The Effects of Teach for America on Students

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Schools in low-income communities experience teaching inequalities mainly due to a lack of quality teaching staff. Teach for America teachers are an avenue that has been utilized to supplement this need. However, questions have been raised on how TFA teachers affect the performance of students, prompting this study to be conducted to evaluate the impact of students’ math and reading performances when TFA teachers are used compared to the performances in their absence. After conducting math and reading tests at the beginning and the end of the one school year study, this study identifies TFA teachers as having led to an increase in students’ math scores and no influence on reading performance.

The article “the effects of Teach for America on students: findings from a national evaluation” is a June 9, 2004 publication by the Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., authored by Paul T. Decker, Daniel P. Mayer and Steven Glazerman. Decker, Mayer and Glazerman (p. 7) examine whether Teachers for America (TFA) teachers lead to an improvement in the performance of students or whether they lead to any harm on students’ performance compared to what the situation would be if the TFA teachers were absent. TFA is a program that was initiated in 1989 to increase the number of teachers in schools serving the low-income communities in the U.S., thus offsetting educational inequities among children found in such communities. Since TFA teachers are recruits from colleges who commit themselves to teach for at least two years otherwise such teachers would not opt to be teachers, there have been concerns over the impact of such teachers on student performance. The authors of this article, therefore, concern themselves with unearthing the effectiveness of TFA teachers on improving the math and reading performance of students in low-income communities through an experimental study.

To determine how TFA teachers affect student outcomes compared to situations where TFA teachers were absent, Decker, Mayer and Glazerman (p. 7) conducted an experimental study involving the TFA teachers as a treatment group and non-TFA teachers as the control group. The two groups of teachers had to be teaching not only in the same grades but also in the same schools. To enable unbiased comparisons, the authors of this study assigned students randomly to classes that are taught by either group of teachers at the beginning of the school year. Control teachers (non-TFA teachers) were teachers who certified either traditionally or alternatively or who were not certified at all. TFA teachers were either currently in the TFA program or former TFA members. The authors of the study compared the students’ outcomes in TFA taught classes against non-TFA taught classes comprising veteran teachers and teachers who had no more than 3 years experience (novices). It is notable therefore that non-TFA teachers on average had more years of teaching experience compared to the TFA group. Decker, Mayer and Glazerman (p. 8) then compared students’ performance when taught by TFA teachers against non-TFA novices.

The longitudinal study involved the students taking math and reading tests at baseline and subsequent tests at the end of the study which took one year as the primary outcome. The study also determined other outcomes that would be affected by having TFA teachers. In specific, the school records of the participants were assessed whereas teachers were assessed on how they perceived the classroom environment as well as the general attitude towards the students. A total number of 17 schools from six low-income regions were involved in this study with about 100 classrooms and 1800 students participating. The study targeted students in grades 1 to 5 with a pilot study being rolled out in Baltimore in the 2001/2002 school year. In the subsequent school year, the real study was rolled out in all six regions including New Orleans, Chicago, Mississippi Delta, Baltimore, Houston and Los Angeles.

This study is capable of determining the impact of TFA teachers since the comparison group (control teachers) is by no means comparable to the treatment group on several aspects. TFA teachers emerge as having well-founded academic backgrounds compared to the control teachers who rarely come from high-rated academic institutions. Control teachers are also well trained as education-specific teachers compared to the treatment group of teachers. In terms of the level of education, most non-TFA teachers have higher levels of education (bachelor’s and master’s degrees) compared to TFA teachers both at the beginning and by the end of the study. The ages of non-TFA teachers and their teaching experiences (save for novices) are higher than those of the TFA group. Such differences form a good basis for comparisons since the outcomes are likely to be influenced by such differences.

The authors of this study have avoided biasness of outcomes by ensuring random assignment of participants into different classes. This makes the outcomes of this study more reliable (Freed, Ress & Ryan, p. 317). In addition, the likelihood of bias was eliminated by having participants with almost similar characteristics, whether demographically or in terms of baseline and class characteristics. The outcomes of the study can be generalized with confidence since the study involves a substantially large sample (about 1,800 participants) with a response rate going as high as 94 percent. This was due to strict follow-up of the subjects to avoid attrition. Being a longitudinal study, the problem of confounding factors is very likely (Creswell, p. 162). Such factors include students dropping out in the course of the study as well as students relocating from one district to another. The authors have however tried to control the effect of such factors by strictly following up such students hence the low attrition rates. Comparison between novices and TFA teachers is somewhat restricted and may not portray the true picture since the sample size of novices is too low. As such, it is not possible to make concrete conclusions and generalizations on the outcomes of these two groups. It is therefore important to consider increasing the sample size to attain more concrete outcomes.

In conclusion, this study has successfully portrayed the TFA program as an effective approach to solving the problem of teaching inequities in low-income communities without compromising the quality of education. As such, the TFA program is a viable avenue of ensuring that “no child is left behind” and therefore it should be pursued. The high math performance and maintained reading performance registered from TFA teachers should form a basis for motivating TFA teachers to continue teaching even after the two years of commitment is over.


Creswell, John. W. Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-method approaches, (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2003.

Decker, Paul T, Mayer Daniel P. and Glazerman Steven. “The effects of Teach for America on students: Findings from a national evaluation.” Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. 2004.

Freed, Melvyn. N., Hess Robert. K. and Ryan, Joseph. M. The educator’s desk reference (EDR): a sourcebook of educational information and research, (2nd edition). Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.

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