Dec 7, 2008

To FA or not to FA?

Re: this post on Eduwonk, I thought I'd put in my two-cents about TfA. I have met a few TfA teachers in my time, and they have all been intelligent, hard-working and dedicated teachers. While I don't have my hands on objective longitudinal data like CALDER, my experience has been that TfA first-year teachers are just as good as other non-TfA first-year teachers. The Mathematica study, one of the few studies with random assignment done on ed reforms, confirms this observation. I don't think that a convincing argument can be made that, in general, TfA teachers are doing educational harm to their students.

The argument that TfA teachers are detrimental to their schools or are a bad investment for principals is understandable, given that many TfA teachers leave after 2 years. I would be interested to see the rate at which non-TfA teachers leave the same schools that TfA teachers work at. I would be even more interested to see the attrition rate of teachers that are at least as effective as TfA teachers at those schools. My guess is that good teachers in difficult urban schools tend to leave teaching after a short period of time, perhaps to become administrators or to pursue other careers that are more lucrative and less stressful.

Ultimately, TfA's biggest contributions to the education enterprise are in teacher recuitment and selection. TfA has effectively mobilized advertizing and recruiters to transform urban teaching into a highly desirable, highly competitive career. If urban districts around the country were able to convince cream-of-the-crop college graduates to line up around the block to become teachers like TfA, our schools would provide our children with far superior educations.


Anonymous said...

TfA's near guarantee of leaving early is a promise of instability in schools, and in the schools that most need an addition of stability.

Other teachers may indeed not last long - but it is for them not a creed.


David said...

One of my TfA friends confronted her principal at a failing school for hiring her, asking her, "Why would you hire me? You know I'm going to leave in two years! Why would you do this to your school?" The principal responded by telling her that a two year commitment was better than he could expect from any teacher. While that principal needs to work to fix the problems with his school, it makes good sense for her to hire TfA teachers in the meantime.

While that's just one story, it's obvious that challenges facing urban schools are massive, and the question is: What can principals or superintendents do to attract good teachers to stay in bad schools? More pay, better working conditions, more collaboration and support, better training? All of these things require more human and fiscal capital than most schools are being provided. As a stop gap measure, TfA provides a useful form of relief.

Is your issue with the TfA creed that it recasts teaching as a profession that young, inexperienced college grads can just dabble in and do just as good a job as dedicated experienced teachers? Obviously schools can never excel if those are the only teachers that they're hiring. But at least they can continue to exist.