The Urban Institute made national headlines last spring when it released an influential study suggesting that Teach For America recruits were more effective than other teachers in North Carolina’s high schools. One criticism of the study at the time, though, was that the researchers were comparing the TFA teachers with a group of teachers with a hodgepodge of training.
In answer to the critics, researchers Zeyu Wu, Jane Hannaway, and Colin Taylor decided to update their study with a larger sample of teachers and students. They added data for 32 teachers and more than 2,000 students, and re-ran the numbers so that they could do more “apples to apples” comparisons. The results were the same: Across the eight subjects tested, the students of TFA teachers racked up bigger learning gains than their non-TFA counterparts.
The TFA teachers were also found to be more effective than teachers who had graduated from a fully accredited North Carolina teacher-training program and those who were licensed in the subjects they taught. The overall TFA boost, in fact, was bigger than the size of the learning improvement that students normally get from having a teacher who’s been on the job for three years or more.
That last point is important, the researchers write, because one of the slams against TFA is that its teachers often leave the classroom after two years, cheating students of the benefits of more experienced teaching. You can read the full text of the revised study here.
Something to wonder about: Would the results be the same for elementary schools, where pedagogical know-how may be just as important for teachers— if not more so— than subject-matter expertise?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.