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Point, counterpoint: Is Teach for America working?

Published: Monday, Sept. 23 2013 5:45 p.m. MDT

In this Teach for America Delta Institute released photograph taken July 5, 2013, TFA Curriculum Specialist Miles McCauley and University of Mississippi graduate, center, discusses techniques for making key points clear and engaging with corps members, Marcae Thompson, left, and Katherine Brown, both University of Alabama graduates at Pearman Elementary School, in Cleveland, Miss.

Euhbin Song, Associated Press

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Olivia Blanchard, a Teach for America (TFA) corps member in Atlanta during the 2011-12 school year, published a first-person essay Monday for The Atlantic — “I Quit Teach for America” — that unfolds her dissatisfying TFA experience.

Blanchard wrote, “By the end of my time at Teach for America and Atlanta Public Schools, I came to feel that both organizations had a disconnect between their public ideals and their actual effectiveness. … TFA promotes a public image of eager high achievers dedicated to one mission, reaching ‘Big Goals’ that pull students out of the achievement gap, where non-TFA teachers have let them fall. But in my experience, many if not most (TFA) corps members are confused about their purpose, uncertain of their skills, and struggling to learn the basics.”

That said, data that augurs well for TFA’s future is also making news. The U.S. Department of Education released a study earlier this month designed to measure the effectiveness of Teach for America instructors, relative to other teachers at their same schools who handle the same courses. And the study’s primary finding reflects rather well on Teach for America: “On average, students assigned to TFA teachers scored 0.07 standard deviations higher on end-of-year math assessments than students assigned to comparison teachers, a statistically significant difference. This impact is equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide.”

On Wednesday, Emily Richmond summarized those findings for the education blog Educated Reporter: “The TFA aspect of the study looked at middle and high school students at 45 campuses in eight states, over two academic years. TFA corps members work at campuses serving high-poverty, high-need populations of students, many of whom are already lagging academically. The students of TFA corps members showed more academic growth in mathematics than their peers being taught by teachers who entered the profession via other paths, both traditional and non-traditional.

“It’s worth noting those findings are in line with prior studies, including a 2011 working paper by the Center for Longitudinal Data in Education Research.”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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