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Despite Little Experience, Teach for America Educators Outpace Veterans in Drawing Achievement from Students

Document date: March 27, 2008
Released online: March 27, 2008

Contact: Elizabeth Cronen, (202) 261-5723, ecronen@urban.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 27, 2008—Teach for America teachers may be new to the profession, but they are generally more effective than their experienced colleagues, finds a new Urban Institute analysis. On average, high school students taught by TFA corps members performed significantly better on state-required end-of-course exams, especially in math and science, than peers taught by far more experienced instructors. The TFA teachers' effect on student achievement in core classroom subjects was nearly three times the effect of teachers with three or more years of experience.

The study, "Making a Difference? The Effects of Teach for America in High School," is the first investigation of the impact of TFA in high schools.  The report's authors, Zeyu Xu, Jane Hannaway, and Colin Taylor, analyzed North Carolina high school data produced between 2000 and 2006, including test scores, teacher characteristics, and student demographics.

Teach for America recruits and selects high-achieving college graduates, many of whom have no prior experience or coursework in education, and places them in needy schools after short but intensive training. Xu, Hannaway, and Taylor found that TFA corps members serving in North Carolina tended to have graduated from more selective colleges and universities and to have scored higher on the Praxis, a teacher-licensing exam.

These data warrant the attention of education policymakers concerned with teacher quality, says Jane Hannaway, director of the Urban Institute's Education Policy Center and the National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER).

"School systems working to improve their neediest schools may find that focusing on teacher selection has a greater payoff in high schools than focusing on teacher retention," she says. "In our study, we don't know whether it was the strong academic credentials of TFA corps members or some kind of special motivation that came with being a TFA teacher that made the difference, but the results were clear: students performed better when they had an inexperienced TFA teacher than when they had a veteran educator at the blackboard."

"Making a Difference? The Effects of Teach for America in High School" is a working paper produced by the Urban Institute's National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) and funded by the Steven L. Merrill Family Foundation and the Institute for Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.  The working paper is available at http://www.urban.org/url.cfm?ID=411642.

Topics/Tags: | Education

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