"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Research Findings on Teach for America: Australia, Listen Up

Australia's corporationists are looking to import America's unique brand of ed reform fascism in order to deal with its own population of poor and black citizens in need of containment. A major component will be to develop their own corps of Teach for Australia, with the same white, privileged two-year miracle missionaries to bring the corporate script of total compliance to those in need of chain-ganging. Before they leap onto this bad bandwagon, however, they should listen to the research facts that are suppressed in the American media and ignored by the U. S. Department of Education. From the Sydney Morning Herald (ht to Monty Neill):
The Teach for America program which sends top graduates who are not trained in teaching into poorer schools is about to start in Australia. Some educators in the US, such as David Berliner, are asking why.

The news that Australia is following the United States in introducing a program which puts untrained teachers in the classroom came as a real shock to us here.

Simply put, you are being conned. Teach for America (TFA), the model for your national program, is not effective in helping students in poverty learn more, though it is very effective at raising large amounts of money.

The facts are much tougher to dismiss than the feel-good announcements made by the corporate supporters and those who derive their income from the program.

On the very day last week the Herald published its story about Teach for Australia, a report on teacher qualifications and the achievement gap was published in a highly regarded, refereed journal.

The lead scholar, Professor Donald Easton-Brooks, concluded that students in the early grades taught by fully certified teachers scored higher than students of teachers trained in the way that Teach for Australia proposes. Further, full university certification was associated with a narrowing of the achievement gap between African-American and European-American students.

Dr Ildiko Laczko-Kerr and I conducted a study published in a high-quality journal that found students of TFA teachers make about 20 per cent less academic growth a year than students of beginning teachers with full certification.

Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond (past president of the American Educational Research Association) and others,analysed the records of 132,000 students and 4400 teachers across grades and over years.

They looked at six different achievement tests. Students of TFA teachers performed worse on all six tests. On five of the six tests, the uncertified TFA teachers depressed student achievement by between two weeks to three months annually, when compared with fully certified teachers with the same experience and working in similar schools.

The researchers also found that 69 per cent of TFA teachers had left by the end of their second year of teaching and 88 per cent had left by the end of their third year. That is, most TFA teachers do not stay in education long enough to make up for the damage they cause to their students during their first few years of teaching.

In a study also published in a rigorous peer-reviewed scientific journal, Donald Boyd and other economists found that students assigned to new TFA recruits scored significantly lower in reading and language arts and marginally lower in elementary mathematics when compared with teachers prepared in college pre-service programs.

Moreover, by year four, 85 per cent of the Teach for America teachers had left the profession, compared with a leaving rate of about 37 per cent among those who were traditionally prepared.

Researchers with the Houston, Texas, school district looked at student growth on tests and identified some teachers as their best-performing and others as their worst-performing in producing learning gains.

Although TFA teachers make up about 1 to 2 per cent of the teachers in this district, they made up 8.3 per cent of the worst-performing teachers of reading, 9.1 per cent of the worst-performing teachers of language arts, and 4.2 per cent of the worst-performing teachers in social studies. That is, they were heavily over-represented among the poorest teachers in the district.

Further, not a single TFA teacher showed up as among the most effective in reading, language arts, social studies or science. Maths is the only area in which some TFA teachers were strong performers - but no more so than non-TFA teachers in the district.

My point is simple: data exists to support the assertion that compared with fully certified teachers, TFA teachers are more likely to hurt the children they teach when they first enter classrooms.

In the US these students are routinely low-income children of colour, those most likely to be derailed from success by poor teaching.

Teachers from TFA do get better as they seek advanced training and receive their certification. But sadly only a tiny minority of these talented and energetic young persons stay in the profession. Many leave because they had always planned to do so. But many leave because they feel they have failed as teachers.

Think of the hubris it must take for these young people and the directors of TFA to believe that they can do a job as complicated as teaching just because they were good students.

Knowing how to read and do long division is not a guarantee that you can effectively teach phonics, comprehension and mathematical understanding to groups of 25 or more children, often poor and speakers of other languages.

In fact, Australian and American data suggest that becoming competent as a teacher requires three to five years of full-time work.

To become expert at teaching requires five to seven years.

And those are estimates based on teachers who took the traditional route, enrolling in courses to learn methods for teaching science, mathematics and reading.

Most importantly, most traditional programs of teacher education require supervised full-time student teaching of between 15 and 30 weeks.

In comparison, TFA hardly prepares and barely supervises the teachers it sends to low-achieving schools.

Lastly, I don't know of a single middle class or wealthy school district in the US that would employ a TFA teacher.

These inadequately trained, poorly performing, bright and socially committed novices are considered good enough for poor children, but they are not good enough for the children of the middle class or the privileged.

So if you want to increase inequality in Australian education, just import the hype.

I expect that you can do better than that.

David Berliner is Regents' Professor of Education at Arizona State University.

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