Middle and high school students whose math teachers entered the profession through Teach for America learn what researchers are calling the equivalent of 2.6 months more than similar students each year, according to a study released today.
But the study found that teachers who entered the profession through the Teaching Fellows program, which supplies large numbers of New York City teachers, did not similarly boost students' math scores.
The findings are likely to shape ongoing debates over the value of teacher experience and and over alternative certification programs, given the limited number of large-scale studies on the programs' effectiveness. For years, Teach for America's detractors have pointed to a 2005 study led by Linda Darling-Hammond, while supporters have been left to offer up smaller studies and anecdotal evidence about outsized gains.
But more recently, studies showing benefits to Teach for America teachers have begun to pile up, even as criticism of the program, which allows recent college graduates a fast track into the classroom, has continued.
The latest study, conducted by the firm Mathematica, is among the largest and uses random-assignment methodology, which is widely considered the "gold standard" in education research. It was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, an office that supports randomized studies in an attempt to boost the quality of education research.
Hoxby's study examined 43 charter schools throughout the city. The schools she researched are noted on this map with red stars.
New York City charter school students are performing so well on state tests that they may soon catch up to students in Scarsdale, the upscale suburb north of the city, according to an extensive update of a multi-year charter study released today.
The optimistic projection stems from researchers' finding that the boost charter schools give does not taper off, but is steady throughout elementary school and middle school and even into high school.
"It seems to be really stable as an effect," said Stanford University economist Caroline Hoxby, who directed the study.
Hoxby and her team studied 43 charter schools in New York City serving elementary, middle and high school students. They compared students who applied and were accepted into charter schools in 2000 by random lottery to those who applied but did not receive a seat.
By the time charter school students reached the eighth grade, in 2008, they scored on average 30 points higher on state math tests than students who remained in traditional public schools, the researchers found.
That's almost the equivalent of closing the average achievement gap between students in traditional public schools in Harlem and students in Scarsdale, the affluent New York suburb north of the city where students take the same standardized tests. The average Harlem-Scarsdale math score gap is between 35 and 40 points, so the charter school students close that gap by about 86 percent.