Teach for America's Youth Is Being Served

Teach for America (TFA)?recently announced it is receiving $100 million from four philanthropists to start its first endowment. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, one of the “Big Three” Education philanthropists, pledged the first $25 million, which encouraged matching donations from three others. “A few years ago we embraced the priority of making Teach For America an enduring American institution that can thrive as long as the problem we’re working to address persists,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of TFA. “I think it’s only appropriate in our country – which aspires to be a place of equal opportunity – that we have an institution which is about our future leaders making good on that promise.”

The money comes at an interesting time, to say the least. As budget cuts around the country have state legislatures threatening to lay off thousands of teachers, the teachers typically deemed most expendable are younger, less-experienced teachers. (Some politicians, meanwhile, are pushing back against the pro-seniority, pro-tenure thinking, from Mike Bloomberg in New York to G.O.P. governors across the country.) If you take a look at the graphic to the right from the illustrated edition of SuperFreakonomics (you might want to hit your “magnify” key), you’ll see that describes TFA’s demographics to a T. But that very youth and dynamism are of course part of what has made the TFA movement so strong.


This program has sold many of America's brightest graduations on working for near-minimum wage in largely run-down, underfunded school districts.

1. I guess it's the 2000s' version of the Peace Corps.
2. I'm surprised every major corporation/campaign team in America hasn't tried to scoop up their advertising/sales team.


It is not supprising that when unemployment is at 9% (16%) that idealistic college graduates would rather try teaching than flipping hambergers. Other reading I have done suggests that it still takes these novices 4 to 5 years to learn to handle a classroom. If we are laying off experienced teachers and expecting to replace them less expensively with these idealists we are likely to be disappointed in the result.


The brain drain is due to income disparaties between teaching salaries and other professions. I've seen/heard of far too many teachers who get to the 3-5 year mark (when they finally have the experience needed) and simply cannot afford to keep teaching based on the financial needs of their own families - so they quit to do something more lucrative. I'd be curious to hear of any incentive based programs that gets teachers to the financial level commensurate with what they are actually providing as a service to our children.


TFA places their inexperienced members in districts that are most in need of experienced educators. They often put their members in subject matter classrooms that do not match their college majors (a psychology major teaching an English class, for example). The fact that 31% of them are still in the classroom doesn't tell us anything about their effectiveness. America needs teachers who want to gain experience, improve their methods, and become a part of the school community. It needs parents who parent and who support teachers, respecting not only the advanced degree most of them have in their field, but the good job most of them are doing. America's school system does not need teachers who graduated from elite colleges and just want to pad their resume.

Mike B

TFA makes the incorrect assumption that Instructional Skill == General Academic Intelligence. What is increasingly becoming apparent is that effective teachers have some strange combination of natural talent and professional training to be able to make the difference they do. Just like top athletes or musicians you can't just take someone off the street and run them through a production line and hope to get a top performer out the other end.

Back in the day when women lacked any career opportunities aside from teaching the system worked because the public schools had a monopsony on that particular talent. Those who had it could probably recruit applicants who also had the right mix, but once those skilled applicants were diverted into other fields what the public schools were left with was an increasingly mediocre class of instructor that could learn the mechanics of good teaching, but not fully grasp the art of good teaching.

To re-make public education we must first identify what actually makes a high performing teacher then find ways to attract the sorts of people with that skillset. As a corollary school districts are going to need to be willing to pay the high quality instruction instead of trying to maintain a pay structure that harks back to the old monopsony days.



Amy --

"TFA places their inexperienced members in districts that are most in need of experienced educators."

To that, I say two things:
1) Districts that are most in need of experienced educators can't get them. Given the choice between inexperienced TFA teachers and inexperienced teachers, period, most would go with the former.

2) In May of my second year in TFA, I became the most senior member of the staff, given that each one of the other staff members (none of them TFA-affiliated, each ranging from their first year of teaching to 25+ years in the classroom) had fled the school. The two TFA representatives (myself included) were the only teachers that remained a consistent, stable presence in the students' lives. This was all because we signed a two-year contract. Sad, but true. Students may need experienced educators, but they need consistent educators just as much.

America does not simply need teachers who want to gain experience and be a part of the school community. America needs leaders in all sectors -- healthcare, business, law, policy, AND education -- to advocate for and demand a system that serves our children, not the interests of others. And THAT is the second part of TFA's two-part mission.

I urge you to learn more about the program, about the TFA program, and about the teachers who are part of this program. Every single one of my peers in TFA would have happily held open their classroom doors to people curious enough -- no, dedicated enough -- to observe their methods. I hope you can reach out to someone who will offer the same opportunity to you.



Since TFA is a two-year program, wouldn't the more relevant statistic be how many of its particpants are still in the classroom after, say, three or five or ten years, and how THAT compares to non-TFA teachers?

Ray Gaetano

TFA does not help. It takes at least a year or 2 to learn teaching on the job. What would help is a mentoring program to better prepare teachers, maybe a year working with another experienced teacher before having a solo class. The money would be better spent that way than a 2 year do my good deed program that TFA is.
Are these people still in the classroom after the 2 year contract?
How much does TFA get per placement. I hear $5000 from Seattle. Is this the norm?
I would think a longer school year, and a significant jump in pay after 2 years if the teacher is a keeper is an actual solution.


It's absolutely true that from a management and instructional standpoint, a veteran teacher is simply better than a first or second year teacher. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but not many.

I am currently in Teach For America, and there are two clear reasons to prefer Teach For America teachers over many veteran teachers:

1) Work ethic: Teach For America has a core value of 'Relentless Pursuit of Results,' and participants in the program take this notion seriously. Prior to TFA, I worked for a Big Four accounting firm. I was surprised to discover that almost across the board, TFA teachers work harder than their peers in business; and they do so without any monetary incentive. Now, I understand that it is reasonable to say that it's unfair to compare the dedication of fresh out of college TFA teachers to older teachers who have more responsibilities outside of work. I would agree. However, for a Teach For America teacher, that dedication often translates to more than 80 hours a week of work. I have personally put in multiple 100+ hour weeks. (I am now in my second semester of my second year of teaching.) Many skill deficiencies and inadequacies can be overcome through tremendous hard and purposeful effort.

2) Academic success: TFA teachers know how to be successful academically. Amy mentioned that many TFA teachers are placed outside their area of study in college. This actually matters very little. There are a few TFA teachers teaching high school AP and honors classes, but it is not a significant percentage. Those are the jobs coveted by many veteran high school teachers, and schools generally don't give those assignments out to new teachers. Instead, TFA teachers tend to end up in courses no more rigorous than an introductory high school biology or chemistry course. This is hardly a challenge for most TFA teachers, and most have fairly deep knowledge in many subject areas, even if they did, as I did, major in philosophy. More relevant is the ability to teach how to be successful in school. Being largely from the top third of the class at the top universities in the country, this is something TFA teachers know a lot about. Teaching disadvantaged students the study skills, personal discipline, and myriad other steps and skills to get to and be successful in college is something that Teach For America teachers are extraordinarily well qualified to convey.

It's not a simple issue whether TFA teachers are, on balance, making a positive difference. At the very least, however, the diversity of perspective, the discipline, and the academic experience of TFA teachers gives their students access to ideas and opportunities that they would otherwise have been extremely unlikely to learn about.



0.16% are US teachers? This clearly shows TFA grads had no passion in teaching but to boost their MBA/Law/Med school resumes. No knowledge of social and psychological issues of those kids and only 5 weeks of training. What a joke.


TFA is just a social experiment on low-income communities comprised of predominately Latino and black populations. If you are going to teach, teach because you care and not because you want to use it to say "I taught for two years" and go to Law School or to join some firm like Deloitte or KPMG. The people that fund these places would never dream of sending their children to schools that TFA serve...

Joe Ngai

@ Dmitry and Jose:

You two obviously have no idea what TFA, as a program, is trying to do. I am joining TFA's 2011 Corps in Chicago and frankly, your generalizations and platitudes just show how little you know about the program.

TFA wants their alumni to go on to do things outside the realm of education. As much as having passionate, intelligent, and dedicated teachers helps, only so much change can come from within. TFA understands this, and they want to instill in the minds of future lawyers, doctors, bankers, policy makers, and politicians the importance of closing the achievement gap.


Generally, I am not against TFA, and I agree with the author's statement. I also agree with some of the posters, who state that TFA's strong points are in their commitment to closing the achievement gap and their consistent hard work.

My problem with TFA comes when school districts are laying off teachers and instilling hiring freezes while still honoring their TFA contracts. I am a young teacher who cannot find a job because of these reasons, and it is a slap in the face to find that thousands of people will be given teaching jobs who have no experience or training.


Very interesting numbers! I was under the impression that 30% stayed in education, not necessarily "in the classroom" teaching-- is this the case? There was some talk of the Americorps grants being revoked for this years corp, however, which would be a blow to those who are planning on going on to public policy/education grad school.

I've been loving this corps member's perspective on the experience: