Top-Third Tina, Bottom-Third Barry
Here's Neerav on studies of TFA corps members' effectiveness, correctly pointing out how important schools/institutions/the environment are in determining how effective teachers are and whether they develop (or not):
Both interesting points, and well worth thinking more about. And newer research coming out may show even stronger TFA effects. But there seems to be a limit to what we can extrapolate from these studies, as the TFA studies only tell us how well TFA teachers compare to other teachers when everyone is teaching in generally mediocre schools that operate in a government monopoly. In the studies, the system is a given.
Now, if you're a Relinquisher who believes government should regulate but not operate schools, immediate questions arise – primary amongst them: Do these studies tell us anything about how different teachers achieve in different environments? Not really.
Here's an analogy:
Let's take two lawyers – Top-Third Tina (went to Harvard Law) and Bottom-Third Barry (went to lower tier law school) both pass the bar exam. Due to magical forces, they do not get to choose where they work (sound familiar?). Interestingly enough, they are assigned to the same law firm. It happens to be a mediocre firm and here's what happens:
· Neither Tina nor Barry gets trained. Since law school doesn't really teach you anything about day-to-day practice of law, both struggle. Tina works harder, attempts to train herself, and starts improving – but at the end of the day her efforts are marginal. She outperforms Barry but not by much. Neither really knows how to practice law. At the end of their second year, each gets a "below average" on the state's law practitioner value-added system.
Now let's re-run the scenario. This time, Tina and Barry both get placed at an excellent law firm. Here's what happens:
· Both Tina and Barry get superb on-the-job training. They each attend intensive summer training and for their first year they are assigned to a top-notch lawyer for mentorship. They are consistently coached, given feedback, and evaluated. Their second year, each is allowed to handle cases on their own. By the end of her second year, Tina is on the partner track. She's impressed everyone. Barry struggles with the high expectations, but learns a lot and improves. At the end of their second year, each gets their value-added score. Tina scores an "above average" and Barry scores "average."
Now let's apply this to education – here's what we might see:
· In average to poorly managed schools, the impact of the institution itself will drown out a lot of potential variance in effectiveness. Nobody gets trained or supported. Few people excel.
· However, in a well-run school, two things will happen: (1) all teachers will improve and (2) the "talented" teachers will show a significant effect that was not picked up in the poorly run school.
This is my theory, at least. Why? Well, it seems logical. Institutions matter. Also, many high-performing charter schools recruit heavily from TFA, which leads me to believe that in high-performing environments TFA teachers add a lot of value, especially when they are trained correctly and given increasing responsibility as they develop – and, of course, they are most likely cost effective as well.
The takeaway: in some schools, Top-Third Tina and Bottom-Third Barry will perform roughly the same after two years. In others they will not.
Top-Third Tina, Bottom-Third Barry
There's been some good blogging lately on how to interpret the studies on Teach For America (TFA) teacher effectiveness – see Matthew Di Carlo and Adam Ozimek. But neither addresses the research from a Relinquisherstandpoint. Here's what they say: