Examining Spillover Effects from Teach For America Corps Members in Miami-Dade County Public Schools

Teach For America (TFA) is one of the nation’s largest alternative routes into the teaching profession. In the 2013–14 school year, there were 11,000 corps members reaching more than 750,000 students in high-need classrooms all around the country, including nearly 150 TFA members in the Cleveland and Cincinnati-Dayton areas. Yet even with TFA’s growing scale, its teachers are a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the country’s teaching force of approximately 3 million. This raises the question of how best to allocate these young, enthusiastic teachers. Should corps members be dispersed widely across a district’s schools, or should they be “clustered” into targeted schools? Would having a high density of TFA members in a few, high-need schools provide positive learning benefits even for students with non-TFA teachers (“spillover” effects)? This new study analyzes the impact of clustering TFA members in Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS), using district level data from 2008–09 to 2012–13. TFA altered its placement strategy in M-DCPS in 2009–10 and began to cluster members in a smaller number of turnaround schools. For example, among middle schools with a TFA member, 18 percent of the school’s teaching staff was, on average, TFA in 2012–13, compared to just 4 percent in 2008–09. The researchers, however, found that the higher density of TFA members in the targeted schools yielded no significant “spillover” benefits—as measured by test-score gains—for students with non-TFA teachers. That said, this study replicates the finding that TFA teachers, in math at least, contribute significant value-added gains relative to the average schoolteacher. The analysts estimate that Miami’s TFA members contributed an impressive three additional months of learning in math (the gains in reading were statistically insignificant). It appears, then, that the effectiveness of TFA members doesn’t necessarily rub off on other teachers—even when there are many members in a single school. Nonetheless, with or without “spillover” effects, this study makes it increasingly clear that TFA members are doing a heck of a job teaching math.


Source: Michael Hansen, Ben Backes, Victoria Brady, and Zeyu Xu, Examining Spillover Effects from Teach For America Corps Members in Miami-Dade County Public Schools (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, June 2014).