Saturday, May 28, 2011

Teach For America: From Service Group to Industry

This is a long form piece I wrote quite a while ago and have been unable to find a home for. So be forewarned: It's long. I also want to take a moment to commend the TFA corps members who have stayed in the classroom and to acknowledge the many, many thoughtful and critical reflections I've read by former and current corps members. 

Although Teach For America began twenty years ago as a well-intentioned band-aid, it has morphed into what is essentially a jobs program for the privileged, funded by taxpayers and wealthy individuals. TFA was originally designed to serve a specific need: fill positions in high-poverty schools where there are teacher shortages. A non-profit organization that recruits college seniors primarily from elite institutions to teach for two-year stints in high-poverty schools, preceded by five weeks of training, TFA has grown from 500 teachers to more than 8,000 teachers in thirty-nine rural and urban areas. As TFA is expanding, it is no longer just filling positions in shortage areas; rather, it’s replacing experienced and traditionally educated teachers. To justify this encroachment, TFA claims that their teachers are more effective than more experienced and qualified teachers, and that training and experience are not factors in effective teaching. TFA supporters also defend the explosive growth of TFA as an indication that TFA is elevating the status of the teaching profession for ambitious high-achieving college students.  Unfortunately, while Teach for America has been very effective at elevating the status of Teach for America, it has not had a similar impact on the status of teaching as a profession.

When I was a college senior, back in 1995, I applied and was rejected for a position with Teach For America. Given how the interview went, I was expecting as much, and so much the better. By my senior year, I was successful academically, but that was at being a liberal arts student—I was hardly ready for the challenges of a teaching position. I had also landed interviews at several private schools that I blew off.  Seeking urban bustle and adventure, I headed for New York City, but instead discovered existential misery working as a paralegal. At the very least, though, I learned that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. The following year, newly re-interested in teaching, I took a job as an after school and substitute teacher at a Quaker school in Brooklyn. My existential angst lifted: I wanted to be a teacher! I returned to my hometown, saved up, and applied to graduate school. I ended up with a master’s degree in education and a teaching license in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and Social Studies. I went on to teach for almost ten years. Once my children are older and I grow tired of the writing life, I plan to return to it.

Another friend from high school, who went on to be a successful teacher and department chair in the state of New York, was also rejected by Teach For America. We used to joke with a twinge of bitterness about the irony of our rejections. One of my graduate school professors had criticized TFA for taking people who might become career teachers and burning them out. Despite my own disappointment and his insights, I didn’t question the mission or impact of TFA, thinking his attitude was sour grapes, and eventually I viewed my own rejection from TFA as a blessing in disguise My brief teaching experience in New York prepared me well for graduate school, and, in turn, my graduate school education and training prepared me well for a teaching position, better, I think, than almost zero training or experience did some of my future teacher colleagues. Once I graduated and started teaching in an inner-city high school, I worked with many TFA teachers. Most were wonderful colleagues and dear friends. All were dedicated, smart, and hard-working, but most seemed overwhelmed. More significantly, most of them left the classroom after a short time. I started to realize that the youngest people with the least amount of experience were being thrown in the deep end with the most challenging teaching positions, when they should have been started in the shallow end. I still didn’t give much thought, though, to the negatives of TFA as a mechanism to attract and place teachers and to improve the quality of education. Now I do.

According to New York Times education columnist Michael Winerip, Teach for America has become very popular in recent years. In 2010, Teach for America hired more seniors than any single employer at numerous colleges, including Wesleyan, Yale, Dartmouth, Duke, Georgetown and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At Harvard, 293 seniors, or 18 percent of the class, applied, compared with 100 seniors in 2007. TFA’s acceptance rate is lower than that of Harvard University’s. The struggling economy and tight job market has probably boosted TFA’s popularity among graduates of selective colleges. Also, finance and business fields suffer from a tarnished reputation, and more idealistic undergrads are likely sensitive to this. Even so, TFA preserves the status of selectivity of industry and law jobs, but with the patina of altruism. TFA members gain access to a network of privileged and well-connected people with the added bonus of being perceived as “making a difference.” The program provides training in leadership skills, a notch on the resume, a social and professional network, and middle-income employment, almost all on the taxpayers’ dime and at the expense of the education of the most powerless of our society. 

TFA makes it possible for some corps members to put off pursuing jobs in corporate law and finance until after they have “made a difference” for two years; perhaps at that point corps members and their peers have more distance from undergrad idealism. Perhaps to ease the transition to jobs in the private sector, financial institutions, such as Goldman Sachs, have established partnerships with TFA, to provide summer internships. Furthermore, TFA has partnerships with hundreds of graduate schools which offer TFA alumni benefits such as two-year deferrals, fellowship, course credits, and waived application fees. With education reform having become the new cause célèbre among hedge fund managers, Oprah, national journalists, and Hollywood types such as Davis Guggenheim, I can’t see TFA losing popularity any time soon. Many TFA applicants should indeed be applauded for their nobility, but I’m not so sure that is the beginning and end of all of their motivations. Is twenty-five percent of Harvard University’s graduating class so purely well-intentioned? 

Noble intentions versus teaching-poor-children-as-social-climbing-and-resume-building yuck factors aside, the essential question is: Is TFA good for education? I used to think it was. Making the profession of teaching more attractive to high achievers is certainly a laudable goal and when the organization was started, there were indeed teacher shortages in high-poverty areas. As many national journalists, including New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof, bemoan the state of our education system, they cite countries with highly rated education systems such as Finland and Singapore that recruit their teachers from the highest ranks of college graduates, while the Unites States doesn’t. What these journalists miss, though, is that Finland’s rigorous education and internship program for teacher candidates go far beyond TFA’s five-week training sessions. Most of these other countries have highly-professionalized teaching forces; TFA, however, de-professionalizes teaching by emphasizing talent over training. While Wendy Kopp and her supporters are in favor of increasing the numbers in teaching of graduates of more selective colleges, they are opposed to making teacher education and training more rigorous. Kopp says in her memoir, for example, that she is “baffled” that teachers are required to have professional training as doctors and lawyers are; teacher quality is a matter of talent and leadership. Selective colleges select talent, but due to admissions criteria biased towards students in wealthy school districts, they often perpetuate class privilege. To me, the idea that a person would inherently be a better teacher due to their privileged position in society smacks of elitism.

More seasoned and more rigorously trained teachers continue to be pushed out in favor of TFA teachers. This letter by such a teacher in Baltimore is just one example of a teacher who had a hard time finding a job in a district that has a high number of TFA teachers. According to Barbara Miner, whose journalism investigating Teach for America can be found in Rethinking Schools, Dallas, Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and DC all laid off teachers while sparing TFA-ers. When ex-Chancellor Rhee declared a RIF (Reduction in Force) in October 2009 due to alleged budget shortages, 229 teachers total lost their jobs, but only six of them were from TFA. Seattle Public Schools recently signed a new contract with TFA, despite parent opposition and despite recent layoffs of veteran teachers. The state Education Board in South Carolina recently approved guidelines that would allow TFA recruits to apply for teaching positions, thirty percent of which would be for elementary school positions, where thousands of teachers have recently been laid off. The teachers' union in Kansas City, Missouri, supported Teach For America as a way to fill gaps, but teachers there recently protested the district's plan to fire 87 non-tenure teachers who have been deemed effective while brining in 150 Teach For America recruits. Teach For America's regional director Alicia Herald confirmed TFA's new mission: "We're no longer here to fill gaps. We're here to provide value."  

TFA claims on their website that their corps members are often more effective than other teachers, including certified and veteran teachers, yet according to this review of literature on TFA studies produced by Arizona State University’s Education Policy Research Unit and the University of Colorado’s Education and the Public Interest Center, the impact of TFA teachers is unclear. “Teach for America: A Review of the Evidence” does note, however, that many of the studies cited by TFA either haven’t been peer reviewed or have results that are statistically problematic. Furthermore, the review claims that TFA teachers don’t initially do better than teachers who are traditionally certified. In some cases they do about the same and in others they do worse. Only after two to three years do TFA teachers seem comparable to more experienced and traditionally trained teachers. These findings imply that even with TFA’s “talented” achievers, it’s experience and preparation that matters, not talent.

If the impact of TFA teachers is not entirely clear, their rates of attrition and financial costs are. According to the review of literature cited earlier, fifty percent of Teach for America teachers leave after two years and eighty percent leave after three. They don’t become lifelong teachers or even ten-year teachers. Their improved effectiveness would only come into play after they would have left. Since the corps members don’t stick around long enough for their students to benefit from their experience, TFA doesn’t, in fact, ultimately lead to higher teacher quality.

Even for those TFAers who stay in teaching, it’s unlikely that they’ll continue on in the high-poverty areas where they were initially placed. One study cited in the review found that teachers are more likely to stay employed in schools that are close to where they attended school. How many Ivy League grads grew up in the Ninth Ward? How about the Bronx? Compton?

TFA teachers cost taxpayers more money than traditionally educated teachers. The afore-mentioned review  shows that the average cost of a TFA teacher is $70,000 per recruit. Public school districts are paying twice for recruiting: from $2,000 to $5,000 to TFA per recruit plus funding recruitment by their internal human resources departments. Recruitment costs should be one-time expenditures, but at the current rate of attrition, districts must pay anew every time a TFA teacher leaves. According to Barbara Miner’s investigations, on top of their school district-paid salaries, Teach for America candidates also receive taxpayer-funded Americorps stipends, plus because of their TFA member status, they qualify for funding that people who take traditional teacher training routes don’t. Finally, TFA receives millions in local, state, and federal dollars. TFA annual reports show that about a third of costs are borne by the public—add in a $50,000,000 grant they received from the Department of Education this past spring, and that share has probably risen. How can the federal government subsidize a jobs program for the privileged as it struggles to extend unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs?

Wendy Kopp and other TFA leaders counter that attrition and cost are not issues since the ultimate purpose of TFA is not to produce career teachers but to produce education professionals and philanthropists to fight educational inequity. I agree it’s beneficial for students of education policy to understand the realities of the public school classroom, but I don’t think it should be at the expense of knowledgeable teachers for our students. Many TFA alumni leave the classroom and enter into an echo chamber where the ideologies and industries of TFA, TFA alums, and like-minded individuals and organizations are promoted. This causes many of them to view education policy through a narrow lens and fail to recognize what causes the inequities in the first place: unequal distribution of resources, income inequality, and poverty. Furthermore, unlike jobs in teaching, many of the education sector jobs Kopp speaks of are very lucrative, for example being a charter school administrator in New York City, a superintendent in a mayoral takeover system, or a TFA executive, many of whom make $200,000 to $300,000 per year. One study even disputed the claim that TFA alums become civically engaged at relatively higher rates.

TFA claims not to be a political organization, but Barbara Miner reports on the lobbying organization founded by TFA, Leadership for Education Equity (LEE). LEE is a 501(c)4, a nonprofit that can engage in lobbying and political campaigning, which TFA as a 501(c)3 cannot. For example, LEE lobbies to water down teacher certification requirements. LEE is funded by big corporations such as Goldman Sachs, Visa, the Walton Family Foundation, Monsanto—parties who promote deregulation of the markets and in whose interest it is to break up the only viable unions left, those of the public sector. When a study done by Stanford University education academic Linda Darling-Hammond came out questioning the effectiveness of TFA teachers, Wendy Kopp called them “diatribes” and personally lobbied Governor Schwarzenegger to deny Darling-Hammond a position on the California’s State Teacher Credentialing Commission.

I agree that we need to augment our teaching force and that we need to make teaching a more desirable profession, but an oligarch and taxpayer-funded short-term jobs program for the elite is not the solution. Teacher education programs need to provide for more training and experience, not less. People work as paralegals before deciding to go to law school, why not have TFA candidates work as teachers’ aides and then fund their further education if they pledge to go on to teach in high-poverty schools? Why doesn't TFA start programs for top students such as this amazing one that is being phased out by Yale University? Why not have alternative certification programs that allow credit for non-traditional but still relevant and substantial experience? Why don’t we stop speaking disparagingly of our teachers from state and public universities, start recruiting them to teach in their home or high-poverty districts, and fund their teacher education and apprenticeships with loan forgiveness programs such as is offered by Sallie Mae?

It’s time to stop allowing achievement and privilege to masquerade as competence, dedication, and skill. It’s time for the grown-ups who promote TFA to acknowledge that the quality teaching that we all agree is so valuable comes from experience. It’s time to stop letting TFA stand in the way of the committed, skilled, and experienced teachers our kids so desperately need. 

And what do you say, Ivy grads, if we accept that you are talented with much to offer America's school children, would you accept that teaching is a profession? In other words, talent matters, but is worthless without practice. Would you still teach for America if it wasn’t in Teach For America? 


  1. Rap on Teach for America, from the series "Treme":
    (h/t Alexander Russo)

    Four years at Radcliffe, that's all you know
    A desire to do good and a four point oh
    You're here to save us from our plight
    You got the answer 'cause you're rich and white
    On a two-year sojourn here to stay
    Teach for America all the way
    Got no idea what you're facin'
    No clue just who you're displacin'
    Old lady taught fathers, old lady taught sons
    Old lady bought books for the little ones
    Old lady put in 30 years
    Sweat and toil, time and tears
    Was that really your sad intention?
    Help the state of Louisiana deny her pension

  2. Please forgive my ignorance, but why would districts keep TFA teachers on? Do they cost less?

  3. Thank you for this deeply thoughtful and well-researched reflection on TFA. I graduated with honors with a science degree from the University of Washington. I went on to get my MEd from the UW's secondary education program, consistently ranked as one of the best in the country. It was an excellent program, yet did not prepare for the rigors, challenges, heartbreak and despair I faced as a new teacher in an inner city school.

    I continue to get professional development every summer, and after 14 years of teaching am still working hard to hone my craft. I have a supportive administration and district, but I find myself feeling discouraged and dismayed at the national conversation that revolves around programs like TFA, KIPP and charter schools.

    Anyone who has taken college classes with highly knowledgeable professors is well aware that a high level of content knowledge alone and a commitment to teaching your subject does not automatically make you a good teacher.

    The fact that Wendy Kopp responds to research and data so defensively and dismissively offends me as a taxpayer and a scientist. While in the College of Education, the College of Engineering attempted to recruit me. I have never regretted my decision to stay in education because it is my passion and my calling, but I along with many of my colleagues are feeling demoralized by the lack of respect and insinuations that we are lazy, stupid, unqualified and only out for ourselves.

  4. School districts could perform a military 'end around' this TFA commitment issue by requiring, like the military, that new teacher hires, regardless of age, commit to 4 or 5 years, ideally at the same school or at least district.
    Of course, the edu-bureaucracy, unions included, would fight this as a restriction of their 'professional freedom' as they completely and selfishly ignore their first duty as civil servants, thus working for the taxpayers/electorate, and not themselves.

  5. Excellent article, Rachel! Thanks for the good work. Feel free to check out and link to my blog with education links:

  6. Excellent post and I love this line "TFA preserves the status of selectivity of industry and law jobs, but with the patina of altruism"

  7. "From Service Group to Industry"

    An interesting sociological premise that warrants examination. Don't apologize for the length of this posting, as it contains a wealth of material for thought and not a few cross references (Did I just date myself?) to sources of further information.

    I'll be rereading this, sorting through the hot links, and preparing this for reposting among a network of educational activists, both conservative and liberal, in Washington state.


  8. Well, if we want to be like Finland, who else out there is trying to get the nation's top 10% of college graduates to be teachers for even 2 years? Certainly not the teachers' unions; they know that far too many of their members come from the bottom 20% or so.

  9. Louise, yes, TFA teachers cost less, being less experienced.

    Linda and Rachel, don't forget that everything Teach for America says and does (such as Kopp's dismissiveness of research and data) is based on the quest for more funding, an end-justifies-the-means attitude.

    Honest examinations of effectiveness are extremely unwelcome intruders in that situation. (The same goes for KIPP, the exalted charter school chain headed by Kopp's husband, Richard Barth -- inflated claims are the norm, and issues of KIPP's selection bias and high attrition are dismissed as much as possible.)

    And here's a blog post by a TFAer that dissects (fatally) TFA's claims about how many of its people remain in education.

  10. In response to Louise Borque:

    Yes, TFA teachers are paid at the bottom of the pay scale for teachers therefore, it benefits school district budgets to RIF or lay off 5 and 6 year teachers who have Master's degrees that earn more money than those in TFA. In LAUSD where I work, TFA teachers begin on a lower salary scale because they do not have a standard credential. This starts as a minimum $5,000 difference between new standard credential teachers and TFA teachers. Since most states give teachers due process protections at the beginning of their third year (defined in California Law as permanent status or what some call tenure), let's compare a TFA teacher's 1st year salary a third year traditional with a Master's Degree. The difference in LAUSD is about $14,000. Thus, it is financially preferred by some to get rid of the non-permanent teachers and bring in more TFA teachers to replace them.

  11. Amen,sister. I write a Seattle education blog, Save Seattle Schools, and we are currently trying to raise awareness of just the issues you raise. The University of Washington School of Education is creating a special certification program just for TFA with reduced costs for TFA recruits and flexibility in location/time for the work (things they DON'T give to other UW students).

    You just nailed every point well. I agree that most of the TFA recruits believe that they are doing well and helping underprivileged children but I find it odd how many alum are embarrassed at what poor teachers they were their first 2 years. It's the same for all new teachers and why they think it will be different for them is troubling.

    What is most troubling is the TFA website and their wording about "leveraging" their alum to get them in positions of leadership throughout the country to guide education policy.

    TFA has become some kind of secret club where if you see it on a resume, you know what it means.

  12. I recommend the book "Taught by America" by Sarah Sentilles - a beautiful and scathing critique of TFA while also an amazing portrait of her students and and interesting autobiographical tale of her own awakening to issues of class, race and privilege as a young woman.

  13. It's a common misconception that 501c3 organizations cannot engage in lobbying. They can, but there are limits on their activities. (They are, however, entirely forbidden from engaging in political activities, ie supporting or opposing a particular candidate.)

    You can read more about the restrictions here and here.

    According to lobbying disclosure reports (filed here), TFA spent $573,952 on lobbying during 2010.

  14. Great piece, Rachel -- and bizarre timing, since I posted a piece about TFA the same day; I guess something is in the air! Actually I frame it via those lines from Treme that were cited in your first comment. Check it out at and let's stay connected. I greatly appreciate both your well-considered criticism and your emphasis on identifying a better way, both for TFA and everyone else. Bravo!

  15. Sam, I follow your work and really admire your approach. I am greatly relieved that you find this piece well-considered and not demagoguery.

    Everyone: Thanks for comments, feedback, & riffs. My blog is in part a place where my unpublished pieces go to die. After having this piece be so widely rejected/ignored (by indie and similarly skeptical publications), I had no idea it would get so much attention.

    I want to stress to all readers that while the composition of this piece involved some investigation, it mostly involved a lot of searching for research, reading, synthesis, analysis, and of course, writing and revising. The research I cited was done by others--those whose work I cited in the piece, especially Barbara Miner's and the academic researchers. My piece was meant to serve as a greater review and synthesis of the research but with my commentary and analysis.

    Thanks again for reading!

  16. Hello, Rachel,

    The fact that this piece was rejected/ignored feels (to me, anyways) like additional confirmation of the incomplete understanding many publications have of educational issues.

    Great writeup.



  17. Bill,

    Thanks so much for the comment.

    Lack of understanding of educational issues is certainly a big part of it. In some ways I think it's more acute in education coverage than in coverage of other sectors, but then again I know more about education than I do most other topics, so of course I notice when there are deficits in education coverage.

    I think this problem extends to many other topics--to the economy, to science, to public health. There is a real crisis in journalism in general. We as a society don't support critical writing, investigative journalism, or journalist-experts. There are so many people who want to do that kind of work, but the market as it is now can only support but so many journalists like Dana Goldstein, Matt Taibbi, or David Biello, and can only support so many outlets such as Pro-Publica, Mother Jones or The New Yorker. I think this lack of support is in it of itself a real threat to a healthy democracy.

    I wrote about this (the current state of journalism) on my other blog in case you're interested:

  18. Excellent article, thanks. In the future you might consider publishing in Rethinking Schools. Won't be able to provide $ support unfortunately, but can provide an audience.

  19. Stan,

    I am a HUGE fan of your work and of Rethinking Schools. I'd be happy to "consider" publishing there :)

    I'll be in touch!

  20. Hello, Rachel,

    I love the New Yorker, but unfortunately, when it comes to education, they have published some poor/biased writing on education recently.

    Steven Brill has done a couple pieces on NYC schools in the last couple years, and he hews pretty closely to the Bloomberg/Klein model of reform.

    But in any case, I definitely agree with you about the current state of journalism. I actually see parallels between the challenges facing journalism, the recording industry, and education.

    But that's a bigger (and different) subject :)

  21. Bill,

    It's funny because I hesitated when I wrote The New Yorker as an example because while I read that magazine religiously, it's true they haven't been so great on education lately. That Steven Brill piece was just awful and don't get me started on Malcolm Gladwell (although with a few exceptions don't get me started on anything that guy writes). And I've seen a few other references to education in the New Yorker that I wished had been better researched--for example, Elizabeth Kolbert (my favorite science/environmental journo) referred to some US K-12 science "performance" stats in one of her articles, but her one and only source was Arne Duncan and unfortunately she didn't bother to double check his claims. Nicholas Lemann, though, has been much more skeptical in the few bits he's written on education. The New Yorker should also be on my s*&t list for not publishing very many women writers. But I can't quit it.

    In general, my experiences in catching inaccuracies and misinformation in education journalism has caused me to be a bit more skeptical of EVERYTHING I read--even in sources I trust. I've learned to double check with people I know who are knowledgeable about topics I read about. I've also learned not to dismiss entire articles or bodies of work because of one mistake. Too many mistakes or inaccuracies is a different story though--in that case, I dismiss without looking back.

  22. Rachel:
    Your article covers a great deal of research-worthy information. The ones that catch my attention most, however, deal with the role of journalism. In an earlier post, you wrote "There is a real crisis in journalism in general. We as a society don't support critical writing, investigative journalism, or journalist-experts.... I think this lack of support is in it of itself a real threat to a healthy democracy." I think this is the absolute heart of the education reform issue. What your quote circles around, but does not say explicitly, is this: it's not that the public doesn't support critical writing or investigative journalism per se--it's that the public only supports that kind of journalism IF it supports the opinion they've already reached. The rise of the internet and it's quasi-democratizing of all opinion, combined with the existence of echo-chamber crowds, and we get the kind of misleading, sloppy and outright incorrect writing you reference. America is no longer interested in anything like objective facts--it wants vague generalities, 5-minute fixes and a confirmation of what it already believes. We are already deep inside of this democratic crisis, and what we're going to be on the other side of this crisis is still very much in question. I, personally, am not that hopeful. BTW, I've been a teacher now for 26 years. These are hard times.

  23. Fellow TFA rejectees unite!

    In all seriousness, as I've been gathering information, antidocals, and news the last two years, I've wondered where my role is coming in as I am from an alternate teaching program with primarily career changers, rather than Ivy League grads.

    For full discourse, I am:
    * 23 years old
    * Formerly a student who received special education services (until 6th grade for speech)
    * I'm male, Puerto Rican, come from a lower-class family based on income, worked with children throughout my life, and finished with a strong 3.2 GPA in a Top 75 university (not an Ivy League though)
    * Got rejected outright by TfA from the first application
    * Was in the middle of setting up applications for other graduate schools for education before I got accepted to NYCTF
    * Finished my Masters of Science in Students with Disabilities 1-6 at City College
    * A NYC Teaching Fellow

    In my personal opinion, hearing from friends who are TfA Corps members, TfA gets a heck of a lot more support than NYCTF members. I've had to figure out most of the special education law, IEPs, and everything in between without given the same resources and programs TfA members have gotten.

    Frankly, for me, I prefer that for it makes me learn and work with the colleagues at my school rather than cling to those programs for that assistance. I learned more from the senior teachers at my school than

    NYCTF takes on only 10% college grads while the rest are career changers, and from the notion I've gotten from my cohort, many of those teachers will be in the profession for years to come... as well as I.

    I've wondered for the last two years why I was rejected outright by TfA. The only two credentials I didn't met were my schooling and race (60% of TfA Corps members are white, not sure about male/female).

    Either way, coming from the same kind of background as my kids, even down to the disabilities of some of my students, I'm in it for the long haul: to continue to collaborate with my colleagues, gain valuable experience, and being consistent and present every day.

    It's truly what is best for the kids.

  24. Thanks so much for sharing, B.

    In case I didn't make this clear, TFA absolutely made a good decision when they rejected me: I was not ready at all.

    I have in general heard good things about the career changer teaching programs. I took classes in grad school with several career changers (GWU had a specific program for them) and I was very impressed by their commitment and character--they had a lot to offer younger students like me. I look at career changers as having the "zeal of the converted" because their drive to teach is so strong--they usually make big sacrifices to do it. In fact, some of the most dedicated and passionate teachers I know came to teaching a bit later in life.

    I also neglected to mention in the post that the veteran and expereinced teachers I worked with in my first years (heck, in ALL of my years) helped me tremendously. When I dust off the rust and go back to the classroom in the next year or two, I'll look to them to help me again.

    I know someone who trains/works with TFAers and I'm going to see if I can get them to respond to your comment.

  25. In regards to the end of your comment, definitely appreciated, Rachel.

    Originally, I point at the fact that I applied December 31st before a deadline, but other programs take on people who applied past that mark.

    It was also a good decision that TfA didn't take me on, especially receiving what I've gotten from my experience with NYCTF. It all worked out for the best.

    I work in a CTT classroom with a co-teacher who came to teaching at age 30 and I've learned so much from her throughout this year, so I can definitely share your points there.

    Looking back on it, I would have probably taken the more traditional route if I had a second chance at it (my student loans be damned!) because I feel I'm missing little bits and pieces that other teachers from the traditional programs receive through their education, but that's another conversation for another day.

    On a side note, just totally followed you on Twitter, great stuff!

  26. Rachel,
    Thanks for this thoughtful essay! I agree with much of what you have written, and plan to look into TFA claims about "growing teachers". TFA has been brilliant at telling the story of teachers that succeed despite the challenges of their model, and that perpetuates the impression that it "works".

    I think there are other models that could be more successful, cost-effective, and grow teachers who stay in the profession. I am a former reading specialist and I now run an AmeriCorps early literacy intervention program that recruits full-time AmeriCorps members to do a year of service as reading tutors for K-2nd grade students (see Our recruits are very similar to TFA recruits, and in fact each year we hire tutors who got rejected by TFA, many of whom go on to become great teachers as you did!. Our tutors get weekly training across the year, and receive weekly support on-site from literacy specialists on our staff. By the end of the year, they have learned how to be an effective reading teacher. They also work alongside teachers and reading specialists in low-income elementary schools from 7:30-4:00 daily, and learn from those interactions.

    We have known for years that we "grow teachers." About 30% of our alumni seek a post-B.A. certification after their year with us (some through alternative cert programs and some through graduate school or other post B.A. cert programs). And we know they stay in the profession for longer than the 3-5 year average, and that when they leave the classroom, they typically become instructional specialists, not administrators. We are partnering this year with a respected state alternative certification program so that our full-time members can apply to become certified as part of their year of service with us.

    I think this is a great model. Our applicants earn the AmeriCorps benefits and "test out" their desire to work in low-income schools as educators. The risk to students is low, and they add incredible value to their project schools. They are also very cost-effective ($500/child they tutor). We get about 70-80% of the kids we tutor to grade level or beyond by the end of the year. Our alums who go into teaching tell us that they have so much confidence about meeting the needs of all their students. It's not baptism by fire, it's a year long professional development experience. Minnesota Reading Corps is a program like ours that is one of the largest AmeriCorps education programs in the nation. Their experience is similar to ours.

    But, alas, our program or the MN Reading Corps isn't as "sexy" as becoming a teacher of record in a classroom and joining TFA! TFA gets a lot from its national brand--everyone goes "ooh and ahh" when they learn you are going to do TFA. And they put huge resources into their PR.

    I know that many TFA members are terrific teachers (like my niece who did three years in L.A. as a middle school science teacher). But she went into it knowing she wasn't going to be a teacher for long. I think there is room for more models like our program--where we give people a realistic view of life as a teacher, we give them real skills for teaching, and they can decide if they have the heart, the stamina, and the desire to become a teacher. Their eyes are "wide-open" and they've lived full time alongside veteran teachers in low-income schools, receiving weekly support to move them from novice tutor to experienced tutor.

    Enough of my soapbox! Thanks for the post!

  27. Yet again, the answer to this is build a better mousetrap. That's kind of what happened in Prince George's County. Prince George's has a Resident Teacher Program that is locally run that was competing with The New Teacher Project's Prince George's County Teaching Fellows. I feel that Resident Teacher is a stronger program because it's primary mission seems to be to credential their stronger substitutes and people with more exposure to the realities of the district.

    There's a whole lot of liberal angst about TFA, the billionaire boys' club and NCLB these days. All of it is justified and none of it will matter very much. What you have to do these days is build better mousetraps through the nonprofit sector or at the local level. It's possible, and I hope that more of the energy being expended or protests that are likely to be futile in an anti-union environment will be spent on program development.

    Personally, I'm a New Teacher Project Refugee, and I don't have a word of protest despite a poor experience.

    What are you really fighting against when you fight against TFA is Ivy League privilege. Good luck with that. You're going against that "Oh. YOU WENT TO HARVARD!!!" brand.

    School districts and stakeholders will want TFA as long as that brand exists and there are few nationally recognized and credible alternatives.

    Linda Darling-Hammond, like her sister in arms Diane Ravitch, needs to spend less time on partnering with a government that doesn't plan to give them more than lip service (Obama's transition team for Hammond and Bush I's standards development for Ravitch) and spend more time in the trenches doing grassroots constituency recruitment and program development.

    The Waiting for Superman people get this and have national campaigns aimed at parents. The liberals remain divided and have teacher to teacher angst sessions in their own "echo chamber".

  28. @Rachel
    I'm tired of the Finland comparisons. Finland probably has less cultural diversity and it certainly has less poverty. Once we get rid of the multicultural wars and the poverty problem we can start comparing ourselves to Finland.

    Americans are from Mars, Fins are from Venus.

  29. Hi Rachel,

    I really enjoyed your article and posted a link to your blog on my new venture:

    A little about me: I am a teacher in Southern California. I have taught both special education and general education classes, this year I am teaching a gen ed 4th grade class. One of my daily rituals was to send some of my fellow teachers links to important articles about our profession. I was sending so many articles that I figured I would start my own site...kind of like a "clearing house" - hence the name.

    Anyhow, my site is really new, but I do try to keep my little group of teachers who read me informed. I like the way you write and I based my last post on your article with links to both your article and Barbara Miner's. Stop by if you get the chance.

    P.S. I am amazed at how many teachers I work with who are unaware of the seriously shifting winds in education.

  30. @Mary Ellen - The program you describe sounds fantastic--thanks for taking the time to share. That's exactly the model I wish TFA would move towards. I think actually there should be a lot more space for models like that across the board, especially in ed schools. Feel free to provide a link to the program.

    @jasoneducator Thanks for reading & commenting. I have had the same thoughts about Finland--our societies are so different. Then again, good practice is good practice.

    @educationclearinghouse Thanks so much for sharing my work. I will certainly check out your site.

  31. Thanks Rachel,

    I am also a UW graduate, but I went on for my Master in Teaching degree across the state at WSU, it was an intense program. The Apple Bowl was always tough for me as to who to root for.

    After WSU, I moved to SoCal and was immediately hired as a special education teacher, and have been working here in high poverty schools ever since. Thanks for a great site!

  32. I believe in compromise collegiality, and consensus. In today’s blog and website infested world everyone seems to want to shout as loudly as possible how right their side is. Everyone needs to stop being so defensive and over sensitized. The political fray in DC is no different from what we have become as Americans: advocates for adversarial argument. Do we all want to be TV lawyers? Although I respect the right of free speech, I would like to advocate more for the right of free listening.

    So listen. Think calmly. Stop the stereotyping. Experienced teachers are not incompetent veterans. TFA volunteers are not greedy elitists. I have mentored 19 TFA teachers and none of them fit that stereotype. Yes, some of them have come from Berkeley, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Stanford, and Yale, yet some come from Florida State, Miami, Rutgers, Stony Brook, and the University of Oregon.

    All five from my first cohort (2010) are still teaching with the intent of staying in teaching, or like many of my colleagues from the early 1970’s, move up the ranks and replace the miserable administrators we faced and they now face every day.

    Of the 11 in my second cohort (2011), two are going to med school, one is applying for Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology, one will work for TFA as a representative knowing the good stuff we know, and one wants to work for Educators for Excellence. Ok, you can’t win them all. Although, they now can fight the hype from within. The other five will remain where they are, or with my encouragement, move to other, better run NYC public schools where they can get mentoring and collegial help from older peers and colleagues. Of the 16 who have gone through the two year TFA stint, 11 are still teaching, 2 are still working in education, and 3 are going into health care.

    It is also time to stop using language like, “short term jobs for the elite”, and “It’s time to stop allowing achievement and privilege to masquerade as competence, dedication, and skill.” Watch my TFA kids’ faces as they recoil from reading and hearing that. How different is that from the nasty name calling we’ve heard directed at experienced veteran teachers like, “overpaid incompetents”? The truth is ageism seems to be a two way street. We all know talent and skill is distributed along the age range.

    It is true that, “Selective colleges select talent, but due to admissions criteria biased towards students in wealthy school districts, they often perpetuate class privilege.” But what does this have to do with each TFA kid trying his or her best? Save it for the protest against admissions criteria. If, as a result of the inequitably good education and the superior educational attainment of their mothers, they become more qualified, should we discount them?

    If I was hiring new teachers, give me bright motivated kids who are willing to learn how teaching skills, have the appropriate talents, and the understand the importance of culturally relevant pedagogy. I don’t care if they come from Scarsdale, the Bronx, or Puerto Rico. Nor would I care if traditional Ed programs, City Fellows, TFA, or the man in the moon recruited them. Good is good.

    Many TFA’ers are in fact, competent, dedicated, and with more training and experience will become better skilled. We have to stop denying that. To what extent would those 8000 vacancies be filled? Thousands of baby boomer teachers are retiring, as I did 3 years ago. Does anyone remember how many of my male colleagues became teachers in the late 1960s because of a little thing called the VIETNAM WAR?

    We have to separate the organization from its recruits. It is the organization that needs to listen to reason and change, and to stop believing its own hype. TFA is wrong when it says talent counts and training doesn’t. Excellent teachers are both talented and highly skilled. So are excellent professionals in any trade.

  33. @David Greene,
    I read the piece as an effort to do exactly what you recommend, separating the organization from its recruits. None of this has anything to do with any individual TFA'er doing their best. In fact, in the first paragraph, Rachel commends the TFA alums that stay in the classroom, like the ones that you mention.
    But in your hurry to urge us all to get along and stop all this adversarial argument what you miss is that people like Rachel, or Diane Ravitch, or any of the number of criticisms she links to above are not attacking TFA as part of the solution, but being concerned about its share of the solution.
    We all acknowledge that to improve schools, we should improve any number of things: curricula, pedagogy, class sizes, resources, student motivation, teacher training, teacher talent, teacher motivation. In the past, TFA existed as a small slice of the solution, to staff schools that were chronically understaffed. Now while the idealism and qualification of their recruits may not have changed, the TFA mission has absolutely changed. Instead of arguing that a TFA student is better than nothing, or a harried and reluctant substitute, now they are argued to be better than career educators. In other words, TFA is taking sides in the training vs. talent argument, coming down hard (with lobbying money, etc etc) on one side.
    TFA grads may not be greedy elitists, but they are elite college seniors, many who don't really know what they want to do, and use status as an indicator for where to go. I don't see Rachel insulting them, more realistically evaluating them as similar to many 22 year olds. Uncertain (as I once was, as many 22 year olds are), they look for status, money, and are willing to sacrifice a comfortable working environment for future riches, whether in the shape of the drudgery of law school or medical school, or the insane hours of management consulting or I-banking, but eventually we all want a career that will respect our hard work, allow us to practice our craft, and compensate us fairly for their efforts. Teaching in urban school systems is none of these. From what I can read, what Rachel is urging (and what I would urge) is for TFA to join the efforts to change those three things I mentioned in the previous sentence, rather than promoting their brand and rationalizing that they are improving the profession by injecting unique and powerful skill where it is terribly deficient.
    It is one thing to appreciate the bright motivated TFA corps, and another to sign on to the assault on "untalented" teachers. TFA has moved from one to the other, and they should be called on it.

  34. There's not much to add to the conversation around this excellent article. Thanks for posting it--there should be more conversation around the things that "everybody knows" about high-profile, well-publicized programs like TFA.

    One clarification, for @Louise. In addition to all the other cost issues explicated by commenters, it should be noted that ALL school districts pay a premium to hire a TFA teacher, somewhere in the $2000-$4000 range, money that goes to the TFA organization for administrative costs. My state--Michigan--is exporting more than 2/3 of its traditionally trained teachers, because there are no jobs for them. You have to wonder why any district would choose a teacher that costs more, has no specific training, did not have field experience in the state/context where they will be working--and is more likely to leave, increasing turnover costs and the negative impact of churn.

    @David Greene: Clear-thinking people don't take potshots at individual TFA teachers. I certainly wouldn't, because I've known too many who entered with good intentions, paid their dues and did good, overall. But--as a veteran, award-winning teacher, the existence of an organization dedicated to proving my life's work is not worth extensive preparation, feels like a clear threat to the teacher professionalism that we should be seeking, as a nation.

    I offer this quote from the Detroit News, the biggest daily in Michigan. Can you spot the problem?

    "A growing body of research shows Teach for America instructors' impact on student academic achievement is two to three times that of teachers who have three years of experience.

    For example, a Louisiana state report last year found many of such Teach for America-trained educators were more effective at teaching math, reading and language arts than other teachers with two or more years of experience.

    Consider them the Marine Corps of teachers for America's poorest urban and rural schools.

    From The Detroit News:

    Thanks for hosting a good discussion, Rachel.

  35. Wow, that last line is a killer. Would they still Teach for America without TFA, indeed...

    I read this post this weekend, and saw it linked at TNC's this afternoon. I'll re-post here what I wrote over there:

    I've always been conflicted about TFA ... on one hand, I can't argue with getting more caring bodies into schools with staffing problems. On the other hand, in conversations I've had with students who were applying to TFA (who I taught during graduate school), it definitely does seem like there are many TFA applicants (although definitely not all) who basically have the attitude of "I'm doing it for my resume first and foremost ... oh, and if I teach some kids some stuff along the way, great." That's not exactly a recipe for educational improvement.

    But when I was teaching I would encourage my students to apply to TFA. I always thought that the good of TFA outweighed the bad, and it couldn't really be any better or worse than your average ed school that graduates a cadre of new teachers every year ... some grads will be more dedicated than others, and some will leave after just a few years. I figured that if TFA led a higher number of bright kids to at least consider teaching, the program might be a net good thing.

    Now, though, I'm far more skeptical about TFA in practice. It seems like one of those "good ideas" that goes really wrong once implemented ... primarily when established teachers are fired for TFA kids. It's not that established teachers are always excellent, or that there could never be a case where a Yale business major would prove to be an excellent teacher (and would have never realized that passion without TFA). But those exceptions can't prove the rule. Replacing established teachers en masse with TFA grads on terminal two-year contracts is a terrible idea.

  36. @David Greene
    One of the real challenges with educational debates is that it's very difficult to have a common standard of debate. On the one hand, you've got anecdotal data. It's your anecdotes via my anecdotes and I'm going to trust my anecdotes more. For example, I could combat your anecdotes with my friend who is teaching special ed and has been traumatized to the point of significant health issues. She was guided toward area of need instead of a situation of succeed.

    I go on my direct experience, which is to agree with Rachel on this question "why not have TFA candidates work as teachers’ aides and then fund their further education if they pledge to go on to teach in high-poverty schools?"

    I think that you are that prophetic trainer who can have things work out. I have a relative who trains in TFA as well. She expresses her frustration that, as a black woman, she can see how culturally unprepared many TFA teachers are. In my community, TFA would have more credibility if it reached well beyond the Ivy League pool.

    What was the academic background of your teachers?

    You're clearly a bright guy. Can you recognize that you're most likely an outlier? Why isn't your success being repeated throughout TFA? Or are the statistics linked to in this article flat out wrong?

  37. @taylor16
    We're all given pause now that TFA seems to have alums like Michelle Rhee are beating the union busting drum and TFA teachers seem to be used as warriors in the struggle to bust the unions. In other words, some of that extra money you're paying TFA teachers pays off pretty quickly if you're replacing a tenured malcontent or putting a teacher in special ed, an area hard to staff that saves money for each student you don't have to outsource in Washington, DC.

  38. As @taylor16 mentioned (& so very nice to have you here, taylor 16--thank you for commenting!) my husband, a regular commenter at TNC's blog, shared a link to this piece on the open thread there. Another regular commenter, SWNC, left a terrific comment. I hope she doesn't mind that I'm sharing it here:

    "Like taylor16, I also have mixed feelings about TFA. On the one hand, I'm all in favor of getting intelligent, enthusiastic teachers into the classroom. On the other hand, as your wife writes, it seems to function more for the benefit of TFA corps members than the students they are supposed to be serving. I also have issues with the fact that a stockbroker's son who graduates from Duke and teaches in Hazard County for a couple of years gets praise, Americorps funding to repay student loans, and a shiny gold star on his resume, while a dental hygienist's daughter who graduates from Eastern Kentucky University and teaches in Hazard County for 20 years isn't treated the same way.

    Yeah, it's sort of like if you come from a well-off background or go to a more elite school, you're making some kind of noble sacrifice to be a teacher, even if it's just for a few years. Whereas (especially if you're a woman) if you're from a less affluent background and go to a middle-tier state university, nobody thinks they need to give you a shiny prize for going into a pink-collar, low-prestige profession. Makes me twitchy. This attitude is not specific to Teach For America, and I didn't mean to imply that it is."

  39. Hi, Rachel! I'm glad you re-posted that--I was actually coming over to do the same thing.

    I know that many individual TFA teachers do a great job and that their students are well-served by them. However, the idea that throwing graduates from elite universities into the breach will fix public education is wrong. It's unfair to public school students; it's unfair to public school systems; and it places a ridiculously high burden on TFA corps members.

  40. Sam Chaltain, I really liked your post. You highlight something crucial, and that TFA and other education reformers often gets overlook, which is the importance of having teachers be part of the community. My husband teaches elementary school. He knows his students’ neighborhoods. We see his students at the grocery store and the park. He’s taught their siblings and cousins. We patronize the businesses of his student’s parents. None of that is essential to being a good teacher—but it helps establish a trust and connection with students and their families. (And he’s not half as connected as many veteran teachers. One day, he was warning a substitute—herself a retired teacher—about a particularly rambunctious student. Her response, “I taught [Student]’s mama. I go to church with his grandma. He will not be giving me any problems today.”) Schools need a critical mass of teachers with those kind of community ties.

  41. The unfortunate thing about these comment boxes is that they are too short for full replies. That being said, I've been called worse than an outlier, thanks. I believe that there are a lot more like me out there who can perhaps influence some TFAmericans to "see the light" other than Kopp's rather blinding one.

    I agree that TFA must change. It must follow all of the wise suggestions from all of you. Rachel's idea. Extend TFA time to 3 or 4 years. Have more TFAmericans work with qualified teacher trainers through graduate schools and work with good mentors in the system. There are so many.

    How can we accomplish that? Protests? Join SOS March and Call to action in Washington in late July. Follow and spread Diane Ravitch's words. Get more media hype to fight back against theirs. Get universities with ed. undergrad and grad programs to do more than watch from the sidelines. Finally, we can work from within. Change TFA froth inside, one TFAmerican at a time. Turn the warriors into Trojan Horses.

    As I said earlier there isn't much space here. If you care to, please read 2 of my guest blogs on Anthony Cody's "Living In Dialogue' Blog in Education Week-Teacher...

  42. @Cedar's post raises (again?) a critical point that a lot of people miss in their rush to defend TFA from people like Rachel or Diane Ravitch.

    Very few defenders of public education would oppose bringing more quality teachers into public schools, however they may come. If TFA recruits some bright, motivated kids who think they may be interested in teaching, and go on to find out that they are good at it and want to pursue a teaching career, then that's fantastic. Heck, if TFA provides a talented recruit who can fill a staffing gap in a particular school for several years and does so with high-quality teaching, then I'd argue that's also a net positive for TFA.

    But as Cedar points out, where we all have problems with TFA is once "reformers" start arguing that any TFA grad is superior to any experienced teacher ... which is what seems to happen when regular teachers are replaced by TFA grads. And like any blanket statement, that one is not going to be true. *Some* TFA grads are undoubtedly as good or better than *some* experienced teachers (as well as vice versa). TFA should therefore select trainees who really want to teach, and give them support and further training if they excel at the job.

    But TFA should *not* be lobbying for their grads to be staffing every classroom in America, replacing established teachers. That might help their program grow, but it won't help schools.

  43. I think it is fascinating that the mainstream media rarely publishes critiques of TFA. I am a TFA alum. I wrote a book that is critical of the program (Taught by America: A Story of Struggle and Hope in Compton--Beacon Press), and I have submitted op/ed after op/ed critiquing how TFA functions as resume fodder, as a way for people to get into a good graduate school or to defer working for an investment bank for two years. I also point out how it deprofessionalizes teaching. Can you imagine a similar program for doctors? Dentists? Plumbers? The violent effects of unprepared teachers may be slower than the effects of an unprepared doctor, but they are just as damaging. Not one of my opinion pieces has been published, even though the same papers publish op/ed pieces talking about how great TFA is all the time. Fascinating that it is such a media darling. I wonder why that is. Raises more questions about which groups benefit from TFA. Thank you for your post!

  44. @Sarah. The mainstream media is indeed one of the problems. Somehow TFA has become a media darling, as have Arne Duncan, and Michelle Rhee. I too have written pieces that have been ignored. Join us in July to raise our voices loud enough for even the deaf media to hear.

  45. I'm another of TNC's horde, here because Cedar linked this entry over there. Thank you very much for your thoughtful analysis. I have seen TFA alumni from another perspective, as a former professional school admissions committee member.

    Something that comes up a lot is how to compare the applicant who spent one summer volunteering in Guatemala and the next in an unpaid public policy internship to the one who was the first in his family to get to college, was paying for it solo, and thus worked construction every summer because it was the best-paying job he could find. It can indeed be a luxury to have a file rich with the kinds of extracurrics that admissions committees tend to love. On the other hand, holding someone's privilege against him or her isn't fair, either.

    It is thus interesting to read your concerns about the program as a sort of conscience-salving stepping stone. As I mentioned to Cedar on TNC's blog, I had no idea TFA had become a way of displacing experienced teachers. Even if most TFA graduates didn't wind up in education, if they landed in reasonable numbers in some sort of public service, it could still be money well spent. But displacing fully trained teachers is some kind of crazy mission creep.

    There are data from other professions that students who come from disadvantaged areas return in larger-than-chance numbers when they finish their training. I wonder if that has been examined in education. If it holds up there, too, then it has obvious policy implications for how to get more fully trained teachers into rural and inner city schools.

    Again, many thanks for this interesting post.

  46. @SWNC: Thanks for stopping by & for another excellent comment. I strongly encourage you to comment here in the future!

    @Sarah: I so appreciate hearing from you. I hope to check out your book. I actually see a fair number of pieces by former & current TFAers that are critical, but then again I read a lot of independent media.

    @amygdala: Thanks also for stopping by! You may be interested to read my series of posts on admissions policies at elite colleges. Stay tuned because I'm going to add another couple of posts to that series in the next day or two.

    It's hard to say how many TFA alum go into public service--I guess because it depends on how one defines "public service." For example I don't think lobbying for TFA, DFER, or Students First is public service. I think working for Head Start or for the program that Mary Ellen Isaacs cites above is public service.

    At least part of my skepticism is of all of the education jobs and organizations that are created & staffed by TFA alums after their service. If teachers are the largest in-school factor for student success, what good does it do students to have all of these people working in education, for example as consultants, but outside of the classroom (especially when these consultants classroom and in-school experience is so limited)? Are they really helping to improve equity and the quality of public education? (I haven't seen any evidence of this.) Or are they a self-perpetuating industry?

    I have read about the data you cite in your last paragraph. In fact, the review of TFA literature I drew upon to write this piece cited such a study of teachers. From the post: "One study cited in the review found that teachers are more likely to stay employed in schools that are close to where they attended school. I'd be curious to hear if there are more such studies and what their findings have been.

    Thanks again for the comment. I really value these interactions.

  47. Interesting study that informs your question on the civic-mindedness of TFA alums:

  48. Thanks for the link, Nancy. Perfectly relevant.

    Hey all readers & commenters, I finally figured out (well, someone told me) how to code in links. It's:

    So here's Nancy's NYT link

    Yay, it worked!

  49. Ooops. Of course, the code thought that the code was a link itself.

    Here's the code (just add a "<" at the beginning and a ">" at the end)
    a href="http://link address">link text</a

  50. Nothing useful to add, I just wanted to say that i'm really incredibly impressed. And also grateful for the thought and work you're putting into this.

  51. Rachel, another fine, thought-provoking post.

    I was trying to find an off-post way of asking this, but can't find an email addy. Do you or any of your fine commenters have any experience with the International Baccelaureate program? We are planning to place our kids there this fall and wonder if any of the ed specialists here have any knowledge about the program. Sorry to go off topic....

  52. @Rachel
    Your blog is bookmarked and I look forward to continuing to learn from your posts.

    Thank you for the link. Very interesting. Glad there was at least some long-term followup on TFA. I really wish that was built into new programs at the front end, something I started thinking about after learning that DARE was just about useless in keeping kids away from drugs.

  53. This is important information for people outside of education to know. Thanks for posting it. Still, we need to look beyond idealistic motives of individuals, to the way TFA fits with economic and political policy being enacted (throughout the world. TFA is part of a project to deprofessionalize teaching as an occupation, by replacing career teachers, who are paid for their experience and education, with new recruits, who cost less. Why is this being done? My website takes a look at research that explains this, but the short story is that work no longer requires much education, so education is being transformed so that most workers will receive only a minimal education, which can be provided by teachers with not much education (or experience) themselves. They need only be able to teach to the test.

  54. Rachel,
    As others have said, I deeply appreciate your taking the time and care to put such articulate words on these and other issues in education. I sometimes feel I am constantly working with the immediate crisis or challenge and never taking the time to step back and communicate the larger and underlying assumptions or theories of change that are operating. It really is an enormous contribution and gift to all of us. Thank you

  55. Hi rachel

    Sorry so long to reply, but been away from the toobz for a few days. I am reluctant to post an email publicly because of the spambots.

    Still loving your work, and right behind you on the Matt Y dustup. Remember, this is a man who fully supported the invasion of Iraq. He has his areas of strength, but it appears education and foreign policy are not among them.

  56. In ancient history (2008), when I was young and stupid, I was accepted to join TFA's ranks and moved to Houston for Institute. I left after 3 weeks appalled by the blatant conflation of training and indoctrination. Was I supposed to teach or preach? I packed my bags and returned home to Missouri to earn a master's in education. Despite initial feelings of guilt and shame for "giving up" on all those kids who needed a teacher, I decided I cared too much about my future students to burden them with my lack of preparation. Four years older and wiser, I know now that it was the best decision I ever made. TFA is a scam whose motives I don't yet understand, but I am thankful for my experience and relieved I so narrowly averted that professional catastrophe.

    Your article is thoughtful and well-researched. It confirms my suspicions of TFA's self-interested and predatory practices, but, more importantly, it affirms the good intentions of all the young recruits who do sign on to make a difference. TFA has it partially correct: we need to attract smart, talented people to teaching. But, as you point out, talent is no substitute for experience.

  57. I realize that this piece was posted quite a while ago but I still felt the need to respond. I really enjoyed your well written and thought provoking article on TFA but as an incoming 2012 TFA Corps Member wanted to at least reply. I, too, have done a lot of research on Teach for America as an organization and the benefit or detriment that it may cause to the low-income students it serves.

    A little about my background: I grew up in a single parent household, went to Head Start, and eventually was lucky enough to attend a top tier University. I graduated with Honors with a degree in Business (mostly because of my background and wanting to be financially stable). I worked in finance for 3 years or so but was really unhappy with my career choice and kept feeling drawn to the field of education. So...I took a huge pay cut, taught school abroad and eventually got a job as an Educational Assistant at an Elementary School in the US (which I absolutely love). I was recently accepted to Teach for America and feel very lucky that I am getting a second chance on a career that excites me and all of the resources that will become available to me as a TFA Corps Member. I just felt like giving a voice to those of us who truly want to teach and who couldn't otherwise afford a Graduate degree in Education. Not all of us are elitist, college seniors who merely hope to climb the corporate ladder and think TFA is a good starting point.


  58. @BB - I'm very glad to have your comment here. It's important to keep in mind non-traditional TFA applicants.

    As I said in the third to last paragraph, the kind of experience you had *before* applying to TFA is exactly the kind I wish they looked for in or required first from all of their corps members.

  59. People need to do the work of becoming a teacher by going through traditional teacher training instead of denigrating the profession by thinking because they think they are academically "smart," they can just waltz into a classroom and do the job. They can't.

    TFA needs to be outlawed, period. Teaching is a profession, not some little hobby for trust fund brats to occupy themselves before they find a "real" job. There is NO need for TFA--there is NO teacher shortage anywhere in the United States that justifies lowering standards for teachers. It is also racist because TFA specifically targets low-income schools, not the wealthy schools. It has this notion that kids from lower-income schools don't need the best teachers, just any warm body will do, when it is the veteran teachers these kids desperately need.

    Read Lois Weiner's website, please. She knows of what she speaks.

  60. This is one of the best critiques/analyses I've seen on the subject. You get right to the heart of the debate. I never feel bad about critiqing TfA or its corps members. I'm sure as individuals in another setting they are fine, but my dealings with them as teacher-wanna-bes and education leaders-by-gang rule have reconfirmed my belief that their enthusiasm to boost their resumes trumps their mediocre teaching impact in the classroom.

    One point you missed - once they get into leadership positions, they only hire their own and push out anyone who questions or dissents. Firmly ensconced, with only fellow TfAers to tell each other how wonderful and relevant they are, they fail to even consider that there is another way. They control the data that-"surprise"-validates their existence and methods; they control the politicians who take campaign contributions from the organization funneled through PACs; and they control the media that refuses to look objectively at what is going on in this education "reform" venture.

    If you don't believe it, look no further that Louisiana where they have completely taken over education - State Supt. of Education: TfA alum; the DOE: controlled by TfA alums at all top positions; the Governor: TfA alum is the education policy person; State Board of Education: two TfA alums as Executive Directors, a TfA alum member on the Board (who is allowed to vote on the TfA contract that directs money to her own TfA branch and the big organization), AND many board members bought and paid for by those funneled contributions. They swooped in after Katrina, and for a state reeling from the disaster, they were methodical in their efforts to control every aspect of education. The mainstream media rarely mentions the subject although bloggers are now starting to beat the drums.

    For anyone who feels the need to justify their existence, you'll be surprised when they will come for your state, too.

    1. @Anonymous - I didn't know anyone was still reading this! Thanks so much for the feedback. I actually did talk about what can happen when they TFAers get into leadership positions but perhaps not as much as could have. See here:

      "Wendy Kopp and other TFA leaders counter that attrition and cost are not issues since the ultimate purpose of TFA is not to produce career teachers but to produce education professionals and philanthropists to fight educational inequity. I agree it’s beneficial for students of education policy to understand the realities of the public school classroom, but I don’t think it should be at the expense of knowledgeable teachers for our students. Many TFA alumni leave the classroom and enter into an echo chamber where the ideologies and industries of TFA, TFA alums, and like-minded individuals and organizations are promoted. This causes many of them to view education policy through a narrow lens and fail to recognize what causes the inequities in the first place: unequal distribution of resources, income inequality, and poverty. Furthermore, unlike jobs in teaching, many of the education sector jobs Kopp speaks of are very lucrative, for example being a charter school administrator in New York City, a superintendent in a mayoral takeover system, or a TFA executive, many of whom make $200,000 to $300,000 per year. One study even disputed the claim that TFA alums become civically engaged at relatively higher rates."

      Indeed, New Orleans could be a study of a TFA-dom.

      My latest problem with TFA is how much they charge underfunded and beleaguered school districts to employ corps members. The organization is just oozing with money. They could afford to put their teacher-recruits through a year of training and internship *and* not charge districts to employ them.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.