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Report: Teach for America Training Better Tennessee Teachers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A report says most new teachers in Tennessee trained by Teach for America are producing higher test scores and getting better results than those trained through traditional means.

The exception was math teachers that graduate from Vanderbilt University, The Commercial Appeal reported.

A state report card on teacher training released last week says the University of Memphis, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, UT-Martin and several smaller colleges score in the bottom 20 percent for the quality of reading teachers they produce.

That’s according to the test scores of the teachers’ students, not their own academic performance.

Teach for America, which recruits high-performing college graduates to the classroom, had the highest student scores among new teachers in reading, science and social studies.

“What I found really exciting is these results reflect the national studies,” said Brad Leon, Teach for America vice president in Tennessee and Texas. “Our corps members are making an impact where they are needed the most.”

The report card is prepared each year by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and includes student test score data for public school teachers on the job up to three years.

Eight of the state’s 42 teacher colleges or teacher accrediting agencies had poor results, including the University of Memphis.

“Some of the things that the report indicated needed changing have already been changed,” university spokesman Curt Guenther said. “To strengthen our graduates’ skills in the areas of math, science, language arts and social studies, our students are now being required to take coursework in all four areas.”

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Board of Regents adopted stricter requirements for education majors, including that they complete one year as a student teacher instead of a partial semester, that they pass a series of tests, and that they prove mastery of elementary literacy.

The report does not include data on teachers who graduated from colleges outside Tennessee or who are teaching in private schools.

Teach for America has been placing teachers in Memphis since 2006 and was approved this year to offer its own teacher accreditation program, bypassing the requirement that its members earn teaching credentials from the University of Memphis or Christian Brothers University.

The University of Memphis is required to serve a variety of people with a variety of abilities, Guenther said.

“We are exploring the possibility of raising the admission standards in our teacher-preparation programs, which is a current national trend, but we have to weigh that change against our public mission.”

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