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?