Jury still out on Teach for America

A new Campbell Collaboration systematic review has been published, which looks at the impact of Teach for America on learning outcomes.

Teach for America (TFA) is a nationwide teacher preparation programme designed to address the shortage of effective teachers, specifically in high-poverty rural and urban schools across the United States. The systematic review by Herbert Turner and colleagues considered the impact of TFA-prepared teachers relative to novice teachers, and alumni relative to veteran teachers. The impacts studied were for K–12 (Years 1–13) pupil outcomes in maths, English and science.

A total of 24 studies were eligible for the review. However, once the research design, study quality and comparison groups were considered, this was reduced to four qualifying studies.

The review found no significant effect on reading by TFA teachers in their first or second year teaching elementary grades (Years 1–6) when compared with non-TFA novice teachers. There was a small positive impact for pre-K to grade 2 (Reception to Year 3) teachers on reading, but not on maths. However, given the small evidence base, the review counsels that these results should be treated with caution.

Source:  What are the effects of Teach for America on math, English language arts, and science outcomes of K–12 students in the USA? (June 2018), A Campbell Systematic Review 2018:7

Teach For America

Can inexperienced teachers in the non-profit Teach For America (TFA) programme perform as well as teachers who qualified using regular routes? A new report from Mathematica Policy Research says they can.

TFA recruits and trains teachers to work in low-income schools in the US and in 2010 launched an expansion. By the second year of the scale-up TFA had increased its placements of first- and second-year TFA teachers by 25%. Mathematica Policy Research evaluated this expansion in a study of 2,000 students, 156 teachers, and 36 schools across 10 states. The TFA teachers had an average of 1.7 years of experience compared with 13.6 years for the comparison teachers.

The key findings were:

  • Despite their lack of experience, TFA teachers in elementary school were as effective as other teachers in teaching maths and reading at the same high-poverty elementary schools.
  • TFA teachers in lower elementary were more effective at teaching reading than their non-TFA colleagues. The statistically significant positive effect on student reading was equivalent to an additional 1.3 months of school.
  • There were no statistically significant effects for other groups of elementary school TFA teachers.

Previous studies of TFA teachers found them to be equally effective as other teachers at teaching reading in elementary school and more effective at teaching maths at all grade levels. The new evaluation is consistent with the previous studies on teaching reading at elementary school but did not find that TFA teachers were more effective at teaching maths than other teachers.

Source: Assessing the Effectiveness of the Teach For America i3 Scale-Up (2015), Mathematica Policy Research.

The impact of alternative teacher training programmes on pupil achievement

New research by Mathematica Policy Research has assessed the mathematics achievement of pupils taught by teachers from two highly selective recruitment and training schemes that run in the US – Teach for America (TFA) and Teaching Fellows. TFA works with graduates from some of the best universities and places them for two years. Teaching Fellows recruits both graduates and professionals looking to change careers, and expects participants to make a long-term commitment to teaching. Both schemes place their teachers in hard-to-staff schools in deprived areas.

The study took place in 2009/10 and 2010/11 in schools identified as having two or more classes that would be teaching the same maths course. At the beginning of the year, pupils in each school (n=8,689) were randomly allocated either to a class taught by a TFA or Teaching Fellow teacher, or to a class taught by a comparison teacher (who entered teaching through traditional or other, less selective programmes). Exams taken at the end of the year showed that TFA teachers produced gains significantly greater than teachers who came through traditional teaching programmes or other alternative but less selective certification schemes, but the effect size (ES=+0.07) was very small. Still, this was estimated to be the equivalent of an additional 2.6 months of school for the average pupil nationwide. In contrast, there were no differences in maths outcomes between Teaching Fellows and their controls.

In the UK, Rebecca Allen from the Institute of Education (IOE) presented findings of new research into Teach First at the BERA Conference. Like TFA, Teach First places graduates with good degrees in challenging classrooms. The IOE study found that the introduction of Teach First teachers produced no school-wide gain in the first year, but in years two and three there were gains equivalent to a boost of one grade in one of a pupil’s eight best subjects.

Source: The Effectiveness of Secondary Math Teachers from Teach For America and the Teaching Fellows Programs (2013), Institute of Education Sciences.