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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC system lauds Teach for America

DTH/Amanda Purser
DTH/Amanda Purser

A sweeping study of North Carolina’s K-12 teachers concluded that those who come to the classroom from Teach for America consistently outperform the rest of the state’s newer educators.

It also reflected a growing number in N.C. classrooms of inexperienced teachers, which study leaders cited as the biggest obstacle to K-12 student success.

The state needs to determine how to take TFA’s teacher preparation program and expand it to all the UNC system’s education degree programs, the study leaders said Thursday at a presentation of the study’s findings.

“TFA is a boutique operation. We need an industrial model,” said Gary Henry, a UNC-Chapel Hill public policy professor and one of the leaders of the study.

TFA teachers make up only 0.3 percent of North Carolina’s K-12 public school teachers, but middle school math students taught by TFA members gained the equivalent of 91 days of learning over their peers, Henry said.

Researchers analyzed about 2.3 million test scores, 770,000 students and 18,500 teachers, all in North Carolina, to reach those conclusions.

Proposed by the UNC system and directed by system administrators and professors, the study evaluated which teacher preparation programs were most successful, using student performance as the benchmark.

“We’re responsible for producing and educating so many teachers across the system,” said UNC-system Board of Governors Chairwoman Hannah Gage.

“(The findings) shatter a lot of preconceived ideas.”

Results will be used to tailor UNC system schools of education to include “best practices” and improve the performance of UNC-system-educated teachers.

The study also found that teachers from outside the state were less successful than those from North Carolina and that the number of teachers who entered the classroom before obtaining a formal teaching license, a process known as lateral entry, is on the rise.

About 32 percent of the state’s K-12 teachers come from UNC system undergraduate education schools. The next largest source of teachers is undergraduate out-of-state education schools at 23 percent. Lateral entry teachers make up 15 percent of the group.

Half of new teachers leave within five years — but it often takes until a teacher’s fifth year in the classroom to see dramatic improvements, Henry said.

The key is to understand how TFA turns its inexperienced teachers into success stories and to figure out how to “scale up” those methods to the UNC system, he said, citing intensive summer programs that immerse TFA members in teaching.

“They’re living and breathing teaching,” he said. “It’s hard to reproduce. It’s hard to scale that.”

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