“I’m sorry, ma’am, but your child will have a Yale grad teaching him math and a Harvard grad teaching science this year.” Those are the words that every suburban parent dreads hearing from his or her child’s principal . . . wait, no they don’t. In fact, I think most parents would love having a highly educated person teaching his or her child. Yet, time and again, critics of Teach for America (TFA) make a big deal of the fact that TFA places highly talented graduates of top-notch colleges in the classrooms of disadvantaged students. They are experimenting on children, they cry.
Well, how has the experiment fared? That was the topic of a rigorous study that the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences released this week: “The Effectiveness of Secondary Math Teachers from Teach For America and the Teaching Fellows Program.”
Researchers randomly assigned students to TFA teachers and their non-TFA colleagues who taught the same math course in the same middle or high school. The study covered a two-year period, contained more than 4,500 students, 111 classroom matches, 136 math teachers, 45 schools, and 11 districts in eight states.
What did they find? “On average, TFA teachers in the study were more effective than comparison teachers.” TFA teachers produced significantly larger learning gains. These gains were the equivalent of an extra 2.6 months of learning. The researchers also noted that:
- TFA teachers were more effective than comparison teachers from both traditionally certified and less selective alternative certification routes.
- Novice TFA teachers were more effective than both novice and experienced comparison teachers.
- TFA teachers were more effective than comparison teachers in both middle and high school.
Yes, you read that right. TFA teachers were better than traditionally trained teachers and new TFA teachers were better than veteran teachers. So the next time you hear someone say that TFA is experimenting on children, tell them they are correct . . . and the experiment has been a success.