Contrary to what some teachers union leaders have argued, a recent study commissioned by the Department of Education indicates that the teachers trained by Teach for America (TFA) benefit students more than traditional public education.
The study, carried out by Mathematica Policy Research (MPR), focused specifically on mathematics, and utilized data spanning 11 school districts in eight states. Over two school years, MPR gathered information on 4,573 students in 111 different classrooms taught by 136 teachers in 45 schools. Half of the subjects were TFA teachers and students, the other half were part of the standard education system, called “comparison teachers” and their students.
MPR found that TFA students scored substantially higher than students of comparison teachers. The study indicates that the former received the equivalent to an additional 2.6 months worth of education. This is despite the fact that TFA teachers had fewer years of teaching experience and were statistically less likely to have majored in mathematics or to have taken as many math courses in college as their counterparts.
The findings likely come to the chagrin of opponents of TFA, such as Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, who has previously declared that the TFA teachers “kill and disenfranchise” their students.
The MPR study, on the other hand, concludes that “TFA teachers were more effective than the teachers with whom they were compared.”
Although the study declines to give recommendations or determine why the TFA teachers were more effective, MPR notes that TFA relies on a competitive admissions process to place novice teachers among disadvantaged, low-income populations. The study explains that TFA has a "highly selective admissions criteria designed to admit only applicants who have demonstrated a high level of achievement in academics or other endeavors."