- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2004

Students in poor school districts learn more when taught by recruits of Teach for America, a Peace Corps-style program that uses high-achieving college graduates in schools plagued by teacher shortages, a new study has found.

“The study finds that Teach for America corps members make 10 percent more progress in a year in math than is typically expected, while slightly exceeding the normal expectation in reading,” said a report issued last week by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. of Princeton, N.J.

The 82-page report, “The Effects of Teach for America on Students,” is the first rigorous national study to examine the program that has placed 12,000 nontraditional teachers in 21 disadvantaged communities since 1990.

“The study’s findings should move us beyond the debate about whether Teach for America is a good thing and is having a positive impact on students,” said Wendy S. Kopp, TFA president, who founded the corps as a Princeton senior 15 years ago.

The privately organized Teach for America (TFA) program, based in New York City, recruits top-ranked college graduates without traditional education training. They spend two years as teachers in poor rural and inner-city school districts after an intensive five-week summer institute in teaching practice, classroom management, literacy development and leadership.

“Our findings suggest that TFA offers an appealing pool of candidates,” concluded the report, funded by the Carnegie Corp. of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation of Menlo Park, Calif., and Smith Richardson Foundation of Westport, Conn.

TFA critic Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education professor, told Education Week the qualifications of TFA teachers “are extremely subnormal.”

“The media and policy-makers should be asking all teacher-preparation programs in the country these two questions: How many teachers are you putting in the very highest-need schools in the country, and what proof do you have that those teachers are succeeding?” she said.

TFA teachers are paid the same as other teachers, and a $1,500 TFA recruiting fee per teacher is substantially less costly than “other interventions that have been shown to increase achievement, such as class-size reduction,” the report said.

The evaluation started with a pilot study in Baltimore during the 2001-2002 school year and expanded in 2002-2003 to analyze test scores of 2,000 students in 17 schools in Baltimore, Houston, Los Angeles, the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans.

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