An (aspiring) Educator’s Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘politics

I don’t empower students.

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Last Friday, I met Donaldo Macedo (friend and collaborator of Freire) and listened to him give a talk about racial, ethnic, and class identities; xenophobia, and suffering in the United States. There were many things that struck me in the talk, but these words helped me understand myself and my role as a teacher:

It is dangerous when teachers say they empower others. If I have the power to empower you, I have the power to take away your power….We should give students enough critical tools to empower themselves. Through their own power they can come to voice. Empowerment involves pain and struggle.

Macedo put into words a feeling I have had for awhile. In terms of social justice, I am not responsible for the empowerment of my students. The very notion implies a flow of power that is not consistent with socioeconomic/political realities or social justice. As my science ed teacher says, “I can tell a student information, but I cannot tell them learning”. The same distinction is true of empowerment: I can give the students information, build mentor relationship that extends beyond their year in my classroom, and help them gain critical thinking skills, but I cannot give them power in our society. Learning and empowerment are both student constructions. If I try to take on my student’s process of empowerment,  I will burn out. It is impossible for me to lift children out of poverty, racism, classism, xenophobia, and the many other forms of prejudice and oppression that exist in too many realities. What can I do? I can think about the path my empowerment took and what paths theirs could take as young adults. I can create a classroom community that functions like a caring, student-centered learning lab, where students can experiment with their own power and learn how to “come to voice”. Just like learning, empowerment is a process of self and community-driven deconstruction and reconstruction. I think we need to stop using the term empowerment so lightly. It’s a life-sustaining process.

What do you think? Do you use the word “empower” to describe what you do in the classroom and/or why you do it? Am I being too heavy-handed here?

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When is inequality constructive?

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In the Boston Review article Inequality matters: Why globalization doesn’t lift all boats (via thickculture), Nancy Birdsall clarifies the distinction between constructive inequality and deconstructive inequality:

Distinguishing between constructive and destructive inequality is useful. To clarify the distinction: inequality is constructive when it creates positive incentives at the micro level. Such inequality reflects differences in individuals’ responses to equal opportunities and is consistent with efficient allocation of resources in an economy. In contrast, destructive inequality reflects privileges for the already rich and blocks potential for productive contributions of the less rich.

I’m used to thinking about issues of inequality and social justice on the macro-level. Inequality of social, economic, and political opportunity is one of the reasons why I teach and advocate for the rights of children.  What about at the level of my classroom? When does inequality constructive or deconstructive in the context of pedagogies and learning environments? The most pervasive example of inequality teachers and administrators construct is grades. Although many schools try to make grades a reflection of how students are progressing on standards, the reality for many schools, is that grades both reflect and institutionalize tracks and hierarchies. Students with relatively higher grades have access to different pathways and resources than students who have relatively higher grades. There are different reasons why decision-makers at the classroom, school, and district level choose to have grades. In the classroom, I have noticed many teachers believe grades are an incentive structure: students and parents, on the whole, want higher grades rather than lower grades. Many are willing and able to change their behaviors to reflect this incentive.

Are grading I’ve seen examples of constructive or deconstructive inequality? On one hand, they are deconstructive because students are receiving marks on a scale without having access to the same academic and socioeconomic opportunities as their peers. Over time, students who fit into the culture of power and continue to have experiences that are valued by the school get higher grades, while students who do not have these opportunities get lower. The grades of students are compared and opportunities are doled out accordingly. This is deconstructive – the “potential for productive contributions” of struggling students is blocked. On the other hand, I have seen grading practices where the function and reason is feedback. When students are presented with qualitative and quantitative feedback about their performance, and have access to resources to improve, this feedback might alter micro-level incentives for them to engage in the process. This is more constructive  than the case given above because the quality of resources and environments we offer children are not a function of their perceived level in academic hierarchies. Other examples of inequalities we construct are our classroom management schemes. They often feature preferred behaviors paired to positive and negative consequences that change a students’ academic and social reality.

Constructive and deconstructive inequalities exist in learning environments. Teachers have control over some of these inequalities, especially classroom management and community building structures. Administrators have more control over grading, curriculum, and tracking. Students also create their own inequalities via social hierarchies that are based on perceived intelligence, beauty, and other factors. Although teachers do not have complete control over the inequalities that manifest themselves in a classroom space, when it comes to the choices we make, we have to ask: “Am I generating inequality? If so, is this inequality constructive or deconstructive?”.

What are your thoughts? Does this distinction hold or does it rely too heavily on capitalist constructions?

Response: Five Things Schools Must Do to Avoid Extinction

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Over at Gravity and Levity, Dave wrote a post entitled Five Things Schools Must Do to Avoid Extinction. Dave says schools need to embrace cell phones and iPods, stop blocking internet use, have teachers who police their own ranks, have school-based merit pay, and make sure teachers have experience in the arts.

Upon reading his list, I came up with two versions of my own. The first:

Five Things Schools Must Do to Avoid Extinction:

1. Recharge community spirit. There are many negative stereotypes (and harsh realities) about parental involvement in struggling schools. New research suggests parents of children who attend schools in low-income communities want more opportunities to engage with the school. Administrators and teachers must innovate how we reach out to parents of different economic realities, languages, and cultures. Schools should be part of the foundation of community renewal.

2. Invest in intellectual and professional communities of teachers. Schools, teacher preparation programs, unions, and other stakeholders must work together to create a system where mentor-apprentice relationships thrive, collaboration (between teachers in and across schools) is the norm, and all teachers have access to research-based and field tested pedagogical strategies.

3. Allow kids to play and think for themselves. Recent studies link recess and free choice time to academic and social success. As I’ve said in earlier posts, “I’m a constructivist: I think that children construct their own knowledge when they encounter experiences that intrigue and challenge them”. Children form and challenge schema through play.

4. Re-interpret the one room schoolhouse. Americans seem most comfortable in clear hierarchies – especially the ones we have created in schools. Grades are an example – we group children by age and establish rigid definitions for what it means to be at or below grade level. We track students by academic and language “ability” and social behavior. I understand why administrators and teachers prefer tracking: it seems like the most efficient way to deliver content at the level of students. I see classrooms like families. In a household, family members learn from each other even though they are different ages and have different goals/needs. Older siblings learn from younger siblings, parents learn from children, etc. Families are communities of learners just like schools should be. Instead of thinking about classrooms in terms of the supposed age or level of the students, we should think about them as diverse learning communities, where the different abilities of students help them learn from each other.

5. Acknowledge differences in culture without negative comparison to the culture of power. Instead of embracing the diversity we see in our learning communities, we often wage campaigns to rid children of differences. Although students must learn English in school to succeed in our society, we should praise the their status as students who navigate more than one culture and language successfully. Home cultures influence how students interpret and learn from the world we create at school. We must try to understand where are students come from with an attitude of respect.

Now, a more satirical list:

Five Things (“Underperforming”) Schools Must Do to Avoid Extinction:

1. “Smoke ’em out”. Cycle through new leaders and teachers each year. As George W would say, we have to smoke underachieving teachers and administrators out of their caves.

2. Scripting: eliminate the “teach” from teaching and replace it with a script. Community building, figuring out student needs, teaching students at their social and developmental pace is too hard. Reading a script, snapping fingers, and waiting for answers in game-show style is better.

3. Woo foundations and nonprofit organizations. There is a positive correlation between money available for grants and sound pedagogical decision-making, right?

4. Keep kids away from their communities and alienate parents. There is a positive correlation between time spent keeping children out of their community and test scores, right?

5. Support programs that bring new, unexperienced, teachers to the most needy students. We want teachers who are young and creative enough to innovate the education system (but whose lack of access to, and practice using, research-based educational strategies leaves them little recourse but to use uber-traditional practices).

Carnival of Education: 207th Edition

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Welcome to the 178th Carnival of Education – Spring Break Edition

Whether you are catching up on your reading at the beach, attending a few professional development conferences, or enjoying the many perks of spring break life (including but not limited to waking up and changing into a new pair of pajamas for the day), you will find great minds blogging about fascinating topics.

Although sitting around on the couch all day seems unproductive, Joel came up with 50 Online Reference Sites for Teachers over at So You Want To Teach?. After watching a a John Stossel program, John Holland got out of his pajams and wrote False Alarm: It’s Only John Stossel posted at Inside Pre-K.

Larry Ferlazzo made sure that his movie watching had educational value and posted The Best Places To Find Theatrical Movies On Science, Math, & History at Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites Of The Day For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL.

At the beach, John Holland (Inside Pre-K) is sipping colorful drinks and explaining the “accountability for preschoolers in MD” from his Explanation Provided? post. Michael Mazenko (A Teacher’s View) continues the debate he started on his Home Ec Returns post after tossing a frisbee on the beach.

SwitchedOnMom opted for professional development and a conference where she experienced Jay Mathews – Live! (The “More” Child). At another conference about higher education, Jim presented a talk on How to Navigate the College Financial Aid System (Blueprnt for Financial Prosperity) and Nate Desmond explained 12 Ways to Waste Money in College (Debt-free Scholar). Dana gave a presentation about her b-school experiences In Search of Sustainable Careers – 5 Reasons Why I Would Not Go Back to Business School (Investoralist) saying, “Do business school lead to sustainable careers? Some points to consider in face of global financial chaos.”

During a trip to DC, Matthew Ladner debates policy wonks about The Rhetorical Rights and Wrongs of the Obama Speech (Jay P. Greene’s Blog). Bradley Shea of bradley shea.com defends his views about The Need For Breakfast Clubs. After a visit to the White House, Bill Ferriter spoke about The Impact of Market Norms on Education. . . posted at The Tempered Radical, saying, “In this post, the Tempered Radical responds to Barack Obama’s recent pleas to young Americans to serve their nation by working in classrooms. “That’s just plain beautiful,” the Radical writes. “There’s one problem, though: Education has gone through a painful transition in the past two decades, from a profession driven by social norms to one driven by market norms.”

Scott McLeod presents Help wanted: Sites that connect classrooms across the globe? posted at Dangerously Irrelevant, saying, “A growing collection of places that allow teachers to connect their classrooms to others across the globe!”

Mathew Needleman presents Writing Tip #3: Pictures Aren’t Just for Babies posted at Open Court Resources.com Blog.

After attending a debate tournament with students, Soldave presents Preparing students for English speech & debate contests posted at Big in Japan.

At a local library, Kim of Wild About Nature gives a book talk entitled Book Review: One Wolf Howls. After a tutoring session, Bogusia Gierus Nucleus Learning explains why Tutoring is like a GPS | Nucleus Learning. From a computer lab, Travis A. Wittwer presents TECH & TE(A)CH posted at Stories from School: Practice meets Policy.

At a delightful park picnic, Joanne Jacobs muses that The revolution is not a picnic (posted at Joanne Jacobs). Andrew Bernardin passes the sandwiches and edits his  Jacks of All Topics, Masters of None post which is now at The Evolving Mind.

Mrs. Bluebird tries to relax after A Rant – Casting Off Accessories, Teacher Accountability and the Reality of Our World posted at Bluebird’s Classroom, saying, “Mrs. Bluebird is fed up with parents who aren’t parenting.”NerdMom presents Technology, Education and Life posted at Nerd Family.

While cleaning out a bookcase in a classroom, Clix pondered reading and posted SSR times at Epic Adventures Are Often Uncomfortable, saying, “As we struggle through difficulties in the classroom, it can be helpful to remember that other great heroes also faced near-impossible challenges, and even triumphed!”. Pat also spent time in her classroom and thought about classroom management. The resulting post is Catch Them Doing the Right Thing at Successful Teaching. Adding to the classroom management discussion is Jim McGuire. He presents Where Does Hard Work Come From? posted at The Reading Workshop, saying, “What causes students to work hard? This post takes a look at students’ work ethic.”

Madeleine Begun Kane uses her break to indulge a writing habit. The result is A Robot Violinist That Plays Better Than Your Kid? posted at Mad Kane’s Humor Blog. TeacherC does the same and produces a narrative entitled On Mercy Killing in the First Grade (or, how I stopped worrying and learned to appreciate punch lines) at An (aspiring) Educator’s Blog. Mike Holden shares Part 1: What is happening with teaching jobs? posted at DoE- Dave on Ed. Miss Profe writes about past experiences with students in Número Uno posted at Pensamientos.

That concludes COE Spring Break. Submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of education using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on the blog carnival index page. There were many submissions to this carnival. If your post did not make it to the midway, please try again next time!

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Written by TeacherC

18 March 2009 at 12:13 am

Little Economists

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The Economist is a goldmine for lesson plans. Witty captions and cartoons, brilliant data visualizations, and concise articles, make for a dynamic publication. The kind we want our students to be able to consume and produce (when they get older).

The Daily Charts section of The Economist website offers charts, maps, and graphs by subject (No more fish in the sea). When I come across a good visualization, I cut it out from the magazine (or print it out) and put it into a binder. Students can look through the binder for research ideas, debate research, hints about how to make their own visualizations, etc.

The Special Report section can jumpstart your expertise in a world issue (from the environmental waste crisis to the business of sport). All are downloadable PDFs on the website. I find these reports help me add current political and economic issues to my science, social studies, art, and mathematics content.

The Economist is known for its political cartoons. Look through KAL’s Cartoon Gallery to find cartoons relevant to your lesson plans. I’ve mediated great conversations and debates between students about these cartoons.

It’s important for your students to know you read – especially about issues that affect the world. I keep magazines and books around my desk and talk about issues that intrigue me while I’m reading. I hope this helps my students visualize themselves as older readers.

Have you used The Economist in your lesson plans? Are there other magazines you find useful?

An Educator’s Guide to Opportunity Cost and Rational Choice Theory, or “How I Learned to Continue Worrying but Advocate for TFA Reform (Instead of Total Dissolution)”

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This post is inspired by every blog post, newspaper article, peer reviewed journal, nonprofit organization, website, message board post, speech, coalition, informal conversation, formal debate, radio show, expose, and TV news hour that advocates or opposes an education policy. The issues of opportunity cost and mutual exclusivity are either ignored or misunderstood.

I attempt to answer these questions:

  • How should our understanding opportunity cost influence our decision-making about education policies?
  • How do we define mutual exclusivity in education?
  • How do these issues apply to our debates about TFA?

Opportunity Cost and Cost-Benefit Analysis

The concept of opportunity cost is important to all decision-making processes The opportunity cost of a course of action is the forgone benefit from an alternative action. In order for a benefit to be forgone, the chosen and alternative actions have to be mutually exclusive. This means that one cannot do both actions act the same time. Our lives are made up of choices about mutually exclusive actions, from deciding to go to college instead of working full-time for four years, to choosing between coffee and tea during a quick break. Opportunity cost can be computed in terms of anything – including money, ice cream cones, love, life experience, friendship, and “achievement”. The concept of opportunity cost reflects the scarcity of our resources – especially time and money. When we integrate opportunity cost into our decision-making, we ensure the most efficient use of our scarce resources.

In order to figure out the true value of any decision, a decision-maker does a cost-benefit analysis (often subconsciously). We must account for the “up front benefits” of an action and factor in forgone benefit. The forgone benefit is subtracted from the “up front benefit”. I define “up front benefit” as the difference between the value of an action and its price: the tangible value that a decision-maker receives from their choice. Although this is most often computed in monetary terms, it can be computed in terms of anything: from nutrition to abstract feelings of happiness. To find the true value of any action, subtract forgone benefits from “up front benefits”:

Computing the True Value of an Action

Here is a more complex example:

Maggie can choose between working at a job that pays a $30,000 salary or raising her initial income potential 60% (to $50,000) by attending a 4 year institution. In her case, maximum earnings potential without a college degree is $35,000, and $75,000 with a degree.  The institution costs $10,000 per year to attend (after scholarships and aid).

From these examples, we see:

  • We can maximize the true value of an action by minimizing costs (both “up front” and forgone).
  • Cost-benefit analysis are influenced by time. Time can add value (example: appreciation of the value of antiques, interest from the bank, job promotions) or decrease the value (example: depreciation of a car).
  • It is not easy to calculate cost and value. Maggie might have had non-monetary value or costs. For example, the university might be far from home and prevent her from seeing family. Most of the time, forgone costs is are not monetary. There are also issues of commensurability: how do we weigh the monetary versus the social costs of an action? (My former debate coach asks “Which is larger? A horse head or a furlong?” to help debaters understand this issue.)

Applying Opportunity Cost to Education Policy Debates

During a debate about TFA JR Atwood and I had on his playthink blog, we discussed the opportunity cost argument against TFA:

Educatorblog: The cost of the TFA program is so high that there is a huge opportunity cost. TFA is not cheap to run (I read an article that said that when you calculate finders fees, the recruitment process, salaries, etc – it costs more than $125,000 per year for each placement). I’m tired of the ‘what we’re doing is better than doing nothing’ argument – if we took the money that the government and private donors send to TFA each year and invested it in programs that help veteran teachers adapt to new populations, other recruitment programs (like Oakland Teaching Fellows, New York Teaching Fellows, etc), reforming teacher preparation programs, etc – we could get more bang for our buck. In education, getting more bank for our buck translates into better education experiences for underserved students.

JR Atwood: …..I do not agree, however, that if we were to take the money from TFA and invest it into other teacher prep programs that we — or our children — would necessarily be better off. First, the money spread among various educational initiatives is not zero-sum. Just because TFA gets some money does not mean that, absent their existence, another program would. This is like saying, “Instead of spending all this money on the Iraq war, we should spend it at home.” Sounds good and I agree with the spirit of the argument. But if we stopped funding the war, its current budget would not necessarily be distributed among domestic social service agencies.

Touche, JR. A successful argument about opportunity cost has two components:

A. An explanation of why actions are mutually exclusive.

B. An explanation of how one alternative is better than the other (this is the subject of our debate and my (obligatory edublogger) TFA post).

Showing the negatives of TFA isn’t enough. I have to explain how dedicating resources to TFA forfeits the supreme benefit of other policy solutions.

Mutual Exclusivity in the World of Education Policy

The world of education is not like a child with $5 in a candy store – opportunity costs are not clear. Although the scarcity of resources is a primary factor in decision-making and there are tangible consequences, it is hard to figure out how the adoption of one policy precludes the implementation of other policies. We’ve erected the concept of “achievement” to help us quantify how students experience the consequences of our policies – but there are many other ways to understand costs and values (the list goes from concrete to abstract):

  • Time (could go at the top or bottom of the list)
  • Money
  • Physical safety
  • Achievement
  • Social services (health care, sex education, college and career consulting, etc)
  • Learning
  • Fair distribution of social and economic opportunity
  • Rights promotion
  • Community-building and local support
  • Emotional and mental stability
  • Happiness and fulfillment

None of the items on this list are mutually exclusive. Physical safety goes hand in hand with emotional stability. Students aren’t happy unless they feel like they are apart of a larger community that values their perspective. It takes money and time to achieve all of these goals.  Policies – both nuanced (example: a school’s decision about uniforms) to sweeping (example: No Child Left Behind) – influence each other’s execution, benefits, and costs. For example, clauses about science-based researched reading interventions in NCLB have precluded the adoption of interventions that are not scripted (as of now, the only interventions that are deemed “well-researched” by the government are scripted learning programs). NCLB’s requirements have changed the dynamics of instruction – from time spent on subjects to how students are taught. A nuanced policy can also impact other policies: a teacher’s behavior management style influences physical safety, achievement, learning, and community-building.

JR is right about money – although money and time represent large costs, it is nearly impossible to say that taking funds away from one program will automatically lead to the funding of a better program.  Revolution has a substantial failure rate. Lawmakers and voters might not understand how to spend the money more effectively. Also, there is the issue of private money in education. Private donors can call into the same traps as lawmakers – especially when dealing with the distribution of public goods.

Most of the time, the question of mutual exclusivity is really about how a particular policy disrupts the implementation of policies that are already in action and have proven results. When people think of “failing” schools, they imagine a situation where everything is wrong – the teaching methods, environment, curriculum, etc. In reality, there are things that work  and things that don’t. In troubled schools, the consequences of models that don’t work outweigh the consequences of models that work. Sometimes, it is a wise policy decision to expand or fully-fund working elements instead of trying to create a whole new paradigm (this argument is used for NCLB). Also, it is rare for lawmakers to dismantle programs and more likely that new interventions will exist on top of old ones. There is also political mutual exclusivity: does the presence of TFA stop lawmakers and schools from undertaking better reforms?

Dismantling TFA is not a direct path to the reforms we want to see (better pay, institutional support, better teacher education programs, etc). We need to ask ourselves: how can a reformed TFA help us meet our  education reform goals?

Since before TFA’s inception, at-risk students have been subjected to an endless stream of substitute teachers and emergency certified teachers. Most of the time, these teachers have little experience or preparation. lf these substitutes and emergency certs have less experience with children than the average TFA recruit, is it a sound policy to place TFA teachers with these students? In studies where the uncertified teacher pool had less experience  than TFAers, TFAers outperformed their uncertified counterparts. Many make the argument that TFA increases the propensity of school districts to choose uncertified teachers over certified ones – if this is true, then TFA must be dissolved (we should do studies about how budget cuts and shifts in the availability of ‘cheap teachers’ influences hiring and firing). TFA should meet the same fate if it is a ploy by lobbyists to decrease public spending in education (no matter the true cost).

Can a reformed TFA make the transition from stop-gap measure to adaptable reform model? A reformed TFA could function alongside teacher education, certification, and incentive reforms. In fact, it could even lead reforms (adopting a the best training models, creating a new paradigm for institutional support of teachers, etc). Not all teacher recruitment programs should focus on “elite college students” – what if positive elements of the reformed TFA model spread to other programs? For example, all teacher education/certification programs would benefit from high levels of institutional support for teachers. TFA has the support of the public, private donors, and schools. TFA should harness the political and economic support it already has and change the terms of agreements it has with schools and recruits in unity with broader reform goals.

This may all be a pipe dream. What are your thoughts? Is there mutual exclusivity in this situation: Can TFA coexist with other models of reform? How should we assess mutual exclusivity and determine the opportunity costs of education programs? Does the very presence of TFA eliminate the positive consequences of existing policies or make decision-makers less likely to undertake reforms? Political, economic, and social models for revolution are (always) welcome.

Dr. Strangelove cover

(Image from Wikipedia)

“Don’t tase me, bro!” (AKA – the Obligatory Edublogger TFA Post)

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This post is inspired by a debate I’m having with JR Atwood on playthink:

JR Atwood: TFA does not aim, I don’t think, to create lifelong professional educators. What it does aim to do is help provide the human capital necessary to at least make a significant impact in the teacher shortage epidemic and to expose high-achieving college graduates, who might not otherwise understand just how deep the public education system is fractured, to the students and families — the people! — that make-up the dire statistics that fill newspaper editorials, speeches by politicians, and on blogs like yours and mine calling for drastic education reform.

Educatorblog: I’m tired of at-risk children being life and learning experiments for affluent adults.

Rewind to two years ago. I’m sitting in my politics seminar with 11 of my peers. We’re discussing race, poverty, and education reform. We’ve just spent the past few months reading about all of the problems – the poverty, health problems, low performing schools, and violent and/or economically depressed neighborhoods that many students face. The professor suggests that TFA might be the solution to all of our problems – a bunch of elite college students can solve just about any problem. Even if TFAers don’t remain in the profession, they’ve had a valuable learning experience that will influence their leadership.  My peers nod in agreement – my school was considered to be a ‘TFA feeder’. About 15 – 20% of each class applied and many got into the program. TFA posters adorn the dining hall, dorm cork boards, and just about every other blank space.

I wasn’t nodding. I started to talk about the mixed findings that studies in peer reviewed journals have had about the impact of TFA – Kerr and Berliner (2002), the infamous Darling-Hammond (2005) study, the Mathematica evaluation (2004), and many others. I take a bold position against TFA – I say that it should be torn to shreds and its financial remains fed to other programs. My peers jump on me. To them, TFA is common sense – what could go wrong with putting the best college students in the worst classrooms? My arguments about professionalism, opportunity cost, the importance of teacher preparation, school support, and what we now call the “Bold Approach” to education reform, fall on closed ears. Cynics like me and our education heresy were public enemy number 1 – the opponents of “real change”. After 20 minutes of raised voices and finger pointing my professor changed the topic (to the Thernstroms and the Bell Curve – I would encounter finger pointing and raised voices again that afternoon).

It’s two years later and I’ve changed my position: We need to reform TFA.

The major premise of my proposed reforms is that TFA and weak schools share the same problem: the mismanagement of human capital. When TFAers and traditional teachers aren’t given the professional tools that they need to succeed, too much of their passion and intellect goes to waste. The quality of education opportunities provided to at-risk students should be the most important factor in decision-making. I don’t like the argument that the primary purpose of TFA is to expose elite students to problems in education – there are many cost-effective ways of exposing college students and young professionals to the education sector without putting the learning of students at risk. Example: my college gave me a grant to volunteer full-time at an alternative school inside of a juvenile detention center. It was almost like student teaching. I worked 30 – 40 hour weeks. I spent most of my day in the classroom. After class was over, I took an intern position with the administrative side. Over the course of the summer I gained more responsibilities. The classroom teacher was a highly qualified and caring special education instructor – the students’ learning experiences were not sacrificed for mine. This experience and many others inspired me to become a professional educator in a Title I school.

The reforms:

1. TFAers need better preparation. As any educator will tell you, scaffolds are important to learning. Scaffolds coupled with classroom experiences can jumpstart a TFAers learning process. Master teachers, administrators, and researchers should not only teach TFAers in seminars, but critique their work as student-teachers. Currently, the TFA training program is 5 weeks. I propose that TFAers make the transition from student teacher –> co-teacher –> classroom teacher in a period of 4 – 8 months. Classroom experiences must complement academic coursework about best practices, professional development, and serving the needs of learners (English language learners, at-risk students, students in special education, etc). Students could be student teachers by day and take courses in the evening (many schools of education use this model in accelerated MA+credential programs that last for 12 months). The course and clinical work completed are transferable to a traditional MA+credential program. Since this training period is so short and leads to a complete certification and MA, TFAers could still put in 2 – 5 years of service.

2. TFAers need more support. Many of my friends in TFA say that they do not receive professional support from master teachers or administrators. Even after TFAers are full-fledged teachers, they need a network of master teachers and administrators who can help them troubleshoot and develop their teaching philosophy. As a part of the TFA placement contract, administrators must promise to provide networks that include their best master teachers.

TFA could be a true reform leader – the reforms I suggest for TFA could be used in existing teacher prep  and school district induction programs. Penny for your thoughts?

In case you didn’t get the title reference (or if you did get the reference and enjoy watching the video):