You may have heard about the Mathematica study that shows that Teach For America teachers get better results than do other teachers. I think an important point has been notably under-emphasized.
One objection to Teach For America is that most TFA’ers do a two-year stint and then disappear. This is true. (Many remain involved in education in some way, but not usually as classroom teachers.) Essentially the objection is that while TFA’ers are pretty good compared to other newbie teachers, we all know that teachers get a whole lot better after two or three years. Since TFA’ers don’t stick around that long, the argument is that a newbie TFA’er is less valuable than an experienced teacher who’s come through normal channels.
The Mathematica study goes a long way to putting this to rest. The experiment compared TFA’ers to the whole experience range of other teachers. To quote from the study,
Eighty-three percent of the TFA teachers were in their first or second year of teaching, compared with 10 percent of comparison teachers. Seventy percent of the comparison teachers had been teaching more than five years, while none of the TFA teachers had been teaching this long.
Despite this, students of the Teach For America group averaged the learning equivalent of 2.6 more months of school. That’s huge. Here’s a picture from the study.
Two small caveats. First, there are lot’s of studies that show bigger differences when looking at math instruction than when looking at language/reading instruction. The experiment reported on only covered math. Second, the comparison teachers may not be representative of the typical secondary school teacher. Teach For America focuses entirely on tough-to-teach-in schools. Perhaps these schools draw below average effectiveness teachers.
Caveats not withstanding, this study makes it a lot harder to object to bringing Teach For America into tough schools.