Bad Economy Good for TFA

by Robert Pondiscio
December 8th, 2008

Teach for America got Page One treatment from the Washington Post on Saturday.  Competition for slots in the program is way up, in part because of the economy.  Nearly 40,000 applications are expected for about 5,000 teaching slots.

In part because of the dearth of other job prospects in the sagging economy but mostly because the program has captured the imagination of a generation of student leaders bent on doing good, some graduates of the nation’s elite universities are fighting for low-paying teaching positions the way they once sought jobs on Wall Street.

The bad economy angle notwithstanding, the Post story mostly covers familiar territory and reports “research into Teach for America’s effectiveness has been inconclusive, but at least three major studies in the past several years indicate that students taught by its teachers score significantly lower on standardized tests than do their peers.”  That’s enough to set Eduwonk’s teeth on edge

In fact, while there has been a lot of “research” into TFA the methodologically most solid studies have shown that TFA teachers are as good or better than other teachers, including veteran and traditionally trained teachers.   Mathematica (pdf) and Urban Institute/CALDER are the two best examples — and those are independent analyses not TFA studies. 

One angle not discussed in the Post piece, or anywhere else that I’ve noticed.  If the recession is driving more recruits into TFA, might it also mean that a lot of teachers who might have left for greener pastures in flush times are staying put?


  1. Are not TFA teachers assigned to the worst urban schools? My information is that, all things considered, the TFA teachers are actually doing quite well considering the circumstances. Or am I wrong on that?

    Comment by tm willemse — December 9, 2008 @ 11:07 am

  2. tm willemse:

    At best, TFA teachers are, “better than other unqualified teachers” for mainstream students. They are clearly much worse for any students with special needs, and typically, run harsh classrooms.

    I guess they don’t get to those issues in their five weeks of “training.”

    Comment by Ira Socol — December 9, 2008 @ 2:29 pm

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