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Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Beyond awful: rethinking education research

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Sarah Fine is a former teacher and a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her work has appeared in Teacher Magazine, Education Week, and the Washington Post.

Last month, Ednews editor Alan Gottlieb published a commentary in which he shared a vision that can only be called bleak. In the piece, he describes a meeting where education researchers and policymakers sat down in an attempt to reconcile their differences – apparently to no avail.

“Ultimately we will never have a system that approaches the ideal,” Alan concludes. Education researchers, it seems, will never be able to reconcile their “reflective, deliberate” natures with the action-driven haste of policymakers and practitioners.

A year ago I would not have paid any attention to this claim. Like many teachers, I thought of education research as a pale netherworld that had little to do with the realities of my classroom.

Now, however, everything has changed. As a first-year doctoral student in Harvard’s Ed.D. program, I find myself continually grappling with the issues that Alan’s commentary raises. Will education research always be sidelined when it comes to real-world decisions? Are education researchers doomed to live forever in the realm of the arcane?

If this were the whole story, I might quit graduate school altogether. Luckily, however, it’s not.

Nothing less than my professional future rests on these questions – and so I have to believe that the answer in both cases is “no.”

Admittedly, Alan’s doom-and-gloom vision is something of a paradigm in the field. As early as 1929, John Dewey called education research “an arm chair science.” In 1993, theorist Carl Kaestle wrote about the absence of influential studies in the field, citing this as the reason for the “awful reputation” of its research. More recently, historian Ellen Lagemann published a book exploring the “troubling” fact that schools of education, in their quest to gain greater acceptance in the academy, have tended to privilege theoretical over applied work.

If this were the whole story, I might quit graduate school altogether. Luckily, however, it’s not.

Education research may have a deservedly awful reputation, but there are an increasing number of researchers who have been breaking the mold, opening the possibility for an entirely different paradigm of interaction between the studiers and the worlds they study.

Melissa Roderick, who I recently heard speak, is a prime example. As well as being a professor at the University of Chicago, Roderick is one of three directors at the Consortium for Chicago School Research (CCSR), a high-profile organization that works with the Chicago Public Schools to improve education outcomes in the district. Roderick’s role involves collaborating with district teachers and administrators to identify research questions, design studies to investigate them and build capacity with respect to acting on the findings.

The key word here is collaborate. Roderick and her colleagues at CCSR reject the idea that researchers must maintain an academic distance from the “subjects” involved in their work. Instead, they treat practitioners and policymakers as key partners in the research process – and as key players in the process of implementing research-driven changes.

For example, in her most recent project Roderick has been focusing on the relationship between Chicago Public School students’ high school careers and their post-secondary outcomes. She began by talking to administrators about their beliefs with respect to the college application behaviors of their students, and followed up by surveying the students themselves. This process allowed her to unearth a troubling reality: while most administrators attributed low application rates to a lack of interest, 95 percent of students reported a desire to attend four-year colleges.

A more traditional researcher might have taken this finding and published a study about the “understanding gap” with respect to college aspirations among inner-city students. For Roderick, however, identifying the gap was just the beginning. After aggregating the data, she convened a group of teachers and administrators and asked them to respond to her findings. The result? A collaborative, action-based research project.

“When I brought the data to the schools, people were like, ‘Wow, if the kids want to apply to four-year colleges, why aren’t they doing it?’” Roderick says. “Once they saw that there was a break in the pipeline, they were all about trying to figure out what was going on – and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since.”

Roderick’s project has already resulted in meaningful changes in policy and practice with respect to making the college application process more navigable for Chicago families. Several of the preliminary findings have “trickled up” to the federal level, where folks are working to make the Free Application for Federal Student Aid less arduous to complete. The project also promises to contribute to a broader body of knowledge about college access.

I can only imagine how it might feel to be a teacher or administrator involved in work like this. I certainly would see the research process as highly connected my school, my students, and my work. I would also be likely to devote serious attention to whatever findings emerged – particularly if local policymakers were doing the same.

In the world of theory, work that contributes to theory and also has implications for use lies in what is called Pasteur’s Quadrant. Plenty of traditional education research has aspired to occupy this space, and some of it arguably does. What the work of Roderick and CCSR has done, however, is to shift the paradigm in an important way. For them, successful Pasteur-quadrant research does not just have implications for use; it has real, ongoing, evolving use by those who have the agency to make positive change.

That, in my not-yet-professional opinion, is an idea worth taking seriously.

None of this is to suggest that education researchers should entirely change tacks. They can, and should, continue to frame questions, weight modes of inquiry, and tease out transcendent ideas. They should certainly remain devoted to reflection and theory-building. But their obligation should equally be to the real people in the real worlds that they study – to listen to them, to work with them, and to support them in reaching ever-deeper understandings.

A lot will have to change in order for this to happen. Schools of education will need to find ways to validate, honor, and encourage action-oriented and community-level work. Practitioners and policymakers will need to re-imagine themselves as active participants in the research process. Funders will need to provide ongoing support to organizations like CCSR.

Most importantly, researchers themselves will need to shift their stance. They will need to open themselves to the vulnerabilities and urgencies of the worlds they study. They will need to seek on-the-ground partners and cultivate ongoing relationships with them. They will need to stand up for these choices in the academy.

I hope that that I will have the courage and opportunity to stand among them.

Popularity: 14% [?]

From the publisher: Are researchers, policymakers oil & water?

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Last month I wrote a blog post about my lack of confidence in educational research, some of which strikes me as politicized. My basic point was that in some cases you could read only an author or think tank’s name and guess a study’s conclusions with a high degree of accuracy.

As you might imagine, the post created a stir. I had some stimulating conversations with Kevin Welner, a University of Colorado education professor and director of the National Education Policy Center, which I mentioned in my post. As I wrote in that post, I like and respect Welner. Our discussions were (to use diplomats’ language) frank and open and at their conclusion we decided this was an interesting enough topic to merit a broader conversation.

Policymakers will see some researchers as timid wafflers. The researchers will view those policymakers as impulsive and shallow in their policymaking.

On Monday, we convened a group of nine people for a two-hour discussion about research, policy, politics and the media. We agreed that the conversation would be off the record, so I can’t say who attended. Let’s just say it was an interesting mix of academics and policy folks.

We did not solve the research and policy worlds’ problems. In fact, if anything, I left the conversation feeling more downcast than encouraged. But I came away with a better  understanding of researchers’ perspectives, and why it is so difficult for advocates and policymakers to use research well.

Here are my undoubtedly over-simplified interpretations of some of the main points that emerged:

  • Research by its nature is reflective and not oriented toward action. As one participant put it, good research consists of paying attention to what happened in the past, with the aim of avoiding the mistakes of the past. “Research more often describes the problem than effectively prescribes the solution.”
  • From a researcher perspective, policy is “often (recklessly) ahead of what we know.”
  • From a policy perspective, research often isn’t timely enough to have an impact on the policy debates of the day. “It takes decades for consensus to form around research findings, and for real knowledge to emerge.”
  • While most researchers would not classify themselves as political advocates, “our values guide the questions we ask.”
  • Some researchers, though, have crossed the line and have taken on more of an activist role. “Their research is pretty predictable,” one participant said.
  • Most policymakers, though, “lead with their values, not with research findings.”

From the perspective of some of the academic researchers in the room, the combination of policymakers, advocacy groups and media outlets, all uncomfortable with nuance and ambiguity, form a toxic brew. While the best research lives in the gray areas, subtlety and nuance are the enemies of soundbites and ideologically-driven debates and policy fights.

Policymakers and advocates want definitive conclusions. Researchers shy away from yes and no answers. On controversial legislation like Senate Bill 10-191, the teacher effectiveness law, researchers’ innate “caution is seen as trying to undo the intent of the legislation,” one participant said.

Good academic research is by its nature reflective and deliberate. Hence the “ivory tower.” Is it possible to bring research into harmony with a political and media culture that runs on adrenaline, competition and ideology?

It’s hard to see how. One researcher at the gathering suggested that at more tranquil times on the political calendar – summer in a non-election year, perhaps –someone convene a group of researchers and policymakers to discuss in depth and detail the issues likely to emerge as hot-button legislative issues in the coming year.

Ultimately, we will never have a system that approaches the ideal. Policymakers will see some researchers as timid wafflers. The researchers will view those policymakers as impulsive and shallow in their policymaking.

One solution proposed in passing that everyone seemed to like: Have the state legislature meet only every second or third year. That would allow time for deliberation and keep laws lacking a research basis from being passed just to justify the legislators’ existence.

Now there’s an idea worth pursuing.

Popularity: 13% [?]

Using the right kind of research the right way

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Mark Sass, a teacher since 1994, teaches at Legacy High School in the Adams Five Star School District.

Want to know why many educators close their doors to current education debates?  See Alan’s recent post “Why I don’t trust education research.”

It is dangerous for educators to act this way, but it is certainly understandable.  Whom to believe?  What am I to do?

A better approach for educators to take with research is to look at research that is at the micro-level.  Research that impacts their everyday practice versus the big policy research that gets mangled, or not,  in subjective partisan bias.  Case in point is the research that shows that constructive feedback to students has a greater impact on student learning than do socioeconomic characteristics.

Researcher John Hattie looked at meta-analyses and evaluated the relative impact of many factors, including family structure, curriculum, teaching practices and student feedback on student achievement.  His findings challenge some prevailing notions by many educators.  The following factors influence student achievement as shown by the “effect size,” or the percentage of standard deviation (the higher the number in the parentheses equals a higher impact).

  • Preterm birth weight (.54)
  • Illness (.23)
  • Diet (.12)
  • Drug use (.33)
  • Exercise (.28)
  • Socioeconomic status (.57)
  • Family structure (.17)
  • Home environment (.57)
  • Parental involvement (.51)

As you can see, many of these factors would be considered outside the influence of the teacher (this is arguable in some areas like parent influence).  These are certainly negative influences.  But are there any other influences, ones that can be under the control of the teacher that can overcome the negative factors?  Hattie found a number of practices that are more powerful than those listed above.  For example: teacher/student relationships (.72), professional development (.62), creativity programs (.65), and feedback (.73).

Doug Reeves summarizes Hattie’s findings:

“We can say, based on the preponderance of the evidence from multiple studies in many cultural settings, that feedback is not only more important than most other instructional interventions, it is also more important  than socioeconomic status, drug use, nutrition, exercise, anxiety, family structure, and a host of other factors that many people claimed were overwhelming.”

This is why some school districts, like Aurora and Adams 12, are looking at scrapping their antiquated grading systems and replacing them with grading systems that reflect this current research.  But there is great resistance to the proposed changes.  Why is this?

Our greatest challenge is to transform what we know into action: The “knowing doing gap.”  In all my years as a teacher, I have been frustrated by many things.  But the one area that has frustrated me the most is the seeming indifference to research by educators.

Yes, other fields experience this indifference, but I would argue that it is more so in education that in any other field.  I cannot imagine anyone in the technology industry being satisfied with what they know.  They want to know more and they operate from the assumption that what they do could be better.

Look at medicine and the changes that have taken place over the years when it comes to their practice.  To educators I would ask, “What keeps us from continually challenging what we know?”  Reeves says:

“Equipped with a rich literature on the theory and practice of change, educators and school leaders should be fully capable of acknowledging error, evaluating alternatives, testing alternative hypotheses, and drawing conclusions that lead to better results.  Instead, decision making processes are more likely to be guided by personal convictions that are not only antiquated but dangerous.  We can be indignant about the physicians of the 19th Century who were willing to wash their hands, but when the subject turns to educational policies, we sometimes elevate prejudice over evidence.”

I know that school and district environments can impact innovation.  But this should not keep us from moving forward. Teaching is one of the most complicated of human activities.  It is hard.  That’s why educators need to continually challenge what they know and interrogate what they do.  This push should come from within the field of education, not from left field.

Popularity: 10% [?]

Why I don’t trust education research

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Research is hailed as the Holy Grail in the world of education. Staring a sentence with the words “research shows” is aimed at sticking a dagger in the heart of an opponent’s argument. Increasingly, though, I am finding reasons not to trust education research.

Over time I have noticed that many researchers’ on the left and right invariably produce studies that support their ideological beliefs. This causes me concern.

Yesterday’s release of a study by CU’s National Education Policy Center on the Los Angeles Times’ 2010 analysis of value-added ratings of L.A. teachers provides the latest example of why I’m cynical about research. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the study, Due Diligence and the Evaluation of Teachers. Others have pointed out flaws in the newspaper’s methodology, though the Times continues to defend its work.

What bothers me is this: NEPC is undoubtedly a think tank with a progressive, left-of-center bent. Looking through a list of the center’s studies, I am hard-pressed to find one that does not reinforce the beliefs of people with that ideological inclination. Since December, I’ve received email alerts about NEPC studies casting doubt on charter school quality, teacher evaluation methodologies, school report cards and international comparisons of U.S. student performance.

So when I hear NEPC has a new study, I know generally what its conclusions will be before I read it.

I know, like and respect Kevin Welner, the professor who heads NEPC. He used to write for this blog. I do not doubt his integrity. That’s why I am puzzled by this phenomenon, which is by no means limited to NEPC.

On the other side of the ideological spectrum, I know Harvard’s Paul E. Petersen will produce research favoring vouchers and charter schools. Ditto Jay P. Greene from the University of Arkansas.

What’s wrong with this picture? I want to see one of these researchers or their think-tanks produce a study that cuts against the grain; that calls into question the beliefs of the researchers and their funders. Until that happens, I will take everything they write with an enormous grain of salt.

I may disagree with some of researcher Diane Ravitch’s conversion experience conclusions but I credit her with having the enormous courage to rethink her positions and then go very, very public with her mea culpa and her change of heart.

Popularity: 16% [?]

From the publisher: Let’s all grow up

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

It’s no secret that, if forced to choose sides, my sympathies in the Denver education reform battle would lie with Superintendent Tom Boasberg and the four school board members who usually support his initiatives.

But I’m not an unqualified supporter. I wonder about Denver Public Schools’ ability to implement its grand plans, including the overhaul of schools in Far Northeast Denver to be voted on Thursday night. I am critical of the district’s unwillingness to fully uphold its end of the bargain with innovation schools. DPS loosens the purse-strings and the regulatory stranglehold reluctantly if at all, even as the Denver Classroom Teachers Association has been forced to make contract concessions for those schools.

Still, I believe the district’s intentions and strategies are sound. Not everyone agrees, though. Three members of the school board vigorously oppose many of the districts sweeping plans. Opposition and debate are healthy. Board members need to be skeptical and ask tough questions.

Over the years I have watch some board members get co-opted by successive administrations and become little more than appendages of the superintendent. This is unhealthy behavior.

There’s a pressing question, though, about the current dissenters on the school board. Are they loyal opposition, which we sorely need, or are they something less healthy?

Some of their recent actions make this a legitimate question. Earlier this month, the three board members, Andrea Merida, Jeanne Kaplan and Arturo Jimenez met with a subcommittee of the Colorado Lawyers Committee about district turnaround plans, which they vigorously oppose.

Depending on whose lawyer you choose to believe, this either was or wasn’t a violation of the state’s open meeting law. Despite the three members’ protestations that they did not know who else would be at the meeting, it seems clear they could and should have known better.

It has led to an ill-conceived bid by board President Nate Easley to censure the three board members, a bid that now seems certain to fail.

Meanwhile, board member Merida has played a key role in creating DeFENSE (Democrats for Excellent Neighborhood School Education), an organization that to date has expended most of its effort opposing Boasberg’s initiatives (oh, and bashing “Waiting for Superman.”) Merida has been somewhat coy about her leading role, deflecting questions and going on the counteroffensive against people who question her (as in this video, posted by The Denver Post’s Jeremy Meyer).

But in DeFENSE’s early days, Merida’s cell phone number was listed at the bottom of the page as a point of contact. Emails to the site at one point appeared to funnel through the domain.

Some might not agree but I think it’s acceptable for a school board member to belong to such an organization. It shows questionable judgment, but I see no major ethical issues. Being one of its leaders, however – acting as midwife if not mother – is another matter.

In any event, why not be transparent?

Rather than reflexively heaping all the criticism on the three board members in question, though, it makes sense to try to understand their point of view. They have some legitimate gripes, they have reasons to feel frustrated and devalued, and they aren’t the only ones who deserve criticism for the disintegration of the Denver school board.

Put yourselves in their shoes for a few minutes, even if you disagree with all their positions. If you can’t bring yourself to do this, then you may be part of the problem.

So imagine: You’re on the losing side of 4-3 votes on a lot of key policy issues. You feel shut out of decision-making. It seems that whenever you ask the district for information what you get back is incomplete, misleading or both. You suspect that other board members and the district leadership are cutting deals to which you are not privy.

You believe to the core of your being that the district is heading down the wrong path. From where you sit, DPS is planning to open a slew of new schools and overhaul existing schools without thinking through how all the dislocation could hurt kids and damage families and communities you were elected to represent. As far as you’re concerned, the district looks in the mirror and instead of facing its own failures decides to scapegoat teachers.

So what do you do? How do you use leverage to make the 3-4 vote dynamic work to your advantage?

You stage a guerilla campaign. You hope to wear the other side down with multiple assaults from different angles. That’s what has been happening in DPS over the past year or so. If you were in their position, wouldn’t you employ some of the same tactics?

Unfortunately as in all guerilla campaigns there has been collateral damage, primarily to the board’s once sterling reputation.

What’s most troubling about the devolution of the Denver school board is that while on the surface disagreements center on policy issues affecting schoolchildren and their families, underlying much of it are deepening personal animosities among some board members, and between the dissident faction and Boasberg and his top deputies.

Everyone deserves a share of the blame for this. Hiring a marriage counselor didn’t work, but some disinterested grown-up needs to step in and persuade these people to get serious about working together.

So, let me offer some unsolicited advice to both sides.

Censuring board members Merida, Kaplan and Jimenez might provide a few minutes of delectable schadenfreude, but what else does it accomplish? Let it go.

Launching premature recall campaigns (against Merida) and threatening to recall other board members (notably Easley) consumes people’s attention and energy and ratchets up the animosity. Save it for when there is an issue that merits the nuclear option. Just drop it.

It has gotten personal on both sides of the divide. The dissident faction has not forgiven rookie board member Easley for pulling a slick move and acing out Kaplan to become board president. Well, as Finley Peter Dunne said, politics ain’t beanbag. This isn’t a high school election, folks, and we shouldn’t be forming cliques and nursing grudges. Get over it.

Everyone in education prattles on about it being “all about the kids.” The side you’re on is always all about the kids, while the other side fixates on “adult issues.” Unfortunately, at the moment the only kids this is about are the adults on both sides who persist in acting like children.

So, note to board members, administrators, teachers, advocates and community members on both sides of the issue: Grow up!

Popularity: 5% [?]

Reformers’ homework?: An unqualified response

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

I came across a new Huffington Post column by education professor Gary Stager that got the mental gears grinding. The author was dismayed by a Washington Post piece in which urban reform leaders (including DPS’ own Tom Boasberg) call for specific teacher policy and charter school reforms. The piece has been labeled as a “manifesto.” (You may recall that Kevin Welner wrote a somewhat thoughtful response to Boasberg et al. here at Ed News Colorado — one worthy of honest disagreement that stirred a fair share of controversy.)

While there’s the response from Welner, on another plane came this other response sympathetic to his that I found at the same time more revealing and more confounding. In his column, Stager insists that the co-authors of the manifesto

are unqualified to lead major urban school districts. Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein are not qualified to be a substitute teacher in their respective school districts. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan could not coach basketball in the Chicago Public Schools with his lack of credentials. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that they advocate schemes like Teach for America sending unprepared teachers into the toughest classrooms armed with a missionary zeal and programmed to believe they are there to rescue children from the incompetent teachers with whom they need to work. In public education today, unqualified is the new qualified.

Stager — whose own website promotes him as an “out-of-the-box” education thinker — then goes on to assign a Progressive reading list of Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, Jonathan Kozol and Gerald Bracey et al. to help the dominant “Reform™” advocates eschew high-stakes accountability and testing, and get beyond the notion “that there is only one way to create productive contexts for learning.” Why does that sound like a straw man to me?

Now it may be to my detriment, but I’d never heard of Dr. Stager before reading his column. And I’m nearly certain he’s never heard of me. Given his position as an education school professor, I very well may lack the requisite credentials to hold a contrary opinion. I admit I haven’t read most of the books he highlights, nor in most cases did he give a compelling reason to change that fact. Nonetheless, hopefully I’m not utterly “unqualified” to raise a few pertinent questions:

  • For one who has proclaimed that education is not suitable for students as a one-size-fits-all enterprise, what is so threatening about the existence of: a) Teachers trained outside the established university education system and b) Charter schools that offer different types of programs?
  • If established Progressive educators already “know how to amplify the enormous potential for children,” why have their decades of dominance over the profession yielded little or no discernible progress? Why should they continue to be entrusted with so much power, without so much as an acknowledgment of the stagnant conditions that have given such tremendous life to the “Reform™” movement?
  • Why should parents and other citizens embrace the proclaimed vision “of sustaining a joyful, excellent and democratic public education for every child” while simultaneously being preached down to for a lack of expertise? Why should low-income parents satisfied at the results of have chosen to send their children to “charter-based obedience schools” like KIPP or West Denver Prep be motivated to listen?
  • If it is so much better for our educators simply to be “qualified” (aka credentialed by a state-recognized university education program), why are so many “qualified” Colorado educators not equipped to teach younger students the research-based basics of reading? Why are so many “qualified” elementary teachers not properly equipped to teach basic math skills?
  • Would the Big Picture model touted in the column have spread so far to serve so many students if not for public charter school laws and the innovators who worked outside the system to make it happen? What percentage of educators employed by Big Picture are traditionally licensed?
  • If it is the contention that research doesn’t support the dominant “Reform™” paradigm, and that one-size-doesn’t-fit-all, could widespread support be found among Progressive education professors to scrap the high-stakes No Child Left Behind regime in exchange for a system that empowered students and parents with universal choice–since research consistently shows the effectiveness of vouchers in satisfying parents and improving student learning?

Humble questions from an unqualified someone.

Popularity: 5% [?]

Teacher bonuses≠better achievement?

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

A headline from the Washington Post: Teacher bonuses not linked to better student performance, study finds. How credible is the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt? Real research or advocacy dressed up as research? (Oh, pardon me. That never happens).Thoughts?

Popularity: 5% [?]

Portfolio districts: An invitation

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

One of the more prominent reforms in insider circles, if not in popular discussions, is the so-called “portfolio strategy.” The strategy varies from district to district, but the basic idea is for the central administration of the school district to shift from the conventional bureaucratic model to a newfangled portfolio-manager model, whereby the district runs some schools and independent operators run others.

All the schools would be subject to closure or conversion or turnaround if they fail to meet performance expectations – in much the same way that a manager or a portfolio of securities would dump a poor-performing stock in favor of a more promising one.

Denver is among the districts that have gravitated toward the portfolio model, but it’s places like New Orleans, NYC, DC, and Los Angeles that have really been in the forefront.

Alas, that about exhausts my knowledge of the reform. But I plan to learn more on Friday, September 24th, when the EPIC policy center hosts a panel discussion with two researchers who have recently written about the reform.

Katy Bulkley has the definitive book on the topic coming out next month with Harvard Education Press, co-edited with Jeff Henig and Hank Levin, called “Between public and private: Politics, governance, and the new portfolio models for urban school reform.” She’ll be joined on the panel by Ken Saltman, who authored a largely critical policy brief earlier this summer that looked at the underlying research (or lack thereof) concerning the strengths and weaknesses of the portfolio approach — called, “Urban School Decentralization and the Growth of ‘Portfolio Districts.’” An earlier and much more sympathetic description of the reform model is offered by Paul Hill and Robin Lake over at CRPE.

This will be the first of two panel discussions that we will be hosting at CU-Boulder on the 24th; I’ll write about the second topic in a follow-up post here.  If you’re interested in attending, please visit here to learn more and rsvp.

For the portfolio discussion, in addition to Bulkley and Saltman, we’ll be joined by Vincent Badolato, the VP of Public Affairs at the Colorado League of Charter Schools, who promises to ask the panelists some tough questions. (Vinny, who I’m proud to say is a former advisee of my mine at CU, wrote a very nice piece on teacher data systems in Colorado, published on our site here.)

Popularity: 3% [?]

Another perspective on TFA study

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Remember that study I wrote about earlier this week, as written about in the NY Times, about Teach for America alums demonstrating less civic engagement than non-corps members? Andy Rotherham puts it in perspective:

So the punchline is not anything negative about TFA per se but rather that it’s unclear if the TFA experience increases civic participation (from an already abnormally high level) based on this study. That’s a legitimate question relative to the service movement overall. But it’s not central to TFA’s mission, which is to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students and create a cadre of alums with a firsthand understanding of the educational challenges facing low-income students. In other words, while the civic question is hardly irrelevant, let’s hold TFA accountable for what the organization wants to do via its mission.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Is TFA bad for civic engagement?

Monday, January 4th, 2010

It seems counter-intuitive that a program designed to send high-octane college graduates into high-poverty schools would produce graduates with a limited sense of civic engagement. But a sweeping new study by two Stanford University professors suggests just that. The study is published in an academic journal and isn’t available on the Web.

According to a New York Times article on the study:

In areas like voting, charitable giving and civic engagement, graduates of the program lag behind those who were accepted but declined and those who dropped out before completing their two years, according to Doug McAdam, a sociologist at Stanford University, who conducted the study with a colleague, Cynthia Brandt.

The reasons for the lower rates of civic involvement, Professor McAdam said, include not only exhaustion and burnout, but also disillusionment with Teach for America’s approach to the issue of educational inequity, among other factors.

Wendy Kopp, TFA’s founder, counters that:

“It’s hard to see the incredible outpouring of interest among this generation and think of it as a lack of civic engagement,” Ms. Kopp said.

“Unfortunately,” she added, “it doesn’t seem as if this study looked at Teach for America’s core mission, by evaluating whether we are producing more leaders who believe educational inequity is a solvable problem, who have a deep understanding of the causes and solutions, and who are taking steps to address it in fundamental and lasting ways.”

Popularity: 3% [?]

Colorado Health Foundation Walton Family Foundation Daniels fund Pitton Foundations Donnell-Kay Foundation