TFA Likes Evaluation System Unlikely to Impact TFA

Recently Teach for America, the national teacher corps that selects recent college graduates who commit two years to teach in underperforming schools, indicated its support for the U.S. Department of Education’s plan to grade the country’s colleges of education and eliminate bad schools.

According to a piece at the Wall Street Journal:

Urban Teacher Center, Teach For America and seven additional alternative-certification programs planned to say on Monday that proposed rules by the U.S. Education Department, intended to weed out poor teacher-training programs, are essential to improving schools.

“The release of regulations by the [Education] Department signify a turning point in the increasing emphasis the U.S. is placing on the need for high-quality teachers in our nation’s schools,” read the joint statement, which arrived on the last day for public comment on the rules.

It’s a pretty crafty move.

EvilFace

There’s something a little interesting about this support. It’s not really going to have anything to do with actual Teach for America teachers. As Diane Ravitch complains:

A group of alternative certification programs, the most significant of them being Teach for America, declared their support for the Obama administration’s plan to grade colleges of education by the test scores of the students taught by their graduates. Alternative certification teachers typically do not go to colleges of education, which is why their certification is “alternative.” Their decision to weigh in on this issue, which does not affect them, is no doubt intended to shutter the teacher prep programs where students study education for one or more years. It also is an expression of their support for value-added-measurement (VAM), which does not affect alternatively certified teachers who enter the classroom for only one or two years because they are not in teaching long enough to produce data by which to be evaluated.

The groups represent (at most) 80,000 teachers out of more than 3 million teachers. Their proposal does not affect their own members. It supports junk science.

Now “junk science” is perhaps putting it a little harshly. It’s true that most teacher evaluation policy now in use, and that likely used to rate education schools, is of pretty limited value in determining the difference between good and bad teachers, but ultimately it might be possible to come up with better means of identification, particularly over many years of service.

But Ravitch is making a really good point here: It’s never going to matter to their teachers.

It’s an essentially political move. Teach for America alumni and staff are really well skilled in evaluation and methodology—that’s why so many alums end up moving into business consulting—and they know very well the difference between valid and invalid evaluation. And this, “is neither a valid nor reliable way of assessing teacher quality,” said Kevin Kumashiro, dean of the University of San Francisco’s School of Education. But by doing this the signers look to be on the side of serious, hard-nosed education reformers, without ever being subject to the severe, and really pretty unfair, punishments and rewards that can result from those evaluations. It’s quite a clever strategy, really.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer