What School Principals Think About Teach For America
Principals at partner schools report a high level of satisfaction with Teach For America corps members, according to an independent survey TFA commissioned—which also uncovered areas for further investigation and improvement.
January 17, 2018
Principals in our partner schools play a critical role in gauging the effectiveness of Teach For America’s efforts to develop effective leaders in the classroom and beyond. Since Teach For America corps members are hired as full-time employees of the school district, charter school, or center where they teach, we look to our partner principals to help us identify what’s working and how we can improve the way we recruit, train, and support our teachers.
Our research partners at the RAND Corporation this week released results of the 2017 National Principal Survey, in which researchers asked principals to rate their satisfaction with corps members’ performance in the classroom, as well as Teach For America’s teacher training and support. We’re encouraged to see their overwhelmingly positive feedback and will use this data to inform our approach in the future.
RAND conducted the survey by reaching out directly to all principals who supervised TFA corps members during the 2016-2017 academic school year. Nearly 1,100 principals across the United States who work with TFA corps members completed the survey, for an overall response rate of 43 percent (a slight decline from previous years but still strong compared to survey averages). RAND completed an independent analysis of the survey results and compiled the findings as well as recommendations for areas for further investigation.
We spoke with the lead researchers, Jon Schweig and Amanda Edelman, at RAND to learn more about this year’s findings. Here are the highlights from that report. Read the full report on RAND’s website.
Key National Findings
Principal satisfaction with Teach For America corps members is high.
Of the principals who felt satisfied:
Percentage of respondents who are satisfied with corps members at their schools.
of respondents agree that corps members contribute to a positive, collaborative professional culture.
of respondents reported corps members build strong relationships within their school community.
of respondents indicated that their corps members demonstrated leadership.
Of the survey respondents, 82 percent would hire a corps member in the future, while 88 percent responded that they would recommend hiring corps members to other principals.
Principals are satisfied with the training and support provided to corps members by TFA.
The vast majority of principals who responded are familiar with at least one type of training and support program that Teach For America provides for corps members, with ongoing coaching being the most well-known.
of respondents are familiar with ongoing coaching
of respondents are familiar with preservice training
of respondents are familiar with group development sessions
indicated they were satisfied with TFA’s training and support
When looking at how these overall high levels of satisfaction with teacher training stack up to broader research on this topic, RAND’s findings compare favorably to other studies of principal satisfaction with new teachers’ training. In their report, RAND cited similar studies where only 27 percent of principals in Massachusetts and 11 percent of principals in Texas felt their first-year teachers were well prepared to lead a classroom.
How do these results compare to the 2015 survey results?
These responses are consistent with responses in the 2015 TFA principals’ report, although changes in survey questions and survey respondents make it difficult to compare these results one-for-one to the previous survey.
This year 88 percent of principals reported they were satisfied with the support provided by TFA, compared to 87 percent in 2015.
The 2017 survey findings showed a slight increase in principals reporting high satisfaction with corps members working in their schools, up 5 points from 81 percent in 2015.
Consistent with the findings in the 2015 report, alumni and charter school principals tended to be tougher graders of corps member performance and of TFA’s training and support. Future research into the ways in which alumni perceptions of TFA corps members and experiences differ from other principals’ responses—and why that is—may shed important light on the perspectives of school leaders and aspects of the TFA program that could be refined.
What does this survey tell us about how TFA can improve?
The survey results uncovered three areas for further research:
1. Investigate areas of principal dissatisfaction. While the majority of principals who responded were satisfied, there was a small percentage who voiced dissatisfaction with corps members and with the training and support TFA provides. While the survey data alone does not provide insight as to why principals felt the way they do, understanding the perspectives of principals through follow-up conversations will be important for continuing to improve Teach For America’s programming in the future.
2. Address principals’ concern about corps members’ two-year commitment and classroom management skills. Of the principals who completed the survey, fewer than 20 percent said they would not hire a TFA corps member again. Just over a quarter of principals who completed the survey reported that teacher retention and classroom management would be the main factors in their decision not to hire additional corps members.
Teacher retention is understandably a priority for principals, especially in schools where staff turnover is high. Teach For America is committed to supporting corps members who want to build their career in the classroom and supports principals in creating conditions that will encourage corps members to remain in the classroom beyond their initial commitment. We also have an opportunity to better engage principals around a key aspect of our mission—leaders who bring perspective and expertise forged through their teaching experience are uniquely positioned to address the root causes of educational inequity from beyond the classroom.
Further conversations with principals who express concerns about classroom management may provide important insights that can help TFA evolve our summer training activities as well as school-based support and professional development offered throughout the school year.
3. Increase principal familiarity with the training and support provided to corps members. While the vast majority of principals reported they were familiar with at least one of the training and support offerings that corps members receive, there is room to deepen principal engagement in corps member training to boost the effectiveness of their management and development of corps members.
This is true even for alumni principals, who may benefit from understanding how our training model has evolved since their time in the corps, in response to ongoing learning and feedback.
As Teach For America continues to evolve its training offerings to include more locally focused training such as experiential community-learning opportunities and regionally run institutes, there may be an opportunity to build more awareness for these programs and partner with principals to further strengthen this training.
The insights from RAND’s research come at a time when Teach For America is taking a close look at key programmatic elements for corps members and alumni. With a network of over 56,000 corps members and alumni, these survey findings will help us refine operational structures and systems to ensure we're maintaining strong relationships with principals and maximizing the impact of our leaders.
Learn more about Teach For America’s commitment to research and how to partner with us.