Teach for America Teachers are Better

Teach for America (TFA) teachers are making a difference (via OL Daily). According to this six-year longitudinal study of high school students in North Carolina,

The findings show that TFA teachers are more effective, as measured by student exam performance, than traditional teachers. Moreover, they suggest that the TFA effect, at least in the grades and subjects investigated, exceeds the impact of additional years of experience, implying that TFA teachers are more effective than experienced secondary school teachers. The positive TFA results are robust across subject areas, but are particularly strong for math and science classes.

This is troubling: Five-week institute trained teachers do better than those with a degree in teaching, which usually includes two years of education courses. (And 34% of the non-TFA teachers had graduate degrees compared to less than 2% for TFA teachers.) How can that be? The report notes that TFA teachers are recruited from highly selective universities but placed

in the lowest-performing schools in the country ... [and] in the most demanding classrooms in these already challenging schools.

Yet, their students do better. Interestingly, TFA teachers also score higher than traditionally trained teachers on the PRAXIS exam. Is their success due to being more motivated? Do experienced teachers suffer demotivation over the years? Or is it because TFA teachers are stronger academically? I imagine it would be at least a combination of those factors, and perhaps others I'm not aware of.

What's troubling is that it is difficult to imagine the same scenario in another discipline. Take, for instance, engineering. Would you expect that a group of new college graduates would be better engineers than a group who had been in the field a while? Even if the newbies were from highly selective schools and the oldies weren't? Lots of questions but no solutions here.