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Teach For America Spurs 20 Years of Research, Debate

Two decades after Teach for America started recruiting new college graduates and mid-career professionals to teach in staff-strapped schools, the research is still bubbling away over what role the group has to play in turning around American education.

This Mathematica TFA study.pdf of major urban schools in 2004, as well as 2009 studies of New York City students and of North Carolina high school students all found students of TFA participants made better progress in math than other students. Yet other studies like one in 2005 of Houston, Texas students or another in Arizona in 2002 have countered that students of teachers who have been certified through traditional teacher education routes outperform those of TFA participants.

Moreover, researchers have voiced concern that TFA graduates often transfer schools or leave teaching after their two-year commitment expires, before the three-year experience threshold that most researchers say is when new teachers come into their prime.

Teach for America has a big chance to prove itself now, with the implementation of its $50 million federal research scale-up grant from the Investing in Innovation fund. The group has pledged to train and place more than 28,000 new teachers in 148 school districts by 2014, and ensure those teachers receive a "highly effective teacher" rating by their second or third year of teaching. It will be interesting to see if part of TFA's implementation involves ensuring its graduates stay in teaching long enough to earn that rating.

For more on the history and debate surrounding Teach for America, check out Education Week's commentary package here.

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