Does Teach for America Increase Test Scores?
The evidence until now has been inconclusive, and there are good arguments as to whether it should or shouldn't. TFA teachers are drawn from elite schools, but they usually aren't education majors, they receive a limited amount of training, and they often don't plan to make a career out of teaching.
A large-scale study from the Education Department says the program does improve student achievement, at least in secondary-school math. Chart:
The improvement is statistically significant, and it certainly suggests that TFA doesn't harm kids, but it's hard to say how important the difference really is. It's about 1/17th of a standard deviation relative to traditional teachers, which pales in comparison with race and class gaps, which can exceed a full standard deviation. Some other programs that improve achievement in the short term, such as Head Start, do not produce measurable gains over the long term. Then again, the report claims it's an effect equivalent to 2.6 extra months of school, and if the improvement can be not only sustained but repeated in successive grades, it could add up over time.
Full disclosure: My wife did TFA for two years after college.
Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen