Friday, March 07, 2008

wendy kopp's book

one day, all children ... the unlikely triumph of teach for america and what I learned along the way (2001) by Wendy Kopp

I posted a brief comment about teach for america earlier (it sounds like a miracle), which attracted some helpful, critical responses from sylvia martinez (comments) and tom hoffman (blog)

My original interest arose partly by the endorsement of teach for america by the proposed teach for australia scheme as a solution to the australian indigenous educational crisis - even though it is important to note again there are significant differences b/w TFAmerica and TFAustralia, eg. TFAustralia pairs experienced mentors ("Fellows") with new recruits ("Associates")

In this post I want to say what Wendy Kopp says and does not say in her book

I still think it's amazing - it sounds like a miracle

Kopp's book is not analytical about education. eg. there is nothing of any substance at all in there about learning theory. Also the short teacher inservice program conducted by TFAmerica is at best highly problematic, from the Kopp account.

Kopp herself has never taught in a disadvantaged school. Her strength's are fund raising, management and promotional skills (including self promotion), which she learnt painfully

What I find amazing is the simplicity of the vision and the fact that it has succeeded significantly against the odds

Simplicity of the vision: Recruit high quality graduates to teach in disadvantaged schools

There is evidence of success in Kopp's book - although quite a lot of the evidence is anecdotal ("I visited this school and inspirational corp member was working their guts out doing this, this and this and achieving this")

More importantly, independent analysis has confirmed the success of Teach for America. This is documented in the Teach for Australia paper:
The most rigorous study to date, conducted in 2004 by Mathematica Policy Research, found that TFA teachers had a positive impact on math achievement of students as compared to students of all other teachers (who may or may not have a traditional certification background). TFA-taught students achieved the effect of roughly an additional month of math instruction over the course of a year. In reading, TFA teachers delivered similar gains as other teachers. However, TFA teachers had more substantial gains when compared to other novice teachers. In other words, Teach For America teachers were “an appealing pool of candidates…there is little risk that hiring TFA teaches will reduce achievement.” The study also notes the need for “programs or policies that can attract good teachers to schools in the most disadvantaged communities” and states “our findings show that TFA is one such program.”
The various statements in Kopp's book (some more evangelical, some more statistical quoting various surveys) are congruent with this analysis

For me the important thing is this. No one has successfully tackled educational disadvantage system wide systematically before, at least in Australia. There have been some individual successes in schools with inspirational Principals but no systemic success. Now we have a model that shows some real potential for success, warts and all.

The subtitle says it, "the unlikely success of teach for america ..."

At the end of the book there is some speculation about some of the reasons for success. This bit was interesting:
Perhaps the economic downturn, and the rise in civic committment following the tragic events of September 11 ... (Afterword, p. 187, 2003 edition)
The Australian education system, like the American has a very large gap b/w rich and poor. We need to take notice of this scheme.

Kopp's book is interesting but the real story of Teach for America will have to be told by the teachers themselves

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