Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mixed Bag of Results for TEACH FOR AMERICA

The following is a peer reviewed research paper by a colleague of mine at The University of Texas at Austin. I am including the Executive Summary as well as the entire 17 page report. It is well worth reading if you want to know anything about the research and results behind the TEACH FOR AMERICA program. -Dr. Petrosino


Teach For America (TFA) aims to address teacher shortages by sending graduates from elite colleges, most of whom do not have a background in education, to teach in low-income rural and urban schools for a two-year commitment. The im- pact of these graduates is hotly debated by those who, on the one hand, see this as a way to improve the supply of teachers by enticing some of America’s top stu- dents into teaching and those who, on the other hand, see the program as a harm- ful dalliance into the lives of low-income students who most need highly trained and highly skilled teachers.


Research on the impact of TFA teachers produces a mixed picture, with results af- fected by the experience level of the TFA teachers and the group of teachers with whom they are compared. Studies have found that, when the comparison group is other teachers in the same schools who are less likely to be certified or traditional- ly prepared, novice TFA teachers perform equivalently, and experienced TFA teachers perform comparably in raising reading scores and a bit better in raising math scores.


The question for most districts, however, is whether TFA teachers do as well as or better than credentialed non-TFA teachers with whom school districts aim to staff their schools. On this question, studies indicate that the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers.


Experience has a positive effect for both TFA and non-TFA teachers. Most stu- dies find that the relatively few TFA teachers who stay long enough to become fully credentialed (typically after two years) appear to do about as well as other similarly experienced credentialed teachers in teaching reading; they do as well as, and sometimes better than, that comparison group in teaching mathematics. However, since more than 50% of TFA teachers leave after two years, and more than 80% leave after three years, it is impossible to know whether these more pos- itive findings for experienced recruits result from additional training and expe- rience or from attrition of TFA teachers who may be less effective.


From a school-wide perspective, the high turnover of TFA teachers is costly. Re- cruiting and training replacements for teachers who leave involves financial costs,and the higher achievement gains associated with experienced teachers and lower turnover may be lost as well.


Thus, a simple answer to the question of TFA teachers’ relative effectiveness cannot be conclusively drawn from the research; many factors are involved in any comparison. The lack of a consistent impact, however, should indicate to policy- makers that TFA is likely not the panacea that will reduce disparities in educa- tional outcomes.


The evidence suggests that districts may benefit from using TFA personnel to fill teacher shortages when the available labor pool consists of temporary or substi- tute teachers or other novice alternatively and provisionally certified teachers like- ly to leave in a few years. Nevertheless, if educational leaders plan to use TFA teachers as a solution to the problem of shortages, they should be prepared for constant attrition and the associated costs of ongoing recruitment and training.


A district whose primary goal is to improve achievement should explore and fund other educational reform that may have more promise such as universal pre- school, mentoring programs pairing novice and expert teachers, elimination of tracking, and reduction in early grade class size.

It is therefore recommended that policymakers and districts:


1) Support TFA staffing only when the alternative hiring pool consists of uncerti- fied and emergency teachers or substitutes.

2) Consider the significant recurring costs of TFA, estimated at over $70,000 per recruit, and press for a five-year commitment to improve achievement and re- duce re-staffing.

3) Invest strategically in evidence-based educational reform options that build long-term capacity in schools.


Teach For America: A Review of the Evidence

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am concerned that the cost of training (over $70,000) and the relativity short period of time of less than three years where over 80% of the TFA quit. I am not sure that compares with alternative certified teachers or regular certified teachrs. The high rate of turnover in thelow-income rural and urban schools after two years in not acceptable. In districts trying to encourage former students to return to teach with a scholarship and a promise ot teach for five years. It works for the district to have the former students return. Need to increase the time required commitment to five years. It takes normally more than three years to be comfortable in the teaching environment.

Kyle Kendrick said...

The intentions are good but in any other profession a program like Teach For America would not be tolerated. But in a professional with a low retention rate, especially in low preforming schools, there is a need for teachers. I agree with the recommendations that TFA teachers should only be used when the hiring pool as been exhausted but there are better ways to help these communities. This study points out that TFA teachers are about the same or slightly worse for these students and they are sent to high needs areas. Why would we send under trained teachers to the places that need the most help. There need to be programs that encourage experienced teachers to serve in these areas (REteach for America?). I also have a concern about how this impacts the view of our profession. I take pride in being a teacher and this is a profession I have committed to, if we continue to encourage and fund programs where teachers never move past novices we won’t have much of a profession left it will be a resume builder between college and the next career. I appreciate the intentions and TFA gets a lot of good press about ‘trying’ to change the world but it isn’t happening and our efforts should be focused elsewhere. Of course there are always the examples of those that go on to become really great teachers but this study points out that they are few and what is the cost of getting those few good ones. Programs should take a page from Uteach who does a really good job recruiting and training teachers (I know because I am a Uteach grad).

Kyle Kendrick said...

The intentions are good but in any other profession a program like Teach For America would not be tolerated. But in a professional with a low retention rate, especially in low preforming schools, there is a need for teachers. I agree with the recommendations that TFA teachers should only be used when the hiring pool as been exhausted but there are better ways to help these communities. This study points out that TFA teachers are about the same or slightly worse for these students and they are sent to high needs areas. Why would we send under trained teachers to the places that need the most help. There need to be programs that encourage experienced teachers to serve in these areas (REteach for America?). I also have a concern about how this impacts the view of our profession. I take pride in being a teacher and this is a profession I have committed to, if we continue to encourage and fund programs where teachers never move past novices we won’t have much of a profession left it will be a resume builder between college and the next career. I appreciate the intentions and TFA gets a lot of good press about ‘trying’ to change the world but it isn’t happening and our efforts should be focused elsewhere. Of course there are always the examples of those that go on to become really great teachers but this study points out that they are few and what is the cost of getting those few good ones. Programs should take a page from Uteach who does a really good job recruiting and training teachers (I know because I am a Uteach grad).

Anonymous said...

“So, the most useful question to pose may not be whether TFA is preferable to non-TFA, but instead how we might interest America’s most talented college students in teaching as a profession and in pursuing the education that seems most important in creating the best teachers-“
I completely agree. I know people who should have been teachers and plan to become teachers later, after they have made their money. I will preface this: I am a teacher and my wife has a job making similar income with no kids so of course we are doing fine financially, more money is always nice but I don’t need it and yes I understand that the taxpayer is the one footing the bill. My personal views on money and views on career choice do not align with this statement but…
In a capitalist society where talent is seen as a golden ticket, you cannot rely on people to come to teaching as a calling. Some will, but common sense will tell you that lower salaried positions will generally be occupied by lower quality employees (from a competition viewpoint). This is not always true and should never be used to assess individuals but, from a systems viewpoint, to create the competition necessary to create a talent pool from which to draw, an appropriately high salary must be offered. Teachers need to be paid more not because they need more money, but because there needs to be greater competition for jobs, which leads to more rigorous preparation. This leads to many other issues but the simple matter is that we need better quality teachers and to do this we need to increase the quality of applicants by increasing incentives and preparation.

Todd said...

I guess I am someone who wants a lot of bang for my buck. To spend around $70,000 on a teacher when most (80%) leave after three years doesn’t seem like a good program. I think that for a fraction of what is spent on the average Teach for America recruit, you could entice undergraduate students who plan to get certified to spend their first few years teaching in needy urban and rural areas. You could even pay newly certified teachers to get their master’s degree and then spend a certain number of years teaching in needy areas around the country. I believe that the schools that get TFA teachers would be much better served by more experienced teachers. To send unprepared teachers into the hardest to teach classes is not the greatest idea, even though it is done in almost every school. Also, I do not believe it is a good match to send upper class, Ivy League graduates to teach poor, lower class students since they have no common background.

Anonymous said...

I think the intentions that brought about Teach For America were certainly commendable; however, maybe it’s time to reassess program. If you visit the TFA website, you can see that their primary goal is to “close the achievement gap”. By looking further you can see what the training involves for the teachers – very minimal to be thrown into such tough settings. As you assess their program, you can see it looks great on paper, but we all know we can make just about anything look great on paper. It really comes down to execution in the classroom. With having taught in a both a challenging, low socioeconomic school as well as a very high performing school, I wonder about the types of recruits they are looking for. I understand they are looking for the best of the best, but does that necessarily mean the brightest academically can make personal connections with students the best? If I had to guess, most of the applicants all have one thing in common – they want to make a difference. However, without having any experiences of the life-situations that their students are going through – can they really relate? As I watched some of the videos that followed TFA teachers for the first year, it was evident when connections were made and when they weren’t. If the teacher wasn’t able to relate to the students and/or wasn’t supported within the school by the staff/admin, he/she tended to leave. I’m not saying TFA is all together bad, but I do think they may need to re-evaluate their teacher preparation and support. In addition, as much as we hate to admit it, money tends to control what schools can do. Therefore, with so much money being spent to recruit/train these teachers that generally leave teaching, are we really investing our money in the best places? Could it possibly be spent on other programs in these schools? I’m guessing if we got creative, we could probably find more productive means with our money and provide the students with more qualified teachers and sound experiences.

Anonymous said...

I think that it's true that anyone can teach. We've all learned something from non-professional teachers along the way, right? However, being a good teacher takes a lot of work and training. You don't just fall ass-backwards into it. While this program, I'm sure, has the best of intentions, the side-effect is a devaluation of teachers and teaching. Not to mention that the money ($70K, really?) could be better spent training up existing, committed teachers. It is insulting to presume that Ivy-League graduates have some magical quality that will make them great teachers. Anyone who has been in the "real world" knows that an Ivy-League education means merely that you went to an Ivy-League school. It speaks not at all to the character, persistence, intelligence, or ability of the person when compared to any other college graduate.

sciencegeekmom said...

The TFA program is similar to some other alternative teacher certification programs around (i.e. Texas Teacher Fellows) with the exception the TFA candidates come exclusively from Ivy League schools. As I was reading further into the report, the statistics showed that the TFA teachers were basically no better or worse on standardized tests then a comparable group of 'under-certified' teachers they were compared with in the study. I would even make a conjecture that they are comparable with even 1st year teachers from more traditional teacher preparation programs (UTeach excluded from traditional model). One thing that was noted in the study is that TFA teachers were more likely than the counterparts to hold regular certification after their 1st year so that indicates that they are doing something right as it relates to retention of teachers. This may be in part due to financial compensation to get certified. Bottom line to me is that the teaching profession takes experience to truly be an expert; so whatever path a person takes to end up in the classroom, I think our responsibility is to support them during the 1st year or 2. The TFA program placing teachers in low-income schools is meeting a need and yes it is unfortunate that their isn't the same type of incentive to get veteran teachers in the schools that really need them but that problem is independent of the TFA program.

Anonymous said...

Certainly, as a systemic solution to closing the achievement gap in under-served schools Teach For American has failed. Individual teachers might stay and become high-performing, experienced teachers, but it's apparent that the TFA program is putting under-served students at risk by creating a revolving door of inexperienced teachers.

As a graduate of an alternative certification program I don't have a problem so much with that model as an entry-point for new teachers. Personally, I think the most important thing--after providing quality mentors for new teachers--is requiring ALL teachers to work on an advanced education degree in the first 10 years. Too many of my colleagues are complaisant about their work and have not considered, much less enacted, new ideas in pedagogy or curriculum design in years.

There will always be turnover for new teachers. Requiring TFA or alt. certified teachers to commit to 3 to 5 years would be good, especially combined with requiring all teachers to pursue advanced degrees (and paying them accordingly!).

Anonymous said...

TFA smacks of the "white man's burden", as in here is a way for upper class kids to do some local peace corps work and then get on with their real life, as another commenter stated. The evidence is clear that economically TFA is impractical, but the model is allowed to continue because just look at the rich kids dedicating themselves to the poor kids...for a little while. Anyhow, where are the lawyers lining up for a discrimination suit? Oh, they haven't gotten out of law school yet because they are finishing their TFA stint.
Frankly, when TFA first hit the scene I was skeptical from the start...a Princeton grad truly interested in all this? I don't think so. OK, I couldn't resist knocking the Tiger, but the TFA conversation is not about education, it's about race and inequity. Where is Jonathan Kozol?