Monday, January 04, 2010

Teach for America: Gauging the Dedication of Teacher Corps Grads

My opinion: teachers are pressured to keep silent and keep a low profile except as directed by their employers or their union. Teachers tend to be guardians of the status-quo. In order to rise in the union or in school administration, they have to follow orders

Gauging the Dedication of Teacher Corps Grads

Published: January 3, 2010

Teach for America, a corps of recent college graduates who sign up to teach in some of the nation’s most troubled schools, has become a campus phenomenon, drawing huge numbers of applicants willing to commit two years of their lives.
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Matt Roth for The New York Times

David Donaldson, a Teach for America member, teaches English at Maryland Academy of Technology and Health Sciences, a charter school in Baltimore. More Photos »
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Moises Saman for The New York Times

Cami Anderson, a corps alumna, is the superintendent of alternative high schools and programs in New York City. More Photos >

But a new study has found that their dedication to improving society at large does not necessarily extend beyond their Teach for America service.

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.

The study, “Assessing the Long-Term Effects of Youth Service: The Puzzling Case of Teach for America,” is the first of its kind to explore what happens to participants after they leave the program. It was done at the suggestion of Wendy Kopp, Teach for America’s founder and president, who disagrees with the findings. Ms. Kopp had read an earlier study by Professor McAdam that found that participants in Freedom Summer — the 10 weeks in 1964 when civil rights advocates, many of them college students, went to Mississippi to register black voters — had become more politically active.

“There’s been a very clear and somewhat na├»ve consensus among educators, policy folks and scholars that youth activism invariably has these kinds of effects,” Professor McAdam said. “But we’ve got to be much more attentive to differences across these experiences, and not simply assume that if you give a kid some youth service experience it will change them.”

Teach for America is nearing its 20th anniversary. Of its 17,000 alumni, 63 percent remain in the field of education and 31 percent remain in the classroom. (This reporter took part in the program from 2003 to 2005.)

Financed by the William T. Grant Foundation, the study surveyed every person who was accepted by Teach for America from 1993 to 1998. It is being published this month in Social Forces, a journal published by the University of North Carolina.

The study compared “graduates,” who completed their two years; “dropouts,” who entered the program but left before the two years were up; and “nonmatriculants,” who were accepted but declined the offer. It included 1,538 graduates, 324 dropouts and 634 nonmatriculants. Nearly 45 percent of those sampled returned the 34-page survey.

While Teach for America graduates remain far more active than their peer group, the findings indicate that the program neither achieves an earlier organizational goal of “making citizens” nor produces people who, in great numbers, take their civic commitments beyond the field of education.

“To find that Teach for America graduates are more involved in education but are not serving in soup kitchens is interesting but not surprising — it’s consistent with their current mission,” said Monica C. Higgins, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard who studies organizational behavior. “They’re not trying to make global citizens. They’re focused on education.”

Professor McAdam’s findings that nearly all of Freedom Summer’s participants were still engaged in progressive activism when he tracked them down 20 years later have contributed to the widely held notion that civic advocacy and service among the young make for better citizens.

Ms. Kopp, 42, was curious to know whether something similar was occurring with her corps of teachers. But Professor McAdam, 57, said Freedom Summer was the exception, not the rule...

1 comment:

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