Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Educational Statistics...

I’m currently reading a report on a study performed by the Urban Institute on the effectiveness of the “Teach for America” program, which hires new college graduates to teach in under-performing schools. Obviously, teachers’ unions don’t like the program (monopolies rarely like competition).

While the report is a bit dry with the discussion of how the data was parsed this way & that, the conclusions of the study are quite interesting. The bottom line is that when it comes to math & science teaching, students in under-performing schools show more improvement (in test scores) from the “Teach For America” participants than they do from experienced, collegiate-certified teachers. It also cites several other studies that found out pretty much the same thing using slightly different methods and data sets from other states.

However, the reach of teachers’ unions must be great. A little bit of hedging from the report:

“We should note that the findings here do not necessarily mean that there is no value to teacher training. It is possible that the teachers that TFA recruits and selects would be more effective with more pedagogical training.”
Sure, it is possible. But the more important question for me: Is it likely? I would be very curious to see a long-range study to determine if the effectiveness of TFA teachers goes up or down after “official” training & certification. If their performance does increase, then we have a great new pool of teachers. If their performance decreases, I think we should seriously examine teacher certifications and collegiate education-programs.

The last paragraph has the most telling conclusion of all:
“[The findings] stress the likely importance of strong academic backgrounds for secondary school teachers. They also suggest that policy makers should focus more on issues of teacher selection, and less on issues of teacher retention...”
In essence, “hire people who know something about the subjects they are teaching and quite keeping people on the payroll who don’t”. (1) The fact that anyone needed a study to come to this conclusion doesn’t leave me with a good impression of our education system. (2) I’m certain it will take hundreds of similar studies and millions more failed students before teachers unions will concede the point.

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