Larry Ferlazzo’s Summary of Research on Teach for America

What follows is a re-print of a summary of research done by Larry Ferlazzo (shared with his permission).  His original summary can be found here.

Research on Teach For America


At least five studies have been completed that include data on Teach for America, four of which have been published in peer-reviewed journals.  As a group, the studies find the students of uncertified TFA teachers do significantly less well in reading than those of new, certified teachers, with the negative effects most pronounced in elementary grades.  In math, three of the studies also report significantly lower scores for beginning TFA teachers’ students than for prepared teachers.  When TFA teachers obtain training and certification, their students generally do as well as those of other teachers and sometimes better in mathematics.  However, most TFA teachers leave after 2 or 3 years (more than 80% are gone after three years), so the benefits of their training are lost.  Looking across the studies, TFA comparisons are favorable only when the comparison group is even less prepared than the TFA recruits.


Studies published in peer-reviewed journals:


1) Laczko-Kerr, I., & Berliner, D. (2002).  The effectiveness of Teach for America and other under-certified teachers on student academic achievement: A case of harmful public policy.  Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10 (37).


This study compared student achievement for 110 matched pairs of recently hired under-certified and certified teachers from five low-income school districts in Arizona.  Elementary teachers whose students took the mandated state achievement test (3rd grade and above) were matched within schools and districts according to the teachers’ grade level and highest degree. The study found that 1) students of certified teachers significantly out-performed students of teachers who were under-certified on all three subtests of the SAT9 – reading, mathematics and language arts; and 2) students of TFA teachers did not perform significantly different from students of other under-certified teachers. Effect sizes favoring the students of certified teachers were substantial.  In reading, students of certified teachers outperformed students of under-certified teachers, including the students of the TFA teachers, by about 4 months on a grade equivalent scale.  Students of certified teachers were also ahead of students of under-certified teachers by about 3 months in mathematics and about 3 months in language arts.  This study did not control for prior year achievement at the individual student level.  However, other studies that included these controls obtained similar findings (see below).


2) Darling-Hammond, L., Holtzman, D., Gatlin, S.J., & Heilig, J.V. (2005).  Does teacher preparation matter?  Evidence about teacher certification, Teach for America, and teacher effectiveness.  Education Policy Analysis Archives, 13 (42).


This study looked at data from Houston, Texas representing over 132,000 students and 4,400 teachers in grades 3-5 over six years on six achievement tests: the TAAS, SAT-9, and Aprenda (for Spanish-speaking students) in reading and mathematics.  Controlling for students’ prior year achievement and demographic characteristics, classroom and school characteristics, and teachers’ experience and degrees, the study found that certified teachers consistently produced significantly stronger student achievement gains than uncertified teachers, including Teach for America teachers.  Uncertified TFA teachers had significant negative effects on student achievement for five of six tests.  (The sixth was also negative but not significant.)  On 5 of the 6 tests, the negative effect of having an uncertified TFA teacher was greater than the negative effect of having another kind of uncertified teacher, depressing student achievement by between one-half month to 3 months annually compared to a fully certified teacher with the same experience working in a similar school.


TFA teachers’ effectiveness improved when they gained certification.  TFA teachers who stayed long enough to obtain standard certification did about as well as other similarly-experienced certified teachers on 4 of 6 measures.  Their students did significantly better than those of other certified teachers on the TAAS test in mathematics, but marginally worse on the Aprenda in mathematics. There was no difference on the SAT-9 in mathematics.  Although TFA teachers appeared to improve when they became certified in their second or third year, few of them stayed in the district.  On average, over the years studied, 69% of TFA teachers had left by the end of their second year of teaching, and 88% had left by the end of their third year.


3) Boyd, D., Grossman, P., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2006).  How changes in entry requirements alter the teacher workforce and affect student achievement.  Education Finance and Policy, 1 (2): 176-216. 


This study examined the effectiveness of 3,766 new teachers who entered teaching in grades 4-8 through different pathways in New York City.  The study found that, compared to the students of new teachers who graduated from teacher education programs, students of new TFA recruits scored significantly lower in reading / language arts and about the same in mathematics (worse in grades 4-5 and better in grades 6-8).  These results were similar to those of other teachers from non-traditional routes, including the New York Teaching Fellows, temporary license holders, and teachers from out-of-the-country.


Like the Houston study, TFA teachers’ effectiveness generally improved as they became more prepared.  By the 2nd year, when most were certified, the negative effects disappeared for elementary math and middle school reading.  However, TFA teachers continued to exert a significant negative influence on their students’ reading scores.  By their third year, the effect was still negative, but not statistically significant.  Also like the Houston study, most TFA teachers left after their second year. By year three, 73% of Teach for America teachers had left, and by year four 85% had left, as compared to about 50% of other non-traditional entrants and 37% of college prepared teachers.


4)  Decker, P.T., Mayer, D.P., & Glazerman, S. (2004).   The Effects of Teach For America on Students:  Findings from a National Evaluation.  Princeton, NJ: Mathematica.


This study examined the student achievement results for 41 Teach for America teachers and 57 beginning and experienced comparison teachers teaching grades 1-5 in the same schools, spread across 6 districts. Pre- and post-tests on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills were given to students in reading and mathematics.  Within-district statistical analyses were precluded by the very small sample (only about 7 TFA teachers and 10 comparison teachers per city), and statistical controls were also limited by the sample size.


In this study, the comparison group had even less preparation for teaching than the TFA group. The study’s authors note:  “Compared with a nationally representative sample of teachers, the control teachers in the schools in our study had substantially lower rates of certification and formal education training.”  Whereas 100 percent of TFA members had had some student teaching prior to entering classrooms, this was true for only 47 percent of other novice teachers (with three or fewer years of experience) and only 71% of the overall comparison group. Whereas 51% of TFA teachers were certified by the end of the study year, only 38% of novice control teachers were certified.


Compared to this underprepared group, TFA teachers’s students showed gains similar to those of comparison teachers in reading and better in mathematics, though students’ scores remained low overall. (The achievement scores in reading for students in the sample went only from the 13th to the 14th percentile for the control group and from the 14th percentile to the 15th percentile for TFA teachers. In math, the students of TFA teachers grew from the 14th to the 17th percentile, while the students of comparison group teachers stayed at the 15th percentile.)


As in other studies noted above, TFA teachers showed a positive impact on student achievement relative to the comparison group only when they had obtained training and certification in their 2nd and later years in the classroom.  First year TFA teachers did not have a positive impact in either mathematics or reading.  (A negative coefficient in reading was not statistically significant.).  TFA teachers’ students had slightly higher rates of absenteeism, disciplinary referrals (suspensions and expulsions), grade retention, and summer school referrals, but these, too, were not statistically significant.   This study occurred within a single school year and could not examine attrition directly.  It did find that, whereas 69% of non-TFA teachers expected to stay in teaching “as long as possible” or “until retirement,” only 11% of TFA teachers expected to do so.


Other studies:


5) Kane, T.E., Rockoff, J.E., & Staiger, D.O. (2006, March).  What does certification tell us about teacher effectiveness?  Evidence from New York City.  Working Paper 11844 (Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research.)


Using the same data base as Boyd and colleagues New York City study, this study compared entrants into New York City schools by different categories of initial pathway and certification status.  Like the Boyd et al., study, this study found that, in math and reading, students of 1st year teachers from TFA, the NYC Teaching Fellows, and other uncertified teachers did worse than those of 1st year teachers who were “regularly certified.”  (However, the authors include teachers licensed through “transcript review” and temporary permits in the same group as college-prepared teachers, thus minimizing the effect of teacher preparation.)


They also found that the negative effects were generally reduced or eliminated in math as teachers finished their training and certification and gained experience.  However, in reading, the initially uncertified groups of teachers continued to have a negative effect for all 3 years (for Teaching Fellows and other uncertified teachers) and for 2 of the 3 years (for TFA).  Like the other study, they found very high attrition rates. By year 4, close to 90% of TFA recruits were gone, close to 60% of other uncertified teachers were gone, about 50% of NYC Teaching Fellows were gone, and just over 40% of “regular certified” teachers were gone.