More on Education and TFA

A week or so ago, Matthew diCarlo of the Shanker Institute posted on the Shanker Blog a post exploring the link between teacher performance and the much-lauded, much-criticized, and thus, controversial, program Teach for America. TFA, as it is known, puts high-achieving, service-oriented college grads into classrooms in high-need areas all over the country for a period of two years. It’s an extremely competitive program. My senior year of college, I watched several close friends navigate the process and succeed, while another close friend did not get a spot. Ironically, the one who entered the education system as an emergency teacher taught for several more years than the TFAers.

Matt diCarlo provides a quick and dirty review of the literature that rests on this:

Yet, at least by the standard of test-based productivity, TFA teachers really don’t do better, on average, than their peers, and when there are demonstrated differences, they are often relatively small and concentrated in math (the latter, by the way, might suggest the role of unobserved differences in content knowledge). Now, again, there is some variation in the findings, and the number and scope of these analyses are limited – we’re nowhere near some kind of research consensus on these comparisons of test-based productivity, to say nothing of other sorts of student outcomes.

The assertion, and indeed the post, is filled with caveats, conditions, and couching, which serves to tell me that Matt is likely a reasonable person and certainly an economist. It also underscores how difficult it is to analyze teacher performance with standardized tests, something which Dana Goldstein explores a bit today.

Both Matt diCarlo and a linked post at Modeled Behavior suggest that “talent” at least as measured by the private sector, isn’t a good indication of teacher effectiveness. While that’s interesting, I’m curious what is?

What makes a good teacher? At any level? I’m curious because–among other reasons–I  think I’m a pretty good teacher. I would imagine that most of us like to think we’re good at our jobs. If the skills that make me a good (or average, or mediocre, or bad) teacher aren’t the same ones that would help me in other markets, what are they? And perhaps more importantly, why are we asking the people in the private sector, which hasn’t enumerated the qualities of a good teacher and doesn’t reward them, what entails good teaching? And shouldn’t we figure this out before we go about firing “bad” teachers as a means trying to improve student outcomes?

h/t @ModeledBehavior


Author: ekfletch

I am an independent researcher on issues of gender, labor, violence, education, and children.

2 thoughts on “More on Education and TFA”

  1. I wouldn’t phrase my position as being “that ‘talent’ at least as measured by the private sector, isn’t a good indication of teacher effectiveness”. Instead I would say “talent” seems to matter as much as a four year teaching degree does. It may be that neither are good indicators or that both are. Consider if you took a random would-be teacher of average teacher ability and instead of a four year teaching degree you gave them a degree in another subject and five weeks of TFA training. Would we expect they would perform as well as an average would-be teacher with a four year teaching degree? This would be the case if we interpreted these results as strictly saying that “talent” doesn’t matter.

  2. Thanks for clarifying, Adam; it’s a fair point. Saying talent doesn’t matter is not the same as saying talent is as effective, on average, as a four-year teaching degree. But I don’t think it changes the fact that we’re not doing a good job of identifying what makes a great teacher. If anything, this underscores the point that great teachers are not in the observables–a degree, salary foregone from working elsewhere, etc.

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