Powerful stuff: http://ht.ly/p7PhN
TFA often cites research showing that its teachers perform well in relation to other teachers; a spokesperson I talked to said that, “In terms of the external research, the most-rigorous nationwide studies on TFA to date, by Mathematica and CALDER, found TFA teachers to be at least as effective as other teachers at the schools where they teach. A follow-up analysis of the Mathematica data showed that Teach for America teachers produce significant student achievement gains in math, regardless of how well students were performing beforehand.” Referencing statewide studies of teacher effectiveness, TFA’s website notes that studies in Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee all “found that corps members often help their students achieve academic gains at rates equal to or larger than those for students of more veteran teachers.” A just-released U.S. Department of Education study of secondary math teachers showed Teach for America teachers to be more effective than other teachers at their schools. According to the study, students with TFA teachers scored higher on end-of-year exams than their peers in non-TFA classrooms—the difference is equivalent to 2.6 extra months of classroom time.
I have no reason to doubt studies showing that TFA teachers are more effective—after all, they are recruited from a pool of the country’s hardest-working college students, and good teaching is nothing if not hard work. But Teach for America aspires to close the achievement gap by training teachers that are significantly better than educators already in the system. Can simply being “at least as effective as other teachers” really be cited as success?
I am sitting in a black, leather office chair in my new Washington, D.C., office. I have just been hired at a private company whose vision statement says nothing about closing the achievement gap, and the time has come to send TFA an e-mail announcing that I am leaving the program. I have only completed one year of my two-year commitment, knowing full well that this kind of mission-shirking is seen as a very serious, selfish betrayal within TFA. However, the reality is that my employer has been Atlanta Public Schools, my contract with the district was only for one year, and most of my teaching experiences have been defined by the messy struggles of Atlanta Public Schools, not the comfortable mantras of TFA. I struggle to summon the guilt I know I am supposed to be feeling. My large-screen computer monitor rests sturdily in front of me, and the cursor on an empty Word document blinks. What can I say to them?, I wonder. I steel myself against the possibility of criticism, against accusations of apathy, inability, or lack of leadership.
When I click Gmail’s Send button, though, I am flooded with relief rather than dread. Because the truth is, by finally showing I don’t believe that American education can be saved by youthful enthusiasm, I feel more like a leader than I ever did inside the corps.