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Impact Evaluation of Two Highly-Selective Routes to Alternative Certification

Contract Information

Current Status:

This study has been completed.


August 2008 – October 2013



Contract Number:



Mathematica Policy Research
Chesapeake Research Associates
Branch Associates


Title II, Part A, the Improving Teacher State Formula Grants program, is the primary federal funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to support a high-quality teacher in every classroom. The program, funded at $2.9 billion in Fiscal Year 2008, targets high-poverty districts and funds a broad array of allowable activities such as support for certification including alternative certification.

Highly-selective programs that provide alternative routes to teacher certification are viewed by some policymakers as important tools for recruiting prospective teachers, particularly in critical subject areas like secondary school math in which teacher shortages are common. Little is known, however, about the effectiveness of teachers in those programs, especially at the secondary level. This study aimed to fill that knowledge gap by focusing on secondary math teachers from the two largest highly-selective routes to alternative certification: Teach For America (TFA) and the Teaching Fellows programs fostered by The New Teacher Project (TNTP).

  • How effective are TFA teachers at teaching secondary math compared with other teachers teaching the same math courses in the same schools?
  • How effective are Teaching Fellows at teaching secondary math compared with other teachers teaching the same math courses in the same schools?

This study used an experimental design in which students were randomly assigned to a class taught by a math teacher from the program being studied (TFA or Teaching Fellows) or to a similar math class in the same school taught by a teacher who did not participate in either of the programs studied. Approximately 80 schools in 15 districts were recruited to take part in the study, with a focus on roughly 300 secondary school math teachers and approximately their 17,000 students.

Student achievement was measured by administering computer-adaptive math assessments to high school students and using scores from state- and district-administered math assessments for middle school students. A teacher survey was used to collect information on demographic characteristics, educational background, pre-service teaching experience, teacher education courses taken during the current school year, and mentoring and other support services received during the current school year. Structured interviews of highly-selective alternative certification program administrators was used to collect information on the strategies the programs used to recruit, screen, train, place, and support teachers.

On Teach For America and Teaching Fellows:

  • TFA teachers were more effective than their comparison teachers in the same schools regardless of the comparison teachers' route to certification.
  • On average, students assigned to novice TFA teachers had higher math scores than students assigned to more experienced teachers from other routes to certification.
  • Students of Teaching Fellows and comparison teachers had similar scores, on average, on the math tests they took at the end of the school year; however, Teaching Fellows were more effective than teachers from less selective alternative routes to certification, but neither more nor less effective than teachers from traditional routes to certification.
  • Novice Teaching Fellows were more effective than novice comparison teachers; experienced Teaching Fellows teachers were neither more nor less effective than experienced comparison teachers.

From a brief synthesizing lessons learned from this study and another study focusing on teachers from less-selective routes to alternative certification:

  • Teachers who enter teaching through alternative routes to certification can help fill teacher shortages in hard-to-staff schools and subjects without reducing student achievement.
  • Coursework taken while teaching appears to decrease teachers' effectiveness.
  • Predicting teacher effectiveness at the time of hiring appears to be difficult.

A report, titled The Effectiveness of Secondary Math Teachers from Teach For America and the Teaching Fellows Programs, along with a study snapshot and video recap, was released in September 2013.

An evaluation brief, titled Addressing Teacher Shortages in Disadvantaged Schools: Lessons From Two Institute of Education Sciences Studies, along with a video of a forum on the brief, was released in September 2013.

A restricted-use file containing de-identified data is available for the purposes of replicating study findings and secondary analysis.