Teach For America teachers in lower elementary grades (preschool though 2nd grade) were better at teaching students to read than other teachers, according to a study by the independent research firm Mathematica released March 4.
Early-grade TFA teachers were the only ones who produced statistically significant benefits for their students above and beyond what their non-TFA counterparts produced at the same schools. The benefit to students was the equivalent of 1.3 extra months of learning, according to the study.
Previous studies of TFA teachers, called “corps members” when they are enrolled in the two-year program, have found that they often have an edge as math instructors, but otherwise are not significantly better or worse than their non-TFA counterparts. This finding has fueled arguments both for (they aren’t hurting and they benefit education in the long run) and against (they’re no better than traditionally trained teachers, and they’re more likely to leave) the program, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in underserved classrooms. Recruits are rarely educatin majors.
Begun in 1990, TFA has produced more than 32,000 alumni who have gone on to a wide variety of careers. Among other pursuits, they lead schools, conduct education research and cover education policy as journalists. (Full disclosure: I fall into that last category.) And many alums have gone on to fields totally unrelated to education, a fact critics often highlight .
Whatever you think of the program, though, its expansion to prekindergarten assignments has been largely unreported, so the results of the Mathematica study are worth noting. This study looked specifically at TFA’s elementary school corps members (preschool to 5th grade) who were teaching in the 2012-13 school year. Researchers evaluated 156 teachers (66 TFA teachers, 90 comparison teachers) in 36 schools, the majority of which were traditional public schools.
If you’re particularly interested in TFA, the Mathematica study has several other interesting tidbits too. Like this one: “the percentage [of corps members] reporting either positive or very positive overall satisfaction with the program declined from 64 to 57 percent [from 2009 to 2010].” And “90 percent of TFA teachers were female, compared with 99 percent of comparison teachers.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.