The Albuquerque Journal editorial “Helping New Teachers Pays Off With Results” 10/7/11, completely dropped the ball. There is no evidence to support the Journal’s claim that a pilot program initiated by a private company, Teach for America, has demonstrated in any way that the “big goal is paying off” for public education students.
The only “payoff” has been the $400,000 of New Mexico tax dollars that Education Secretary Designate Hanna Skandera gave to this private company. Teach for America (“TFA”), operates as a temp placement agency for teachers. Recruiting primarily Ivy League students to spend two years teaching in allegedly underserved school districts “where they are needed most”. This private company, at least in New Mexico, has a history of double billing the taxpayers for the same work.
The most exhaustive research done on Teach for America effectiveness “Teach for America: A Review of the Evidence” by Julian Vasquez Heilig, University of Texas at Austin and Su Jin Jez, California State University, Sacramento cited a large scale six-year Houston, Texas study involving a 132,000 students and 4,400 teachers in a head to head comparison of how students taught by TFA teachers fared against students taught by non-TFA teachers in reading and math scores.
The study found, “no instance where uncertified Teach for America teachers performed as well as standard certified teachers of comparable experience levels teaching in similar settings.” Even when comparing an inexperienced TFA teacher against an inexperienced non-TFA teacher. The TFA trained teacher’s students performed worse than the non-TFA trained teachers.
What about experienced teacher comparisons? Those are harder to make, because according to the study, over 80% of Teach for America teachers quit teaching by the third year. That’s why TFA is really only a temp placement agency.
The Journal editorial cites a new TFA pilot-program, using our kids as guinea pigs, in which teachers receive brief “real-time” guidance in handling student behavior. The Journal claims this is a better approach then the tried-and-true method. Teaching a teacher to be how to handle student behavior has been accomplished by having a student teacher work under the guidance of a mentor teacher. The mentor teacher monitors and trains the student teacher over an entire school semester not just for a few brief hours.
My mother, who taught public school for 35 years in a school district with a high percentage of impoverished students, served as a mentor teacher for many student teachers who then went on to become highly effective teachers. It is an approach that has proven to be successful. It is not status quo as the Journal claims, but a proven and effective approach.
Under the mentor approach student teacher learn first by observing the mentor teacher work and then through increasingly longer periods of time in front of the classroom including how to teach and handle the students. TFA touted by the Journal puts its temps into a classroom with only five weeks of mostly non-classroom setting instruction.
This new pilot program that we are paying for is really just recognition that the five weeks of training touted by TFA, as the training model doesn’t cut it and never has. So now this private company gets more of our tax dollars to find another approach.
School districts across New Mexico are facing budget cutbacks from PED. They have had to increase class sizes, eliminate teachers and teacher aide positions and have less money for textbooks.
New Mexicans need to let Ms. Skandera know that the money she gave to this private company needs to go to train New Mexicans that plan to teach here for more than two years.
Nationally, according to Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, 280,000 public education employees have lost their jobs in the past three years due to severe budget cuts.
Finally, it should be noted that in his current budget proposal, President Obama has eliminated funding for Teach for America. Let TFA work on perfecting its five week training program in the private schools where their future Ivy Leaguers go.