The Heart of Our Work

A college degree is the clearest path to opportunity in our country, yet for more than 16 million kids growing up in poverty, the odds of getting one are less than 1 in 10. Building a stronger public education system will take leadership by individuals from every walk of life and in every professional sector who understand from firsthand experience that education opens doors that would otherwise be locked tight. Teach For America is one source of such leaders. 

We look for high-achieving college graduates and professionals with a passion for social justice and accelerate their path into the teaching profession. They dedicate at least two years to teaching in an urban or rural public school, an experience that fuels lifelong leadership and advocacy for students and families in low-income communities. Research affirms the value of our approach in the short and long term, but we know we must keep getting better to ensure that the students we teach today are the leaders of tomorrow.

7 Things You Should Know About Us

10 Questions People Ask Us

Below we address 10 questions we’ve heard recently about our work. If you have additional questions, please email us at questions@teachforamerica.org. We also invite you to visit our blog, Pass the Chalk, where you can join the conversation about educational inequity.
1

Who do we recruit?

We seek professionals and recent graduates from a wide variety of backgrounds and career interests who have demonstrated a commitment to social justice and the leadership necessary to teach successfully for at least two years in a high-need school. Our current corps members represent more than 800 colleges and universities.

2

How diverse is our teacher corps?

Diversity is one of our core values. Half of the 2014 corps identify as people of color; 47 percent come from a low-income background; 34 percent are the first in their family to attend college; and 1 in 3 come to the corps from graduate school or with prior professional experience. We’re dedicated to doing as much as we can to ensure that teaching is a financially sustainable option for a diverse and effective teaching force. 

3

Is our training and support model effective?

Research says we’re on the right track, and we’re committed to getting even better. Between 2009 and 2013, statewide studies in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana concluded that TFA is among each state’s top teacher-preparation programs. The vast majority of principals who work with corps members say they would hire another. Hundreds of corps members and alumni have been honored as teachers of the year by their school, district, county, or state, including the 2014 Arkansas Teacher of the Year; the 2013 teachers of the year in California and Washington, D.C.; and the 2005 National Teacher of the Year.

4

Do corps members take jobs from veteran teachers?

TFA is one source of candidates for open teaching positions. Corps members do not have special contracts with schools or districts. They apply for open jobs, and they go through the same interview and hiring process as any candidate. Our approach is to bring the best possible people into the field, but no one is obligated to hire our teachers. 

5

Do we create a revolving door of teachers?

TFA teachers are more likely than others to stay in the classroom during the first two years: 90% of our first-year teachers return for a second year, compared with 83% of first-year teachers in high-poverty schools and 86% of all new teachers. The fact is that nearly half of all teachers leave the classroom within five years, and for schools in low-income communities, the proportion is even higher. We believe more can be done to keep effective teachers in under-resourced schools and hard-to-staff positions, no matter which path they have taken to the classroom.

6

How do we determine the corps size for a region?

Each year, regional teams work with our partners in school districts and charter schools to understand their hiring needs for the upcoming year. In any region in a given year, corps size may grow, shrink, or remain the same. Our goal is to provide quality teachers where they are most needed. In the 2013-14 school year, we reduced corps sizes in one-third of our regions, and in other regions grew depending on the needs of local districts and principals.  

7

How do we spend our money?

We spend about $51,400 per corps member over three years, starting with the recruitment year. That breaks down to $16,400 to recruit and select each new teacher; $7,000 to train each new teacher; and $14,000 in professional development during each of their first two years in the classroom. We spend 10% of our annual budget on fundraising (on par with other nonprofits) and 10% on administrative expenses (lower than other nonprofits). These allocations have earned us 12 consecutive top ratings from Charity Navigator.  

8

Why do we fundraise when it seems that our existing funds are adequate?

Like most nonprofits, we need to raise money continually in order to fulfill our mission and see fundraising as one way to invest communities in our work. Our program serves 10,600 active classroom teachers and 37,000 alumni, and involves hundreds of thousands of applicants each year. Our net assets include money we don't yet have (like future grant commitments and anticipated donations), assets we cannot spend (like computers and office furniture), and an endowment that generates investment income to support operations. Consistent with standard accounting practices, we keep cash reserves on hand to cover, at a minimum, three months of expenses. 

9

Do we prefer charter over traditional public schools?

No, we do not prefer any one mode of school governance. In fact, about twice as many corps members work in district schools as in charters. We do believe that school leaders need autonomy to exercise leadership, and we applaud efforts to support that leadership in charters and districts alike.

10

Is our funding mostly from corporate philanthropists?

Corporate philanthropy makes up only 10% of our funding base, and no private donor represents more than 5% of our annual revenue.

On The Record

Politico
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
China Daily USA
Monday, August 18, 2014
Melissa Harris-Perry (MSNBC)
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Phys.org
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
The Daily Dot
Monday, July 28, 2014

August 20, 2014: Politico

The National Council on Teacher Quality recently released "Unequal Access, Unequal Results: Equitable Teacher Distribution in Miami-Dade County Public Schools," a study commissioned by the Urban League of Greater Miami. The study focuses on two voting districts in Miami-Dade: Districts 1 and 2. Politico.com attributed the inequities highlighted by the NCTQ report to “the [school] district’s decision to cluster Teach For America recruits in low-performing, high-poverty schools,” citing corps members’ status as new teachers and their two-year commitment. This assertion was reposted by Diane Ravitch on her blog.

The NCTQ immediately clarified that this assertion about TFA misrepresents the report’s findings. A number of existing efforts are recognized in the report, and the researchers commend MDPS for working with organizations like TFA that provide sources of high-quality new teachers.

The NCTQ report and a report released in June by the American Institutes for Research are helping us to understand our impact alongside our partners in Miami-Dade. The AIR research shows that corps members improve their students’ math learning, helping to expand educational opportunities for students in the highest-need schools in the district. 

August 18, 2014: China Daily USA

As part of our effort to better support and partner with the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, Teach For America is invested in building awareness of the academic, economic, and social realities facing many students who identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander. We were disappointed to see our efforts and beliefs mischaracterized and distorted in the August 18 article “Immigrants Get Help With Hurdles” by Elizabeth Wu.

We would never broadly categorize a racial or ethnic group as “immigrants.” Students who identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander have a wide spectrum of experiences and backgrounds, and many were born in the United States. The aim of our Asian American and Pacific Islander Initiative is not to serve only students who have recently arrived in the U.S., but to ensure that students in underserved communities who identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander have equal access to a high-quality education.

We have never said, and we do not believe, that “new low-income immigrant children to the states have difficulty learning English.” People learn languages and adapt to new cultures at different rates, and we would never generalize the experiences or abilities of students based on their racial, ethnic, or economic background.

August 10, 2014: Melissa Harris-Perry (MSNBC)

In a segment on school reform, guest Amy Goodman recalled a conversation with a California educator that perpetuates myths about Teach For America’s partnerships with schools and districts.

Corps members apply for open jobs and go through the same interview and hiring process as any candidate. Principals and administrators decide who will be the best fit for their teaching teams in accordance with local labor agreements. When layoffs occur, corps members are impacted just like other teachers. There is no scenario in which a corps member forces any other teacher out of an existing role, or vice versa.

We seek out diverse talent from all backgrounds and academic interests to bring into the field of education. Even as we continue to work to improve our program, we’re encouraged by the results of independent research showing that our corps members are making a positive impact in the classroom. The majority of principals who work with corps members say they would hire another if they had an opening. And in every state that has conducted an analysis of the relative effectiveness of teacher pathways, Teach For America has been identified as one of the top teacher providers.

July 29, 2014: Phys.org

The July 29 post “Local Education Politics ‘Far From Dead’” highlights new research from Michigan State University on Teach For America alumni who run for school board. While noting the importance of community engagement in shaping the future of local schools, it inadvertently mischaracterizes our role in individual alumni efforts to seek elected office. Teach For America  does not endorse or support candidates or participate in political or campaign activities.

Leadership for Educational Equity is a separate and nonpartisan organization. LEE empowers its members, who are Teach For America corps members, alumni and/or staff members, to grow as leaders in their communities and help build the movement for educational equity.

Teach For America is dedicated to contributing additional leaders to the movement to end educational inequity. Our 37,000 alumni set their own agendas for their contributions to this work based on their individual experiences, perspectives, and beliefs. While they take a multitude of paths and hold diverse opinions, they have long demonstrated their commitment to working in their communities to expand opportunities for students and families. 

July 28, 2014: The Daily Dot

This post makes a number of ungrounded assertions about our work, so we want to share the facts:

Daily Dot: “This lack of preparation is an especially acute problem when so many TFA Corps members are white men coming from privileged backgrounds.” 
Our intensive training institute is just the beginning of two years of one-on-one coaching, professional development, and frequently, graduate-level coursework. In the 35 states where we have partnerships with schools and districts, our program meets or exceeds the teaching standards required for licensure. Independent research shows that our approach is effective, and one of our five organizational commitments is to invest even more in the effectiveness of our corps members.

We spend a lot of time each year studying our most successful teachers, and we know that great teachers come from all backgrounds and academic interests, and bring diverse perspectives and experiences to the classroom. Our 2013 corps members represent more than 800 colleges and universities, and 1 in 4 were the first in their family to attend college; nearly 40 percent received Pell Grants. Nearly 40 percent of these teachers identify as people of color—double the percentage of teachers of color nationwide.