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.

6 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 stay in the classroom during the first two years at a high rate: 88% of our first-year teachers return for a second year. Retention among all teachers has been growing in recent years, and we’re excited to see the collective progress being made. We believe still more can be done by all of us 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 (i.e. donations from for-profit corporate entities) made up only 10 percent of our total revenue in the 2014 fiscal year. In the broader category of private donors—including individuals, private foundations, private trusts, and corporations—no single donor represented more than 6 percent of our total revenue. 

On The Record

Shepherd Express
March 25, 2015
Cloaking Inequity
March 16, 2015
Cloaking Inequity
March 12, 2015
Bloomberg Business
March 9, 2015
Atlanta Progressive News
February 18, 2015

March 25, 2015: Shepherd Express

An article discussing an education proposal from two Wisconsin state legislators inaccurately characterizes our work and impact in New Orleans. The article also overlooks the fact that thousands of TFA corps members and alumni across the country are union members, including more than 100 elected union leaders.

We’ve been partnering with the New Orleans community since 1990. TFA corps members and alumni teaching in NOLA schools were impacted in the same ways as their fellow teachers by the devastation of Katrina and its aftermath. The article does not mention that many of those teachers who were laid off—including TFA teachers—were rehired after the storm as schools reopened and new schools were started. Principals in the Recovery School District also hired a total of 225 incoming TFA corps members between 2007 and 2010.

In subsequent years, we’ve been proud to continue our partnership with the New Orleans community as one source of teachers for the Recovery School District. During this time, NOLA public school students have accomplished important increases on nearly every measure of academic success, from graduation rates to grade-level reading achievement.

While these accomplishments are significant and meaningful, there’s still much work to be done to give the city’s students the educational opportunities they deserve. In addition, as the article notes, fewer of these students—90 percent of whom are African American—have teachers who look like them. This is a serious and critical problem, because of the potential for profound additional impact by teachers who share the backgrounds of their students, and we’re working hard to maximize the diversity of our teaching corps in NOLA and nationally.

March 16, 2015: Cloaking Inequity

Julian Vasquez Heilig wrote a blog post erroneously connecting Teach For America to a bill before the Texas legislature that would exempt certain teachers from district reporting of teacher retention information. Specifically, the legislation, also noted in a March 13 post from Diane Ravitch, exempted “teachers employed through a program that requires a two-year teaching commitment in an underserved area or low-income community.”  Dr. Vasquez Heilig incorrectly assumed that Teach For America initiated the legislation because our model fits the bill’s criteria. While we appreciate Rep. Rodriguez’s ongoing support of our work, neither we nor our lobbyists requested or took part in developing the bill.

TFA teachers in Texas stay in the classroom during the first two years at a higher rate than other new teachers: 92 percent of our first-year teachers return for a second year. Retention among all teachers has been growing in recent years, and we’re excited to see the collective progress being made.  We continually study our teacher retention and  regularly seek ways to keep more of our alumni in teaching.  Additionally, we believe transparency and accuracy of data is crucial in helping our organization and the teaching force in general continuously improve.

March 12, 2015: Cloaking Inequity

A guest post by Leigh Patel, an associate professor of education at Boston College, disregards our belief in the need for systemic change that has been part of our mission since we started 25 years ago. Based on her post, it appears we agree on many things, but these areas of agreement are obscured by misunderstandings about our work.

In discussing the massive and complex problem of educational inequity, we always try to communicate our belief that poverty and other inequities persistently limit educational opportunities and attainment. Our education system needs massive, lasting change so that equitable educational opportunities are consistently offered to every student. This will require not just change in our education system, but successful efforts to address poverty and racism, new approaches to how social services are provided, and shifts in our nation’s policies and priorities.

There are many important efforts happening to address the injustices facing America’s children growing up in poverty. We believe our role is to contribute additional leaders to the growing movement to end educational inequity. 

March 9, 2015: Bloomberg Business

Covering the new Mathematica Policy Research report that offers a snapshot of TFA corps members’ impact during one year of our recent expansion, an article by Akane Otani makes an important point about the need to keep high-quality teachers in the classroom longer. The article also unfortunately omits the report’s main findings and contains several inaccuracies about our program.

The Mathematica researchers found that corps members teaching in elementary grades, who averaged less than two years of experience, were as effective as other teachers in the same schools, who typically had nearly fourteen years of experience. They also found that students of corps members in pre-K through second grade outperformed their peers in reading by the equivalent of 1.3 months of additional learning. These findings are consistent with prior rigorous research showing corps members tend to have a positive impact in the classroom.

The report’s other main finding is that TFA didn’t compromise our approach as we grew. This is important because our approach begins with finding individuals who are most likely to be successful as teachers in their first year and fostering their leadership inside and outside the classroom to work for educational equity over their lifetimes. Only 15 percent of corps members say they intend to pursue a career in education before joining TFA, yet two-thirds of our alumni work today in education, including more than 11,000 teachers. 

February 18, 2015: Atlanta Progressive News

An article discussing Georgia’s school reform plans inaccurately characterized our work and impact in New Orleans. We’ve been partnering with the New Orleans community since 1990, and corps members and alumni teaching in NOLA schools were impacted in the same ways as their fellow teachers by the devastation of Katrina and its aftermath. Many of those teachers who were laid off, including TFA teachers, were rehired after the storm as schools reopened and new schools were started. Principals in the Recovery School District also hired a total of 225 incoming TFA corps members between 2007 and 2010.

In the subsequent years, we’ve been proud to continue our partnership with the community as one source of teachers for the Recovery School District. During this time, NOLA public school students have accomplished important increases on nearly every measure of academic success, from graduation rates to grade-level reading achievement. Yet there’s still much work to be done to give the city’s students the educational opportunities they deserve. In addition, fewer of these students—90 percent of whom are African American—have teachers who look like them. This is a serious and critical problem, because of the potential for profound additional impact by teachers who share the backgrounds of their students, and we’re working hard to maximize the diversity of our teaching corps in NOLA and nationally.