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

The Nation
October 29, 2014
Brown Daily Herald
October 24, 2014
TFA Alumni and Google
October 23, 2014
United Students Against Sweatshops
October 22, 2014
Answer Sheet (Washington Post)
October 17, 2014

October 29, 2014: The Nation

Columbia University undergraduate and blogger George Joseph wrote a post for The Nation about our media-response strategy. His piece is based in part on an internal document that discusses how we responded to inaccurate media coverage and worked to get out accurate information. He also cites the recent campaign by United Students Against Sweatshops and repeats many of the inaccuracies that USAS included in its public letters to our co-CEOs, Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard. They addressed these inaccuracies in their letters back to USAS, which we posted on our blog here and here.

As our head of national communications, Takirra Winfield, notes on Pass the Chalk today, most organizations have a media-response strategy, and we’re no different. Also, like many other organizations, we work to correct the record when inaccuracies appear. We also work proactively to create space and platforms for our teachers, students, and the many communities who partner with us to tell their stories.

In the interest of transparency, we’re posting below the full document mentioned in The Nation.

October 24, 2014: Brown Daily Herald

In an article about the dip in the number of Brown graduates who joined TFA this year compared with the past two years, the reporter presents our focus on recruiting diverse talent as a recent development. As an organization, we’ve long worked to ensure that our teaching corps is as rich in diversity as the students we serve. We’ve seen that effective teachers come from all backgrounds and academic interests, and that students thrive when they have access to diverse perspectives and experiences. The Ivy League schools remain strong contributors to our corps, and we’re excited to see this list expanding in recent years to include other schools.

We have always placed a particular focus on recruiting individuals who share the backgrounds of students underserved by public schools, given their potential to serve as critical classroom leaders and role models. The quality of our applicant pool has remained consistently high over the years, with applicants coming from an increasingly diverse set of institutions and professional sectors. We’re proud of this progress over time, but believe there’s still more that all of us can do to get great teachers from under-represented backgrounds into the classroom. 

October 23, 2014: TFA Alumni and Google

Recent posts on Business Insider, the Nonprofit Quarterly, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy blog Philanthropy Today have highlighted the skills and experience of TFA alums that make them attractive job candidates for Google. The posts also mention Google’s policy of allowing individuals who’ve received job offers from the company to postpone for two years in order to join TFA.

It has always been part of our mission to develop leaders who will take on the challenges facing our education system from outside the classroom as well as inside. The impact of great teachers can’t be overstated, and we want to do whatever we can to make teaching a sustainable career path for alumni. However, teachers can’t be expected to solve systemic issues on their own. We need innovative solutions in technology, medicine, social services, law, and other fields to address the big challenges that start outside the classroom but affect students’ daily experience inside it—from poverty, racism, and unemployment to hunger, homelessness, and lack of adequate healthcare.

October 22, 2014: United Students Against Sweatshops

Because we value the honest, open exchange of ideas, we’d like to share an update on our conversations with United Students Against Sweatshops. When the group reached out a few weeks ago to share concerns with our approach, we responded, including an invitation to meet for further discussion. When we received a second letter from USAS, we were concerned to see further misinformation and mischaracterizations of our work. Since these letters are being sent publicly, we’ll continue to correct mis-statements here, along with sharing our direct responses on our blog, the most recent of which can be found here.

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.