TFA Rolls On

By the numbers: 

 In an interview on the Huffington Post in December 2012, TFA founder and CEO Wendy Kopp said the following:

"On average, our corps members stay in the classroom for eight years."

Anthony Cody of the Living in Dialogue blog at Ed Week asked for substantiation of this claim because the generally previously accepted number was more that only 10-15% of TFAers stay past their third year.

Others doing the math found that one study found that about 40% of TFAers leave after two years and another 25% after four years.  So if Kopp's claim is true, then 40% would have to be there for 14 years and another 25% for 12 years.  That's the only way you get an "average" of eight years.

So Cody asked a TFA spokesperson who said:
 "stat is a best estimate"
 "data involved is national and based on our alumni survey" 

Kopp finally answered saying her comment "created confusion. We can't definitively say what the average is"  as people come and go.  They use "projections" based on their own survey data.  "Sorry for the confusion - really hadn't meant to mislead!"

Who gets into TFA? 

This was a question asked by Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University, who wrote this column for the LA Progressive about why he will not allow TFA to recruit in his college classroom.

Ten years ago, when a Teach for America recruiter first approached me,  I was enthusiastic about the idea of recruiting my most idealistic and talented students for work in poor schools.  I allowed TFA representative to make presentations in my classes, filled with urban studies and African American studies majors.  Several of my best students applied, all of whom wanted to become teachers, and most of whom came from the kind of high-poverty neighborhoods  where TFA proposed to send its recruits.  None got accepted.

Enraged, I did a little research and found that Teach for America had accepted only four of the nearly one hundred Fordham students who applied.  I become even angrier when I read in the New York Times that TFA had accepted forty-four of one hundred applicants from Yale that year.  Something was really wrong if an organization which wanted to serve low-income communities rejected every applicant from Fordham, students who came from those very communities, and accepted half of the applicants from an Ivy League school where very few of the students, even students of color, come from working-class or poor families." 

Who is TFA really looking for? 

 "Three years ago, a TFA recruiter plastered the Fordham campus with flyers that said “Learn how joining TFA can help you gain admission to Stanford Business School.” "

Never, in its recruiting literature, has Teach for America described teaching as the most valuable professional choice that an idealistic, socially-conscious person can make.  Nor do they encourage the brightest students to make teaching their permanent career; indeed, the organization goes out of its way to make joining TFA seem a like a great pathway to success in other, higher-paying professions. 

In saying these things, let me make it clear that my quarrel is not with the many talented young people who join Teach for America, some of whom decide to remain in the communities they work in and become lifetime educators.  It is with the leaders of the organization, who enjoy the favor with which TFA is regarded with by captains of industry, members of Congress, the media, and the foundation world.  They have used this access to move rapidly to positions as heads of local school systems, executives in charter school companies, and educational analysts in management consulting firms." 

The great "corporate education agenda" blog, EduShyster, had this interesting article on TFA.  He notes that they have raised near $1B in the last five years for their "leadership" reform movement.

 "Today’s $1 billion question: how much excellence does $1 billion buy? The answer is muchos, muchos excellence—if you happen to be Teach for America. $1 billion is roughly the amount that TFA has managed to raise in the past five years, earning it a spot on Forbes list of the 200 largest US charities. But all this crass and inappropriate talk about money leads to an even more crass and inappropriate question: why DOES Teach for America need so much dough? Now the obvious answer is that providing poor, minority students with Ivy League-caliber freshness and excellence is an expensive proposition." 

As we all already know, TFA charges between $2-10K per teacher per year to districts.  What I didn't know was that they also sometimes charge for the teachers' training (such is the case in Ohio). To note, TFA loves working in charter schools.  (Most of Louisiana's charters are populated by TFAers.)  But guess what are the bottom 111 schools in Ohio are?  All charters.

 "When you ponied up $32.50 for this slim fit JCrew Teach For America tee, you thought you were supporting “a nonprofit organization that trains and places recent college graduates in classrooms around the country to ensure that disadvantaged kids get an excellent education”because that’s what it says in the JCrew catalog Actually, though, you were funding something a little different: rephorm. 

Digging deeper into TFA 

 From the book, Excellence For All: How a New Breed of Reformers Is Transforming America’s Public Schools,” by Jack Schneider, an assistant professor at the College of the Holy Cross. His research fields include educational policy, the history of education, and the teaching profession. This comes via the Answer Sheet at the Washington Post. 

"Although TFA produces only a fraction of the nation’s teachers, it receives a disproportionate share of public attention, and its roughly $200 million annual budget dwarfs that of other teacher recruitment efforts.Thus, while TFA is not representative of teacher preparation and recruitment efforts as a whole, it is an exemplary case of the excellence for all approach to school reform, and particularly to the teacher question. 

In the case of Los Angeles’s Locke High School, TFA quickly became the primary source for new teachers because of the principal’s faith in the quality of TFA corps members. In 2005, TFA supplied 20 percent of the teachers on staff. However, by the end of that year, nearly a dozen TFA teachers had resigned and eight others left before finishing their two-year commitments. This disappointment caused the principal to lament: “you invest in them, get them to a level of skill, and then they leave. I have to look for stability at the school. Last year I hired all TFAers for my vacancies. This year, I’m going to be looking for a significant number of non-TFA teachers.” Other principals in the city have had comparable experiences. “All in all, it has been a very positive relationship and the teachers are readily selected by principals,” said Deborah Ignagni, assistant chief human resources officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District. But, she noted, “If the principals could change one thing, it would be to retain the teachers longer so that the students would continue to benefit and the school community would have continuity”…. 

By the time TFA began a $60 million expansion effort in 2005, it was articulating its purpose in a new way. The mission of the organization, according to a press release announcing $30 million in grants, was billed as building “the movement to eliminate educational inequality by enlisting the country’s most promising future leaders in the effort.” According to supporter Don Fisher, founder of Gap, Inc., and a major funder of TFA and KIPP charter schools, “Teach For America’s growth and success is critical to the growth of other education reform efforts including the charter school and small schools effort.” Its success is vital not because of the teachers it would produce, but because it would “create reform leaders for the coming decades.” However, it seems, the vision of Ivy League-educated teachers working in low-performing urban schools has been so powerful that reformers have willingly suspended disbelief about its challenges."


mirmac1 said…
I see from UW/TFA emails that they plan to expand to...Yakima.

I say, GREAT!, go where there may be a shortage of teachers; and

CRAP!, latino students need real teachers too; and

I'll bet TFA sees the writing on the wall with the Alliance's latest pet project, the Urban Teacher Residency program. Basically, like TFA but more legitimate.
CT said…
I have a cult-of-TFA magazine from the previous resident of my condo. It is full of charter school ads and ads for grad school (educational leadership! political science!) programs expressly for the 2 year TFA quitters/opportunists.
Anonymous said…
Melissa—this is such a well-written piece. Kudos! The blog needs a FB page.

Solvay Girl
dan dempsey said…
Kopp finally answered saying her comment "created confusion. We can't definitively say what the average is" as people come and go. They use "projections" based on their own survey data. "Sorry for the confusion - really hadn't meant to mislead!"

WOW!!!~ what BS.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data. Clearly TFA has enough funding to have the correct data.... obviously TFA does not wish to have accurate numbers on TFA Core Member retention in the classroom.

Meanwhile the politicians dump tax dollars into this outfit.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ScrawnyKayaker said…
Translation: "I made up that number because it sounds good. What, you think numbers used in politics should be actual factual facts? That's adorable!"

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