When you hear proponents of the current style of ed ‘reform’ speak about their mission, it is all about getting ‘great teachers.’ LIFO causes us to fire great teachers. Three great teachers in a row can close the achievement gap. Effective teachers teach three times as much as ineffective teachers. Despite all the research that shows that out of school factors greatly outweigh in school factors impact on achievement, the ‘reformers’ cling to the myth that if we could just get rid of all the ineffective teachers, the achievement gap would slam shut.
On the other hand, people who actually understand schools contend that the achievement gap wasn’t caused by bad teachers and that great teachers, alone, will not close it. We say that the difference between effective and ineffective teachers, at least in terms of raising test scores, isn’t so wide since out of school factors dominate in terms of impacting achievement.
The paradox of ed reform is the way that Teach For America is viewed by the two sides. I can easily imagine a parallel universe where the reformers oppose TFA while the anti-reformers support it.
Since reformers like Michelle Rhee are so passionate about having a great teacher in every classroom, it would be consistent with that message to insist that nobody with just five weeks of training ever leads a classroom. Even if some of the first year TFAers are superstars, the vast majority of first year TFAers are, by their own admission including Rhee, herself, bad teachers.
Reformers often say that even one bad teacher is a blow from which some students never recover so I can definitely see how if most of the reformers had not started with TFA, they could be very opposed to it.
On the other hand, I could see how anti-reformers, like myself, could be in support of TFA. Speaking for myself, four major adjustments would make TFA something positive. 1) Fix the training. Truly make the 5 weeks as good as possible with ample student teaching, and if that turns out not to be enough, then make a one year training with a lot of subbing and student teaching, 2) Make the commitment at least three years (four if there is a year of training), aggressively encourage successful corps members to become career teachers, and make it clear that nobody should become any kind of ‘leader’ until they have taught at least five years, 3) Shrink the corps to an appropriate size. Maybe it is more than the original size of 500, but it is a lot closer to that than it is to the current 6,000. There are so many corps members, the only way to get jobs for them is to lay off experienced teachers in some districts and 4) Be humble about how little progress TFAers have made in addressing the achievement gap. Use the fact that even the ‘best and brightest’ weren’t able to close the gap so maybe it will take a lot more than ‘great’ teachers to conquer it.
In this parallel universe, TFA and reformers would be on opposite sides and TFA would be taking active stances against narrow-minded reforms that have not a single bit of evidence, like shutting down schools and firing teachers. The ‘best and brightest’ would use their analytic skills to actually help identify the real root of the problem. They would go about it in a scientific way which would not include being so stubborn and ignoring critics
Unfortunately, the universe we’re in has TFA and reformers in a bizarre symbiotic relationship. TFA supplies the leaders and the reformers always make sure to look out for TFA. Reformers even make sure that the legal term ‘highly qualified teacher’ somehow encompasses people who have student taught for 12 hours. Reformers make sure there is a big chunk of taxpayer money subsidizing TFA. TFA and the reformers are so co-mingled, I don’t see how this can ever change.
Anyone know where the nearest wormhole is?