Jul 12 2012

In Defense of Teach For America

Last year when I was debating whether or not to accept my placement with Teach For America, I had to work through a number of issues. First and foremost, I had to decide if I would leave Michigan. I did. Second, is our organization and are charter school anti-union and anti-public schools. That’s a more difficult question I’ll save for another post, but general consensus tells me no and no. Finally, does our organization properly prepare our Corps Members for the classroom? That question was the subject of two NPR stories last month featuring popular TeachForUs blogger Gary Rubinstein (Houston ’91) and TFA’s Senior Vice President of Community Development Heather Harding (North Carolina ’92).

Rubinstein goes on air with the same arguments from his blog post safe sex and Viagra super active plus “Why I did TFA, and why you shouldn’t.” our essays writers His main claim against our organization is TFA’s training model and its presentation of data. Rubinstein takes an interesting approach to the five-week Institute, saying it could be enough training but hasn’t materialized over the years. Overall, he takes issue with the fact that Corps Members only teach an hour a day for twelve days with smaller classes. I’ll interject to say everything there is true with the exception of the small classes bit, from my experience. As for data, he says that our organization’s statistics such as “41 percent of first-year teachers make one-and-a-half years of gains” have to be an exaggeration of data. I don’t know where he pulled this information, but I also haven’t done a lot of my own research so I will take him at his word. What he doesn’t like about these “exaggerated” results is that it reflects poorly on the education system and reinforces the claim that we need to get rid of seemingly old and bad teachers in favor of new and good teachers. His best example is how Michelle Rhee (Baltimore ’92) came into the D.C. Public Schools and implemented merit pay based on high-stakes testing and continues to advocate for the like with her new organization StudentsFirst.

Harding, in a later interview, rebuts most of these arguments. She says that our organization is not stuck in its ways and continues to improve its training model and professional development. She adds that as long as there is an “achievement gap” there will be a need for high quality teachers and that’s why we continue to recruit and train the nation’s top talent. Harding cited principal surveys saying that 85 percent claim their TFA teachers have had a positive impact in their schools and that by engaging this young talent early in their career our organization is creating life-long change agents.

What I appreciate about Gary Rubinstein is that he tries to present a constructive critique of our program. You’ll see in a minute that I don’t agree with a lot of what he says, but I do appreciate people who challenge the status quo and push for organizational change. I want more TFA alums to go out and provide constructive critiques so that the public has something to read other than Diane Ravitch’s over-generalized and anti-TFA talking points.

While I agree with Rubinstein that our biggest fault as an organization is that we provide minimal training to our Corps Members, I haven’t heard of many education schools that do provide adequate training to their prospective teachers. I worked alongside a traditionally trained new teacher this year and we had very similar experiences based on our minimal exposure to urban classrooms. Other than her student teaching in the suburbs and my inner-city Institute experience, we didn’t have much more to fall back on. I’d wager to say the experiences are equal. But, there is one major difference between myself and my colleague next door: I’m still going to school Furosemide 40 mg, purchase Furosemide 40 mg online from an approved certified pharmacy, OVERNIGHT Shipping, discount prices, fast shipping pharmacy. . All of our TFA teachers must pursue teacher certification during their two-year commitment. While she had little to fall back on, I kept going to my classes and receiving support from Cardinal Stritch University. Between my Strich mentor and my MTLD, I had major backup in my classroom that my peer next door did not have to assist her. While I may not have a degree that certifies me as an educator, I will say that I believe my TFA and university training put me ahead of the average teacher.

As for data, I don’t think I can adequately comment. I know that in my classroom I used Common Core’s kindergarten standards to assess my students. Six of them made “significant” gains similar to what Rubinstein claimed was impossible, three of them made just over one year of growth, and two of them made just under one year of growth. Now, does that mean I, as a teacher, made “significant” gains? I really don’t know. I don’t know how our organization and others crunch the data and I don’t really know how it is presented, either. But I do know that I am about on-level with my TFA colleagues. There are usually the kids at the top, the kids in the middle, and a couple struggling at the bottom. Now, this was the same for my school colleague next door. She worked hard with me and we both realized some pretty great gains. I think data is so tricky because it can be manipulated to look like whatever you want from it. I have major issues with merit pay–partly because I’ve heard stories of teachers getting screwed by their schools. I also have major issues with high-stakes testing data. It shouldn’t make or break a teacher. In fact, when you do that to students and teachers, I believe you end up with cheating scandals like the ones we’ve seen in Atlanta and D.C. Data is simply a whole other battle.

Yet, as far as teacher preparation goes, I believe our organization and its university partners do an excellent job preparing our teachers. We can be at the top of the game. Do I think we’re all that different from our education school colleagues? No. I think we all have a passion deep down for educating this nation’s youth. But, I do believe TFA teachers have a track record of being driven individuals who will push for positive change. That’s something that I believe sets us apart from the pack.

2 Responses

  1. c morgan

    Ok, here I go again. Interesting analysis Alex as usual. However, there was an article in the Freep this am. My least favorite, ACLU is taking the Highland Park school district to court for not teaching the kids properly (this is just a brief outline). All I can say, it’s about time. We have done such a poor job of educating the inner city kids & shame on us as a nation. The causes are plentiful & in some cases justified however we should be ashamed of ourselves. We have generated a few generations of illiterates. Hopefully something will be done to correct this. I would like to see actual teachers take part in developing a reasonable curriculum. It seems it’s always the administrators & executives that do this & they don’t know diddly squat about being in the trenches. A Continuous Improvement model demands you ask the person doing the job for how to do it better. We can discuss this in greater length in person. Bet you didn’t think I’d take the ACLU’s part, did you? I feel VERY strongly about teaching kids to read. If you can’t read you can’t function in society! I never know how much space I have to write, so I try to keep it short. You can tell I’m not too busy right now. Too hot to work in the garden!
    Love, the old lady

    • I didn’t think you would ever side with the ACLU! You should read my new post about the case. You hit on my main question: How does the lawsuit create change in Highland Park? What can a judge order that will help the students there? You’re right, teachers need to be included in the process, but that only happens when you have the right administrators in place at the school. Will a judge give the state hiring and firing power? I think that would be a step in the right direction. Thanks, as always, for your comments!

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I'm an educator, Kalamazoo College alumnus, Democrat, and proud Detroiter! Views here are my own.

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