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Evaluation Studies of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

An Evaluation of the Impact on Secondary Student Math Achievement of Two Highly Selective Routes to Alternative Certification

Contractors: Mathematica Policy Research, Chesapeake Research Associates, Branch Associates

Background/Research Questions

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 FY08, 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 aims 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). The study will address:

  • 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. The study plan included recruitment of approximately 80 schools in 15 school districts 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.

Cost/Duration: $10,884,530 over 5 years (August 2008–October 2013)

Current Status: An evaluation brief was released in September 2013 (see A final report based on data from school years 2009–2010 and 2010–2011 was released in September 2013 (

Key Findings:

Most TFA and Teaching Fellows teachers in the study taught in different schools and districts, and students were not randomly assigned between TFA and Teaching Fellows teachers. As a result, the study cannot directly compare these teachers' effectiveness. Instead, the two groups were studied separately. The study found that:

  • 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.

The evaluation brief synthesized lessons learned from this study and another NCEE study focusing on teachers from less selective alternative routes to teacher 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.