Tuesday, July 27, 2010

TFA Studies Shouldn't Lie or Obfuscate

Joanne has a short piece on ‘Study laundering’ on TFA and I'll quote a few things here. The gist is that Studies on TFA are cherry-picking data to promote a predetermined viewpoint ... ya think?

I'm no fan of TFA in that I don't like the overall attitude of "I'm so incredible because I went to HA-VAAD and therefore everyone at one of those poor, low class schools - public schools, mind you - should welcome me in my magnificence and install me in a classroom of my choosing. The five-week summer training session is all I need to become a teacher, whether math or science or social studies - it doesn't matter because I'm so wonderful. I can even change from a math teacher to a social studies teacher at will."

I'm sure that there are some good teachers in the making at TFA. But many don't want to be teachers in the long run. They just want a temporary job and to feel good about themselves for a while before they take a real job in their chosen profession. What's not good about that is that an experienced veteran who is planning on staying, or someone who wants to be a teacher long-term, is moved aside for the temp. That's not good for the long-term health of a system.

Anyway, back to the study.
“Weaponized” education research and “study laundering” are illustrated by a Great Lakes Center study knocking Teach for America for high turnover and “mixed” performance, writes Eduwonk. Half of TFA teachers leave after two years and 80 percent leave after three, the study says. However, the researchers use data from studies that conflate TFA teachers who leave their original school placement after two years with those who leave the teaching profession, Eduwonk charges. A 2008 Harvard study (pdf), found that 61 percent of TFA teachers stay in teaching beyond the two-year commitment.
Definitions of terms are so important, aren't they? That conflation might be appropriate if the study noted it. Of course, TFA itself says: "These teachers, called corps members, commit to teach for two years in one of 39 urban and rural regions across the country." It's not like the study hasn't taken TFA at its word but it should have been more specific.
Teach For America surveys its alumni regularly and the most recent survey found that 65 percent of Teacher For America’s 20,000 alumni remain in education, with 32 percent continuing as teachers. And remember, that’s a survey of alums going back almost two decades now so that one in three figure should be viewed in that context as well as the larger context of TFA’s mission.
So 65 percent remain in teaching after two years but only half of those as teachers? Sounds like the original press release had the information correct and TFA is blustering its own spin. This is not a point in their favor.

Teacher churn is bad for a school, despite the supposed "wonderfulness of a TFA teacher." Teachers don't "Go bad" in the last few minutes of the school year. Those 70 percent of TFA people who didn't continue after 2 years were probably very clear about their desires soon after starting year 2 and the students knew it. This is a bad situation all around as the TFA are just filling out their time - I've never seen a lame duck teacher who was successful.

Then we look at the 32% - how long did they last? According to the study, a third of this later group left after the third year - who are these? Maybe only those TFAs who were unable to get a real job and just hung on for another year - bad news. I can't think those schools are well served by these long-term subs. It takes at least two years to get your feet under you and get your classes "right."
On the performance issue, studies that use rigorous methodology find that “Teach For America teachers perform as well or better than other teachers, not only emergency certified teachers but traditionally trained ones and veterans,” Eduwonk writes, including lots of link to research studies. The results are not mixed.
Debatable. I'd want to delve more deeply before I took a different set of studies as gospel. Wouldn't you? Which performance measures are they talking about? The ones that nobody can find any merit for? Probably just a test score comparison between a temp teacher or unlicensed one and the TFA. Hardly telling.

How about this little graphic. Talk about playing with statistics and implied information. Is it 10% of the 4510 are Black (450) and therefore 12% of the group is Asian, or is it that Blacks are 10% of the 33% (150)? Is a small percentage of blacks a problem because TFA is staffing black schools?  I figure it's written this way so that we infer that 33% are people of color and then add 10% Black and 8.5% Latino to get 52% minority?  Who's fudging the definitions now?

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