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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