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.
In New York City — "District D" — there was virtually no difference in turnover rates based on teacher performance.
Getting rid of weak teachers doesn't always require massive policy changes. Sometimes all it takes is a nudge, a new study on teacher turnover suggests.
When New York City principals told low-rated teachers that they were deficient, the teachers were three times more likely to leave the school, according to the study, released today by TNTP, a group that advocates for aggressive changes to hiring and firing practices in public schools.
Convincing the best teachers to stay is just as easy as counseling the weak ones out, the study suggests. Top-rated teachers said they were more likely to stay if their principals gave them more constructive feedback and more public recognition for their efforts, but two-thirds of them reported that their principals did not even encourage them to return to their school.
The study is a follow-up to TNTP's 2009 influential "Widget Effect" report, which urged school districts to revamp teacher evaluations. In the new report, the group focuses on how districts can hold on to teachers determined to be the best. Districts don't make a special effort to keep those teachers, termed "Irreplaceables" in the report, and when they leave, schools are highly unlikely to hire teachers who are anywhere near as strong, the report concludes.
Some of the report's findings represent low-cost, easy-to-implement alternatives to some of the other policies TNTP has pushed, including firing teachers who don't have permanent positions and doing away with seniority-based layoffs.
Contrasted against each other, this week's two pieces of teacher evaluation news put some education reform groups in a tough spot.
As a deadline on a teacher evaluation deal neared, the groups anxiously supported Gov. Andrew Cuomo's work to add weight to test scores for assessing teachers. But in the middle of those negotiations, a court decision on the release of the city's teacher data reports reminded the public of the pitfalls of relying too heavily on data-driven metrics. Research into the reports had revealed a wide margin of error and instability from year to year.
So, for the most part, groups were mum about the legal ruling, which paves the way for a data dump of two-year-old "value-added" ratings for 12,000 city teachers.
The exception was Educators 4 Excellence, an upstart advocacy group that says it has support from thousands of city teachers. Although they are usually a thorn in the side of the United Federation of Teachers because of disagreement over senior-based layoffs and teacher evaluations, the two groups struck common ground on this issue.
E4E co-founder and co-CEO Evan Stone sent over an email Wednesday saying he was "disappointed" with the court's decision to let the release go forward and said he thought making the ratings public would do little to boost the issue of improving teacher quality.
"While we strongly support teachers receiving quality feedback about their performance, including how much they're helping their students progress on state tests, publicizing these results on the front page of newspapers will not help improve teacher effectiveness," Stone said in a statement.
Stone's comments, while not as sharply worded, echo the sentiments of UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Principals union head Ernest Logan piled on criticism of the decision as well yesterday.