Saturday, January 18, 2014


by Tom Chorneau | SI&A Cabinet Report |

January 17, 2014 (Colo.)   ::  Despite its reputation for producing high-quality teachers that serve in hard-to-fill positions all over the country, Teach For America provides only a “stop-gap” solution for desperate schools and generates mixed results for students, according to a new paper from National Education Policy Center.

The left-leaning think tank located at the University of Colorado noted that Teach For America receives hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private donations and won wide acclaim for innovation and success in the classroom.

But researchers Julian Vasquez Heilig of the University of Texas and Su Jin Jez, from California State University, Sacramento argued that most of the studies showing the benefits of the program were funded by Teach For America and were not peer reviewed.

Heilig and Jez point out that most of the peer reviewed studies show that students taught by credentialed beginning teachers brought through the traditional system outperform those taught by Teach For America educators – although the differences are small.

Given that’s the case, the researchers said, policy-makers should reconsider the wide support the program enjoys.

“The lack of a practically significant impact should indicate to policymakers that TFA is likely not providing a meaningful reduction in disparities in educational outcomes, notwithstanding its explosive growth and popularity in the media,” the authors of the study said. “The program is best understood as a weak Band-Aid that sometimes provides some benefits but that is recurrently and systematically ripped away and replaced.”

In a blog post responding to the paper, Raegen Miller, vice president for Research Partnerships at Teach For America, pointed out that the researchers failed to include in their report a 2012 study from the Strategic Data Project – a program with ties to Harvard University and the Gates Foundation – that looked at outcomes at Los Angeles Unified.

Miller said the LAUSD report found “high-quality evidence that first-year corps members are more effective in teaching math and reading in grades three through eight than other first year teachers in that district.”

Miller also said that a report by Edvance, Inc., using data from Texas, also showed “that Teach For America teachers produce a net boost in student achievement in that state.”

Heilig and Jez, who published a similarly negative review of the teaching program two years ago, note that Teach For America receives about a third of its funding – an operating budget in 2013 of nearly $200 million – from federal, state and local sources. Another third of their budget comes from tax-deductible donations from individuals and corporations.

“Thus, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and extensive lobbying by supporters and prominent alumni, TFA appears to offer few if any benefits for improving teacher quality in hard-to-staff schools,” the researchers said. “Why, then, is there so much discussion, even controversy, surrounding TFA?

“Despite persistent claims to the contrary, a simple answer to the question of the overall utility of TFA teachers for urban and rural schools is elusive,” the report explained. “The program is sometimes viewed by policymakers and advocates as a way to meaningfully address the very real need for high-quality instruction in hard-to-staff schools—and it is clearly not that.”

Miller responded that the paper’s premise is flawed, which puts its conclusions into question.

“If the authors think that Teach For America’s consistent presence at or near the top of these states’ rankings of teacher preparation programs holds no meaning for policymakers, let’s see an explanation in a policy brief purporting to inform them,” Miller wrote.

No comments: