Kids who receive classroom instruction through the Teach for America program get a meaningful academic boost over traditionally-educated students, a new study found.
The study was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education and released earlier this week. Its findings are a major boon to advocates of Teach for America (TFA), a non-profit organization that deploys recent college graduates as teachers in struggling schools.
Students who received TFA instruction scored the same or better than their peers on several measurements. The big achievement was in mathematics, where TFA students scored a few percentile points better than students educated by traditional teachers.
The improved math scores were equivalent to about 2.6 months of additional learning, according to the study.
Rick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, said the study will help TFA make its case that students are well-served by its teachers.
“What it found was that far from being an inferior alternative to traditional schools, their kids were doing statistically better,” Hess said in an interview with The Daily Caller.
TFA has faced mounting criticism from teachers union leaders, who view the non-profit as an unwelcome competitor. TFA has also waded into the politics of school reform, and the organizations general support for the school choice agenda has drawn the ire of the traditional unions.
Last year, Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said in no uncertain terms that TFA helps “kill and disenfranchise” students. Bill Ayers, a former terrorist and education professor at the University of Illinois, called the organization a “fraud.” (RELATED: Bill Ayers defends Weather Underground bombings, dismisses comparison to Boston blasts)
Denise Specht, head of the Minnesota teachers union, has fought hard against a state grant to the organization, labelling TFA teachers as unprepared for the classroom.
“When you have somebody on your team that you’re worried about whether they’re prepared or whether they have the tools that are necessary to do well, that’s a concern for everyone,” she said in a statement to News. (RELATED: Chicago Teachers Union chief uses Sandy Hook to bash Teach For America)
Teachers unions have the right to raise questions about TFA, but should stay away from name-calling and hyperbole, said Hess.
“There are good and reasonable questions people can and should ask about TFA,” he said. “But some of this stuff is just insane and mean and vicious and crazy.”