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New Study Examines Effectiveness of Secondary School Math Teachers from Teach For America
and the Teaching Fellows Programs

Programs can help address teacher shortages in high-poverty schools
without lowering student achievement

Contact: Jennifer de Vallance, (202) 484-4692

WASHINGTON, DC—September 10, 2013—Middle and high school math teachers from Teach For America (TFA) and the TNTP Teaching Fellows programs are as effective as, and in some cases more effective than, other math teachers in the same schools. The first large-scale, random assignment study of the effects of secondary school math teachers from these programs on student achievement provides new evidence for policymakers and education officials concerned about teacher effectiveness and staffing strategies in high-poverty schools. The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research.

High-poverty schools across the nation struggle to attract effective teachers, particularly in math and science. TFA and the Teaching Fellows programs seek to address this problem by providing an alternative route into the teaching profession for promising candidates without prior training in education. Both programs recruit high-achieving college graduates and professionals, provide them with five to seven weeks of full-time training, place them in high-poverty schools—often to teach hard-to-staff subjects—and provide them with ongoing training and support. Both programs are highly selective, admitting less than 15 percent of applicants.

While TFA and Teaching Fellows can help address teacher shortages, critics contend that teachers from these programs are not adequately prepared for the challenges of teaching in high-poverty schools. The goal of the Mathematica study was to inform the debate by providing rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of secondary school math teachers from these programs, compared with other math teachers in the same schools. Key findings include:

Teach For America

  • Students assigned to TFA teachers scored higher than those assigned to comparison teachers on end-of-year math tests; the difference in scores is equivalent to the gains from an additional 2.6 months of math instruction.
  • Students of inexperienced TFA teachers in the study (those who had only taught for three years or less) outperformed students of more experienced comparison teachers.
  • Although TFA is often criticized for the fact that its teachers make only a two-year commitment to teaching, the findings suggest that over the long term, continuing to fill a position with TFA teachers who depart after a few years would lead to higher student math achievement than filling the same position with a non-TFA teacher who would remain in the position and accumulate more teaching experience.

Teaching Fellows

  • On average, students taught by Teaching Fellows teachers had math scores that were about the same as those of their peers taught by comparison teachers.
  • Teaching Fellows teachers were more effective than teachers from other, less selective alternative routes to certification and were about as effective as teachers from traditional routes to certification (those who completed all requirements for teacher certification before becoming a teacher, typically through an undergraduate or graduate education program).
  • Inexperienced Teaching Fellows teachers (those who had taught for three years or less) were more effective than inexperienced comparison teachers; among teachers with more experience, there was no difference in effectiveness between Teaching Fellows and comparison teachers.

These findings can guide district and school officials and policy makers considering staffing strategies for high-poverty schools

About the Study

Mathematica’s study is the largest, most rigorous assessment of secondary school math teachers from TFA and the Teaching Fellows programs to date. The TFA analysis included more than 4,500 students from 45 schools and 11 districts in eight states during the 2009–2010 and 2010–2011 school years. The separate Teaching Fellows analysis included more than 4,100 students from 44 schools and 9 districts in eight states during the same period. Students were randomly assigned to teachers at the beginning of the study school year. Math achievement was measured using end-of-year scores on state math assessments (for middle school students) and subject-specific tests administered specifically for the study (for high school students). The study’s random assignment design ensured that any differences in student achievement at the end of the school year could be attributed to differences in teacher effectiveness, rather than to any underlying differences in student characteristics, subjects, or schools. The TFA and Teaching Fellows teachers largely taught in different grades, schools, and districts, and thus teacher effectiveness cannot be compared between the two programs.

View the video, fact sheet, evaluation brief, or full report on this study. 

About Mathematica: Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research firm, provides a full range of research and data collection services, including program evaluation and policy research, survey design and data collection, research assessment and interpretation, and program performance/data management, to improve public well-being. Its clients include federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector and international organizations. The employee-owned company, with offices in Princeton, N.J.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Cambridge, Mass.; Chicago, Ill.; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington, D.C., has conducted some of the most important studies of education, disability, health care, family support, employment, nutrition, and early childhood policies and programs.