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JPAM Featured Article: "Supplying Disadvantaged Schools with Effective Teachers: Experimental Evidence on Secondary Math Teachers from Teach For America"

October 19, 2016 08:00 AM

As part of our ongoing effort to promote JPAM authors to the APPAM membership and the public policy world at large, we are asking JPAM authors to answer a few questions to promote their research article on the APPAM website.

By: Melissa Clark, Hanley Chiang, Sheena McConnell

What was the genesis/history of the idea for your research?

This paper grew out of a desire to understand how to improve the effectiveness of teachers in high-needs schools and hard-to-staff subjects. The study was designed to evaluate one approach to addressing this issue—the approach used by Teach For America (TFA) and other similar programs. TFA recruits high-achieving college graduates and professionals to commit to teach for two years in high-needs schools. The program provides its teachers, who typically have no prior training in education, with an intensive five-week training they begin teaching and ongoing support throughout their two-year commitment. TFA is a growing and important source of teachers to low-income schools, but is highly controversial. Critics claim that TFA’s teachers are underprepared for teaching and that they do not remain in the profession long enough to become as effective as more experienced teachers. In this study, we sought to provide evidence on the effectiveness of secondary math teachers from TFA, to help address this controversy. We focused the study on secondary math teachers because this is one of the subjects for which high-needs schools have the greatest difficulty finding qualified teachers, and one of the highest priority subject areas for TFA. 

What is the main conclusion that becomes evident from your research? (Or, what is our main takeaway?)

We found that TFA math teachers were more effective than other math teachers in the same high-poverty secondary schools, increasing student math achievement by 0.07 standard deviations over one school year. We estimate that this is roughly equal to about 2.6 additional months of math instruction. 

What are some of the more interesting or surprising findings/conclusions, you discovered during this process?

The comparison teachers in our study sample (non-TFA secondary math teachers in the same high-needs schools as the TFA teachers in the sample) tended to be highly experienced, with an average of 10 years of teaching experience. However, even though the TFA teachers in our sample were far less experienced (with an average of only two years of teaching experience), they still outperformed the comparison teachers. In fact, we found that TFA teachers in their first two years of teaching were more effective than comparison teachers with more than five years of teaching experience


Authors' Bio

melissa_clarkMelissa Clark specializes in the design and implementation of rigorous impact evaluations, with a focus on education policy. Clark's recent research has focused on how best to train and support teachers and school leaders. She was the principal investigator for a random assignment evaluation for the U.S. Department of Education that assessed the impact of teachers from highly selective alternative certification programs, such as Teach For America and Teaching Fellows programs, on secondary student math achievement. Clark has published in the Journal of Human Resources, the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Economics of Education Review, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and the Journal of Population Economics. She coauthored The Market Comes to Education in Sweden: An Evaluation of Sweden’s Surprising School Reforms, a book from the Russell Sage Foundation. She holds a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University.



Hanley Chiang is an expert in designing rigorous program evaluations in education and has conducted extensive research on measuring and improving teacher and principal effectiveness. Chiang has held leading roles on large-scale evaluations sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education to examine critical policy issues related to teacher quality. He is a principal investigator for a large random assignment evaluation of educator merit pay programs funded by the Teacher Incentive Fund. He has served as a principal investigator for developing pilot measures of teacher effectiveness for a large network of charter schools, and coauthored a widely cited report on error rates in value-added models for measuring school and teacher effectiveness. Chiang’s research spans several other key policy issues, including school accountability and alternative education for dropouts and other at-risk students. Chiang’s work has been published or is forthcoming in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, the Journal of Public Economics, the Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics, Education Finance and Policy, Evaluation Review, Advances in Econometrics, and Statistics and Public Policy. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.



Sheena McConnell is vice president and director of human services research in Mathematica's Washington, DC, office. Her research has focused on using experimental methods to learn about the effectiveness of programs and policies for vulnerable populations. An expert in policies to promote employment and strong families in disadvantaged populations, she is directing a national experimental evaluation of the Workforce Investment Act Adult and Dislocated Worker programs. McConnell recently directed a study of the effectiveness of math teachers who entered teaching through Teach For America or the Teaching Fellows programs. Prior to joining Mathematica in 1990, McConnell was a lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has published in the American Economic Review, Evaluation Review, the Industrial and Labor Relations Review, and the Journal of Public Analysis and Management (JPAM). Together with other Mathematica staff, she won the Raymond Vernon Memorial Prize for the Best Article Published in JPAM. She holds a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University.


Check out this and other Journal of Policy Analysis and Management articles online.


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