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Teach for America vs. traditional training programs: This year’s state report card

Both alternative certification teacher programs like Teach for America and traditional programs are producing high-quality teachers, according to an annual evaluation of Tennessee teacher training programs.

The report, produced by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, examines data about teacher retention, placement, and effectiveness, and compares newly certified teachers with veterans as well as other novice teachers.

Teacher effectiveness scores used in the report were based on Tennessee Value Added Assessment (TVAAS) Scores, a calculation which uses the difference in a student’s test scores from year to year to determine a classroom teacher’s contribution to student growth. It’s legitimacy is routinely debated by the teachers union, education professors, and state Department of Education officials.

Here are some takeaways from the report:

Alternative programs and traditional programs both made high marks. This year, the commission found five programs that consistently produced teachers who “outperform other teachers in the state or are on an upward trend in effectiveness scores.” Of the five, three were alternative programs: Teach for America Memphis, Teach for America Nashville, and Memphis Teacher Residency. The two traditional programs were at University of Tennessee Knoxville and Lipscomb University.

Some alternative programs might not have such positive results without help from traditional training programs — and vice versa. Susan Benner, associate dean for professional licensure at the University Tennessee Knoxville, said because participants in Teach for America Nashville also attend graduate courses at Lipscomb, and Memphis Teacher Residency participants take classes at Union University in Memphis, traditional institutions deserve credit for those teachers successes as well. “It is a collective effort, not one [program] or the other,” she said.

The majority of 2012-2013 graduates of teacher training programs were white women from Tennessee. Eighty-six percent of the nearly 5,000 graduates of teacher training programs were white, and76 percent were women. Eighty-seven percent originally hail from Tennessee.

Statewide, only about ten percent of graduates of teacher training programs attended alternative programs, like Teach for America or the Memphis Teaching Residency. The percentage of new teachers in Memphis trained in such programs is likely much higher.

One hundred percent of teachers passed a core academic skills assessment. The core assessment is one way the state determines if teachers have the basic academic skills to teach. Teachers fared well on the assessment for the principles of teaching and learning, as well, with just under 100 percent passing.

  • Just about half of teachers who graduated from teacher training programs in 2009-2010 are still teaching. According to the report, the programs with the highest retention rate were LeMoyne-Owen College (100 percent), Teach for America Nashville (80 percent), and TNTP Memphis Teaching Fellows (82 percent).
  • The state has more newly qualified elementary education teachers than any other subject. Thirty-two percent of graduates from teacher training programs last year received certification for elementary education.
  • There aren’t a lot new STEM teachers. In the state’s Race to the Top application, the Department of Education committed to increasing the number of teachers qualified to teach science, technology, engineering and math courses. Ten percent of the 2012-13 cohort of potential new teachers were certified in one of those subject areas. Of those teachers, most are certified to teach math.
  • Teach for America Memphis was the alternative-certification program to graduate the most students. With 187 graduates, it produced 3.9 percent of the state’s new potential teaching force. It also produced the most middle grades teachers of any program in the state. Twenty-six percent of middle grades graduates were trained by TFA Memphis. The runner-up, Tennessee Technological University, only accounted for 8 percent of new middle grades teachers.

Readers, what do you think? Does the report match your experiences? Let us know in the comments!

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