Teachfor Us, 25/8/2012
Answer: They have all been recently caught in huge lies.
Last week I wrote a blog post about a Reuters article in which a high level TFA staffer admitted that one of their statistics about the effectiveness of the first year corps members (that 41% of first years get 1.5 or more years of ‘gains’) “is not a particularly rigorous statistic” TFA responded to the Reuters article on Alexander Russo’s blog. Here is the response:
We were glad to see that the recent Reuters article and sidebar article on Teach For America highlighted the mission and impact of our organization over the past two decades. As the sidebar story rightly notes, Wendy Kopp always envisioned Teach For America as a “lifechanging” organization. We were especially pleased to see several alumni recognized for their impact including KIPP cofounders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, Louisiana schools chief John White, and Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson. Their leadership is helping to open doors of opportunity for thousands of underserved students.
However, we were troubled that the article did not accurately characterize the research base around Teach For America. In describing the research, the reporter downplays the rigorousness of both internal and external reviews of Teach For America, and cites data from independent studies to give the impression that Teach For America is inconsistent at best.
The reporter uses an out-of-context quote from our former research director, Heather Harding, to inaccurately imply that internal reviews of Teach For America teachers are unreliable. While internal reviews are not as rigorous as external ones, they still have plenty of merit. In fact, Teach For America relies on a wide range of research—both internal and external—to help us constantly improve our methods of preparing teachers for the classroom.
While the article highlights the most recent report on teacher preparation programs by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, it neglects to mention the most striking finding: the commission named Teach For America the top-performing program in the state. This echoes findings from similar studies done in North Carolina and Louisiana, both of which also named Teach For America as the most effective teacher preparation program in the state. A growing body of independent research has shown that Teach For America corps members are effective across school subjects and age groups.
The reporter also makes only minimal acknowledgement of the contributions of our alumni highlighted in the sidebar article. There are now over 28,000 Teach For America alumni nationwide; over two-thirds of them are still in education, despite the fact that only one in six corps members say they considered a career in education before joining Teach For America.
Drawing on their experience as corps members, our alumni are having a significant effect on the direction of public education in the United States. We wish that this article would have more accurately represented not only Teach For America’s research base, but the impact our corps members and alumni have had on American public schools over the past 20-plus years.
So TFA is upset that this reporter did not ‘spin’ the numbers they way TFA would have liked them to. Yes, there have been some studies that have concluded that TFA first years add a bit more ‘value’ than other first years. But value-added is not the same thing as learning, and even if it was, they get such a small amount more of it, and first year teachers are so bad anyway, that what difference does it really make. The fact is that the other teachers will have longer careers so they will be able to easily make up for that one month of ‘gains’ that the TFAer had in the first year.
TFA got caught in a huge lie when they claimed that 41% of the first years get at least 1.5 years of gains, and once you are outed as a liar it does cast a shadow over your other claims, even if some of those other claims happened to be true. This is why it is best not to lie. Even in this statement, they cite a favorite statistic that 2/3 of alumni are still ‘in education.’ This is also a stretch. Can any TFAer out there even claim that 2/3 of the people that they know from TFA are still ‘in education’? This is a crazy statistic. Does ‘in education’ mean to TFA what ‘all beef’ means to McDonalds? I would love to see a list of the professions of the 22,000 alumni that make up those 2/3 and what it is they do that qualifies as ‘in education.’ If TFA would be more honest, I would stop writing about those lies.
KIPP also got outed recently. Today a report came out by Ed Fuller that had been in the works for a couple of years. He was hired to analyze charter schools in Texas and was given access to student level data so he could check, once and for all, whether or not charters truly serve the ‘same kids’ and get better results. This is a very important report, and you can read ithere. Here are some of the conclusions, quoted from the report:
Contrary to the profile often portrayed in the media, by some policymakers, and by some charter school proponents (including some charter CEOs), the high-profile/high-enrollment CMOs in Texas enrolled groups of students that would arguably be easier to teach and would be more likely to exhibit high levels of achievement and greater growth on state achievement tests. Indeed, the above analyses showed that, relative to comparison schools, CMOs had:
In other words, rather than serving more disadvantaged students, the findings of this study suggest that thehigh-profile/high-enrollment CMOs actually served a more advantaged clientele relative to comparison schools—especially as compared to schools in the same zip code as the CMO schools. This is often referred to as the “skimming” of more advantaged students from other schools. While CMOs may not intentionally skim, the skimming of students may simply be an artifact of the policies and procedures surrounding entrance into these CMOs.
- Entering students with greater prior TAKS scores in both mathematics and reading;
- Entering economically disadvantaged students with substantially greater prior TAKS scores in both mathematics and reading;
- Lower percentages of incoming students designated as ELL;
- Lower percentages of incoming students identified as special needs; and,
- Only slightly greater percentages of incoming students identified as economically disadvantaged.
Thus, the comparisons that have been made between these CMOs and traditional public schools—especially traditional public schools in the same neighborhoods as the CMO schools—have been “apples-to-oranges” comparisons rather than “apples-to-apples” comparisons. The public and policymakers need to look past the percentages of economically disadvantaged students and disabuse themselves of the notion that enrolling a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students is the same as having a large percentage of lower-performing students. In fact, despite a large majority of students entering the CMOs identified as economically disadvantaged, students at the selected CMOs tended to have average or above average TAKS achievement and certainly greater achievement levels than comparison schools. This was particularly true when comparing economically disadvantaged students in CMOs and traditional public schools—the economically disadvantaged students in CMOs had substantially greater academic performance than the economically disadvantaged students in the comparison traditional public schools.
In the words of Billy Joel, “Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue”. Schools like KIPP and also YES Prep which TFA likes to hold up as models of what amazing work their alumni are doing and how they are proving that teachers in regular public schools must be lazy bums, are really cheating. They may not be doing this intentionally, but it is happening and it is causing other schools that are not cheating to be closed down to make room for more liars. How is that fair?
And, in case you haven’t heard yet, Lance Armstrong who won 7 Tour de France titles has given up his fight against the charges that he used performance enhancing substances. I don’t know a lot of details about the case, but it seems like this is another example of a ‘winner’ who is truly a ‘loser.’
If you lie enough, you’re eventually going to get caught. Whether these recent articles about TFA and about Texas charter schools reduce the prestige of these places or not, I don’t know. It might take more work to expose these lies. The ball, though, seems to be really rolling in this direction. I’m glad that there are so many people, now, who are onto the trail. I think the reporter or researcher who truly ‘breaks’ the story about all the lying that is going on in the ed reform movement will win a Pulitzer Prize.
School is starting up for me so I’ll be slowing down on the blogging for a bit, but I encourage everyone who is working toward speading ‘truth’ to keep up the good work. The children in this country are counting on you.