Sunday, January 14, 2007

Under-Trained English Teachers Hurting Vietnam?

I was intending to title this post "Teach for Vietnam" - but that was before I read this bit on "How to Write Great Headlines" and made an attempt to put that advice in action.

Recently I became interested in the English teacher phenomena simply because one cannot read blogs about foreign lands without tripping over an English teacher. They're like the modern day missionaries (or at least complementing them), opening up 'new' worlds to the West, or more precisely, the English speaking West. Musings from Preya and the WP’s A1 article titled “For Teachers, Being ‘Highly Qualified’ Is A Subjective Matter”* (Washington Post, Saturday, January 13, 2007, Page A01, Michael Alison Chandler) only added to this interest.

The English teacher gauntlet runs from foreign licensed teachers, to CELTA trained folks, to untrained native English speakers. One wonders whether the vast majority of English teachers – the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) peeps – are worth the rents they extract from parents the world over. It's been ages since I've last looked at an ERIC search, but a quick Google didn’t net any specific results.

However, an imperfect corollary is the United States program Teach for America (TFA). For those not familiar with TFA, it's a federally funded program started under the Clinton years that places college graduates, after a period of training, in "at-need" schools. The prototypical image of TFA is that of a white, or at a minimum, privileged, Ivy Leaguer going thru a summer of training which results in their placement at an "inner city," predominately black, or at minimum, minority, student body. The comparison is imperfect because, among other things:

  • TFA > educated than CELTA;
  • TFA > training than CELTA;
  • TFA > paid than CELTA;
  • TFA students > English skill baseline than CELTA students;
  • CELTA students > older than TFA students; and
  • CELTA students <>

So what has TFA “wrought?" On its site, TFA touts the findings of a Mathematica study (Decker, P.T. et al. (2004) The Effects of Teach for America on Students: Findings from a National Evaluation). Here's the study, in HTML format for an easy browser load. Here's the .pdf for the simple graphics.

Long story short, compared to all other teachers in the study (which comprised certified and uncertified teachers), TFAs over a school year improved Math skills the equivalent of one additional month of instruction and had no statistically significant impact with respect to improving English abilities over and above the non-TFAs.

A study not advertised on TFA’s website finds that TFAs perform the same as uncertified teachers and underperform certified teachers in Math, English and language arts.

So, is the answer to the subject title query an affirmative, or is the answer more ambivalent - if one wants to learn English, what options does one have? As one may say, 'You learn English from the teachers you have, not the teachers you want.'

*P.S. killer quote from the WP article whining about non-uniform teacher certifications:

[T]he special education teacher didn't meet the law's standard because she had a provisional license. But after earning a master's degree and completing a 30-hour literacy class, she obtained full certification, and Virginia now deems her highly qualified to teach language arts. In Maryland and the District, however, Ramadane would be asked for more: another standardized test, more professional coursework.

Um, like every other “professional,” one should have to qualify for licensure in each jurisdiction. Is this an unconscionable burden? Lawyer, doctors, real estate agents … nail care technicians, all have similar licensure demands.

1 comment:

thong said...

Shitty English Teachers Hurting Vietnam? - would also be sensational enough to garner interest. Pardon the French.