Particularly interesting in light of Sean’s recent article about Teach for America. As most states face similar budget concerns, will we see more inquiries into the cost/benefit of the program? Or will TFA remain untouched while the schools themselves are targeted?
Teach for America faces scrutiny from Texas lawmakers
By ERICKA MELLON
Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle
Dec. 28, 2010, 10:12PM
Texas lawmakers have ordered a study of Teach for America to help determine if the Peace Corps-like program, which recruits top college graduates to work in needy schools, is worth the state’s $8 million investment.
The evaluation, due to the Legislature by Jan. 31, could serve as a key discussion piece as lawmakers debate how to slash the state’s budget, with a shortfall estimated to top $20 billion.
Teach for America, a nonprofit with strong supporters and caustic critics, has about 1,000 teachers in Texas schools.
The recruits, all recent college graduates accepted through a competitive application process, commit to teaching for two years.
“My concern has always been the cost,” state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, said Tuesday. “Is the school district getting the bang for the buck on the Teach for America teachers? I’m very concerned with the budget constraints right now.”
The state devoted $8 million to Teach for America over the last two years. The funding, $4 million annually, went to training, especially to help teachers with science and math instruction and with limited-English students, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Local school districts cover the teachers’ salaries.
The study is supposed to compare the student achievement levels of TFA teachers with Texas teachers from traditional university-based teacher-preparation programs and other fast-track alternative certification programs.
Lawmakers also asked researchers to look at teacher retention rates and, more broadly, at “the cost effectiveness of state investments” in the teacher-prep programs.
The Texas Education Research Center at the University of Texas at Dallas is conducting the evaluation.
State Rep. Rob Eissler, the chairman of the House Public Education Committee, said he expects the study will show positive results for TFA.
“Because it’s very competitive to get chosen by TFA, the credentials (of the TFA teachers) would seem to indicate a much stronger start,” said Eissler, R-The Woodlands.
Eissler said he didn’t think his colleagues were trying to single out TFA last year by mandating a study, but he said all state-funded entities are at risk of cuts.
A recent study in Tennessee found that TFA teachers generally were more effective than teachers from other programs. Other research has shown mixed results.
A 2001 study in Houston ISD found that differences between the TFA teachers and others weren’t always great, according to the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University.
But the researchers found that the highest-performing teachers consistently were TFA teachers and the lowest-performing teachers generally were not.
“Teach For America always welcomes objective research that will help us identify our strengths as well as areas where we can continuously improve,” TFA spokeswoman Kaitlin Gastrock said in a statement Tuesday.
Gayle Fallon, the president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said her biggest concern about TFA is retention of the teachers, who have to commit to only two years on the job.
“It’s a matter of whether or not you want to train people to stay in a profession or train them to be there for a couple of years,” Fallon said.