The Teacher Union vs. Teach for America debates are getting more and more tiresome — and seemingly not very productive. Over at the blogs of Mike Antonucci and Andy Rotherham (EduWonk) the teaching quality turf battles continue.
Maybe if we first clear a few things up, we can get closer to striking agreement.
Several studies have found that some highly selected entrants who receive most of their university training after they begin teaching in high-needs schools do as well or better than other teachers who teach in the same schools -- where those teachers are not highly selected or well-prepared themselves.
Researchers have noted, however, that highly selected new recruits (from routes such as Teach for America) are generally less effective when compared to fully prepared teachers until they themselves gain experience and certification. When they do show up as more effective, the results for students are typically not very significant (in educational, not just statistical terms).
The bottom line is that more than 80 percent of TFA recruits leave the classroom by the end of their third year. In other words, just as they are becoming more effective, they depart through a revolving door and make room for new and typically under-prepared teachers.
Andy Rotherham is on point when he says many administrators “clamor” for TFA recruits. They have few other alternatives. If they did have other promising options, the clamoring would die down.
I just returned from two very high-needs schools in Florida (in different school districts) and found that administrators there would much rather be able to recruit well-prepared teachers who know the kids in their school communities and would stick with their schools for at least 5-8 years (and hopefully longer). Administrators really want those teachers who know how to teach effectively to persist in their jobs.
And there’s more research to consider: Several new studies have found that entrants from strong teacher education programs both stay in teaching significantly longer and achieve greater student achievement gains than those of either alternative route entrants or weak traditional programs.
One recent study points to the importance of substantive internship or residency experiences to ensuring later teacher effectiveness (as measured by value-added gains). Also check out the teacher education effects data in Louisiana where graduates of NE Louisiana-Monroe outperform other recruits, including those from TFA, the New Teacher Project and traditional graduates from the state's R1 institution – LSU. Like so much other research, this study found that there is more variation within different types of routes into teaching than among them.
One fact is certain: Poorly prepared teachers, from whatever source, who exit the profession quickly leave their students to be taught by the next round of novices who routinely replace them. In high-needs schools (where much of this quick-exiting takes place) those coming in are likely to be as ill-trained as those going out. Any program that produces this kind of result is inadequate to resolve the very real inequities in teaching quality that students in these schools suffer.
This does not mean that high-quality alternative certification should not be part of a long-term strategy to recruit and retain effective teachers for high-needs schools. Not at all. But it is time to cease the either-or debate over TFA versus traditional teacher education. It’s a policy cul-de-sac. It’s also time to stop defending the morass of teacher education and state licensing procedures and requirements that get in the way of recruiting and preparing the right mix of talented individuals to teaching. It’s indefensible.
Let’s move on to some fresh thinking, including rethinking teacher FTEs and how we organize teacher leadership in schools. Let’s consider restructuring so that high-minded but less prepared recruits (who may not stay very long in teaching) can work under the tutelage of experts who will. At the Center for Teaching Quality we are working with TFA colleagues in North Carolina to see if we can make this happen.
See my recent Education Week commentary for more of my thoughts about how we can end the battles over teaching.