To the Editor:
We would like to clarify some misconceptions likely to arise as a result of your coverage of Public Agenda’s recent survey study on new teachers (“Reports Renew Debate Over Alternative Preparation,” Dec. 19, 2007).
The study, which was based on a small survey of traditionally prepared teachers and teachers prepared through three alternative programs, tells us more about differences in the schools where these teachers work than about how prepared they were for the job. The study compares the responses of teachers in “high-needs schools,” but this comparison is based on self-reported data classifying as “high need” schools where more than half the student body is low-income. Schools with higher concentrations of low-income students, however, differ dramatically from those where about half the students come from higher-income families.
As the study itself says, there are many indications that the alternative-route teachers were far more likely to teach in the neediest schools. In fact, Teach For America corps members, who made up the majority of the alternative-route responders, generally teach in schools where the overwhelming majority of students are from low-income families.
For over 10 years, Teach For America has commissioned independent, external surveys of all of our partner principals who hire and manage corps members. When asked about the preparation of the new teachers in their schools, a majority of principals consistently rate corps members’ training as better than that of other beginning teachers, and nearly all report that their preparation is at least as good as the training of other beginning teachers coming through all preparation routes (Policy Studies Associates, 2007).
We hope policymakers will recognize that Public Agenda’s study says far more about the very real challenges in high-needs schools than it does about preparation routes. We should be applauding teacher-preparation programs that take on the task of preparing and supporting successful teachers for the highest-needs environments, rather than penalizing them for doing so.
Director of Research and Public Policy
Teach For America
A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2008 edition of Education Week as Where Teachers Work vs. How They Were Prepared