Sunday, July 11, 2010

Passionate About Education Reform

The WSJ has an interesting story on "Teach for America". It seems there's a real passion for improving education out there in the culture -- perhaps it could be channeled in a slightly better direction? (That is, it could be grounded with better, more fundamental principles in both epistemology and ethics.)

A few excerpts:
What began as a senior thesis paper has since grown into a $180 million organization that this fall will send 4,500 of the best college graduates in the country to 100 of the lowest-performing urban and rural school districts. A few months ago, Teach for America (TFA) received an applicant pool that Morgan Stanley recruiters would drool over. Their 46,000 applicants included 12% of all Ivy League seniors, 7% of the graduating class of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and 6% from U.C. Berkeley. A quarter of all black seniors at Ivy League schools and a fifth of Latinos applied to be teachers in the 2010 corps. It is, I'm told by some recent grads, one of the coolest things you can do after college.


That setup is still in place for most school systems, but TFA works differently. Like the top consulting firms, TFA recruits talented people and is responsible for their performance in the classroom. The young men and women who join TFA go through an intensive summer institute of training before they step foot in their schools. During their two-year stints, TFA gives them support and more training. And they are free of the typical teacher certification rules. District superintendents contact the organization directly and individual principals hire TFA teachers.

The results are clear. A 2008 Urban Institute study found that "On average, high school students taught by TFA corps members performed significantly better on state-required end-of-course exams, especially in math and science, than peers taught by far more experienced instructors. The TFA teachers' effect on student achievement in core classroom subjects was nearly three times the effect of teachers with three or more years of experience." A new study from the University of North Carolina found that middle school math students taught by TFA teachers received the equivalent of an extra half-year of learning.


If TFA corps members can do a better job in two years than many longtime veterans, what do public-school systems need with job protections like tenure? And if they can do it without education school courses, why do we need those institutions?


"One Day," TFA's alumni magazine, is a collection of articles about education reform, stories about individual teachers, and advertisements from charter schools and think tanks looking to hire. The overwhelming sense it projects is that there is an entire movement of young people who are passionate about education reform.


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