Learning Lessons from Teach for America

Teach for America has made a significant impact in Indiana and in states across the country. The now nearly 25-year effort to bolster the teaching profession has adapted to changes in the education landscape and earned the support of lawmakers through proven results. Heartland reports:

As shifting employment opportunities and reform movements alter the U.S. education landscape, one organization has received steadily increasing support from lawmakers.

Teach for America (TFA) began as Wendy Kopp’s senior thesis in 1989. A Princeton University undergraduate, Kopp wanted to improve poverty-stricken urban schools by recruiting young, enthusiastic, and persistent college-educated adults into education. In 1990, 500 new college grads joined the first TFA class as teachers who bypassed traditional teacher education.

Kopp started “a Peace Corps for urban education,” said Alan Borsuk, a senior fellow at Marquette University Law School. “There was a much bigger need then for a shot in the arm for urban teaching, a lot of jobs open, and it tapped into a realistic [desire] that college grads had that they wanted to do something to help.”

Now TFA is active in almost half the states, this year supporting more than 10,000 young teachers. Donations provide 70 percent of TFA’s income, with governments picking up the other 30 percent. TFA recruits heavily from Ivy League and top-rated public universities, and was listed as one of Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for in 2013. Corps members commit to a two-year stint in needy public schools.

Study Says
Teach for America has been controversial, however, because its teachers get good results from students with only a summer of teacher training before their two-year placement.

Studies in Tennessee, Louisiana, and North Carolina have found students with TFA teachers learn as much as or more than those with traditional teachers.

Some Findings on Teacher Assessment

The latest newsletter from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) includes an interesting piece on teacher assessment. It contends that while hostility is often lobbed at the concept of standards and testing, the greater issue is that teachers aren’t properly prepared for the assessment process.

Here is NCTQ’s study on teacher assessment. And a summary:

Our preview glimpse into what teacher candidates are learning about assessment quantifies (for the first time) the magnitude of a long suspected problem. Before going into the classroom, teacher candidates’ exposure to the task of assessing student learning, including how to interpret results and better plan instruction, is pretty thin–and that includes helping teachers do a better job designing their own pop quizzes, tests and exams.

Looking at 180 elementary and secondary undergraduate and graduate programs across the country, we found only six programs–that’s 3 percent–that appear to provide sufficient coverage of assessment–probably not a surprise to school superintendents or principals, nor apparently to the field of teacher education itself.

The only silver lining after examining syllabi for nearly 500 courses as well as "capstone" assignments required of student teachers was that at least some portion of institutions is exposing teachers to the language of assessment (21 percent). However, almost none of them is exposing candidates to the means of analyzing test results (2 percent) or, even more importantly, coming up with an instructional plan once they’ve done so (1 percent).

Lemonade Day Teaches Entrepreneurship to Indiana Kids

On May 19, many Indiana youngsters will experience the joys — and challenges — of entrepreneurship during Lemonade Day. Founded in 2009, the experience is combined with lessons about starting your own business, and was founded by native Hoosier and Houston entrepreneur Michael Holthouse. Hoosier entrepreneur Scott Jones — founder of ChaCha, among other endeavors — has launched the program locally.

The Lemonade Day web site has the details about registration, as well as a blog about the program. On the site, Jones relays why the concept is so important to him:

I had many start-up businesses as a kid, including lemonade stands with flavored frozen lemonade popsicles, putt-putt courses in my yard, haunted houses in my basement and garage, yard-work businesses, selling seeds and crafts door-to-door, and many other ideas.  I was constantly trying to figure out the “next big thing” (for my little neighborhood) even then! When I went off to college, I put a personal ad in the back of a popular hobbyist magazine that read: “poor starving student without pride or money seeking handouts, including computers, electronics, books, etc.” which triggered people to send, literally, busloads of equipment.  I turned all of this “free stuff” into a self-learning environment in my basement, which taught me much of what I later leveraged in my robotics and technology studies and businesses. 

At 25, I co-founded my first company, Boston Technology.  As a result, I obtained patents for technologies that now enable telephone companies worldwide to offer voice mail on a massive scale to over 2 billion people. Boston Technology merged with Comverse Technology, Inc., in 1998 for $843 million. I also founded Internet-based music service company Gracenote, which sold to Sony in 2008 for $260 million.

Many entrepreneurs talk about their early childhood entrepreneurial experiences when the “light bulb” went off – the moment when they knew they could control their own destinies. It was that way for me and I wanted kids to have that “light bulb” moment, so I created two foundations: The Scott A. Jones Foundation and the Think Forward Foundation, which launched Lemonade Day in Indianapolis in 2010 with over 7,400 kids signing up.

…What do I love about being an entrepreneur? I can attack fun and interesting problems that can improve how people do things, not just here, but around the world.

The program is administered by the Think Forward Foundation. You can learn more about why it started Lemonade Day here.

If It’s for the Kids, Why Not Ask Their Opinions?

When discussing education reform, it’s common to hear proclamations like, “We’ve got to do it for the students!”

To that end, many of the proposed education reforms center on the teacher, as a consensus is (finally) beginning to take hold that teacher effectiveness is paramount to student success. Ideas for reform include better training and education of teachers and rewarding teachers for the quality of their teaching, as opposed to the amount of time they spend at the front of the classroom.

All of the offered solutions and ideas go back to the sentiment that the whole point of education reform is to give students a better education and better chance in life. But if that’s truly the case, shouldn’t we be asking for their opinions?

An article in the New York Times reported that students actually have a pretty good handle on when they’re in the presence of an effective teacher. Results released from a report funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation show that students who learn the most during the year (as measured by standardized test results) described their teachers as ones who were able to focus their instruction, keep their classrooms under control and help students understand their mistakes.

The report is part of a much larger research project, which also ranks teachers using a method called value-added modeling. The method uses standardized test scores to calculate how much each teacher helped the students learn. Researchers are now using other methods – like student surveys – to corroborate those value-added scores. It seems the results show a correlation between what the students report and what the scores show.

The Times went on to report that out of thousands of students who filled out confidential questionnaires, classrooms where the majority of students said they agreed with the statements, “our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time,” and “in this class, we learn to correct our mistakes,” more often were taught by teachers with high value-added scores.

While college students all across America are asked to evaluate their courses and professors on an annual or semi-annual basis, it’s rare that schools do the same with their K-12 students – leaving teacher evaluations up to pre-arranged classroom observations by the principal or other school administrator.

Students – the ones that are meant to get the greatest benefit from education reform – therefore aren’t given the opportunity to confidentially share their experiences and opinions about the teachers they rely on for their future success.

Maybe it’s time that the adults stop proclaiming and start listening to what the students actually have to say.

Good Morning, Mr. Gekko

Governing.com reports on a new program that is transforming Wall Street’s laid off traders into the math teachers of the future. Very interesting concept, and hopefully some good can come of it. It should also make for some useful cautionary tales for the kids, although hopefully PG’ed down for young ears. (I’ve seen "Boiler Room" and "Wall Street"; I know what goes on.)

Moody’s Economy.com is predicting that 70,000 financial workers in the New York area will lose their jobs by the middle of 2010. New Jersey, which is home to many laid-off Wall Street bankers and is facing a looming shortfall in math teachers, launched Traders to Teachers, an accelerated program at Montclair State University to retrain laid-off financial services employees as math teachers. The full-time, three-month program, which starts in September, puts applicants through intensive math classes and requires them to spend one day each week observing and teaching math in a middle school or high school. Upon completion, they are placed in a paid teaching position at a public school, and over the next two years, the program provides teachers with professional support and mentoring. To be an applicant, individuals must have been laid off from the financial industry, have a bachelor’s degree and pass a math test — which is tough enough that only 69 of the first 146 applicants passed. A commitment to teach at least through June 2012 is expected, and the cost of the program for participants is funded by a federal grant administered through the New Jersey Department of Labor. The university will begin accepting applications for the Spring 2010 program this summer. If successful, the program may be expanded to retrain laid-off pharmaceutical workers as science teachers.