How effective are Teach for America teachers? It’s a question that the organization’s critics and fans alike have been trying to answer for years. The Teach for America website points to studies of school districts in Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee, which all found that “corps members often help their students achieve academic gains at rates equal to or larger than those for students of more veteran teachers.” (Emphasis mine.) TFA skeptics cite a range of other studies that show students with traditionally certified teachers achieving higher gains.
A new study by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (a part of the United States Department of Education) will encourage TFA supporters. The first large-scale random assignment study of TFA secondary math teachers, it found that the TFA teachers were more effective than other instructors at their schools.
“By providing rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of secondary math teachers from TFA and the Teaching Fellows programs, the study can shed light on potential approaches for improving teacher effectiveness in hard-to-staff schools and subjects,” the authors wrote.
The study included 4,573 students at middle and high schools across the country. In the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years, researchers randomly assigned the students in each school to similar math courses--some were taught by TFA teachers, and others or by teachers who entered teaching through traditional or other, less selective alternative programs. The students with TFA teachers performed better on end-of-year exams than their peers in similar courses taught by other teachers. The bump in their test scores is equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide.