Monday, July 11, 2011

Houston ISD's Teach for America teachers stronger in some test areas, weaker in reading, than counterparts: Study

By Lynn Walsh | Texas Watchdog
Monday, Jul 11, 2011

Teachers from the nonprofit “Teach for America” program leave the Houston Independent School District at higher rates than their non-TFA counterparts, and their students’ performance record is mixed when compared to their counterparts, a district study shows.

While TFA teachers make up twice the share of HISD’s new teachers than they did a few years ago -- nearly 1 in 3 new HISD teachers was a TFA’er in 2009-10, the study says -- the TFA teachers are also leaving at faster rates than their counterparts, the internal study found.

“Forty-four percent of the 2005−2006 non-TFA new hires returned to HISD in 2010−2011 for their sixth year of service in HISD, while only 9 percent of the 2005−2006 TFA new hires returned to the district in October 2010,” the report says.

At the same time, however, for the first time in five years, retention rates for TFA teachers was greater than non-TFA teachers for those beginning their second year of teaching in HISD.

HISD has hired more than 600 teachers from TFA, a national education nonprofit that helps urban and rural school districts meet their teaching needs, in the last five years.

The hiring of TFA teachers by HISD has increased 15% since 2005, while the overall number of new-teacher hires in the district has decreased during that same time period, the March memorandum shows.

Students taught by TFA teachers in 2009 and 2010 performed better on the state Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test in both math and writing than those taught by non-TFA members, the memo says. In 2010, students taught by TFA teachers also scored better on state tests in science and social studies.

The report goes on to say that in 2009, “the difference was not significant … Both groups had comparable passing rates on the reading and science tests.” The report says the difference between the scores of students taught by TFA teachers and non-TFA teachers earned in 2010 was “statistically significant” in math, science and social studies, with students taught by TFA teachers performing better.

However, in reading, students taught by non-TFA teachers performed better, a difference that was “significant,” the report says.

The findings of the study aren't “surprising or alarming” based on what TFA aims to do, HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said in an e-mail. He also said it is “not surprising that TFA teachers outperform non-TFA teachers in some areas and that non-TFA teachers do better in other areas. This is why HISD is committed to staffing schools with a mix of great teachers of various backgrounds and experience levels.”

This month HISD trustees approved $600,000 to be used next school year for the district’s Teach for America program.

The partnership between HISD and TFA began in 1991 and in recent years has expanded to include more teachers, including a push for math teachers to work in the schools in the district’s turnaround program, called Apollo 20.

Local and state leaders have questioned the benefits and cost of the program while others sing the organization’s praises. A recent state study on the Texas investment into the program showed similar results to HISD’s: TFA teachers leave earlier but show better student achievement results in math.

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