Study: Teach for America Recruits Help Student Math Scores

An analysis says Teach for America and Teaching Fellows members can sometimes boost student math scores.

A new report found that Teach for America and Teaching Fellows recruits are no less effective than their peers in secondary math education.
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A new study shows that middle school and high school math teachers in the Teach for America and Teaching Fellows programs are on average just as effective as  – and in some cases more effective than –  teachers who come through traditional training programs.

Mathematica Policy Research – a research organization that evaluates areas such as health care, education, nutrition and employment – released a randomized analysis of the two programs Tuesday that compared program teachers to other math teachers in the same schools. The study was commissioned by the Department of Education's research branch, the Institute of Education Sciences.

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Researchers examined thousands of students and hundreds of teachers in 45 schools across eight states, which remain unnamed in the report, and looked at end-of-year test scores for middle school and high school students. Their findings indicate that on average, students assigned to Teach for America teachers had test score gains equivalent to giving students an additional 2.6 months of math instruction. On average, Teaching Fellows teachers were just as effective as their comparison teachers, the report says.

The Teaching Fellows program is similar to Teach for America in that it recruits teachers for city-specific placements, but also offers positions to people looking to make career transitions, rather than just new college graduates. Both programs seek to recruit teachers to place in schools in areas of high poverty, which often have a hard time attracting strong teachers.

But critics – including the nation's largest teachers union, the National Education Association – have said TFA only addresses the problem of teacher shortages, and that its five-week training program does not adequately prepare their recruits to teach in high-poverty schools with many struggling students. Additionally, critics argue that because most TFA teachers leave after a few years, before they would gain valuable teaching experience, they are not as effective. But co-author Melissa Clark said in a call with reporters Tuesday that the report's findings refute that criticism.

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"We found that even least experienced teachers were more effective than the more experienced comparison teachers," Clark said.

The report suggests that continuing to fill open teaching positions with TFA teachers who leave after a few years is still preferable to filling the same position with a non-TFA teacher who would stay and "accumulate more teaching experience."

Similarly, inexperienced Teaching Fellows teachers (defined as those with less than three years of teaching experience) were more effective than inexperienced comparison teachers, and there was no difference in effectiveness between experienced Teaching Fellows teachers and experienced comparison teachers, Clark said.

"Together, I think these findings suggest that secondary math teachers from the Teach for America and Teaching Fellows programs can help fill teacher shortages in high-poverty schools without decreasing, and in some cases actually increasing, student math achievement," Clark said.

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