientific way. They seem more interested in collecting data and making decisions on it then whether or no their data reflects what's actually going on. Testing students tests the students. It doesn't tell you much about the teacher, but the ed-reform types take it as a given that it does, without any empirical basis for believing they do. It's cargo-cult statistics.

It's like if you looked at gay doctors and saw they had a higher portion HIV+ patients - and came to the conclusion that gay doctors were giving their patients AIDS.

And the more critical problem is 3) Their ideas have been tried and failed. Ultimately, ideology is irrelevant - what matters in the end is results. Ironically, they are completely unwilling to apply the standard of empiricism to their own ideas they want everyone. Texas has been doing this for decades and their educational attainment is still among the bottom 3 or 4 in the country. There are charter schools all over the place, and they don't do better overall then public schools.
Well, that part is less opinion and more actual science.
Yes, obviously your personal opinion based on reading random magazine articles is totally what "the science" says. Yes, early childhood intervention is important, but I'm not aware of anything relating to "the womb" that would be geographically clustered aside from the fact that it happens to belong to a mother in a low socio-economic status. (Things like hormone levels in the womb are thought to perhaps have an influence on things like mathematical ability, but that's going to be pretty random and won't have anything to do with living in a poor neighborhood)

The difference is that a wealthy family is going to be able to afford to have one parent stay home and raise/play with the kid to give them the kind of intervention that helps them become more intelligent, while a poor family is going to have to have both parents work and drop their kids off at a cheap day-care.

The other problem is that people without a lot of education won't even know they're supposed to do that with their kids, rather than just sitting them down in front of the TV to shut them up so they can relax after a long day of work.

One thing (I think) we should be doing is teaching parents how to provide this kind of intervention to their own. And ensuring they have enough time and energy to do it.

Finally, the sensitive time period for early childhood education goes up to like ages 3 or 4, which I don't think most people would call "shortly after" being in the woomb.
posted by delmoi at 4:01 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Obviously your role in these threads is favorite-mongering drive-by artist, but there are any number of examples at the end of Easy Google Search Drive - here's one, yesterday, from Ravitch - characterizing educational attainment as a primarily socioeconomic problem.
Which is the exact opposite of your biologically-determined-from-birth theory. The only way "wombs" fit into the equation is the economic situation/educational attainment of the owner.

Or are you telling us you don't understand the difference between socioeconomics and biology?
posted by delmoi at 4:05 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


However, 1/5th is just 20%. Even if most of the people entering Harvard are a certain type, that's not going to hold true for all the students. Saying the average Harvard student is a particular type of person doesn't mean you can assume every single one is, that's ridiculous. I mean, Natalie Portman went to Harvard, she doesn't seem to fit the stereotype.

Some of us applied to Harvard and left the interview hoping to be rejected, though. If the person who did my Harvard interview was remotely representative of people who a) go to Harvard and b) like it enough to volunteer to do admissions interviews, I can say an awful lot of mean things about people who go to Harvard. (That said, the people I know who went to Harvard are all somewhere on the spectrum between okay and 'would be friends with'. But then none of them are, afaik, so enthusiastic about Harvard as to do admissions interviews.)
posted by hoyland at 4:12 PM on February 19, 2013


My point being we can maybe make some generalisation about the people who didn't want to run for the hills after the interview. My comment was kind of incoherent.
posted by hoyland at 4:12 PM on February 19, 2013


Much of the criticism I'm reading comes, at least in part, from a lack of understanding of how TFA actually works. As a former corps member and someone who has worked for TFA on new corps member selection and inservice training, let me clarify a few things:

*TFA absolutely does not encourage corps members to leave after they complete their commitment. In no way, shape, or form does that happen.

*There is a teacher shortage in dozens upon dozens of districts in the nation, and more precisely, a shortage of people who are willing to teach in the urban and rural under-resourced schools where TFA corps members are placed.

Even in places where there is no absolute deficit in the number of teachers available to teach in a given district, TFA schools are (as determined by the principal of the school and the district) places where it is very difficult to bring in teachers. So you can't just look at a state and say, 'there are plenty of teachers to go around here.' There are schools where it is very difficult to recruit teachers--and that's where TFA corps members are usually placed.

*Corps members are hired by the school district and are not paid by TFA. They are not paid by TFA.

*I make my living now training educators (not for TFA), and have done so for the past 15 years or so, and the TFA training is absolutely top-notch. I'll say this: The TFA summer institutes are intense, nearly round-the-clock experiences that involve in-class group teaching of actual summer school students, coursework, workshops, group and regional meetings, and one-on-one instruction. They are incredibly effective and pack a tremendous amount into a short period of time.

They are also followed by up to a month of on-site work in the placement region. Corps members also work continuously with other corps members and TFA staff throughout their commitment. So the training is ongoing, not just a one-shot.

In many, many placement districts, corps members must work towards a regular teaching license immediately after starting their commitment, and in some sites, they are also required to complete a master's degree concurrent with this.

*Corps members aren't chosen based on their university's pedigree, but rather on a selection process that involves several major components, all of which are based on a tremendous amount of research on identifying persistent, determined, and fiercely intelligent people who are also likely to be resourceful enough to make the difficult circumstances they'll be thrown into work well for their students and themselves.

I've done selection for TFA many times--it's grueling for everyone involved, and it is just about the most rigorous, methodical, and well-thought-out endeavor I've ever been a part of--anywhere.

Remember the goal is to select corps members who will do well in an environment where they are trained intensely over a few months and then be able to very quickly start to make clear, positive change in the classrooms where they teach. And the evidence is remarkably clear that they do precisely this.

*There are absolutely people who leave TFA after two years and do nothing in education ever again. There are also people who rededicate their entire lives to making a difference for the students they taught and populations where they worked.

I have several friends from TFA who taught for years after their commitments ended. Three of them are teaching twenty-odd years later. I also know people who left TFA and went on to graduate school and became educational researchers, principals, lawyers, etc. and continue to work towards educational equity.

Personally, after my two-year commitment ended, my school closed, so I took a job at a local community college so I could continue to work with many of the same students I taught. I was able to act as a magnet of sorts, reaching out to students I taught as they finished high school, reminding them that they had an ally and someone who could help them navigate the transition from secondary school to college. While I was no longer teaching in the same school, and I'd be counted as having left after two years, I'd argue that the next seven years I spent teaching the same population was every bit as valuable. I'd also argue that it demonstrates just how seriously I took my commitment to TFA's mission of educational equity.

*I have no doubt that TFA helped me go to an elite university for a PhD. But I also know that the years I spent teaching in inner-city Washington, DC made doing a doctorate feel incredibly easy.
posted by yellowcandy at 4:21 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Which is the exact opposite of your biologically-determined-from-birth theory. The only way "wombs" fit into the equation is the economic situation/educational attainment of the owner.

When did I say anything about biological determination? Not being cute here. Your 1000-word "refutation" is precisely what I think.

Kids come to school with most of their educational outcomes determined already. If we accept this, that implies that the next dollar we spend on education should be targeted to the pre-school environment, where there is greater leverage to be had. There's an argument about how you'd do that - universal pre-school or some kind of UBI-like, "give poor people money" payment that would provide for literacy and numeracy-rich environments at the margin are two alternatives I've seen.

What it absolutely does not imply is that paying teachers more should be an educational priority. Maybe they should be paid more for other reasons (and I think they should) but we shouldn't pretend like this will inflect outcomes to the extent that earlier-life interventions would.
posted by downing street memo at 4:47 PM on February 19, 2013


"Remember the goal is to select corps members who will do well in an environment where they are trained intensely over a few months and then be able to very quickly start to make clear, positive change in the classrooms where they teach. And the evidence is remarkably clear that they do precisely this."

The evidence, at least as presented here, isn't remarkably clear on that. The studies cited show that students taught by TFAs achieve at best parity, and frequently have worse outcomes than those of first year credentialed teachers.
posted by klangklangston at 5:12 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a surprisingly terrible article. This may, in fact, be the worst thing I've ever read on Salon.com. It's hard to find anything like a sound argument in that disaster. TFA is at odds with teachers' unions...TFA tends to like accountability, but that often means standardized tests, and schools sometimes cheat on standardized tests...some TFA people have even cheated...so...so...and...and... liberal do-gooders! Many blacks in D.C. did not like Michelle Rhee! (WTF kind of argument is that?)..."Rhee is adored in elite circles"...and then there's this:

And yet, education reform has almost always propped up the social order: just as current reform success is calculated by how well students score on standardized tests, the progressive education movement’s most longstanding success story was its pedagogical program for “Americanization.” Educational progress as measured by how well students stack up against conventional standards will always and inevitably reinforce the status quo. Most of the time, schools are little more than engines of social reproduction.

This is just drivel. Guilt by association, innuendo, naked rhetorical trickery, political cant masquerading as evidence...just awful.

On the bright side, this should work pretty well in my critical thinking class. Even my freshmen should be able to shred this nonsense.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:29 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really? Sorry my response, based on my feelings about where I work and what I have seen in the past 11 years in my New York City public school teaching job, doesn't rate as "real" to you. I don't have time (or actually the interest now, thanks) in breaking it down any further. I'm going to keep doing my laundry and remind myself again why I find some Metafilter commenters a bit much sometimes.

Your feelings just don't give much insight into the workings of a system that is too big to allow you, as one person, to be able to draw meaningful conclusions about it given your limited first-hand perspective. That's not a dig on you -- no single human being could have anything other than a limited first-hand perspective on such a large institution. I also didn't say that your experiences aren't real or meaningful, but rather, again, that they're not a meaningful grounds on which to base conclusions about something on the scale of the American educational system as a whole. This is sort of academic, though, because you didn't describe them. Anyway, I wasn't and I still am not demanding anything from you, but I think it's implied that when you participate in a discussion like this you do so in part as an attempt to persuade, and I don't think it's unreasonable to say that I cannot be persuaded without an actual argument. I'm sorry if you read that as me discounting your time as a teacher.
posted by invitapriore at 5:33 PM on February 19, 2013


yellowcandy: “There is a teacher shortage in dozens upon dozens of districts in the nation, and more precisely, a shortage of people who are willing to teach in the urban and rural under-resourced schools where TFA corps members are placed.”

This is an interesting question; both sides are sort of debating whether or not there's a teacher shortage in the United States. I guess "dozens upon dozens of districts in the nation" is a mild enough claim that I'm sure it's probably true; but frankly I would be surprised if the actual numbers weren't the opposite of what's being claimed here. I mean: if I were going to guess places where there are teacher shortages, I would guess that those shortages would be in rural areas. It would be interesting to see numbers on this.

Still, the shortage doesn't seem to be even among the top ten major problems in primary education today.

“Even in places where there is no absolute deficit in the number of teachers available to teach in a given district, TFA schools are (as determined by the principal of the school and the district) places where it is very difficult to bring in teachers.”

Well, that is interesting – and frankly makes me a little more skeptical. The principle and the district make the determination that TFA teachers are needed? Keep in mind that, as has been pointed out, it is very much in a school district's best interest to hire TFA teachers, because they're paid entry-level wages. It's a hell of a lot cheaper even than bringing in a unionized new hire.

Generally, I will be honest and say that the idea of TFA seems like a nice one, but I don't believe it's really aimed at solving the major problems in primary education today. Yes, there might be school districts that suffer from teacher shortages; and it's great to work on fixing that for those school districts. But it should be clear that a problem limited to "dozens upon dozens of districts" is not a major problem, at least when considering the whole nation.
posted by koeselitz at 5:38 PM on February 19, 2013


One problem I have with TFA, and I'm a real simpleton, is the name is too grandiose and implies a much larger scope than what they are really capable of. Still, they need something more dreamy sounding than a career guild.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:16 PM on February 19, 2013


Last October, Kappan magazine reported on a survey in which 60.5% of the 2000-'02 cohorts of TFA teachers reported that they continued teaching after their two-year commitment. But after five years, only about 28% remained in teaching. More recently, a study of TFA teachers in Jacksonville, Fla., found that only about 22% continued teaching after their two-years.

Teaching itself, whether in TFA or not, is known for having a significant burnout rate. The point of TFA is to attract people who might not have considered teaching initially and came from academic backgrounds that did not involve getting an Education degree. So the fact that many don't stick with it as a career isn't surprising, particularly in a field known for having people who leave those careers are a regular rate.

The author of the article, however, has issues that go beyond TFA-- he has a problem with the concept of testing and achievement/benchmark-focused curricula in general.
posted by deanc at 7:18 PM on February 19, 2013


Teach for America partners with Imagine Schools.

That tells me just about everything I need to know about TFA.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:28 PM on February 19, 2013


Anecdotally, the non-TFA teachers I know have never been a fan of TFA. It's insulting to get a degree in education, get certified, and then have some 22 year old show up with one month of "intensive training" as if they are now capable of doing your job. We would never think to install this type of program for other jobs that require certification. Teachers are incredibly undervalued; everyone thinks they can do the job ("If you can't do, teach" and so on). TFA only reinforces that idea.
posted by murfed13 at 9:43 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


deanc: "Teaching itself, whether in TFA or not, is known for having a significant burnout rate."

Yeah, I knew that - I just wanted to get the TFA numbers there so presumably one might be able to do real comparisons at some point. I wonder if there are numbers on the burnout rate of teachers in general - I'll have to see if I can find them tomorrow.
posted by koeselitz at 10:14 PM on February 19, 2013


There is one statistic that Michelle Rhee's supporters seem to overlook and that stat is: "100% of all Michelle Rhees failed to permanently reform DC schools."

She was sabotaged by the teachers or the unions or the voters or crabs in a bucket or what have you? If she's so smart, maybe she would have realized that those people are part of the system. You can't reform the system if your master plan to reform the system doesn't account for, you know, the @#$%&ing people in the system.

Where was the talk in Waiting for Superman about holding administrators, management and principals accountable? Why does the buck stop with workers? Thank goodness voters can still kick some of the bums out.

The article was a little too ranty to change the minds of people who have already drunk the koolaid, but there were some good nuggets in there. It led me to read about Campbell's Law and Goodhart's Law which basically refute a fallacy that I keep seeing pop up in the non-profit and foundation world. That is to say, you can't observe a social system without affecting the system. Be careful what you measure, because what you measure becomes what you do. Human nature is such that nobody wants to turn in a report full of goose eggs.

The problem is that managers and politicians with exactly zero social science (or any science) background think they're smart enough to set the right metrics and that there is no cost to a bad metric. The issue is that a bad metric has an enormous cost. A bad metric can potentially change your entire way of operating. Workerbees will even ignore long held policies and procedures to catch the golden ring of a bad metric and the pat on the head the accompanies it. Attach actual pay, promotion or retention incentive to a bad metric and you really see some action.

Metrics are lazy management. True management controls require more than the set-it-and-forget-it appeal of a metric.

So here's your solution: measure baseline -> seek community review and buy-in input resources -> implement ->measure outcomes --> retune mesurements, retune input strategy, retune implementation plan --> seek community review --> input resources --> implement --> measure outcomes --> retune measurements, retune input strategy, retune implementation plan --> seek commumity review ... ad fricking nauseum.

All that second guessing, community buy-in and unrestricted resource usage sounds time consuming, difficult to market and expensive, right? Congrats, you've discovered why solving generational poverty isn't going to be solved with easy, political sound-bite solutions. (But I'll be damned if LBJ and Sargent Shriver didn't manage to knock 10 points off the poverty rate before the real powers-that-be shut down most of the funding to community action...)
posted by Skwirl at 11:17 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


When did I say anything about biological determination?
Here's what you wrote:
The position of the ed-reform-backlash crowd seems mostly to be, educational outcomes are determined in the womb or shortly
What, other then biology, do you think determines things in the womb?

If you're talking about things being determined in the womb, and somehow don't think you're discussing biology, then you have a pretty poor grasp of biology, basic logic, the English language, or perhaps some combination of all three. I don't really care to know which.
posted by delmoi at 3:08 AM on February 20, 2013


I'm not TFA, but I did get my certification through Career Switchers—a Virginia program that helps people with degrees that have been working in a different career for at least five years (so no new college grads) get provisional licenses through about a six week, 9-to-5 program. It's a partnership between the state and the local colleges, so it isn't considered elitist, but some of the other criticisms of TFA are leveled at it: the teachers don't tend to stay, they push out others with "real" certification, and so on.

The thing is, lot's of people leave teaching after several years because it's a tough job. Not only that, but it's a job that not everyone can see themselves doing for 30 years. Maybe you made it through 2-3 years of teaching, but just can't keep on teaching in an inner-city school (such as the one I teach in) for the rest of your career. That's not a bad thing, and I don't know many teachers who hold those who leave the profession or just leave the school in contempt. As for the "fairness" of it all, I still did my certification as someone with a degree, so it's going to be shorter than someone who was pursuing an education or a subject-matter degree.

And though I don't ally with the "Reform" movement in education (I'm part of a union, thank you), I do think we need reform. I've seen some terrible teachers that were hired long ago that are still part of the system. They're lazy and uninterested in perfecting their profession. We should struggle to find ways to uplift those teachers and replace them if we must.

Yes, higher pay, better working, conditions, blah blah, but if you CAN'T do that because you're a private organization, maybe the best you can do is put qualified candidates in position to maybe get into teaching. Anything else is a crap shoot.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 3:41 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


What, other then biology, do you think determines things in the womb?

If you're talking about things being determined in the womb, and somehow don't think you're discussing biology, then you have a pretty poor grasp of biology, basic logic, the English language, or perhaps some combination of all three. I don't really care to know which.


It was pretty clear that they were using 'determined in the womb' figuratively to mean 'the social/economic conditions one is born into', as they play a huge role in access to quality education.* The 'shortly thereafter' part was about the fact that we have the idea (and I think evidence for it) that early childhood experiences can positively influence long term academic outcomes regardless of, say, whether one was born into poverty.

*Random anecdote: I have a friend with kids who lives up against an interstate. You can stand in their living room and see the other side of the interstate and there's a good chance you're looking at the homes of kids who will always be at an academic disadvantage, even though you're in practically the same neighbourhood (it was the same neighbourhood until someone plowed an interstate through it). Why? The interstate is the school boundary and the schools on the other side aren't as good.
posted by hoyland at 7:54 AM on February 20, 2013




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