Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Assessing the Effectiveness of Teach for America's Investing in Innovation Scale-up

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 10:55 AM
Flamingo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Melissa Clark, Eric Isenberg, Albert Liu, Libby Makowsky and Marykate Zukiewicz, Mathematica Policy Research
Teach For America (TFA) is a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged students by recruiting and training teachers to work in low-income schools. The program uses a rigorous screening process to select college graduates and professionals with strong academic backgrounds and leadership experience to teach for two years in high-need schools. These teachers, called corps members, typically have no formal training in education but participate in an intensive five-week training program before beginning their first teaching job. TFA then provides them with ongoing training and support throughout their two-year commitment.

In 2010, TFA launched a major expansion effort, funded in part by a five-year Investing in Innovation (i3) scale-up grant of $50 million from the U.S. Department of Education. By the 2012–2013 school year—the second year of the scale-up—TFA had expanded its placements of first- and second-year corps members by 25 percent. This study examines the effectiveness of TFA elementary school teachers hired during the first two years of the i3 scale-up, relative to other teachers in the same grades and schools.

The study used a random assignment design to estimate the impact of TFA teachers hired in the first and second years of the i3 scale-up on students’ reading and math achievement in grades pre-kindergarten through five. At the start of the 2012–2013 school year, we randomly assigned students in each participating school and grade level to a class taught by a TFA teacher or a teacher from another teacher training program (a comparison teacher); comparison teachers included a mix of traditionally and alternatively certified teachers. At the end of the school year, we compared the math and reading achievement of students assigned to the TFA and comparison teachers. We measured achievement using scores from the Woodcock-Johnson III achievement test for students in grades prekindergarten through 2, and from state assessments for students in grades 3 through 5. Because we randomly assigned students to classes, there were no systematic differences between those assigned to TFA or comparison teachers at the start of the school year. Any end-of-year test score differences therefore reflected differences in teachers’ effectiveness rather than existing differences in the students they taught. The sample spanned 13 school districts in 10 states and included more than 2,000 students, 156 teachers, and 36 schools.

We find that, on average, TFA corps members hired in the first two years of the i3 scale-up were as effective as other teachers in the same high-poverty elementary schools in teaching both reading and math. TFA corps members in lower elementary grades (prekindergarten through grade 2) were more effective at teaching reading than other teachers in the same schools, increasing students’ reading scores by an amount equal to 1.3 additional months of school. There were no statistically significant effects for other groups of TFA corps members examined.

Full Paper: