There's a new policy brief showing that Teach for America teachers -- recent college grads plucked from elite schools -- don't do better than credentialed teachers when it comes to student test scores. And the reason is pretty straightforward: They're inexperienced and generally leave before they develop the skills to be effective educators. Before they're thrown in a classroom, TFAers get five weeks of training and over half leave upon completing their two-year commitment; 80 percent leave after three years.
I've always thought the assumption behind TFA -- that all underperforming schools need is an Ivy League Jaime Escalante -- a bit problematic. While research shows teachers have a significant impact on student performance, outcomes are influenced by a range of factors, including parental support, peers, parents' income and the opportunities that arise from it, etc. But even if TFA's narrow goal is to improve the quality of teachers in underperforming schools, it apparently doesn't do much in this regard. If the goal is to cull the ranks of elite schools for the next generation of teachers, TFA should try to recruit those who genuinely want a career in education -- instead of any Yale English major in need of pre-professional résumé padding.