"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pay Attention When Checking Out at JCPenney

We've all heard it a hundred times. You go to check out at the store and the cashier asks if you would like to add some small amount to your total to help support XYZ charity. The small amount usually entices most people to say, "Sure." The charity gets some money, the store gets to brag about its charitable donation and you have an easy way to feel good about something for the day. Its a win-win-win.

This month, JCPenney is going to ask you to support a charity at check out, but this time you may want to pay attention to who this charity is. Throughout the month of September JCPenney customers can round up their store purchases to the nearest whole dollar and donate the difference to Teach For America. It's a small amount. Less than a dollar. Why not do it?

The key here is small amount. A small amount of teacher training is what TFA gives its teachers before throwing them into some of the toughest classrooms in America. Five weeks of training compared to almost 5 years for the average teacher. A small amount is what those new teachers make over their two year stint with TFA.

TFA will justify that by telling those teachers they will get lots of experience and will make a big difference in the lives of the children they are teaching. Wanna know what else is big with TFA?  The amount of money they have raised so far. They currently have $300 million in assets. Nicholas Stix reporterd, "A tax exempt nonprofit, TFA reported annual operating surpluses of $35 million, $114 million and $37 million in its last three federal filings."

A small amount is also the amount of improvement TFAers have been able to demonstrate in their student's performance. Results are mixed and, according to a former TFA Research staff member now Sr. VP Heather Harding,  some statistics sited by TFA are unreliable. For instance, their claim to advance students 1.5-2 years in a single year may not be quite accurate. A small percentage of TFA recruits (15%) teach subjects and/or grades that are assessed by state standardized tests which means that many of them must rely on assessments they design themselves to assess growth. Another study claimed TFA-taught students gained a full month in math over their non-TFA taught peers, however they still ranked in the bottom 5th of students nationally.  Therefore, Ms. Harding says, the teacher efficacy claim "is not a particularly rigorous statistic. I don't think it stands up to external research scrutiny."

There is a recent trend to place more TFA teachers in charter schools. In 2007-2008, the last year stats are available, TFA placed 33% of its recruits in charters. To the extent that charters are able to select their student population, one would expect to see TFA student performance increase. Beware of studies that do not account for this selection effect.

President Obama still wants to gather together an army of the best quality teachers to improve our schools. Teach For America wants to have their recruits in this army, but the question of their quality has still not been answered and is very much in doubt. Meanwhile JCPenney would like you to add a few cents to your purchase to help the perpetually struggling TFA. Before you face this question at Penney's you may want to talk to some teachers you know, or read up a little more on TFA.

What Does TFA Mean to Missouri ...

An Army of Teachers in the Jefferson Arms? 

Hansel and Gretel in TFA

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