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Addressing Teacher Shortages in Disadvantaged Schools: Lessons from Two Institute of Education Sciences Studies

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High-poverty schools across the nation struggle to attract effective teachers, particularly in math and science. Teach For America (TFA) and the Teaching Fellows programs seek to address this problem by providing an alternative route into the teaching profession for promising candidates without prior training in education. Both programs recruit high-achieving college graduates and professionals, provide them with five to seven weeks of full-time training, place them in high-poverty schools—often to teach hard-to-staff subjects—and provide them with ongoing training and support. Both programs are highly selective, admitting less than 15 percent of applicants.

A new study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, provides rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of secondary school math teachers from these programs, compared with other math teachers in the same schools. Key findings include:

Teach For America

  • Students assigned to TFA teachers scored higher than those assigned to comparison teachers on end-of-year math tests; the difference in scores is equivalent to the gains from an additional 2.6 months of math instruction.
  • Students of inexperienced TFA teachers in the study (those who had only taught for three years or less) outperformed students of more experienced comparison teachers.
  • Although TFA is often criticized for the fact that its teachers make only a two-year commitment to teaching, the findings suggest that over the long term, continuing to fill a position with TFA teachers who depart after a few years would lead to higher student math achievement than filling the same position with a non-TFA teacher who would remain in the position and accumulate more teaching experience.

Teaching Fellows

  • On average, students taught by Teaching Fellows teachers had math scores that were about the same as those of their peers taught by comparison teachers.
  • Teaching Fellows teachers were more effective than teachers from other, less selective alternative routes to certification and were about as effective as teachers from traditional routes to certification (those who completed all requirements for teacher certification before becoming a teacher, typically through an undergraduate or graduate education program).
  • Inexperienced Teaching Fellows teachers (those who had taught for three years or less) were more effective than inexperienced comparison teachers; among teachers with more experience, there was no difference in effectiveness between Teaching Fellows and comparison teachers.