Some Tennessee alternative training programs outperform traditional programs, study finds

Tennessee teachers who came to the classroom through some non-traditional routes regularly outperformed teachers from traditional training programs, according to a report on teacher education programs released Friday by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

A crop of alternative certification programs such as Teach for America grant teacher licenses to candidates who haven’t completed a traditional teacher education program, and often involve candidates taking education classes while teaching full-time. Currently, 20 percent of the state’s teachers received alternative licenses.

The 2013 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs is an annual report required by a 2007 state law that analyzes the 42 teacher-training programs in the state, including the alternative programs.

It reports on teacher placement and retention; on teachers’ Praxis results; and on teachers’ “effect data”, as determined by the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, which uses students’ test scores over time to evaluate teachers’ performance. Traditionally and alternatively licensed teachers are compared to veteran teachers and beginning teachers.

Using primarily student test scores, the report found that some of these alternative training programs are outperforming traditional programs. Three of the six programs singled out in the report for being consistently high-performing were alternative: Memphis Teacher Residency, Teach for America Memphis, and Teach for America Nashville. Lipscomb University, Union University, and University of Tennessee, Knoxville, were also ranked as consistently producing teachers with high effectiveness scores.

But not all alternate certification programs performed. TNTP’s Memphis Teaching Fellows was one of several programs that regularly produced underperforming teachers. The others included Middle Tennessee State University, South College, Tennessee State University, Trevecca Nazarene University, University of Memphis, and the University of TN, Martin.

Heraldo Richards, the associate dean at the college of education at Tennessee State University, said that the data in the current reports “are not based on the present transformation that is taking place in traditional programs,” he said. “We’re looking at an older model and comparing that to alternate systems.”

Tennessee State University and other education schools regulated by the Tennessee Board of Regents have recently switched to a system where teachers-in-training spend a full year as student teachers, rather than just a semester, Richards said. The programs also now use a co-teaching model.

Richards said that he anticipated that the programs would improve due to the changes, which were based on 2010 recommendations for improving teacher education from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Here’s last year’s state report card. Next year’s report is slated to include information from the Teacher Educator Acceleration Model, or TEAM.

The 2013 report provides a profile of the 4,900 graduates of teacher-training programs. Other interesting findings in the report:

  • Teach for America in Nashville and in Memphis are responsible for training almost 30 percent of the state’s middle grades teachers.
  • Teachers in alternative certification programs had slightly higher GPAs than teachers in regular programs.
  • 34 percent of all teacher training candidates got endorsed in elementary education.
  • Eighty-six percent of Tennessee teachers are white and 77 percent are female.


defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.