Kudos for Teach for America

Via Reason on Teach for America (TFA)

The best evidence we had before today was a randomized evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research between 2001 and 2003, which found that TFA teachers bested other teachers at teaching math — with gains for students equal to about a month of additional instruction —  and were not significantly different from them on teaching reading.

A follow-up using the same data showed that that result held for students across the math score distribution, not just the average student. “These results suggest that allowing highly qualified teachers, who in the absence of TFA would not have taught in these disadvantaged neighborhoods, should have a positive influence not just on students at the top of the achievement distribution but across the entire math test score distribution,” the authors concluded.

We sponsor a TFA teacher each year, and have fun doing a few little things for their classroom through the year (we collect school supplies at the beginning of the year, bring presents during the holidays).  Short of the school choice we really need, this is the best way we have found to help K-12 education.

  • a_random_guy

    Note that the study was carried out by the Department of Education, and they come to this absolutely astounding conclusion: "more study is needed to know what exactly it is about the organization that promotes such solid math gains"

    Have you ever met a bureaucrat who couldn't find a way to stay busy without actually accomplishing anything?

    What's different? The fact that TFA teachers actually know and love the subjects they are teaching. The fact that having a degree in education is actually pretty damned worthless above the primary school level. The fact that most education majors are, honestly, on the low end of the bell curve.

    But the DoE doesn't dare actually say any of that...

  • NL7

    It's interesting that TFA intends to take the best qualified new teachers and then drop them in the lowest income areas. That probably generates more contributions and more applicants, but it probably also increases the burnout rate (relative to sending them to high wealth areas). I know several TFA alums, none of whom had any intention to go back into teaching. I wonder if they could broaden the program or adopt a complementary program to allow placement into higher paying schools. The idea being to keep more of the top grads as teachers, rather than promoting the 'peace corps' style of airlifting in for a few years of altruism and adventure, then leaving for a 'real' job that pays five times better.

    Presumably these better jobs would no longer be in low income areas. So that limits the philanthropic aspect. But it might promote the idea of teaching as a long-term profession, not a short-term adventure. It might also reverse the current trend, which is that Education majors have a notorious reputation for garnering some of the lowest average standardized test scores (on SAT, LSAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.) and that Education departments are notoriously some of the most enthusiastic adherents of grade inflation. Just thinking out loud, but if people are serious about making teaching a respected profession for the most qualified grads, then promoting the idea of teaching as a peace corps gig is not helping.

    That said, I think TFA is pretty cool and I don't necessarily agree that teaching needs to become a long-term option for top grads. I'd consider it superior in some ways to the Peace Corps, since it's more convenient to family and more people will do it, and it may be more effective at helping people than the peace corps (though I also have a peace corps friend, so I'll remain neutral on that). Maybe only the very best teachers should be 'elite,' then their videos can go online for free and be introduced to students by any minimally competent teacher with a BA or AA. So the reverse of making teaching more better paying, but maybe still making it more effective. This model would work well with new college grads, as well, since they would have the basic skills necessary to introduce the online lectures to kids - then they could go off to a permanent job later, without flinching at a few years in a relatively low-paying teaching position.