"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

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Would Monsanto Trust a Lab Worker with 5 Weeks Training? Should You Trust a Teacher with a 5 Week Educational Training Period?

Would you take on more college debt for $7,000 take home pay? What and where is the payoff?

The Monsanto Fund is donating to St. Louis Teach for America.  From the St. Louis Post Dispatch Monsanto donates $1 million to Teach for America:

The Monsanto Fund has donated $1 million to Teach For America’s local efforts to recruit teachers for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The gift from the philanthropic arm of Monsanto Company will enable Teach For America to recruit a greater number of teachers with STEM expertise to St. Louis classrooms during the next four years and provide them with the support and resources. The donation will help Teach For America bring up to 270 teachers with STEM backgrounds to the region by 2016.

This fall, 190 Teach For America corps members are in high-need classrooms in St. Louis, reaching more than 13,000 students. More than 375 alumni of the program now lead and support efforts to ensure educational equity in the region.

Maybe that $1 Million will go toward subsidizing the estimated $11,303 it costs applicants to become an elite TFAer.  The graph above details the St. Louis statistics for what TFAers are paid and what it costs to get certification.  Those accepted for the program will take home approximately $6750 a year (after expenses) and incur a two year cost of $11,000 to teach at risk students for a two year commitment to teach.

Why would college graduates (many from Ivy League schools) accepted into TFA agree to such a low paying job and even more debt?  Is it for the love of teaching?  If it were for the love of teaching, wouldn't you think most of them would have degrees in education that would allow them to teach with a four year degree and not have to go through an intensive initial 5 week training period to learn how to become a teacher before setting foot in a classroom?

From the Daily Trojan:

This summer, The New York Times’ “Room For Debate” blog, where non-journalists write brief pieces arguing their opinion on a topic, discussed the pros and cons of Teach For America, the renowned nonprofit that sends students fresh out of college into low-income schools to teach. Post titles ranged from “A Glorified Temp Agency,” to “Teach For America Changed My Life,” to “The Problem With Quick Fixes to Education.”

All of these are legitimate descriptions of Teach For America. There are many stereotypes about the organization, but none of them matter. Sending accomplished, smart and motivated young leaders into struggling schools is what matters.
Up until about a month ago, I would have added my own idea to the “Room For Debate” blog: “A Cop Out for Graduates With No Other Option.” I knew next to nothing about the organization, but had only heard of students who couldn’t get into law school or medical school or couldn’t find a job in their desired field, so they turned to Teach For America as a fallback. And as options go, it’s a pretty good one. Teach For America is a two-year program that promises a salary ranging from $25,500 to $51,000, health insurance, retirement benefits, up to $6,000 of no-interest loans or grants to help pay for relocation costs, plus scholarships and benefits from grad schools and employers. Why wouldn’t a college student with no other prospects apply?
But when a USC TFA recruiter emailed me at the beginning of the semester, asking to meet and talk about the program, I scoffed. I had no interest in being one of the college graduate cop-outs, but I figured I could meet with the recruiter to find out if there was more to the program.

I am now amid a rigorous, yet very interesting application process that proves what TFA is all about: finding motivated leaders who are unwaveringly committed to its cause. The process begins with a traditional application — statement of interest, explaining past professional and extracurricular activities and submitting your resume. One week later, you are either granted a phone interview or out of the running. In the meantime, you complete “online activity” that entails a timed multiple-choice test where you analyze data and complete a short answer portion. After that, you either move forward to a final, all-day interview or you’re out.

Even if a student chooses TFA as a fallback, if he or she gets through such a thorough application process and are selected, he or she deserves to be there. And even if it seems like a “glorified temp agency” that swoops up talented young people for two years then loses them to another career path, they were there for two whole years. More likely than not, they made a difference in many children’s lives and in turn, those children probably changed their life forever as well.
But this is yet another stereotype promoted by TFA — inspiring stories about college graduates helping disadvantaged students achieve the level of education they deserve. This stereotype has plenty of truth to it, but it ignores the darker side of the organization.

Though less-interested or less-qualified applicants are weeded out through the intensive application process, and those who are selected go through a five-week training program the summer before they begin teaching, nothing can fully prepare an applicant for standing up in a classroom in front of children who face some of the most challenging issues today. Horror stories about TFA teachers dealing with gangs in their neighborhood or struggling to teach students who refuse to respect them are left out of the TFA feel-good narrative. The organization’s website is full of education, poverty and admission statistics — but nowhere does it mention their retention rate.

The writer ends the article by stating:

For students interested in applying to TFA — for whatever reason — it is definitely important to be aware of what truth there is to all the stereotypes about the organization. The nation’s public schools and students, however, need help however they can get it. The myths and stereotypes don’t matter half as much as the fact that, at the end of the day, TFA offers that help.

My questions come from the statements highlighted in yellow. 
  • Are students applying for these jobs because they can't find jobs in their chosen fields?
  • Can a TFA make a substantial difference in a child's life in 2 years and then leave?  Doesn't it take longer than a 5 week training period and being thrown in a classroom for 2 years to learn how to become an effective teacher?  What difference is the writer referring?  Will he/she be able to dramatically raise assessment scores in 2 years for students?
  • The challenging issues students face today are out of the hands of the teachers: poverty, lack of parental support, etc.  What makes these teachers so much more effective than classically trained teachers?  Do TFAers have a magic wand to eliminate the issues for the students?
  • "The nation's public schools need help however they can get it".  TFA is paying TFAers a take home salary of $6800, requiring them to secure more debt for a 2 year commitment and throwing them in classrooms with no teaching experience?  What's with the Peace Corps type structure?  Is that supposed to make these "teachers" more passionate about "making a difference"?  Should inner city parents be satisfied with "we'll give you help" with inexperienced college graduates with no teaching experience who will probably be gone in 2 years?
How is it that TFA can offer help that is allegedly not forthcoming from teachers with education degrees who select teaching as a profession?  Why are many TFAers not staying in the classroom but are leapfrogging into administrative posts or other governmental positions?  Retention rates are not posted for these TFA positions but many TFAers are using this two year stint for future bureaucratic positions.  From minnpost.com and Teach for America teachers moving into policy positions:

Yes, corps members, as TFA calls them, are weaving their way into the very fabric of the nation’s education establishment. You might even call it a conspiracy.

You’d be right. One of the criticisms that has been leveled at TFA in recent years is that only a third of its elite recruits stay in teaching when their Peace Corps-style tours are over. This is true, and whether it’s a demerit or not it obscures a more interesting fact, which is that another third go on to work in other capacities in education.

According to Daniel Sellers, who runs TFA-Twin Cities, this is by design. “The program has two aims and that is the second,” he said in an interview yesterday. “The first is to put talented people into classrooms where they can improve the lives of kids.”

At the very least, when those that leave teaching do, they will go on to advocate for education as they become kingmakers in other arenas. At best, corps members will become effective teachers during their stints and will be energized by watching the conventional wisdom that some kids are going to get lost fly out the window.
One reader's (amended) response to the article:

....TFA represents an interesting trend. I remain somewhat skeptical, but what Beth is reporting is encouraging to some degree. Offhand, I’d like to know why – if these people are, in fact, as energetic and successful in the classroom as seems to be the case at least some of the time – a third of them are leaving the classroom, where their skills have brought success, for administration, where their contact with children will be minimal, and usually substantially constrained.

I was a very good teacher, but I was never interested in administration precisely because what I enjoyed about teaching was working with kids and my subject matter. Moving to administration would not only have dramatically reduced the amount of time I had to interact with those kids, it also would dramatically alter the *kinds* of interactions I had with those kids.

People who move to administration, writing, advocacy, and other education-related fields are, in my experience, people who do not want to teach. They want more money, more influence, more prestige, more control over their working lives and conditions, more… something else besides the decidedly non-material satisfaction that comes with a job of teaching well done. For me, at least, that’s a negative factor, though yes, it may well be a good thing to see some newer, younger voices becoming part of the educational establishment. That “good thing” label is tempered by the knowledge that two years is not a career, and that they’ve left the more important job just about at the time when they began to know what they were doing.

Moreover, by “moving on,” even if – perhaps *especially* if – they’ve been doing a superb job in the classroom, they’re depriving faculty room colleagues and their own school administrators of an example with real credibility.

What I’m looking forward to are studies done with those TFA members who stayed in the classroom for a decade or more. Were they able to maintain their energy, enthusiasm, innovative curiosity, and most important, their effectiveness? If so, then by all means, this might well be a model that schools of education ought to jump on and ride hard. At the same time, what about the third of the group that left teaching, but stayed in education? Similar questions about energy and innovation ought to be asked, and results arrived at. And, lest it be assumed otherwise, I want to know why the other third of the group left education altogether.

It’s an interesting trend, but I want more information before I jump on that bandwagon.

Do you wonder if Monsanto asked questions about TFA and looked at its track record in actually improving students' lives (whatever that entails) before donating $1 Million to its bandwagon?  Would Monsanto be keen on hiring non-scientists, giving them a 5 week training period, then throwing them in a lab to do research and then two years later, have these bright prospects leave for higher paying opportunities?  Is TFA the difference in educating at risk kids or is this another moneymaking organization to create more policy makers and bureaucrats in the future?

If you have some more time to read about TFA, read Why Some People Like TFA Somewhat Less Than Others Do by Gary Rubenstein, a 20 year veteran in the TFA movement.

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