Lessons from Teach For America

July 24, 2014

Education reformers largely agree that teachers should be hired based on competence and paid based on performance and that strong teachers should be placed in low-performing schools, yet the opposite takes place in most school districts, write Senior Research Fellow Lloyd Bentsen and Research Associate Megan Simons of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Traditionally, public school teachers are recruited and retained based on their teaching degree, state certification and performance. Many public school teachers receive tenure after just two years of teaching, and the more experienced teachers have greater choice with respect to their school assignments, resulting in the most experienced teachers in the best schools.

Teach For America (TFA), however, is one program that recruits, trains and evaluates teachers differently. The teacher placement program has been in operation since 1990. TFA requires a rigorous interview and selection process, providing recruits with:

  • A guaranteed first and second year salary.
  • A training process that better prepares recruits for teaching than traditional certification.
  • Competition based on subject knowledge and teacher quality.

The program has placed more than 32,000 teachers in public schools in high poverty areas, and after completing the program, almost two-thirds of TFA recruits continue careers in education. In the 2013-2014 school year, 11,000 TFA members taught 750,000 students.

TFA recruits students based on subject mastery and experience, with less focus on classroom management and child development. While critics claim that TFA's five-week training program does not adequately prepare new teachers, recent studies illustrate that TFA members are at least as effective as traditionally-trained teachers. Moreover, students learning under TFA members have demonstrated academic achievement:

  • A 2009 Louisiana study found that students taught by TFA teachers performed significantly better in English language arts, reading, math and science than students taught by other new teachers.
  • In North Carolina, a 2010 study found middle school math students of TFA members received the equivalent of an extra half-year of learning.
  • Similarly, a 2013 Tennessee study found that TFA members were equally effective, if not more effective, as veteran teachers in most subject areas.

Besides positively impacting student achievement, TFA has also been instrumental in filling teacher shortages in many school districts.

Source: Lloyd Bentsen IV and Megan Simons, "Lessons from Teach For America," National Center for Policy Analysis, July 2014. 

 

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