To the Editor:
I am compelled to respond to Matt Kramer’s citing of research on Teach For America in his Sept. 5, 2007, letter to the editor. He claims that the 2004 Mathematica Policy Research study on TFA recruits is the research “gold standard.” He also says that students of TFA recruits “made more progress in both reading and math than would typically be expected in a single year.”
The Mathematica study, “The Effects of Teach For America on Students,” says: “TFA teachers did not have an impact on average reading achievement. Students in TFA and control classrooms experienced the same growth rate in reading achievement—an increase equivalent to one percentile [from 14 percent to 15 percent].”
If having no impact on average reading achievement and moving students only from the 14th to the 15th percentile in proficiency in reading scores—leaving them at the bottom of the barrel and nowhere close to the proficiency levels called for by the federal No Child Left Behind Act—is the “gold standard,” then we should be ashamed, very ashamed.
At least three other, larger studies—two in New York (the Thomas J. Kane and James H. Wyckoff studies) and one in Houston (by Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues at Stanford University)—have found that when TFA teachers are compared with fully prepared, certified beginning teachers teaching the same kinds of students, the fully prepared teachers have a much more positive influence on student-achievement gains in reading and math than do the untrained TFA teachers.
The TFA recruits who stay and gain the knowledge and skills of professional teachers through preparation and certification do as well as other teachers by about their third year. But this is only a tiny share of those hired. The three studies found that between 82 percent and 88 percent of TFA recruits had left by year four, leaving their districts and their former students to absorb the educational costs of their inadequate teaching.
In summary, sending untrained TFA teachers or other underprepared teachers to educate the neediest students in our poorest schools is abysmal education policy.
Two better solutions to the problem of hard-to-staff schools are the creation of professional-development-school models and teacher-residency programs. These approaches feature intensive clinical training and do not allow novices to be teachers of record until they have been prepared. These options are currently available to districts, but have not been scaled up, mainly due to costs. Until American school districts and states have the will to make the better investments, the status quo pertaining to most of the neediest students will continue to leave them far behind.
Vice President, Communications
National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education
A version of this article appeared in the September 26, 2007 edition of Education Week as Better Solutions Than TFA For Hard-to-Staff Schools