What kind of impact does the influx of young, motivated people (ahem, without formal training in our dear schools of education) have on student performance? A big thank you to the Urban Institute for looking into this question. From their press release (last week):
Teach for America teachers may be new to the profession, but they are generally more effective than their experienced colleagues, finds a new Urban Institute analysis. On average, high school students taught by TFA corps members performed significantly better on state-required end-of-course exams, especially in math and science, than peers taught by far more experienced instructors. The TFA teachers’ effect on student achievement in core classroom subjects was nearly three times the effect of teachers with three or more years of experience.
The study is the first rigorous analysis that I have seen of the impact of TFA, which recruits graduates from prestigious colleges and does not require that they have coursework in schools of education.
In analyzing the experience of TFA instructors in North Carolina high schools, the authors looked not only at test scores and student demographics, but also teacher characteristics, such as what colleges they came from and how they fared on teacher-licensing exams. Interesting is that, even though they did not generally attend schools of ed, they performed better on teacher-licensing exams. Hmm. Say no more, say no more.
One of the study’s authors, Jane Hannaway, who directs the Urban Institute’s Education Policy Center, makes the following point:
School systems working to improve their neediest schools may find that focusing on teacher selection has a greater payoff in high schools than focusing on teacher retention. In our study, we don’t know whether it was the strong academic credentials of TFA corps members or some kind of special motivation that came with being a TFA teacher that made the difference, but the results were clear: students performed better when they had an inexperienced TFA teacher than when they had a veteran educator at the blackboard.