In the last post we used science education research to show how accountability standards in science education today pose barriers to meaningful learning in science. Today, we extend this theme, and show that the theory of learning underlying the accountability standards movement is in conflict with contemporary theories used to explain how students learn.
Ideas as Bricks
John Dewey believed that learning is embedded in experiences when the student interacts with the environment, which is when humans work to deal with the tensions between themselves and their surroundings. Dewey believed that learning is natural, not process limited. He would say that humans are always in motion trying to resolve or seek a goal, or working on something intently. To Dewey, the learner is active, and within science education they would be experimenting, analyzing an environment and using tools like microscopes and hand lens to glimpse the world they are exploring.
Contemporary standards based reform emerged during the early 1990s, and some science education researchers raised questions about the nature of the standards setting process leading up to the publication of the NSES in 1996. In a research document (read it here) with funding from the National Science Foundation, Linn, diSessa, Pea, and Songer contrasted the 1990s science standards reform effort with the NSF science curriculum projects of 1960s. Remarkably these researchers noted that the development of the NSES conjured up images of the 1960s reform in which the primary goal was to bring modern scientific ideas into the curriculum, focusing on the fundamentals of the discipline. Their view was that the curriculum projects of 1960s reform and the standards reform of the 1990s was being designed for future scientist as the target audience. They indicated in their research that they were concerned that science standards were heading in the same direction. Continue reading “Do Standards Impede Science Teaching and Learning?”
As the Simpson family prepared to travel south of the equator to Brazil, Homer revealed some misconceptions. In opposite land, according to Bart’s father, “warm snow falls up.” Reading the latest press releases and speeches from the Department of Education, sometimes I feel as if this is where we have arrived.
For the past two years, the Department of Education policies have been roundly criticized by teachers. The latest response from Arne Duncan is a big public relations push bearing the title RESPECT — Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching.
However, as in Homer’s opposite-land, everything seems to be upside down.
The Department has solutions to each of these problems – but they often have pursued policies that actually make things worse. Here are the problems, and the solutions the Department of Ed has offered — many of which are mandatory if states wish to qualify for Race to the Top or escape the ravages of NCLB:
Teach for America is a program that recruits hundreds of teachers each year, gives them a four-week boot-camp style summer program, and then places them in school districts in which TFA has contractual agreements. School systems need to agree to pay $5000 per year for each teacher for a two year period (TFA teachers only commit to 2 years). For example, Huntsville, Alabama just signed a contract with TFA for $1.9 million dollars to hire TFA recruits.
Should a school district invest $1.9 million in recruits, many of whom will leave the profession at the end of their two year stint, when in fact, there is not a shortage of teachers in Huntsville. In fact, nearly 300 teachers were laid off because of lack of funding. There are at least three reasons that Huntsville should not hire these TFA recruits.
Teachers Talk About TFA
There are many reports out there written by TFA teachers about the destructive effects of the TFA organization, and TFA alums, who have continued in education but in the charter networks that were spawned during the TFA era.
Gary Rubinstein’s blog, which is located on Teach For Us, a network connecting TFA teachers with each other, provides insight into how TFA has grown from 500 recruits in year one to 7,000 in 2011. Rubinstein says that:
Unfortunately, the landscape in education has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Instead of facing teacher shortages, we have teacher surpluses. There are regions where experienced teachers are being laid off to make room for incoming TFA corps members because the district has signed a contract with TFA, promising to hire their new people. In situations like this, it is hard to say with confidence that these under trained new teachers are really doing less harm than good.
According to Gary Rubinstein, TFA has changed over the years, but not evolved to make it the kind of change agent it once purported to be. He put it this way:
Twenty years ago TFA was, to steal an expression from the late great Douglas Adams — ‘mostly harmless.’ Then about ten years ago they became ‘potentially harmful.’ Now, in my opinion, they have become ‘mostly harmful.’
Though the change happened so gradually, I hardly noticed it, TFA is now completely different than it was when I joined. I still believe in the original mission of TFA as much as anyone possibly can. The problem is, in my opinion, that TFA has become one of the biggest obstacles in achieving that mission.
TFA has highlighted their few successes so much that many politicians actually believe that first year TFA teachers are effective. They believe that there are lazy veteran teachers who are not ‘accountable’ to their students and who are making a lot of money so we’re better off firing those older teachers and replacing them with these young go-getters.
Rubenstein doesn’t recommend TFA to new college graduates. He writes that TFA is actually assisting in the destruction of public education. He write:
So TFA has participated in building a group of ‘leaders’ who, in my opinion, are assisting in the destruction of public education. If this continues, there will soon be, again, a large shortage of teachers as nobody in their right mind would enter this profession for the long haul knowing they can be fired because of an inaccurate evaluation process. And then, of course, TFA can grow more since they will be needed to fill those shortages that the leaders they supported caused.
So if you’re about to graduate college and you want to ‘make a positive difference’ the way I wanted to twenty years ago, you should not do what I did and join TFA. Had TFA evolved with the times, and it’s not too late, I’m hoping they eventually do, then maybe it could have been something that I’d advise new graduates to do.
Maybe they can make it a four year program. I know that this was not the idea of TFA, but I do think that when people teach for two years and then leave, it contributes to the instability of the schools that need the most stability. Maybe by bringing fewer people but having a plan for them to be true leaders with ‘wisdom’ and the ability to analyze the facts, even when those facts are counter to what they’d like them to be, future TFA leaders can be competent enough to handle the responsibilities they’ve been trusted with.
Rubinstein has ideas about how TFA could emerge as a constructive force in education, and teacher education in particular. As I mentioned above, I was involved as director of Georgia State University’s alternative certification program. After four years of work, and a full year to study the program, we created a full-time “alternative” which involved new recruits in advanced graduate study in science, science education, special education, and educational psychology. TEEMS is a program at GSU that is very similar to what Rubinstein proposes as a way to make TFA relevant to current education practice. He recommends:
TFA becomes a three year program with the first year composed of training, student teaching, substitute teaching, and being paired up as an assistant to a corps member who is in her second year of the program, which is her first (of two) years of teaching. So TFA would become a three year program. One year of training, subbing, and assisting, and two years of teaching. In the second year, these first year teachers would have the benefit of getting assistance from the new first years.
The TFA institute would become obsolete. TFA would partner with universities in their regions and the new corps members would live on campus and be enrolled in a special year-long training program.
Note: TFA in the Atlanta area has partnered with GSU, but nevertheless, uncertified teachers have been hired by several Atlanta area districts.
Read more about Gary Rubinstein’s ideas about fixing TFA here.
Another teacher’s blog that I think is compelling in the story Rachel Levy tells about her experiences leading her to a ten-year career in teaching, which she intends to return to when her children are raised. In her blog All Things Education she speaks with knowledge and authority about education issues including charter schools, politics, educational reform, high-stakes testing, Rhee-form, school choice, and Teach for America. It was the last topic that I want to bring in here. In one of her blog posts, entitled Teach for America: From Service Group to Industry, Levy tells us that she applied for TFA in 1995, but was rejected, so as she says, she headed to NYC and took a job as a paralegal. But in the next year she took a job in Brooklyn as an after school and substitute teacher. She was hooked on teaching, and returned to her home, and did a graduate degree in education in ESOL and social studies. She went on to teach for ten years.
for some corps members to put off pursuing jobs in corporate law and finance until after they have “made a difference” for two years; perhaps at that point corps members and their peers have more distance from undergrad idealism. Perhaps to ease the transition to jobs in the private sector, financial institutions, such as Goldman Sachs, have established partnerships with TFA, to provide summer internships. Furthermore, TFA has partnerships with hundreds of graduate schools which offer TFA alumni benefits such as two-year deferrals, fellowship, course credits, and waived application fees. With education reform having become the new cause célèbre among hedge fund managers, Oprah, national journalists, and Hollywood types such as Davis Guggenheim, I can’t see TFA losing popularity any time soon. Many TFA applicants should indeed be applauded for their nobility, but I’m not so sure that is the beginning and end of all of their motivations. Is twenty-five percent of Harvard University’s graduating class so purely well-intentioned?
Research on Effectiveness of Uncertified Teachers including TFA
Dr. Philip Kovacs, professor of education at the University of Huntsville has studied the 12 “research” reports the TFA posts on its website. Of the dozen “studies” Dr. Kovacs ruled out four of the studies as being irrelevant. Seven of the 12 studies are problematic or mixed, according to Dr. Kovacs. Several of these studies use the flawed Value Added Measure (VAM) to ‘measure’ student achievement and then link that growth to the performance of the teacher. The problem here is VAM is widely variable, and scores change like the wind from one year to the next. The one study that TFA claims shows the effectiveness of their program is a survey of principals opinions of TFA.
As Kovacs points out, there are a number of studies that have shown that uncertified and inexperienced teachers do not do as well as fully licensed and certified teachers, or experienced teachers.
In an extensive study entitled Teacher for America: A Review of the Evidence by professor Julian Vasquez Heilig of the University of Texas at Austin, and professor Su Jin Jez of California State University, Sacramento, these researchers concluded that “the lack of a consistent impact, however, should indicate to policymakers that TFA is likely not the panacea that will reduce disparities in educational outcomes.” In their study, they found that TFA and non-TFA teachers do better with experience. The problem for TFA is that after two years, 50% of the TFA teachers are gone from teaching, and after year three, 80% have left teaching. Indeed, they recommend that TFA teachers be hired only after the pool consists of uncertified teachers. They also suggest that districts consider the recurring costs of TFA, estimated at over $70,000 year. They suggest that instead of two year commitment, it should be five.
As cited above, the most telling study on the effectiveness of TFA was “Does Teacher Preparation Matter” a peer-reviewed scholarly evaluation. For example, one of the major findings is:
Although some have suggested that perhaps bright college graduates like those who join TFA may not require professional preparation for teaching, we found no instance where uncertified Teach for America teachers performed as well as standard certified teachers of comparable experience levels teaching in similar settings.
This study did not go over very well at the TFA corporate offices. The founder of TFA, Wendy Kopp, called any of the peer-reviewed studies “diatribes.” According to Barbara Miner, in her article Looking Past the Spin: Teach for America, Kopp has an “ongoing enmity toward Darling-Hammond, and Kopp actually wrote a letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opposing Darling-Hammond’s appointment to the state’s Teacher Credentialing Commission. As Miner suggests, this calls into question the organization’s alleged “uninvolvement in political and policy issues.
Affect on the Morale of the Teachers in Huntsville
If you read what teachers in Huntsville are posting on their blogs, they don’t appear to be pleased that their superintendent’s action to bring TFA teachers to Huntsville to the tune of $1.9 million dollars over the next five years. As one Huntsville teacher put it: “If, however, you are one of the thousands of traditionally trained teachers, fully certified teachers, highly-qualified teachers, who has dedicated your life to the children of our community, there’s not much there for you.
This same teacher wrote on his blog that bring in TFA recruits is entirely unacceptable. He put it this way:
And when they have at best exactly the same results as the teachers who didn’t cost us $1.9 million to recruit, well, we just need to spend even more, right? Cause giving public funds to a private organization with $309 million dollars in NET assets just makes us feel better than say spending $500 a year on professional development for our teachers in “our lowest-income and highest need schools.” Making the rich, richer isn’t throwing money at a problem, it’s a “good investment.”
I’m sure that “most” of our “highly effective teachers” will feel the love tomorrow as they drive to work for the start of another day of school.
TFA teachers storm into schools with the notion that the most effective teacher is one who is data driven, and that the “methods” they learned in summer school are enough to make sure that students do well on the achievement tests.
We can not continue to hire uncertified teachers not only because there is a surplus of experienced and licensed teachers, but because it is not an effective way to prepare teachers. Would you hire unlicensed doctors for urban communities and have them treat your children?
Here are some ideas that might help Teach for America become a realistic teacher education program.
1. TRIPS Model. I would use a model we used with the Atlanta Public Schools, and one that was used in other large urban settings, and that would be follow the model called TRIPS. This was a collaboration with AFT, the Atlanta Public Schools, Georgia State University and Clark-Atlanta University. In this model, we recruited graduates in math, science or foreign language, and engaged them in a summer institute. They were then placed in an Atlanta high school and assigned to a master teacher as their mentor. The new teacher was given a reduced teaching load (from 5 preps to 4). The mentor was also given a reduced teaching load, and their schedules were arranged so that they had a double planning period together, and the mentor was also free when one of the new teacher’s classes was in session. Using co-teaching, and mentoring, the two worked together, with other faculty in the department, during the year.
2. TEEMS Model. A second model that TFA might consider is the Intern/Mentor model which got its start at Harvard and Stanford in the 1960s. In this model, TFA would recruit college graduates and like the TRIPS program provide an initiation or summer institute at either local or national sites (local would be preferred). The Interns would be enrolled in a TEEMS like program at a local university which would lead to a Masters degree and certification. The TFA intern would be placed in a middle school during the Fall semester, and a high during the Spring semester, not as a full time teacher, but as a paid Intern under the supervision of fully licensed mentor teachers. Funding would be provided by TFA, Corporations and Foundations, and state funding if available. For example, in Georgia, if the candidate is a citizen of Georgia, then they are eligible to apply for a HOPE Scholarship. In this model, which is very similar to the TEEMS model at Georgia State University, and I might add, and most universities in the nation, we set up a voluntary service program, but in this case the uncertified are provided with the kind of preparation that leads to a successful and effective career in teaching.
3. The Gary Rubinstein Model. A former TFA teacher, Mr. Rubinstein has proposed a model which is similar to TEEMS, but he suggests that TFA become a three year program. The first year would be composed of training, student teaching, substitute teaching and being paired up as an assistant to a corp member in the second year. He suggests that TFA partner with universities (TFA does that now because of certification laws in most states) to create a year long program (similar to TEEMS). What I like about Rubinstein’s model is that he extends it to a three year program in which the organization (TFA and the university) commit to work in some way with the teachers in the early stages of their career. You can read more about his ideas here, but he also says that this will not happen because TFA is so attached to the two-year program.
Right after this blog post was published,, Anthony Cody posted a guest article by Jameson Brewer that relates specifically this and the last post. He is a traditionally trained educator from Valdosta State University, but is now a 2010 Metro-Atlanta corps member teaching high school social studies in the Atlanta Public Schools. The title of the article is Hyper-accountability, Burnout and Blame: A TFA Corps Member Speaks
What do you think about TFA? Should TFA continue to recruit and support the idea that uncertified teachers should fill America’s urban and rural classrooms?
There are two parts to this discussion which examines why I think Teach for America needs to evolve to a realistic teacher education program, and not continue putting uncertified and according to the research not as effective as certified teachers in America’s classrooms.
There was an article in the Atlanta Journal entitled Snubbing Teach for America (TFA) hurts students. It was written by a first year Teach For America recruit who works in the metro-Atlanta area. Her comments were very typical for TFA recruits—embracing optimism and exuberance as well as a passion for teaching. This teacher was concerned that snubbing TFA would hurt students. If she were to read this blog post, she would find that the case is that TFA might actually be hurting public education.
However, Cobb County is one of the few public school systems that has refused to hire TFA recruits. TFA has made inroads into hundreds of urban and rural districts around the country, and is now expanding its brand around the world. TFA was founded in 1989 by a Yale University Graduate at a time when there was a shortage of teachers, and at the same time when many alternative routes to teaching were being introduced and explored.
Experiences with (Alternative) Teacher Education
TFA recruits students with undergraduate degrees from elite colleges around the country. The idea was that graduates from these universities would perform a service to America by agreeing to teach for at least two years in largely urban, and poor neighborhoods.
The graduates that apply for TFA are not very different from the students in science education that we worked with for more than 30 years at Georgia State University. Applicants for secondary science teaching held at least a bachelors degree in science or engineering. Students that applied for GSU programs came from a wide range of universities including Agnes Scott, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Clark College, Emory University, Duke University, MIT, Spelman, University of North Carolina and many more. One of the differences between students that applied to GSU compared to those who apply to TFA is that GSU applicants wanted to make a career of teaching, not necessarily view teaching as a temporary a service to society as is the case with TFA.
Two programs were developed at Georgia State University in the late 1980s, the TRIPS program in the Atlanta Public Schools, and the Alternative Certification Program at Georgia State University, which was funded by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission prior to the creation of TFA. Many states and school districts were experimenting with alternative programs designed to place uncertified teachers into the classroom. In some cases, recruits only had to pass a teacher entrance examination, while many programs included a “summer institute or program” prior to classes that began in the Fall. The institutes ranged in length from 3 – 8 weeks, and were crash programs that attempted to get the new recruits ready for the classroom in the fall.
TRIPS (1987 – 1989) The TRIPS program was based on the AFT Educational Research and Dissemination (ER&D) Program under the leadership of AFT’s Lovely Billups. This alternative program recruited secondary teachers in foreign language, mathematics and science to teach in the Atlanta Public Schools. TRIPS was a collaborative project among the Atlanta Public Schools, Georgia State University, Clark-Atlanta University and AFT. TRIPS programs were initiated by the AFT in several urban settings around the country. TRIPS teachers engaged in summer institute followed by teaching in an Atlanta high school in math, science or foreign language. TRIPS teachers were assigned a reduced teaching load (4 classes instead of 5) and a mentor teacher, who also had a reduced teaching load. Each TRIPS intern was also supervised by professors from GSU and Clark-Atlanta University. The reduced teaching load for TRIPS teachers and their mentors facilitated mentoring, and allowed the mentor teachers to engage in conferences, planning sessions, classroom observations, and reflective sessions.
Alternative Certification Program (ACP) (1988 – 1992) A program funded by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission characterized by an 8-week summer institute followed by teaching in a public school and paired with a mentor teacher. Mentor teachers were prepared through a summer institute prior to school year. Although similar to the TRIPS program, this program was larger, and in the long run lead to the TEEMS program which is the secondary teacher education program at GSU.
The ACP began at GSU with a grant to fund thirty teachers (10 in each field) to attend a full-time summer institute in Athens, Georgia. Mentor teachers were prepared for their role for a one-week institute with the ACP teachers. School districts from around the state participated in the ACP. In the last three years of the ACP, three universities in Georgia received funding to prepare 30 foreign language, mathematics and science teachers. The curriculum of the Summer Institute was based on pedagogical content knowledge in the content areas, special education, and foundations of education. Since the programs were localized, bi-monthly seminars among the ACP teachers were held on the campus of each university (North Georgia College, Georgia State University, and Georgia Southern).
For the summer institute, the program designed for the science majors was a reconnaissance of field of science teaching organized as a constructivist community of practice. We took an inquiry-oriented approach which fostered a constructivist environment in which prospective teachers used inquiry strategies to learn pedagogical skills, explored the nature of student learning in the context of schools, and reflected on their own learning. The institute was experiential in nature, and involved these future teachers, each of whom held a degree in science or engineering, in reflective discussions, hands-on, minds-on activities, creative lesson design, cooperative learning, and micro-teaching.
In the end, we used our experience to design and implement an “alternative” teacher education program that recruited students in mathematics, science and engineering, but the program was 15 months long, included three clinical teaching experiences in a middle and high schools in the Atlanta. This full time graduate program led to certification and a masters degree in mathematics or science education. It was started in 1993, and is the only program at GSU used to prepare secondary teachers. The program was named TEEMS.
The TEEMS Program (1993 – present) TEEMS (Teacher Education Environments in Mathematics and Science) is a Master’s level program for science and mathematics majors with field based internships in middle and high schools based on a humanistic/constructivist model. Aspiring teachers applying to the TEEMS program came from science, mathematics, and engineering departments throughout the Southeast, and brought with them high levels of content knowledge, strong interpersonal skills, enthusiasm, and a commitment to becoming a career teacher. Each TEEMS recruit was interviewed by a team of professors from mathematics and science education faculty, and professors from science and mathematics departments.
The TEEMS program was based on the theory of “realistic teacher education” (Korthagen and Kessells) , an approach that goes from practice to theory. As much as possible, theory and practice were merged with the intention of diminishing the gap between practice and theory. This was accomplished by engaging students in real problems encountered by teachers in clinical experiences, both on campus and in classrooms.
The TEEMS program was based on these characteristics:
learner-centered instruction in which students engage in a series of experiential and field-based experiences to learn about mathematics and science teaching
a partnership with the public and independent schools of Georgia by centering much of the instruction in middle schools and high schools
TEEMS, beginning as an alternative teacher education program, was morphed into a “traditional” teacher education program that promoted progressive, student centered teaching methods. In his research TEEMS, Dr. Michael Dias, professor of biology and science education at Kennesaw State University, wanted to know if this experiential program could narrow the gap between theories of science teaching and the practice of science teaching. Dr. Dias followed four TEEMS’ graduates throughout their first year of teaching. Using qualitative methods (interviews, observations, teacher journals and artifacts), Dr. Dias found that there was some congruence represented in their work that showed a narrowing of the the theory-practice gap. Although the teachers found it difficult to implement a full repertoire of inquiry teaching methods, they were able to act on the social/experiential design of the TEEMS program.
In a Journal of Teacher Education article entitled How Teacher Education Matters, Linda Darling-Hammond reviews the literature on teacher education programs and has this to say:
Despite longstanding criticisms of teacher education, the weight ofsubstantial evidence indicates that teachers who have had more preparation for teaching are more confident and successful with students than those who have had little or none. Recent evidence also indicates that reforms of teacher education creating more tightly integrated programs with extended clinical preparationinterwoven with coursework on learning and teaching produce teachers who are both more effective and more likely to enter and stay in teaching. An important contribution of teacher education is its development of teachers’abilities to examine teaching from the perspective of learners who bring diverse experiences and frames of reference to the classroom.
Our experiences at GSU, which continue today, show that teacher education is a major factor in helping aspiring teachers become successful and effective with students. We were never in the business of preparing teachers that would be primarily used to boost student test scores, but to work with individuals within the context of a cadre of learners in public schools that were close to the campus of Georgia State University.
In teacher preparation, as I have shown here in the case of Georgia State University, there are various pathways to becoming a teacher, including teacher education programs, alternative programs, or no program. Based on a large study of 3000 beginning teachers in New York City regarding their views on their preparation for teaching, their beliefs and practice, and their plans to remain in teaching (Darling-Hammond, Chung, and Frelow), the researchers found that:
teachers who were prepared in teacher education programs felt significantly better prepared across most dimensions of teaching than those who entered teaching through alternative programs or without preparation.
the extent to which teachers felt well prepared when they entered teaching was significantly correlated with their sense of teaching efficacy, their sense of responsibility for student learning, and their plans to remain in teaching.
These are significant finding in the context of the drive to place non-certified and non-prepared teachers into classrooms that typically are more demanding and require more knowledge about learning and student development than these individuals can deliver. The knowledge base on teaching is enormous, and to think that we can prepare teachers in 5 – 8 week institutes not only devalues what we know about preparing teachers for practice.