Research

OUR COMMITMENT TO RESEARCH

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Overview of the Research

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Below are some of the most frequently asked questions from researchers about our organization. For additional information about our impact and approach, see Our Work.

  • Impact on Students
  • Approach
  • Corps Members and Alumni
  • Community Partnerships
Do Teach For America corps members and alumni positively impact students’ educational experiences?
A large and growing body of independent, rigorous research shows that our corps members and alumni are as effective, and in many instances more effective, in promoting student achievement growth compared with experienced teachers in the same schools. Three randomized, controlled trial studies, or “gold standard” studies, have been completed to date. Additionally, numerous quasi-experimental studies using administrative data sets drawn from states and districts have been completed, which offer results consistent with the gold standard studies. Among the results are a 2015 evaluation that found that corps members produce an additional 1.3 months of progress in reading in pre-K through second grade classrooms, when compared to other teachers; a 2013 study that found that corps members’ students achieve 2.6 months or more additional progress in math in a given year than those taught by other teachers at the same school; and a 2004 study that found that students of TFA teachers receive close to an extra month of instruction in mathematics, but found no TFA advantage in reading. Additionally, the federal What Works Clearinghouse reviewed the research on TFA in 2016 and found similar evidence of impact on student achievement growth. And most recently, a study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies that tested the effects of different teacher preparation programs on student achievement growth across a number of rigorous impact studies found that students of TFA teachers demonstrated gains that were, on average, equal to roughly 36 additional days of instruction compared to traditionally prepared teachers. For more information, see our compiled list of studies regarding the impact of corps members.
Do TFA teachers reflect the students they serve?
TFA is the most ethnically, racially, and economically diverse of all the nation’s largest teacher providers. Nearly half of our current corps members identify as people of color. Close to half of  2017 corps members come from low-income backgrounds, and one in three are the first in their family to graduate from college. We work diligently to ensure that we are recruiting and training teachers who reflect the diversity of America’s public school student population. In a recent analysis of the racial and ethnic diversity in our nation’s large teacher-preparation programs, we found that our corps reflects the public school population more closely than any other large teacher provider.
Why does TFA find teacher diversity to be a critical component of its impact?
While the student population of U.S. public schools has become increasingly diverse in race and ethnicity, the teacher workforce hasn’t kept pace. We work diligently to combat this diversity gap because we believe that a teacher workforce that reflects the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds of the nation’s children is crucial to our vision of educational equity. Our beliefs are supported by a small body of research, which includes a study finding that Latino corps members tend to remain in their original, high-poverty placement school beyond their two-year commitment due to pronounced motivation “to combat the negative experiences they had as K–12 students.” Given the nation’s demographic trends, more research about the importance of a diverse teacher workforce is needed. We welcome the opportunity to work with researchers on this topic.
Does TFA’s training model prepare corps members to teach?
Our training model is a continuum of support that begins with a rigorous summer training program and continues with extensive coaching, professional development, and other resources throughout the corps experience—and beyond. Our accelerated pre-service training, paired with intensive ongoing support, is by no means the only approach to training teachers. However, a growing body of rigorous research shows that corps members are, on average, having a positive impact on student achievement. Read more about the impact TFA teachers make in the “Impact on Students” section, and see visualizations on Our Work page.
Is TFA narrowly focused on student test scores?
Our focus extends far beyond student test scores. We work to ensure that the students we serve gain strong academic skills and knowledge; grow personally; develop social, political, and cultural consciousness; and gain access to opportunities in ways that are aligned with their own strengths, interests, and values. In a 2015 paper, researchers found suggestive evidence that corps members had an impact on several non-tested outcomes. Students taught by corps members in elementary and middle school were less likely to miss school because of unexcused absences and suspensions than students taught by non-TFA teachers in the same school. Additionally, TFA-taught students in elementary school had slightly higher GPAs than their counterparts in non-TFA classrooms. The effects, small but statistically significant, shed light on how corps members positively impact aspects of student success not measured by test scores.
What is the impact of TFA’s growth over the years?
Over the past 27 years, we’ve grown from just under 500 corps members across five regions to a community of more than 56,000 corps members and alumni across 53 regions. We’ve taught millions of students over the years—with our current corps reaching more than 390,000 students. Starting in the early 2000s, we rapidly increased in both scale and impact. A $50 million scale-up grant from the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) of the U.S. Department of Education, awarded in 2010, played a role in this overall trajectory of growth. Two external studies by Mathematica Policy Research and Bellwether Education Partners examined this period of growth. Mathematica’s report examined our implementation of the i3 scale-up grant. Its analysis found that we met our growth targets; we largely scaled with fidelity among five critical programming components, including recruitment/selection, pre-service training, ongoing support, placement, and retention; corps members who taught pre-K through second grade boosted student reading scores by an amount equal to 1.3 months of additional instruction, when compared to other teachers in the same schools; and corps members who taught secondary math boosted student learning by an equivalent of 2.6 months of additional learning, when compared to other teachers in the same schools.  Some key lessons from Bellwether’s report, Exponential Growth, Unexpected Challenges: How Teach For America Grew in Scale and Impact, were a strong theory of change is paramount to a scaling organization and an intentional focus on both scale and quality are necessary in order to not compromise one for the other.
How does TFA continue to improve and evolve as an organization?
We have continuously sought ways to improve our program to better serve our students and  communities. Some of our larger-scale improvement efforts have been undertaken through  partnerships with external researchers and evaluators, which have allowed us to rely on the experts to evaluate our improvements not only for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of the larger education community.   One such effort included partnering with researchers at the Harvard Business School to improve the way we assign accepted corps members to the regions where they’ll teach. The two researchers came up with an automated matching process that significantly reduced staff time while maximizing the number of accepted applicants who are assigned to their highest-possible preferred region (i.e., rank efficient match). This assignment mechanism is still in use by our Admissions team. Another such effort is underway with a researcher at the University of Chicago on a project to redesign the way the region matches incoming corps members to teaching positions at partnering schools. The researcher hypothesizes the new matching mechanism will decrease staff time and labor, improve corps member and placement partner satisfaction in the short term, and possibly increase teacher retention and student outcomes in the long term. This work is in progress, and we will post the results when it is completed. Additional research on improving our programming, including an evaluation looking at the impact of the Exploring Computer Science curriculum and evaluation of our redesigned summer training institutes, are ongoing. We’ve also worked to evolve our Rural School Leadership Academy. We received a federal Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant to begin these innovations in 2018. We are committed to working with an increasing number of external researchers and evaluators to help us learn and grow.
How long do TFA corps members remain in the teaching profession?
While TFA involves a two-year commitment to teach, approximately three-fifths of our corps members teach for at least a third year, and many more stay in the education field. Among alumni, teaching is the most common profession. New research has helped shed light on employment patterns among alumni. We recently conducted an analysis of our alumni survey data and found that a substantial portion of alumni—more than half from some corps years—teach for five years or more. The average total of years in teaching ranges from 9.1 for our founding corps from 1990, to 2.9 for the 2010 corps. In every corps year, the majority teaches for at least three years. This research aligns with prior work that found a 60.5 percent retention rate in the teaching profession beyond the two-year commitment and a 43.6 percent retention rate in the original placement school beyond the two-year commitment.
Is TFA’s selection model effective at selecting successful teachers?
Building on decades of internal research, we have identified several key applicant characteristics, such as leadership ability and perseverance, that are associated with positive future effects on students. External studies have demonstrated that our selection model is effective at selecting teachers who are likely to be successful during their first years of teaching. One study in particular found that teachers’ academic achievement, leadership experience, and perseverance are predictive of student gains in math, and that leadership experience and commitment to our mission are predictive of student gains in English. Critical thinking ability and respect for others are associated with fewer behavioral infractions by students. This study provides encouraging evidence that our selection model is identifying promising teachers. We’re committed to refining our model and strengthening it further through ongoing internal and external research.
How does the classroom experience inform TFA corps members’ career trajectories?
There is no shortage of inspiring TFA alumni leadership stories, and more appear as our alumni base grows and matures. While research into how the corps experience informs alumni career trajectories are relatively rare, three research studies on this topic stand out. One study published in 2011 examined the work histories of founders and top management team members of 49 nationally prominent entrepreneurial education organizations. It concluded that more founders and top leaders started their careers with TFA than anywhere else. Fourteen of the 49 entrepreneurial organizations had at least one top management team member whose past work history included TFA. Another study in 2015 found that those who have gone through TFA are more likely to work in education compared to those who applied and were close to being admitted but did not complete TFA. It also found that TFA alumni were more racially tolerant and more optimistic about life prospects of low-income children. Additionally, a rigorous, quasi-experimental study found that corps members’ perceptions of disadvantaged communities were affected by their experience in the corps. Compared to similar applicants who did not participate in the corps, TFA alumni exhibit less class-based and racial resentment, increased identification with disadvantaged minorities, and higher agreement on how systemic injustice affects educational and other social outcomes.
How does TFA gauge principal and community satisfaction?
For the past two decades, we have commissioned the biennial National Principal Survey (NPS), an independent, external survey of our partner principals to evaluate the performance of corps members in their schools. RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation, administered the most recent survey in 2017. Similar to previous years, the 2017 iteration investigated principal satisfaction with corps  members, satisfaction with the support provided by TFA, likelihood of hiring corps members again, and satisfaction with alumni teachers (on a narrower set of questions). The 2017 main report and research brief can be found on RAND’s website. Findings from this research are limited to those principals who completed the survey. This means that the reported results do not necessarily encompass the opinions of all principals who had TFA corps members working in their school at the time of the survey.
Are principals satisfied with corps members working in their schools?
The majority of principals are satisfied with the corps members working in their schools. In the 2017 RAND study, 86 percent of principals strongly agreed (37 percent), moderately agreed (28 percent) or somewhat agreed (21 percent) with the statement, “I am satisfied with the corps members in my school.” Of the principals who felt satisfied: 89 percent agree that corps members contribute to a positive, collaborative professional culture; 90 percent reported corps members build strong relationships within their school community; and 81 percent indicated that their corps members demonstrate leadership. Of the survey respondents, 82 percent would hire a corps member in the future, while 88 percent responded that they would recommend hiring corps members to other principals.
Are principals satisfied with the support TFA provides corps members?
In the 2017 RAND study, 88 percent of principals said they were satisfied with the support we provide corps members. The vast majority of principals who responded are familiar with at least one type of training and support program that TFA provides for corps members, with ongoing coaching being the most well-known.

OUR GROWTH IN SCALE AND DIVERSITY

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Over the past 27 years, we have grown from just under 500 corps members across five regions to a community of more than 56,000 alumni and corps members across 53 regions in the 2017-18 school year. We believe our growth has allowed us to be a force for change in classrooms and school districts around the country. Our model has evolved since 1990, but we have always been driven by our mission to find, develop, and support a diverse network of leaders who expand opportunities for children.

Research Inquiries

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