Are Teach For America Teachers Effective?
Research shows TFA teachers are playing an essential role and making meaningful progress in communities around the country.
March 6, 2018
In partnership with educators, community leaders, and families, Teach For America teachers fight for justice and equity for all students every day. They pursue ambitious goals with students to improve academic outcomes and open doors of opportunity.
TFA teachers are known to hold themselves to very high standards and work relentlessly to achieve these goals with their students. Yet, because most TFA teachers don’t step into the classroom with traditional teaching backgrounds, we’re often asked if they’re actually leading students to academic success.
We understand why people ask this question. First-year TFA teachers spend just five to eight weeks in formal training in the summer weeks leading up to the school year and don’t have the typical student-teaching experience of most new teachers. But, informed by several evaluation studies, including randomized controlled trials, we are proud to say that students taught by TFA teachers are learning and achieving at the same or even better rates than students taught by non-TFA teachers in the same schools.
We’ve summarized relevant research on the effectiveness of TFA teachers to give you a full picture of the success they’re having with students in classrooms and communities around the country.
Students Learn More and Learn Faster
Independent, rigorous evaluations show that TFA teachers accelerate students’ academic growth.
The U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), a trusted source of scientific evidence on education programs, reviewed the quality of existing research on TFA’s impact on student outcomes and found seven studies that met rigorous design standards. Three of those studies are randomized controlled trial studies, known as “gold standard” studies in the academic world, completed by Mathematica Policy Research, an independent, nonpartisan organization that focuses on social policy research and improving public well-being. The results of these studies include:
- Pre-K through second grade students of TFA teachers (first- and second-year teachers) receive the equivalent of an additional 1.3 months in reading instruction in a year, compared to students of non-TFA teachers at the same school. Overall, elementary students of corps members grew in reading at least as much as other students.
- Average math scores of elementary students taught by TFA teachers were higher than students taught by non-TFA teachers in a 2004 Mathematica study, showing close to an extra month of instruction in TFA teachers’ classrooms.
- Sixth through 12th grade students of TFA teachers achieve 2.6 months or more per year of additional progress in math than those taught by non-TFA teachers at the same school.
Independent, quasi-experimental studies in several of our partner communities have shown similar results. Among the several peer-reviewed studies, two published in 2015 stand out:
- A study of Miami-Dade county found that students taught by TFA teachers demonstrated nearly two months of additional math growth, compared with other teachers in the same schools. Additionally, it found that TFA classrooms out-performed others in reading, by about two weeks.
- A study of metro Atlanta found that students in fourth through eighth grade taught by TFA teachers demonstrated significantly more growth in science and social studies, nearly two months each, compared with other teachers in the same schools.
Corps members produce an additional 1.3 months progress in reading per year
Corps members produce an additional 2.6 months progress in math per year
Beyond Test Data
TFA teachers, as with all teachers, are responsible for much more than the academic growth of their students. They work to develop their students socially, grow their political and cultural consciousness, and provide them access to opportunities and experiences that extend beyond the classroom walls.
This type of development can be hard to measure. However, we’re encouraged by a 2015 study published by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research that showed:
- Students taught by TFA teachers 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.
- Students taught by TFA teachers in elementary school had slightly higher GPAs than students taught by non-TFA teachers, showing that TFA teachers positively impact aspects of student success not measured by standardized test scores.
Teacher Training at its Best
TFA training is different than most educator preparation programs in the country. It’s accelerated—often just one summer of careful curriculum and lesson planning sessions; skill development, such as tracking students’ growth; and classroom instruction practice, with critical feedback and training on techniques like classroom management.
TFA teachers continue to develop throughout their time in the classroom. They are given several types of support, including extensive coaching and professional development.
Our high-velocity approach is certainly not the only approach to training teachers. However, rigorous research shows that our training program leads corps members to be strong classroom leaders who achieve measurable results with their students. Most recently, a study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies that looked at the impact of teacher preparation programs on student achievement growth 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.
- Students whose teachers were trained in alternative teacher prep programs, including TFA, perform better academically than students of traditionally-trained teachers.
Communities and Principals Welcome TFA
In addition to leading students to academic success, it’s critical for TFA teachers to have a lasting, positive impact on the communities that they serve.
One way of doing this is by establishing positive relationships within their school communities.
In order to gauge schools’ satisfaction levels and perception of TFA teachers, we periodically commission an independent study of principals who work with corps members.
Results from the 2017 National Principal Survey, conducted by the RAND Corporation, were released this past January. Read our detailed report on the 2017 findings. The report showed that principals report high levels of satisfaction with TFA teachers, with the most notable results being:
- 86% of responding principals said they were satisfied with corps members at their schools. Principals in this group felt corps members positively contribute to their school community.
- 82% would hire a corps member in the future.
- 88% would recommend hiring corps members to other principals.
Additionally, TFA teachers have gone on to achieve many district, state, and national awards for their work in the classroom. Among countless others, this includes the 2005 National Teacher of the Year, Jason Kamras (D.C. Region ’96), who now serves as superintendent of Richmond Public Schools in Virginia.
While the TFA teaching experience is far from traditional, we’re proud of the progress we’ve seen our corps members make in classrooms and the collective impact our large network of alumni is having in the education world and in the lives of kids across the nation.
We know that our approach is just one way to make a positive impact in education, and that educators everywhere—no matter how they are trained—seek similar opportunities and outcomes for their students. We hope to continue evolving and refining our practices so that all students everywhere can live up to their fullest potential and live in a country free of educational inequity.