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Kevin Rudd's revolution

By Mike Williss - posted Friday, 29 August 2008

In recent years the US and the UK have implemented innovative and successful programs of this kind - the “Teach for America” and the “Teach First” programs - where highly talented graduates are given an accelerated pathway into teaching, placed into the most challenging school environments and paid at a higher rate.

They also receive mentoring and support from leading businesses and an option of employment after they complete their initial teaching assignment should they choose to leave.

These programs have given talented young graduates a taste for teaching - and many have made it their life profession as a result.

Under our new reform partnership, beginning from next year, we will work towards establishing a similar scheme in Australia.

Kevin Rudd, Address to the National Press Club, August 27, 2008.

Before Kevin Rudd leads us down the path of yet another suspect overseas model, it might be wise to examine the credentials of both Teach for America (TFA) and Teach First (TF).

Keep in mind before we do so, that we have consistently been ahead of both the USA and the UK in the international triennial testing of 15-year-olds conducted by the OECD.


For 2006, the US was placed 25th (out of 30 countries) in Maths and 21st in Science. (The reading tests for that year were scrapped in the US after mistakes were found in the paper.)

The UK fared slightly better at 24th for Maths and 17th for reading.

Only six countries have consistently made it to the top ten: Finland, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

Teach for America

TFA was founded in 1990 as a non-profit venture aiming to supply teachers to disadvantaged schools in the US. It sees itself as the equivalent of the Peace Corps, utilising the idealism of college graduates prepared to spend several years in service to the poor.

TFA recruits academically gifted graduates who do not have teaching qualifications for two years as a teacher. Initially the funding came from the Federal Government, and Bush frequently held up TFA as a model; however, promised funds were unexpectedly cut in the early 90s, forcing founder Wendy Kopp to turn to the private sector and charitable foundations for the shortfall.

During the first year of their placement, TFA teachers are encouraged to complete “alternative certification” in teaching, although many opt instead for Business Management courses with a view to future employment prospects.


TFA advocates quote research that shows that TFA teachers “produced comparable results or slightly better in reading and maths” compared to other teachers (The Australian, January 18, 2008).

The research is divided. One study says that TFA teachers “had a positive impact on the math achievement of their students …(but) did not have an impact on reading achievement” (The Effects of Teach for America on Students: Finding from a National Evaluation, June 9, 2004, Mathematica Policy Research Inc., p. 47).

Referring to the teachers against whom TFA teachers’ maths achievements were measured, this study cautioned that: “Many control teachers in these schools, like their TFA counterparts, did not have education degrees; and many were not fully certified and did not have extensive student teaching experience prior to entering the classroom. This finding reflects the situation in the schools in low-income communities where TFA places teachers rather than the situation in all schools across the country” (ibid). It also added: “TFA teachers were more likely than control teachers to report having had problems with student disruptions and physical conflicts …(ibid).
However, another study led by Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford's school of education, concludes that “certified teachers consistently produce stronger student achievement gains than do uncertified teachers. These findings hold for TFA recruits as well as others ... uncertified TFA recruits are less effective than certified teachers, and perform about as well as other uncertified teachers” (Darling-Hammond et al, Does Teacher Preparation Matter? Evidence about Teacher Certification, Teach for America, and teacher Effectiveness, Education Policy Analysis Archives, October 12, 2005).

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About the Author

Mike Williss is a teacher of Chinese in South Australia. After 32 years in the classroom , he now works for the Australian Education Union in South Australia.

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