ELC Takes on TFA?

Education Law Center has submitted comments to the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor regarding reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the comments focus on maintaining high funding for poor students, including public preschool programs. However, ELC also comes out strongly against innovative programs with records of success that steer high-achieving college graduates into high-needs districts.

Here’s ELC on the dearth of effective teachers in impoverished schools:
Despite the clear need for strong teachers in low-income districts, the distribution of public school teachers remains highly inequitable, with low income and minority students disproportionately taught by the least prepared and experienced teachers. And while we suspect that if sound metrics for evaluating teachers were in place, the same students would also disproportionately be found to receive teachers deemed the least effective, the nation’s schools have not developed meaningful mechanisms for distinguishing between effective and ineffective educators.
Fair enough. We stink at establishing metrics for evaluating teacher effectiveness despite piles of research that proves that teacher quality is a singular predictor of academic success. And ELC is progressive enough to support “meaningful measures,” even using those measures to “possibly” inform “compensation.” But here’s ELC’s first recommendation:

“Focusing teacher recruitment policies on strategies designed to attract teachers who intend to make a long-term commitment to teaching.”

This seems a direct slap at programs like Teach for America that take newly-minted, highly successful students (TFA stats for the 2010-2011 school year are that 46,000 prospective teachers applied for 4,500 slots) and place them in our most needy districts for a two-year term, somewhat along the lines of the Peace Corps. While 60% of these young people remain in the field of education, that’s not the point. The traditional employment model of one job for a career is swiftly changing. Teaching is not immune from this trend, nor should it be.

Who’s to say that teaching shouldn’t be a short-term form of public service? Indeed, there’s plenty of research to show that this is a successful model. Example from a Harvard study by T.J. Kane et. al. “What does Certification Tell Us About Teacher Effectiveness: “teachers recruited through TFA (TFA corps members) are significantly more effective than both uncertified and certified teachers at math instruction and statistically indistinguishable in reading instruction. This study is particularly notable because the schools they examine agreed to randomly allocate students and teachers across classrooms.”

Seems a bit short-sighted of ELC to try to thwart a potential fount of successful teachers to put in front needy kids in Trenton, Camden, and elsewhere.

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