Category Archives: TFA

Wendy Kopp Defends Teachers

Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach For America, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post today pushing back against NYC publicly posting the value added scores of teachers. Two parts of her op-ed stuck out to me:

First, Kopp pretty succinctly described how I feel about where education reform and policy stands in 2012 :

No single silver bullet will close our educational achievement gaps—not charter schools, or vouchers, or providing every child with a computer, or improving teachers. Each of these solutions may have merit as part of a larger strategy, but on their own they distract attention from the long, hard work required to ensure that our schools are high-performing, mission-driven organizations with strong teams, strong cultures and strong results.

 Secondly, Kopp pretty smartly places TFA into the context of quality teaching and school leadership, while defending traditional teachers from the impact of publicly posted value added data and other harmful policies:

That’s why Teach For America focuses on channeling the energy of our country’s future leaders against the problem of educational inequity. Investing in their success as teachers is important not only for today’s students but also for cultivating their long-term leadership potential inside the classroom and outside of it—preparing them to drive changes in the ways schools operate, in the ways our school systems promote teacher development, and in the political and community contexts in which schools exist.

Essentially, Kopp states that  TFA teachers are not here to only invest in the communities where they  teach, but also stick around to impact long-term educational change. This change is not limited to “inside my four walls” classroom teaching, but instead focuses on bringing communities together around positive reform that impacts the achievement of students.

Where TFA and the Marines Meet

Education Next recently posted this interview with David Gergen, advisor to many presidents, discussing the motivations of young, liberal Teach For America Corps Members and how they interact with unions. He points out a central tension between a TFA CM’s liberal pro-union beliefs and their participation in a program that many teachers unions see as a battering ram against job security. He argues that TFA CMs of 2012 are not looking for job security, high pay, and health benefits as considerations 1, 2, and 3 immediately out of college. Instead, he argues thats TFA CMs are more interested in having an interesting job that is changing their world in a meaningful way.

Another interesting point he makes is that pre-911 the Marines were facing a serious lull in recruiting. They addressed this problem not by lowering the bar to admission, but rather raising the bar and making the Marines even MORE selective. They saw a huge increase in high quality, energetic recruits immediately after these changes were put into effect. Many education reform advocates have emphasized the need to increase the prestige of teaching and the quality of teachers entering the profession.

What Gergen is pushing on is something I have experienced myself.  I come from pro-union Michigan where my political beliefs were forged in union halls. Since joining TFA my views have adapted into believing that unions, although important, must also adapt to the changing education landscape. More importantly, the experience teaching has informed and changed my views of education reform in ways that no class or political campaign could have ever done.

Would Nick Saban Field TFA?

What is the teaching equivalent of medical gray shirting?

In a continuing display of ignorance, Answer Sheet, WaPo’s anti-education reform blog, published a piece arguing the simple question… what if a college football team employed a similar philosophy to Teach For America?

Using the logic of the Huntsville City Board of Education, University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban should only use his youngest, most inexperienced players when his team plays a Top Ten opponent.

The author goes on to engage in the tit-for-tat argument pitting one negative study against a body of positive research about the effectiveness of the organization.

What I want to hone in on is the ridiculousness of an argument that ignores the reality of TFA and football. His basis is that you would not play young, inexperienced players, which is, in his mind, the same as top college graduates committing to educating children in challenging schools. Setting aside the insulting nature of his argument he fails to acknowledge the numerous teams where older, underperforming players are passed over in critical games for younger players willing to fight and perform for the position. For example, the New Orleans Saints playing Mark Ingram ahead of older players, or U of M playing a Denard Robinson ahead of an older Tate Forcier (Michigan reference for Michigan friends).

Additionally, most football teams work on a basis where new, high-performing players take the field alongside more veteran team members, thus supplementing the old talent with the new. The coach has the ability to make personnel decisions that place players in the positions where they will be the most effective to move the team towards their overall goal. Many anti-reform writers, like Answer Sheet, argue against giving individual principals the power to make the personnel decisions that best benefit students – one of those decisions being whether or not hiring TFA would be beneficial to students.

I just really wish these people would stop making this really dumb arguments, because this one is really bad.

TFA, iPads, and Daily Kos

An iPad, with a TFA Logo, The Downfall of the Great American School

News nerds, like myself, sometimes like to set up Google News Alerts for various things important to themselves. My Teach For America news alerts let me know each day what newspapers and websites are talking about TFA across the nation. I highly suggest this for people too lazy to actually type words into Google.

Imagine my surprise when I see TFA pop up on Daily Kos – the venerable elder statesman of the liberal blogosphere. Even more interesting, this blog post was specifically titled “Defeating Teach for America at the Apple Store — A Small Victory.” Of course, this post is referencing Apple’s recent donation of thousands of iPads to TFA teachers across the country.

The rest of the post is one person’s rant against the perceived affront to education that Apple, a private company, has perpetuated by donating refurbished versions of its product to a non-profit. I will have to let you read this rant, plus watch a really informative video, on your own because I flat-out refuse to spend the time and blog space going through, paragraph by paragraph, and refuting a webpage full of crazy.

There is one quote I need to pull out and emphasize, which I think gets at the root of what annoys me so much about this post. While on her quest, this blogger quixotically called Apple to inform them that their “campaign was a fraud and that Apple was giving legitimacy to an organization proven to do real harm to children.” (Emphasis mine)

You are allowed to rant via blog. This is about what 90% of the internet is all about. Unfortunately, I MUST respond to the statement that TFA is PROVEN to do REAL harm to children. Without providing any evidence to support her claim she lets this ridiculousness underlie the entire premise of her rant, therefore invalidating any sort of argument she is attempting to make.

As a quick response… I want to go over a sample of four studies, amongst many, that refute the idea that TFA does HARM to students. I will start with an opinion (like I teach my children) and then back it up with evidence (like I teach my children).

Teach For America does not harm children. My evidence…

1) From Tennessee – a study that shows TFA teachers often outperform veteran teachers in many subjects.

2) From the American Educational Research Association – a study showing the retention of TFA teachers in their placement schools.

3) From the Urban Institue – a study that shows TFA teachers are more effective, on average, than TFA teachers in most subjects – especially math and science.

4) From Harvard – a study showing that the characteristics screened for in the TFA selection process have a measurable impact on student achievement.

I am sorry Daily Kos diarist, you may have free rein to rant and post ridiculous YouTube videos, which probably took up valuable lesson planning time, but you are not allowed to your own ridiculous and unsubstantiated facts.

PS – Apple did not end their campaign due to this woman’s efforts, like she wants you to believe, they finished it and started handing out iPads to TFA teachers across the nation.

Posted from my (TFA) iPad.

Rethinking Retention (TFA)

by necs2010

Meaningful change is happening right there.

**Also, sorry if this is disjointed. I wrote it on the car ride home.**

One of the biggest complaints thrown at Teach For America is that the two year commitment and retention rate (debated by TFA and anti-TFAers) hurts education and wholly devalues the education profession. Wading into this argument is EducationNext, a Harvard education think tank, that just released a study investigating the impact TFA corps members have on the broader movement of bettering public education in America.

What EducationNext found was that in the work histories of founders, co-founders, and top management team (TMT) employees of 49 influential and entrepreneurial educations organizations (like KIPP, New Leaders for New Schools, and Uncommon Schools)  TFA lead the pack in being listed across biographies and resumes.

What I found significant and illuminating was the conclusion that the authors’ established: “Finally, our research suggests the value of rethinking how TFA and its alumni have been studied in education and also how we think about retention.” The authors’ argue that the debate around Teach For America’s retention rate should not be seen through the lens of “Teacher-in-the-Classroom,” rather what impact TFA Corps Members have in the field of education after their 2 years are up.

The authors’ wrap up their findings by posing a series of questions meant to challenge our traditional views of retention. These are questions I would like to pose to any of my 50 or so page viewers that feel the desire to chime in.

Another intriguing question is how to weigh the impact of a single Mike Feinberg, Mike Johnston, or Michelle Rhee. Is their impact equal to that of having 100 teachers stay another year? Of 1,000 teachers staying another five years? Is it worth having thousands frequently depart classrooms if it increases the likelihood that a single game-changing entrepreneur—a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates—will emerge? Conventional debates about retention and TFA teacher effects may start to seem trivial when we compare the potentially enormous impact of a few such individuals.

Websites I’ve Used This Year (Teacher Resources!)

by  necs2010

Not the same TFA…

Since a new crop of 2011s is entering TFA I thought I would put together an index of the resources I’ve used so far this year. This is by no means complete… the internet has been amazing to me this year.

Current TFAers… if you want to add anything (especially in the math and science categories)  comment below!

Essential Teacher Resources

http://www.tfanet.org/ – TFA’s answer to October of your first year.

http://betterlesson.org/ – A TFA Alumn’s attempt to make TFANet better. Sign up… some of the stuff is helpful.

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3755565 – Scholastic has already done what I am doing right now… still you know me so therefore mine is better.

http://freeology.com/graphicorgs/ – Need to print off a graphic organizer right now for that class in 43 minutes? Freeology.

http://www.louisianaschools.net/ – helpful if you need a headache and heartburn at the same time.

Writing Resources

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WaPo Blog Misses the Point, Facts

Not my blog.

I first stumbled across Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post-hosted education blog “Answer Sheet” when I started this blog and was seeking out other education policy blogs. I quickly found out she is vehemently skeptical of education reform, Teach For America, KIPP, and, above all else, Michelle Rhee. Her blog bounces between personal commentary, reprinting articles from other education policy commentators, and posting of generally anti-reform statistics and analysis. By her own description the blog is meant to ” focus on helping parents get themselves and their children through their formal education,” which for some reason  requires a thoroughly biased opinion against education reform.

Recently, she wrote a simple post entitled “How Teach for [sic] America sees itself” where she simply reposts a job posting for TFA’s political leadership organization Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE). LEE was created to help connect TFA alumns who are in public service/political fields and, in theory, help train new leaders in education public policy. Strauss posts the job opening unabridged and without commentary, and, like most job postings, it is high in self-praise and glittering language. However, without supporting commentary I am confused on what Strauss takes offense to. Is it the idea of ending educational inequity? Is it the idea that like-minded political professionals ought to organize and network? Or, is it that Valerie Strauss fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of Teach For America?

Previously on Answer Sheet, Strauss wrote about  TFA saying:

Supporters of Teach for America sometimes portray it as the savior of public education, attracting the smartest college graduates into the program, which gives them five weeks of training and then places them in urban schools — to teach kids who really need the best-trained, most inspirational teachers — with a commitment that they will stay for two years. The dropout rate is even higher than the high dropout rate for all teachers, which is 50 percent within five years.

I could argue that this description fails on several points. Firstly, I could argue TFA corps members are given significant additional support and development beyond the initial 5 weeks. Secondly, I would argue that the low-income kids we teach often do not have and will never have the “best-trained, most inspirational teachers” Strauss envisions.

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