Making a Difference? The Effects of Teach for America in High School

Zeyu Xu, Jane Hannaway, and Colin Taylor
The Urban Institute and CALDER
April 2007 (Revised March 2009)

When this report was released two years ago, it was the first of
its kind. Nothing has changed since then, including the positive
findings, though this version is even stronger methodologically and
includes more data. (The authors went back and shored up their argument
in response to accusations of statistical problems.) By using
longitudinal data from end-of-course tests in 23 North Carolina
districts from 2000 to 2007, it estimates the effects on student
achievement of having a TFA teacher (versus the traditional kind). As
before, the authors find that TFA teachers are more effective than
traditional teachers, even those with more experience. In fact, the "TFA
effect" on student achievement is 2-3 times greater than that of 3-5
years of teaching experience (and other studies
show that the relationship between teaching effectiveness and
experience typically diminishes after that point). These positive
results held across multiple subjects, but were especially strong in
math and science. Because the key research question was "whether or not
the TFA program can provide effective teachers to supplement the
existing teaching force," the study did not control for college
selectivity or teacher licensing scores; it did control, however, for
teacher experience, gender, race/ethnicity, educational attainment, and
classroom environment. In other words, this study does not address what is
driving TFA effectiveness (though we know TFA'ers tend to hail from the
most competitive undergraduate institutions), but it does make a wise
suggestion: we should be just as concerned with recruitment as we are
with retention--and certainly shouldn't be barring the gates.

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