Huggy, Snuggly, Cuddly: Teach For America and Mathematica
Wanna Cuddle? A new study paid for by the U.S. Department of Education enlisted the services of Mathematica, Inc., a research organization that has studied Teach For America and its subsidiaries, consistently for over a decade. The reports have one thing in common: Teach For America and the growing network of charter schools affiliated with TFA , end up with glowing reports of corps member effectiveness.
The most recent study released this month is focused this time, on the “gains” made by Teach For America’s Secondary Mathematics teachers. The report released by Mathematica, Inc., notes that gains attributed to TFA teachers, in secondary math education, which includes middle and high school teachers only teaching math, equated to two months of additional math instruction for students in mostly low-income schools. Julian Vasquez Heilig took issue with their conclusions here on Cloaking Inequity. See New Mathematica TFA Study is Irrational Exuberance
There are few huggy, snuggly, cuddly coincidences between Mathematic and TFA. A review of Teach For America’s Business Plan (2010-2015) entitled, “Building and Enduring Institution” notes how taxpayers’ funds were indirectly used to promote the current study, as Mathematica, Inc.’s $5 million dollar fee, to study TFA teachers, was paid from funds garnered through the U.S. Department of Education. According to Teach For America’s Business Plan narrative:
Teach For America was successfully awarded a “scale up” grant as part of the Department of Education’s “Investing in Innovation” competitive grant program, and will receive $45 million over four years (an additional $5 million will be granted to Mathematica, Inc. to conduct a study examining the effectiveness of our corps members as we scale.) (p. 24).
Consider this: A research firm is generously paid to study an alternative teacher education program, TFA, over and over again with funds procured by the U.S. Department of Education, every time. Hmmmmm. Huggy, Snuggly, Cuddly.
And, that’s not all. What does it mean when a research organization maintains an ongoing relationship with both the Department of Education and TFA? What would you think if you knew that the TFA network also enlisted the services of Mathematica, Inc. for its charter school math assessments? TFA charter subsidiaries, KIPP Academies and YES College Prep Public Schools employ the services of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. for their outside, independent consulting, too. (TFA 2012, p. 8). From the Mathematica, Inc. website:
New Leaders for New Schools (NLNS) is implementing an innovative initiative called the Effective Practice Incentive Community (EPIC). The program offers incentives to educators in schools with significant student achievement gains to help document and disseminate their practices—to address the need for information on what is working in some urban public schools across the country. EPIC is funded by the Teacher Incentive Fund program of the U.S. Department of Education. In 2006, New Leaders, together with four partners—Memphis City Schools, the District of Columbia Public Schools, Denver Public Schools,and a consortium of over 100 charter schools nationwide—received four grants to implement EPIC. Mathematica is evaluating the EPIC initiative in Memphis, DC, and the charter consortium. We are also identifying effective schools and teachers in these schools
Is it coincidental or does it appear slightly curious or professionally irregular (or huggy, snuggly, cuddly), that the same research firm is responsible for multiple studies across the TFA landscape without a concern for bias, favoritism, or subject selectivity, when the identical reporting agency, that generates millions of dollars annually from repeat clients in the same educational network, is hired repeatedly?
And, speaking of repeat clients, both TFA and Mathematica seem to share a similar client/donor list. Philanthropic clients of Mathematica, Inc., generous funders of Teach For America, have also been known to fund TFA’s effectiveness studies. 
Mathematica, Inc. also conducts hired research for The U.S. Congress, The U.S. Budget Office, and The Corporation for National Community Service (CNCS) –– the agency that offer TFA corps members an $11,000 AmeriCorps stipend for two years of teaching poor children, which is considered ‘service.’ This comes in addition to their teaching salary. Most graduate schools that partner with TFA, double that government stipend when corps members commit to graduate school (and yes, Mathematica, Inc. conducts research for a long list of research one universities). The government stipend is not offered to non-TFA teachers who actually commit to teach for more than two years in under-resourced communities, and see their work as professional career choice and not ‘service’ when directed to particular children in America.
Ongoing associations with corporate, policy-making, and philanthropic clients might trigger philosophical alliances— might these be viewed as huggy, snuggly, cuddly? It seems as if Mathematica, Inc. is the go-to research provider for philanthropists who donate to TFA, the charter schools that are offshoots of TFA, the government agencies who select researchers for TFA policy studies, the universities that partner with TFA and benefit financially from a stream of corps member tuition dollars, and the U.S. Congress. Wow! That’s some huggy, snuggly, cuddly network of clients that pay multi-million dollar fees to Mathematica, Inc. So, can someone really do the math (mathematica. hehehe) here, and perhaps the ethics, while you’re at it?
Who, within the TFA network, does Mathematica NOT prepare reports for? From the looks of things, Mathematica Policy Research seems to garner repeat business from agencies that fund studies, and also fund TFA and its charter franchises. But, what if government contracts were automatically awarded to particular providers annually, without adhering to an independent bidding process? Every few years shouldn’t the Department of Education, who is funding studies with taxpayer monies, stipulate that an independent research agency be hired, so that the public might trust the results, without wondering whether or not “researcher vested interest” (aka huggy, snuggly, cuddly) presents?
Can one assume that when researchers garner funds over consecutive studies from the same network, they can remain independent? Every business entity recognizes the importance of retaining generous and loyal clients, who provide significant revenue. Repeat business warrants keeping the customer satisfied. Big bucks are paid for studies that offer credibility from agencies who are procured to conduct the assessments. The public relations, recruiting, lobbying and marketing is strategically timed and inundates media outlets, donors, policy-makers, and prospective applicants, and tends to steamroll one distinct message –– TFA teachers score big, all others fail ––while obscuring studies conducted by truly independent researchers or TFA critics.
The third huggy, snuggly, cuddly coincidence seems to be tied to this studies’ release. The timing coincides with an upcoming Congressional vote on whether to confer highly-qualified status on teachers-in-training. Among them the 6,000 novice TFA teachers who are currently teaching in high poverty communities across 46 regions of the United States for the 2013-2014 academic year. The upcoming vote, on the Continuing Budget Resolution is due soon. That resolution was slipped into a budget bill passed in the wee hours of December 17, 2010, as the 110th Congress, readied for a holiday recess and a throng of incoming, newly elected first term House Members in January 2011. For three years, Teach For America’s teachers have continued to be viewed as “Highly Qualified” HQT, under that resolution imposed by Congress. But, how does teacher quality and budget bills coalesce, anyway? It’s all about economics, my dear, retorted my professor, who served as a longshoreman on the New York waterfront as a youth.
Teach For America’s organization is well aware of two things: The importance of funding, and how timely studies support TFA’s lobbying efforts. In fact, TFA directs millions of dollars to lobbying to influence members of Congress to agree that TFA’s corps members are highly qualified. How many millions, you ask? Well, Teach For America paid, $760,285 during the one year period October 1, 2009-September 30,2010. (p. 4). Teach For America’s Schedule C, Form 990, Part IV, designates what that lobbying activities conducted by the organization were directed towards:
POLITICAL AND LOBBYING: LOAN FORGIVENESS FOR TEACHERS IN NATIONAL SERVICE PROGRAMS, EXPANSION OF TEACH FOR AMERICA’S PRESENCE IN NATIVE AMERICAN AND HAWAIIAN COMMUNITIES AND PRESERVING THE-STATUS-QUO-OF-ALTERNATIVELY-CERTIFIED-TEACHERS-AS BEING FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED AS HIGHLY QUALIFIED. (p. 4).
Teach For America emphatically states that they direct money to contact and lobby legislators, their staffs, government officials, and legislators. Would it be safe to assume that currently, funds paid for purposes of lobbying elected officials is in the millions of dollars? Mathematically speaking, of course and the Mathematica, Inc. study supported that goal.
Curious huggy, snuggly, cuddly coincidence number four: How does the study of TFA’s mathematics teachers effect kids, when more than 90% of TFA’s corps members are assigned to non-math assignments. How do kids fare in the elementary, special education, and literacy classes, when placed consistently in the classrooms of minimally trained TFA teachers, who arrive with less than 16 hours of practicum in general education prior to assuming their roles of teacher for populations of children who are English Language Learners, Autistic, or struggling to read?
Currently a coalition of 90 agencies that advocate for children, are opposed to the HQT continuance, that is up for a Congressional vote this fall. The advocates for children note that CM’s (Corps members) who are placed as the teacher of record in classrooms, are doing so without minimal qualifications, experience and guidance to do their jobs. And while the Mathematica, Inc. study is meant to shed new light on TFA corps member abilities, and support the organization’s massive lobbying efforts, the stakes are higher than ever for children.
Thus, one of the most disconcerting aspects of Mathematica’s problematic recent study relates to its potential to effect important decisions. The U.S. Congress deemed TFA as “highly qualified” overturning the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision (reaffirmed in 2012) that teaching ‘interns’ were not highly qualified and were broadly placed in classes with high numbers of poor, minority youth (Affedlt, 2011). How are our most vulnerable children, expected to receive a fair and appropriate public education if huggy, snuggly, cuddly alliances prevail over justice? Is it really true that ‘who you know matters’?
The Mathematica, Inc. huggy, snuggly, cuddly relationship with TFA and their network suggest that possibility.
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Affeldt, J. (October 18, 2011). Congress must demand effective teachers for all students. EdSource Today. http://www.edsource.org/today/2011/congress-must-demand-effective-teachers-for-all-students/10389#.UjyQWaa9LCR.
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Teach For America (2010-2015). Building the Movement to Eliminate Educational Inequity Teach For America Business Plan 2010 – 2015
Veltri, B.T. (July 2008). Teaching or Service? Education and urban society. 40 (5). Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, California. http://eus.sagepub.com/content/40/5/511.short.
 “We are conducting studies of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), a national network of open-enrollment college preparatory charter schools in underserved communities; charter management organizations (CMOs), nonprofit organizations that start and manage new charter schools; a national set of charter middle schools that hold admissions lotteries; and charter school outcomes in several states.www.mathematica.com/charters.
 Mathematica conducted a five-year impact evaluation of a version of TAP as implemented in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The Chicago pilot program, dubbed Chicago TAP, was funded by a $27 million Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Mathematica’s study is the first evaluation of a TAP-based program to use random assignment to study the program’s effects on student achievement. It is also the first evaluation of a TIF-funded intervention that uses random assignment.
http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/education/choice.asp Funder: Joyce Foundation
 “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Joyce Foundation, KIPP Foundation Lumina Foundation for Education, Inc., The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, School Choice Foundation, Venture Philanthropy Partners, The Walton Family Foundation, William T. Grant Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation,”
“ Mathematica’s clients include: The U.S. Department of Education -Institute of Educational Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation, National Center for Education Research, National Center for Education Statistics,Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Planning Evaluation and Policy Development, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.”