Monday, February 24, 2014

Trouble for the Teaching Fellows?

A new survey by the UFT finds pretty big discrepancies between the perception of training by NYC Teaching Fellows versus traditionally trained teachers.

Just 5 percent of teachers who answered the union’s survey said their training through the city’s Teaching Fellows program was “excellent,” compared to 21 percent of graduates of education schools. And while 18 percent of education school graduates called their training “poor” or “fair,” that figure was nearly 50 percent for Teaching Fellows.

As a former Teaching Fellow, I never thought the training was particularly bad.  Like everything, it could have been better -- but it always seemed to me that there were dozens of much larger issues.  So, I wonder how much of this is driven by the fact that Teaching Fellows were more extensively trained in another field before getting a crash course in education and rushing into difficult positions in troubled schools.  Those people in those circumstances might feel very differently about equally good training than would an ed school graduate who'd been preparing for his/her position for years and landed a less stressful job.

Assuming the survey is representative, though, these stats really don't look good for the program.  Of course, since only 81 out of over 9,000 active Teaching Fellows took part in the survey we can' be sure about this (which doesn't necessarily mean it's not representative, just that we're less confident about its representativeness than if, say, 900 teachers had taken part).  The initial response of the Fellows was to point out the small sample size, but that could backfire if a larger sample size eventually responds similarly.

What I think is even more interesting, though, is the larger context of this survey for the Teaching Fellows.  The article describes The New Teacher Project (TNTP), the fellows' parent organization as "a nonprofit group that also lobbies on teacher quality issues including in favor of evaluations that consider student test scores" (emphasis added) . . . which I think says a lot.

I first wrote about this almost five years ago, but TNTP and TFA seem to keep branching out into areas well beyond filling openings in troubled schools.  TFA has started getting a lot of push-back, and I think that's due more to their policy positions, lobbying, support of school board candidates, etc. than it is their actual day-to-day operations.  If this survey is any indicator, TNTP may soon find itself in a similar position.

In other words, while I'm sure many are concerned about the actual recruitment and training of teachers, I'd wager that fewer people would be as concerned if TNTP weren't also lobbying for all sorts of unpopular changes.

On the one hand, I blame TNTP for branching out too far.  If they'd just focus on recruiting and training teachers, they could do their job a lot better and with less risk of interference.  On the other hand, it would be a shame if TNTP's work mattered less than its lobbying when reviewing its performance.

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