Jul 29 2008

The secret TFA ‘quit rate’ revealed

The secret TFA ‘quit rate’ revealed.

Let me first say that, despite my recent ‘suggestions’ for TFA, I think that it is a good organization. I criticize it the way a patriot of the U.S. might when it feels we’re going in a non-productive direction. They do a great job with recruitment and I think that the regional offices do a very nice job with placement and support throughout the year. The two weak links of the organization are the institute and the alumni associations.

The more important of these is the institute since improper training of new teachers leads to unfortunate students who have to suffer while the new teacher learns ‘on the job.’ It’s unfair to those students. TFA should do everything they can to ensure that this doesn’t happen, but they don’t. For some reason, TFA just won’t hear negative critique. They are very vocal and proud when something good gets said, but they try to hide anything bad. An example of this is the mysterious and secret ‘quit rate.’ It is not public knowledge how many TFAers don’t finish their two year commitment.

Before reading on, everyone think to yourself, “What is an acceptable ‘quit rate’?” Write it down. (That’s a little trick for getting more student activity while doing class discussion)

I’ve always felt that TFA should be tracking this number extremely carefully. I think it holds the key to evaluating how much good TFA is doing. I imagine a bell curve where a certain percent of TFA teachers quit during or after their first year. Now, and here’s the scary part, for every teacher who actually quits during or right after their first year, there are probably two other TFA teachers who had such bad years that they almost quit too. (I was unfortunately in this category) Basic statistics says that as you get closer to the average, there will be more people in each category. That’s where I get my one to two ratio of people who had horrific years that they quit to people who had horrific years that they almost quit. So whatever the ‘quit rate’ is, you should triple it to get the percent of first year TFAers who are very ineffective.

So what is the quit rate? Well, according to a Harvard University study that TFA seems to be proud of because it also shows that over 40% of TFAers stay for a third year at their original school (which is a really great thing to do), the magic number, the secret ‘quit rate’ as revealed on page 16 of this very well researched study is ‘approximately 10%.’

That’s not good enough, TFA. Time to bring the quality of the training up to the quality of recruitment.

Here’s the paper:

http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~ngt/AERA08.SMJohnson.pdf

7 Responses

  1. chrisb

    It’s an interesting problem, for sure. So many factors play into that magical quit rate number. When you consider that half of all teachers quit within their first five years, and that a third quit within the first three, you might say that TFA, with a measly 10%, is doing pretty well. But I’m more inclined to agree with your point: that’s not good enough. If we really want to do what we say we’re going to do, then we actually need to be here to do it. But who wants to stay at a job that they fail at? I certainly didn’t. So many things could be improved on across the board. I know the Bay Area staff listened to our feedback (read: complaints) from last year and has substantially changed the way they’re doing things this year. I don’t get why TFA doesn’t do that on a national level. It probably would make a big difference.

  2. Alison

    Something else to consider, however, is how many people enter teaching (and then stay in it) who would not have gone into teaching at all were TFA not around (I certainly would not have…but then again, I’m the kind of person who probably won’t stay in it after my 2nd year). Since TFA attracts non-education-focused people to education, it should be expected that the quit rate will be somewhat substantial. Despite their best intentions, or TFA’s efforts, some people will just not like teaching. In relation to the general teacher statistics chrisb quoted (assuming that they’re accurate and that intending to stay in education for the long haul is more common among general teachers than among TFAs), the 10% looks pretty good. Also, I think any level of quit rate is only really problematic if it represents teachers who quit and left schools/students in particularly difficult situations, or if it is the result of dissatisfaction with TFA specifically. If a corps member quits under other circumstances…I don’t see the significant loss (of course, there can be TFA/district business disputes, etc.) or negative reflection on TFA. I was not so far from quitting, and I’d say that near-decision had basically nothing to do with TFA (aside from my regional placement, which was very uncommonly low) and rather about my dissatisfaction with teaching and my region in general. Furthermore, my dissatisfaction with teaching does not stem from a lack of training by TFA but rather from the restrictive scheduling, lack of privacy, need to comply with stupid regulations, lack of intellectual stimulation, extended time spent around children….that have turned me off so far. And, despite not being satisfied with the job, I was an effective teacher my first year according to TFA’s measures and my principal’s and colleagues’, and, my own for the most part. It seems to me that useful discussion about the quit rate must be accompanied by an explanation of what one thinks that rate really represents. In any event, I do think that TFA should continuously try to reduce the number of corps members that quit, and I’ve found them to be very responsive to criticism here in PHX.

  3. Gary, I’m impressed. When you said to stop reading and think about it, I did, and decided a quit rate of 25% would probably be about as low as realistically could be expected, as there are so many factors beyond anyone’s control that would enter in. The quit rate would have to be substantially greater than that to reflect badly on TFA. A quit rate of 10%, it seems to me, ought to be trumpeted as success.

    I can well imagine that TFA is forced to hire credentialed expertise to do the training, which means they get stuck with the ed school mindset whether they like it or not. This ed school mindset can hardly be expected to provide good training. But where else can they go? Schools and state laws, I presume, force this credentialing. I would argue that teacher credentialing needs to be attacked.

  4. I’m kind of interested in the fact that in your last two posts you have mention that you don’t see TFA as being responsive to criticism. I have found almost the exact opposite. TFA can be almost *overly* responsive to criticism, in my experience. The difference might be, I suppose, that most of my experiences are with criticism from CMs and people within the organization; perhaps you are talking about criticism from outside the organization. Every single year for the last four years I have seen massive changes in the way institute and my region prepares CMs. Some changes have been for the better in my opinion, some for the worse, but certainly *someone* is evaluating and acting on criticism and suggestions.

  5. Wess

    Is the data on page 16 of the paper you linked to? I’m getting a study on Teacher’s Unions that doesn’t mention TFA …

    • garyrubinstein

      Hmmm. I’ve got to see what’s going on with that. It looks like I linked to the wrong paper, so I’m going to have to find it again. I don’t know how that could have happened, but I’m going to try to find it again.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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