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

Atlanta Progressive News
February 18, 2015
HuffPost Education
February 15, 2015
Answer Sheet (Washington Post)
February 12, 2015
Salon
February 10, 2015
Sioux Falls Argus Leader
February 7, 2015

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. 

February 15, 2015: HuffPost Education

A post by education writer and professor Joel Shatzky notes that corps members stay in the same school beyond their two-year commitment at a much higher rate than is commonly thought, yet he misrepresents other aspects of our program and impact. Below are the facts on our training, our relationship with charter and district schools, and the impact of our corps members and alumni.

Our pre-service training: Corps members’ pre-service training is part of a research-based, experiential two-year continuum of training, support, and professional development. Each corps member is assigned a coach who regularly observes lessons and offers feedback on all aspects of leading a classroom, from lesson planning to voice inflection. Corps members also attend required after-hours and weekend training and development sessions. Additionally, corps members engage in training around diversity, equity and inclusiveness to help them teach in ways that affirm and empower all of their students’ identities. They do all of this in conjunction with the support all beginning teachers receive from veteran teachers in the building. Statewide studies in LouisianaNorth Carolina, and Tennessee consistently rank TFA at or near the top of each state’s teacher-education programs.

February 12, 2015: Answer Sheet (Washington Post)

In a guest post, Finnish educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg makes the important point that, as critical as high-quality teaching is, teachers alone cannot make an education system successful. This fact is a driving force in our mission to develop top college graduates and professionals to become leaders and advocates for educational equity, beginning with teaching for at least two years in an urban or rural school.

While some might see similarities in Finland’s standards in the teaching profession and TFA’s work, there are clear differences between Finland’s approach to developing teachers and our approach. Our model is effective in finding and developing diverse teaching talent, but it’s not the only model or pathway to success as a teacher. Instead, we’re one key source of outstanding teachers for the most disadvantaged students while developing leaders who will work inside and outside the classroom to address the root causes of educational inequity.

We admit candidates not based on a narrow definition of academic excellence, but on a holistic assessment of how well they demonstrate the achievements and characteristics that differentiate the most effective teachers and leaders. We invest a great deal in their development, through intensive pre-service programs and two years of ongoing coaching and professional development, often including partnerships with local schools of education. 

February 10, 2015: Salon

In response to Howard Dean’s piece in Salon on TFA and the importance of avoiding false choices, Jeff Bryant wrote a post recasting both our mission and the body of research on our impact. Bryant focuses on just half of our mission—serving as one source of diverse teaching talent for principals in high-need schools—and states that most corps members leave after two years, when the opposite is true. The majority of TFA corps members ( more than 60 percent) stay beyond their commitment for a third year, and teaching is the single most popular profession among our alumni, going back to our charter corps in 1990.

The half of our mission that Bryant misses entirely is developing lifelong leaders and advocates who will work to address the root causes of educational inequity, including systemic injustices such as poverty and racism. The numbers show that our more than 37,000 alumni are fulfilling this mission: 86 percent are working today in education or with low-income communities.

As Bryant notes, research on TFA corps members’ impact in the classroom is a key factor in evaluating our program. However, Bryant presents a narrow picture of TFA’s research record, focusing on one overtly biased study from 2010 and its 2014 update. TFA is among the most studied teacher-development programs—something of which we are deeply proud—and here are a few of the rigorous studies Bryant chooses to omit:  

February 7, 2015: Sioux Falls Argus Leader

An article on the increase in alternatively certified teachers working in South Dakota schools raises awareness of the statewide teacher shortage yet fails to note that committed and effective teachers come from both traditional and alternative routes. Research shows that the distinction between “traditional” and “alternative” programs is less important than whether a program produces high-quality teachers. For example, a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Education found no statistically significant difference in performance between students of alternatively certified teachers and those of traditionally certified teachers.

It’s also important to note that current federal law 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). We believe that alternative programs, when held to this bar, can provide a critical source of diverse teaching talent. In line with this is our own commitment to maintaining the quality of our teachers through a meticulous recruitment and selection process and our approach to teacher training and ongoing support.