Do Teachers Really Matter?

A study in Texas shows that Teach for America (TFA) is making a significant difference in the learning outcomes of students in basic education. Beth Hawkins of T74 reports that students taught by TFA members perform significantly better in eight subjects that include math, science and English. The only subject in which no positive impact is observed is reading. The comparison is made against students taught by teachers who were not affiliated with TFA. Presumably, these are teachers who went through the traditional route of training and education.

Above copied from The 74

Although TFA lists the following minimum requirements:

In order to be considered for admission to the TFA corps, you must have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.50 and U.S. citizenship, national/legal resident status, or be a DACA recipient. 

One can assume that TFA places a premium on academic excellence. One simply has to look at the tips the TFA website provides to applicants:

Above copied from

Although, it may seem encouraging to see that volunteers are making a difference in basic education, one should not miss the other side of this story. Clearly, students not taught by TFA teachers are not doing as well. Who are these teachers? Who are the students taught by these teachers?

TFA is focused on helping under-resourced schools. TFA teachers commit to serving for two years in low-income communities. And upon closer inspection of the data presented in the Texas study, low-income, English learners, Black and Hispanic students benefit more from TFA teachers:

Above copied from Texas study

What this suggests is a clear inequity in basic education. Teachers do matter. Low-income, English learners, Black, and Hispanic children are not being provided effective teachers. And this is truly the sad side of this story.