March 9, 2015

New Study Highlights Positive Impact of TFA Preschool Teachers

By Bellwether

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Last week, Mathematica Policy Research released a new study on the impact of Teach For America corps members on students’ learning. Researchers found that students who were randomly assigned to Teach For America corps members in grades 3-8 made learning gains comparable to those assigned to other teachers in the same schools–even though the other teachers averaged nearly 14 years experience, and corps members had less than two years experience. In grades PreK-2rd, students randomly assigned to Teach For America corps members made greater learning gains in reading–equivalent to 1.3 months of learning .
This finding is consistent with previous rigorous research on Teach For America, which tends to find that corps members perform at least as well as comparison teachers (in comparison groups including both new and veteran teachers), and sometimes better.
But two new findings in this work deserve greater attention:
First, this is the first study to look at the impact of Teach For America corps members in the preschool and early elementary grades. Previous studies looked at the impact of corps members in the elementary grades and high school but not in early childhood. Over the past several years, Teach For America has significantly ramped up its placement of teachers in preschool settings–including both school- and community-based programs–and developed specialized training and support for corps members working in early education. Some early childhood leaders, however, have questioned the placement of corps members in early childhood settings, on the grounds that effective preschool teachers need to understand child development and master specialized techniques that are different from those in K-12. This study, which shows that corps members are having positive impacts with preschool and early grades students, should counter some of those concerns.
Second, these results emerge following a period of rapid growth in Teach For America. As we noted in our recent report on Teach For America’s growth, rapid growth in education organizations is often assumed to lead to declines in quality and impact. But Teach For America’s experience has not reflected a negative impact of growth on quality. These results provide further evidence that Teach For America’s growth has not negatively affected corps members’ impact on student learning.

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