Teach For America, a non-profit organization that trains and helps place top college graduates in low-income schools across the country, is having a growing positive impact on Alabama students. The organization’s teachers, or Corps Members, have partnered with veteran educators in their schools and districts across the state to generate some remarkable success stories with their students.
One TFA Corps Member teaching at Carver High School in Birmingham City organized trips for students to travel to China during the last two summers. Several TFA teachers from Black Belt school systems (including Perry and Sumter County Schools) created Higher Achievement Summer School, a summer program for low-income students to continue their learning while also visiting museums and touring colleges. Another Black Belt TFA teacher organized a trip to St. Petersburg, Florida for her students to meet Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and visit the Holocaust museum there. And, in 2012, a TFA teacher from Perry County won WAKA’s Golden Apple Teacher of the Year award.
But, anecdotes aside, a recent study by Mathematica Policy Research found that TFA teachers are often more effective in the classroom than their counterparts who followed a traditional path into the teaching profession. “Compared with their peers taught by teachers from other routes, secondary students taught by Teach For America math teachers had test score gains equal to an additional 2.6 months of school,” says the Issue Brief accompanying the study.
The TFA teachers in the study had significantly “less teaching experience than the comparison teachers” on average—2 years versus 10 years. Despite this, “even students of inexperienced TFA teachers (those in their first three years of teaching) outperformed students of more experienced comparison teachers,” according to the report.
The report concludes that “Principals of the secondary schools in the study would likely raise student math achievement by hiring a TFA teacher rather than a teacher from a traditional or less selective alternative route to teach the math classes examined in the study.”
The analysis of TFA included 4,573 students taught by 136 math teachers in 45 schools across 11 districts in eight states. Students were randomly assigned to math classes with teachers trained by either TFA, a traditional route (such as a college of education), or a less-selective alternative route. (The study also included a separate analysis of teachers trained by The New Teacher Project’s Teaching Fellows program to teachers trained in traditional programs, and found them to be neither more or less effective than their counterparts from traditional programs, but more effective than teachers trained in less-selective alternative routes. Teaching Fellows is a program similar to TFA but not present in Alabama.)