University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Alternatively-Trained Teachers Prove Effective in Secondary Math

In The View from the OEP on September 12, 2013 at 10:38 am

teach_for_americaYou might have seen the news this week that Mathematica Policy Research released a new report examining Teach for America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP) Teaching Fellows.

Teach For America, which began in 1989, and the Teaching Fellows, which began in 2000, both place alternatively-trained teachers in classrooms across the United States. In 2013-14, TFA has 11,000 first or second year teachers in 48 regions, including Arkansas. Teaching Fellows places teachers in 11 regions across the United States.


Teach For America often falls in the national spotlight, as it has drawn criticism for its training practices and placement of teachers. This summer, we released blog posts digging into the debate surrounding alternative certification of teachers.

Since its founding, TFA has been the focus of a number of evaluations, including a previous report  released by Mathematica in 2004.  In the previous report, a randomized evaluation compared TFA elementary teachers (Grades 1-5) to non-TFA teachers and found positive gains in math for TFA teachers and no statistically different results between the teachers in reading.

The Evaluation

The recently-released Mathematica report is a rigorous evaluation of secondary TFA and Teaching Fellow math teachers, as it uses random assignment to examine the effectiveness of the teachers. The Institute of Education Sciences (the research arm of the Department of Education) sponsored the Mathematica report. Students were randomly assigned to a TFA or Teaching Fellow teacher or to another teacher in the school (regardless of teaching experience, whether traditionally-trained or trained through another non-traditional program). Results from end-of-the-year tests were analyzed to determine differences in teacher effectiveness. Due to the placement of the teachers and the nature of the analysis, Teach For America and Teaching Fellow teachers were not compared head-to-head.

The report was conducted during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 schools years. The TFA analysis examined teachers in 45 schools in 11 districts in 8 states and included more than 4,500 students. The Teaching Fellows analysis examined teachers in 44 schools in 9 districts in 8 states and included more than 4,100 students.


The evaluation found secondary math TFA teachers to be more effective than non-TFA teachers: on average, students with TFA teachers scored a difference equivalent to 2.6 months of additional math instruction. The TFA teacher sample, which included first- and second-year teachers and alumni TFA teachers, had less teaching experience on average than the comparison teachers (2 years compared to 10 years). Regardless of experience or certification, TFA teachers proved to be more effective. Furthermore, when TFA teachers were compared to teachers from less selective non-traditional routes to teaching, TFA teachers proved to be even more effective.

The evaluation found that secondary math Teaching Fellow teachers produced results that were, on average, no different than those of comparison teachers. However, when Teaching Fellows teachers were compared to teachers from less selective non-traditional routes to teaching, the Teaching Fellows teachers proved to be more effective.

This is good news for both programs – particularly Teach For America, as it continues to expand the number of teachers placed across the United States each year.


In the 2013-14 school year, there are 189 TFA teachers in Arkansas in 40 different schools across eastern and southeastern Arkansas. Eighty-percent of Arkansas’ TFA teachers are secondary teachers—and a large number of those are math teachers.

ATCLogoWhile there are no Teaching Fellow teachers placed in Arkansas, in this school year, another non-traditional teaching program, similar to Teach For America and the Teaching Fellows, has opened out of the University of Arkansas. The Arkansas Teacher Corps has placed more than 20 teachers across Central and Southern Arkansas. The effectiveness of Arkansas Teacher Corps teachers will be examined as the program grows. We are sure that ATC is pleased to hear that selective and high-quality non-traditional teaching programs can produce benefits for students.

We at the OEP are pleased to share the news of any program that has the potential to put even more talented teachers in front of our state’s students, as we believe (and know from research) that teachers matter.

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