Teach for America has been hot-button issue in Bridgeport as of late.
The district’s move to slightly increase the number of Teach for America (TFA) teachers employed became controversial at last month’s Board of Education meeting. A lot of the fear stems from the perception that TFA teachers are less effective in the classroom because they are generally younger and lack the experience and extensive training that traditional-route teachers have.
A recent study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and sponsored by the Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences looked at TFA and the Teaching Fellows Program—two highly competitive alternate-route programs—to judge the impact these programs had on student achievement in secondary math (middle and high school students). The study compared test scores of students taught by TFA and Teaching Fellow teachers with the scores of their peers in the same school. The comparison group was made up of teachers who either came from traditional university-based training programs or from less selective alternate-route teaching programs.
The study concluded that despite experience, TFA teachers and Teaching Fellows were either as effective or more effective than other new teachers, including those from traditional university-based training. Even more interesting, the study found that the students of inexperienced TFA teachers outperformed the students of experienced traditional-route teachers.
Some critics might conclude that testing data only proves that TFA teachers are more effective at “teaching to the test.” However, Mathematica researchers claim this concern is “misplaced.” While the middle school data was taken from the yearly standardized tests, high school students were given subject-specific tests, which teachers did not have any knowledge of. Furthermore, TFA teacher actually had a greater impact on high schools students. [Wonkblog, 9/10/2013]
Other Key findings from the study include (Taken from the Mathematic press release):
Teach For America
• Students assigned to TFA teachers scored higher than those assigned to comparison teachers on end-of-year math tests; the difference in scores is equivalent to the gains from an additional 2.6 months of math instruction.
• Students of inexperienced TFA teachers in the study (those who had only taught for three years or less) outperformed students of more experienced comparison teachers.
• Although TFA is often criticized for the fact that its teachers make only a two-year commitment to teaching, the findings suggest that over the long term, continuing to fill a position with TFA teachers who depart after a few years would lead to higher student math achievement than filling the same position with a non-TFA teacher who would remain in the position and accumulate more teaching experience.
• On average, students taught by Teaching Fellows teachers had math scores that were about the same as those of their peers taught by comparison teachers.
• Teaching Fellows teachers were more effective than teachers from other, less selective alternative routes to certification and were about as effective as teachers from traditional routes to certification (those who completed all requirements for teacher certification before becoming a teacher, typically through an undergraduate or graduate education program).
• Inexperienced Teaching Fellows teachers (those who had taught for three years or less) were more effective than inexperienced comparison teachers; among teachers with more experience, there was no difference in effectiveness between Teaching Fellows and comparison teachers. [Mathematic Policy Research, 9/10/2013]