Skip to main content

Evolving to Improve Outcomes for Students

Meeting the needs of the moment and pursuing ambitious goals for student achievement require a new way of working

By Elisa Villanueva Beard

April 10, 2023

This is a historic and decisive moment for Teach For America. We are committed to ensuring all children have access to an excellent and equitable education and steadfast in pursuing our goal of doubling the number of students on a path to economic mobility and success in life by 2030. But now, more than 30 years since our founding, we are confronted with a great challenge born from a seismic shift in the post-pandemic education landscape.

We’ve all seen the data. We’re clear-eyed about unfinished learning, the growing gaps impacting students in low-income communities who are disproportionately children of color, the trauma children are suffering, and the support that is desperately needed in our schools. Meanwhile, districts across the country are struggling with teacher shortages and we are recruiting a different class of young, digital-minded leaders with learned experiences unique to their generation.

To ensure students have access to the education they want and deserve, and to be responsive to the needs and contexts of the communities where we work, we must adapt and think differently about how we carry out our mission. Our core capabilities and single greatest contribution as an organization is leadership: sourcing talent, matching talent, and developing talent. We know that to reach our 2030 goal, Teach For America must evolve from focusing almost exclusively on our corps member program to becoming a full on strategic talent partner pursuing bold change for students.

Three years ago, we embarked on an organization-wide transformation to position TFA for success in the rapidly changing world in which we operate. For example, we knew that leveraging a digital approach to delivering our program to corps members and alumni would be critical. The pandemic accelerated the evolution of our program when we developed a virtual summer teacher training program for the summer of 2020. We’re now moving in a direction that scales the impact that we found was possible when we digitized elements of our program. 

In another example, we recognized the critical need for individual and small-group tutoring opportunities for students in literacy and math connected to our 2030 goal. That led us to found and expand a tutoring program, the Ignite Fellowship, which grew 100 percent over the last year; we brought more than 1,600 undergraduate tutors into partnership with 4,500 students in more than 70 schools this year. We’ve had so much interest in the program that there’s now a waitlist for new applicants.

TFA is also seeing significant recruiting momentum for corps members this season, despite teacher recruitment and retention challenges across the country. I know this exceptional and diverse cohort of new classroom leaders will achieve great success in the schools and communities they will serve, as 94 percent of principals who employ corps members say they have a positive impact on students.

We are also continuing to invest in our network of more than 60,000 alumni across the country, with some regions exclusively focused on alumni programming. We are prioritizing the support of their leadership, so they are learning from each other and accelerating their impact individually and collectively. In recent years, TFA has developed programs that offer alumni professional development opportunities, career services, and talent matching to support their leadership in classrooms, schools, district and other systems impact roles. 

Critical investments in our alumni, the Ignite Fellowship, and new digitized elements of our program are possible because Teach For America remains a financially strong and healthy organization with an operating reserves that exceeded industry standards. We are grateful for the many partners, investors, and supporters of our work who have enabled us to have a meaningful impact in schools and communities.

The anchoring point for TFA is holding ourselves accountable to our communities and making a meaningful and outsized impact for the students we serve. That is what drives all our choices. To continue on our path, we must transform how we do our work so we are positioned to make our greatest impact and can thrive in the face of external uncertainty. While this is an incredibly hard part of enacting structural change, it is essential that we move forward with a smaller and more agile staff team by this summer. This is the reality that many organizations are contending with, and we are not immune to it. To succeed, we must evolve.

Each one of us in the Teach For America network is driven by a commitment to reaching the day when all children will have an equal chance in life.  Together, we are uniquely positioned to lean into this moment because of the scale and reach of our network, our relationships, our skills, and our ability to understand and center on what students and communities are asking us to deliver.

Teach For America is moving forward a determination and commitment to meet this moment and build the future for our students and communities.