Value-add analysis of TFA fellows?

21 Sep

As you must have heard by now, last month the L.A. Times prepared a value-add evaluation of many public school teachers in Los Angeles. The insinuation of this analysis, of course, appears to be that low-performing teachers continue to fail students year after year because teachers’ unions have made it so difficult to terminate bad teachers.

The L.A. Times and others have indicated their belief that teacher quality is the single-most important factor in improving student performance. Virtually all the measures under the current ed reform movement have to do with improving teacher and principal quality. TFA is just one of the several programs and initiatives being promoted by education reformers as those which will save education.

Ed reformers generally believe the following factors serve as a good indicator of whether a teacher will be able to effect significant improvement in his or her student’s scores:

  1. Elite education
  2. High academic performance
  3. Youth

This is what ed reformers mean when they use the term “best and brightest” in describing the type of teachers they would like to attract. TFA’s fellows generally adhere to this top school/top grades/fresh-out-of-undergrad formula. Given this, I thought it might be interesting to see how Teach for America fellows stacked up against the general pool. The obvious problem with this project is that I simply wouldn’t know which of the teachers in the database are TFA. But let’s say I was somehow able to acquire such a list, the vast majority of those fellows would not appear in the database.

The analysis by the L.A. Times included only 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers who taught from 2002-2003 academic year through the 2008-2009 academic year. This would mean that the even the newest teachers to be captured in the analysis have six years of teaching under their belts. It is widely accepted that the vast majority of TFA fellows will have left teaching before that time. In fact the authors of a recent study Teach for America: A Review of the Evidence, found that over 80% of TFA members leave by the end of their third year.

It appears the value-add database of teacher performance can only help to demoralize and embarrass current teachers but is of no use to the rest of us in asssesing whether the “best and brightest” are a better alternative.

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