The Effectiveness of "Teach for America" and Other Under-certified Teachers


  • Ildiko Laczko-Kerr Arizona Department of Education
  • David C. Berliner Arizona State University



Academic Achievement, Alternative Teacher Certification, Elementary Education, Elementary School Teachers, Public Policy, School Districts, Teacher Effectiveness, Teacher Qualifications


The academic achievements of students taught by under-certified primary school teachers were compared to the academic achievements of students taught by regularly certified primary school teachers.  This sample of under-certified teachers included three types of under-qualified personnel: emergency, temporary and provisionally certified teachers.  One subset of these under-certified teachers was from the national program "Teach For America (TFA)."  Recent college graduates are placed by TFA where other under-qualified under-certified teachers are often called upon to work, namely, low-income urban and rural school districts. Certified teachers in this study were from accredited universities and all met state requirements for receiving the regular initial certificate to teach.  Recently hired under-certified and certified teachers (N=293) from five low-income school districts were matched on a number of variables, resulting in 109 pairs of teachers whose students all took the mandated state achievement test. Results indicate 1) that students of TFA teachers did not perform significantly different from students of other under-certified teachers, and 2) that students of certified teachers out-performed students of teachers who were under-certified.  This was true on all three subtests of the SAT 9reading, mathematics and language arts.  Effect sizes favoring the students of certified teachers were substantial.  In reading, mathematics, and language, the students of certified teachers outperformed students of under-certified teachers, including the students of the TFA teachers, by about 2 months on a grade equivalent scale.  Students of under-certified teachers make about 20% less academic growth per year than do students of teachers with regular certification.  Traditional programs of teacher preparation apparently result in positive effects on the academic achievement of low-income primary school children.  Present policies allowing under-certified teachers, including those from the TFA program, to work with our most difficult to teach children appear harmful.  Such policies increase differences in achievement between the performance of poor children, often immigrant and minority children, and those children who are more advantaged.


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Author Biographies

Ildiko Laczko-Kerr, Arizona Department of Education

Ildiko Laczko-Kerr is an Education Research Associate in the Research and Policy Unit at the Arizona Department of Education. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology in 2002 from the College of Education at Arizona State University. She holds a BA in Psychology and a MA in Educational Psychology from the University of Arizona. Her current research at the department of education involves working with state assessment data, the development and implementation of the state’s achievement profiles, and research relating to Arizona’s teaching force.

David C. Berliner, Arizona State University

David C. Berliner is Regents' Professor of Education at the College of Education of Arizona State University, in Tempe, AZ. He received his Ph.D. in 1968 from Stanford University in educational psychology, and has hled positions at the University of Massachusetts, WestEd, and the University of Arizona. He has served as president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), president of the Division of Educational Psychology of the American Psychological Association (APA), and as a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Berliner is a member of the National Academy of Education. His publications include The Manufactured Crisis, Addison-Wesley, 1995 (with B.J. Biddle) and the Handbook of Educational Psychology, Macmillan, 1996 (Edited with R.C. Calfee). Special awards include the Research into Practice Award and the lifetime achievement award from AERA, the E. L. Thorndike award from APA, and the 2003 Brock international award for educational achievements. His scholarly interests include research on teaching and education policy analysis.




How to Cite

Laczko-Kerr, I., & Berliner, D. C. (2002). The Effectiveness of "Teach for America" and Other Under-certified Teachers. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10, 37.




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