Teach For America: A review of the evidence (The research that TFA loves to hate…)

Vasquez Heilig, J. & Jez, S. (2010). Teach For America: A review of the evidence. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado. Retrieve from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/teach-for-america

Teach For America (TFA) aims to address teacher shortages by sending graduates from elite colleges, most of whom do not have a background in education, to teach in low-income rural and urban schools for a two-year commitment. The impact of these graduates is hotly debated by those who, on the one hand, see this as a way to improve the supply of teachers by enticing some of America’s top students into teaching and those who, on the other hand, see the program as a harmful dalliance into the lives of low-income students who most need highly trained and highly skilled teachers. The question for most districts, however, is whether TFA teachers do as well as or better than credentialed non-TFA teachers with whom school districts aim to staff their schools. On this question, studies indicate that the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers. Thus, a simple answer to the question of TFA teachers’ relative effectiveness cannot be conclusively drawn from the research; many factors are involved in any comparison. The lack of a consistent impact, however, should indicate to policymakers that TFA is likely not the panacea that will reduce disparities in educational outcomes. The evidence suggests that districts may benefit from using TFA personnel to fill teacher shortages when the available labor pool consists of temporary or substitute teachers or other novice alternatively and provisionally certified teachers likely to leave in a few years. Nevertheless, if educational leaders plan to use TFA teachers as a solution to the problem of shortages, they should be prepared for constant attrition and the associated costs of ongoing recruitment and training.

See my discussion of the TFA brief at a US Senate briefing on S. 1716. A conversation on Louisiana PBS Teach for America in Louisiana and Seattle KURO Radio 97.3 Teach For America in Seattle

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