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. Fifty-four percent of the 2013 corps grew up in a low-income community or identify as people of color. 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 more than 11,000 active classroom teachers and 32,000 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

Diane Ravitch's Blog
Monday, July 7, 2014
Salon
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Our Thoughts on Teacher Quality
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Ebony
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Al Jazeera America
Monday, June 9, 2014

July 7, 2014: Diane Ravitch's Blog

In this blog post, Diane Ravitch uses the announcement of the president’s Excellent Educators for All initiative as an opportunity to repeat her inaccurate characterizations of our program. We have long advocated for a high bar for all teacher-preparation programs, including our own.

Our teachers are considered highly qualified under current law. We support rigorous enforcement of this law, which requires alternatively certified teachers like our own to be considered “highly qualified” only if they receive high-quality, sustained, and intensive professional development as well as participate in a program of intensive supervision with structured guidance and regular ongoing support (see paragraph (a)(2) in link above).

Our approach begins with recruiting and selecting individuals who have the characteristics, experience, and achievement that we’ve seen in the most successful teachers in low-income schools. We provide a rigorous preparation program, and our teachers receive one-on-one coaching and support throughout their corps commitment.

Independent research has proved the efficacy of this model, but it’s certainly not the only approach to preparing high-quality teachers. Like many programs—both traditional and alternative—designed to prepare the next generation of educators, we look to continuously improve our work, build on our strengths, and learn from others.

July 2, 2014: Salon

In an otherwise insightful essay marking the 25th anniversary of the films Do The Right Thing and Lean On Me, Brittney Cooper misrepresents Teach For America’s program and mission. We know that the teaching profession is at the heart of strengthening our public education system and creating equitable opportunities for all children. We partner with schools of education to train and support our teachers in many regions. Teaching is the single most popular profession among our alumni, and we’re proud of our 11,000 alumni teachers and the work they do every day. We’re also proud of the 86% of our alumni whose work—inside and outside of education--continues to take on the systemic challenges of poverty and racism and directly or indirectly strengthens our public education system.

We also believe it’s critically important to recruit and foster the leadership of individuals who share the racial and/or economic backgrounds of the students underserved by public schools. The percentage of our teaching corps who identify as people of color is double that of teachers nationwide and we’re continually working to increase the diversity of our corps. In our 2013 corps, more than half of our corps members either identify as people of color or grew up in a low-income community.

We’re acutely aware that our model can always get better, but through ongoing evaluation and innovation we’re working to promote excellent public education for our next generation of leaders.

June 19, 2014, Our Thoughts on Teacher Quality

In light of Alexander Russo’s blog post yesterday, we wanted to take the opportunity to clarify our position on teacher quality. We have been a longtime advocate of holding a high bar for all teacher-preparation programs. In line with this is our own commitment to maintaining the quality of our teachers through a rigorous recruitment and selection process and our approach to teacher training and ongoing support.

We support rigorous enforcement of current law, which requires alternatively certified teachers to be considered “highly qualified” only if they receive high-quality, sustained, and intensive professional development as well as participate in a program of intensive supervision with structured guidance and regular ongoing support (see paragraph (a)(2) in link above). Alternative programs can provide a critical source of diverse teaching talent but need to be held to this bar. In our view, if these requirements were enforced, many underperforming teacher-preparation programs would no longer be able to operate.

June 18, 2014: Ebony

In his opinion piece on the Vergara decision, guest columnist Dr. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy misstates the demographics and impact of our corps members.

The proportion of our corps members who identify as people of color is double that of teachers nationwide (39 percent, compared with 17 percent). Fifty-four percent of the 2013 corps grew up in a low-income community or identify as people of color. We’re committed to building an organization that’s diverse in every way, including enlisting more teachers who share the backgrounds of students in our partner communities.

Our corps members—who, as Dr. Lewis-McCoy notes, teach in the highest-need urban and rural schools—return for a second year at a higher rate than all new teachers nationwide. Teaching is the single most popular profession among our alumni.

And a growing body of independent research tells us our corps members and alumni are among the educators who have a positive impact on their students. While we always strive to improve our program, we’re proud of our teachers and the contributions they’re making every day in communities across the country.

June 9, 2014, Al Jazeera America

This online op-ed about the need for experienced teachers mischaracterizes Teach For America’s commitment to the teaching profession and perpetuates familiar myths about our teachers. The authors write that “Teach For America has made it trendy to view teaching as a brief, altruistic gesture rather than a lifelong profession.”  While there is always more work to do, we have a higher retention rate into the second year of teaching than all teachers nationally (90 percent, compared with 86 percent), and the majority of our teachers teach for a third year. Additionally, we have about 10,000 alumni teaching across the country. As part of our efforts to support more individuals staying in teaching, we’ve recently announced a pilot program to support teachers who’ve chosen to remain in the classroom.

At the same time, we know we can’t expect our teachers to go this alone and we must support them from across sectors. We aim to develop leaders, both within education and in fields that address systemic challenges such as poverty and racism. Eighty-six percent of our 32,000 alumni continue to do mission-aligned work, either working full-time in education or with low-income communities.