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

Answer Sheet (Washington Post)
October 17, 2014
Working In These Times Blog
October 7, 2014
United Students Against Sweatshops
October 1, 2014
Badass Teachers Association Blog
September 28, 2014
TFA and Culturally Responsive Teaching
September 22, 2014

October 17, 2014: Answer Sheet (Washington Post)

A post by guest blogger Mitchell Robinson, an associate professor and chair of music education at Michigan State University, provides an account of his meeting with two of our recruiting staff members. We appreciate his willingness to sit down with an open mind to discuss our work. As education schools who partner with us on corps members’ training and support will attest, we’re always looking to hear faculty perspectives on how we can continue to improve. However, Professor Robinson’s post contains inaccuracies about our work and our beliefs that we want to address:

  • There is no scenario in Chicago, Detroit, or elsewhere, in which a corps member forces any other teacher out of an existing role, or vice versa. 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.

October 7, 2014: Working In These Times Blog

A post by blog contributor Sarah Lahm focuses on the Minneapolis School Board candidacy of Don Samuels, who has received support from individual Teach For America alumni and staff members. It’s no surprise that members of our organization are politically engaged on their own time, as we hire individuals with a passion for social justice and equity. It’s also not surprising that they’ve chosen to engage in their local school board races, in Minneapolis and in other communities around the country, as many staff members and alumni are parents of public-school students and/or educators in public schools.

As an organization, however, we do not endorse or support candidates, and we do not participate in political or campaign activities. We have clear policies for staff members who choose to engage in political activity: They cannot do so in their TFA role, on TFA time, or using TFA resources, including using the TFA name or brand in any way.

TFA and Leadership for Educational Equity are fully independent from one another. LEE is a separate and nonpartisan organization that empowers its members—TFA corps members, alumni, and staff members—to grow as leaders in their communities and help build the movement for educational equity. 

 

October 1, 2014: United Students Against Sweatshops

We’re eager to engage with individuals and organizations who share our belief that every child deserves an excellent public education, with the understanding that we may sometimes differ in our approaches. One such group, United Students Against Sweatshops, emailed our co-CEOs recently to share their concerns with our approach, and we hope to meet with them soon to learn more.

In the meantime, the news website Colorlines posted about USAS’s launch of a public campaign in opposition to our work. While the campaign is small in scale, encompassing USAS members on a few campuses, we believe it’s important to be open and transparent in what we do. In this spirit, we’re sharing the full response from co-CEOs Elisa Villanueva Beard and Matthew Kramer, which originally appeared Sept. 26 on our blog, Pass the Chalk, and was mentioned in the Colorlines post:
 

September 28, 2014: Badass Teachers Association

Recently, a post by a member of a group called the Badass Teachers Association took issue with Teach For America’s presence at The College of New Jersey. The reflection includes several misrepresentations of our work at TCNJ specifically, as well as about our organization more broadly.

September 22, 2014: TFA and Culturally Responsive Teaching

We embrace cultural responsiveness because we believe that education has the potential to empower students to achieve their dreams and to act as agents of change in their communities and our nation at large. As described by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, culturally responsive teaching drives toward three equally important outcomes:

  • Students must experience academic success
  • Students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence
  • Students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order.

We believe all children have the right to this type of empowering education. Our current social order carries numerous ills like systemic racism, generational poverty, and under-resourced schools that must be remedied. Today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders, tasked with creating an equitable world for future generations.