Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Creating a Corps of Change Agents

More than 21 years ago, when I was helping Wendy start TFA, I recall with absolute clarity our vision and belief that TFA's biggest impact would not be the two years its corps members spent in the classroom, but the army of reformers it would create.  Dave Levin, Mike Feinberg, Michelle Rhee, Michael Johnston and thousands of other incredible people who are transforming American K-12 education, especially for low-income and minority children, were not accidental by-products of TFA – they were the deliberate outcome!


How appropriate, then, that Education Next just published a lengthy article documenting the astonishingly powerful impact TFA alums have made:

To date, the vast majority of research on TFA has focused on the classroom effectiveness of corps members and how long they remain in classrooms. Very little is known about TFA corps members who leave teaching but stay involved in education reform more broadly. In a recent study of TFA alumni, Doug McAdam and Cynthia Brandt (2009) argue that corps members are more likely to remain in education, whether in administration, educational policy work, or charter school management, than those who opt not to enter TFA or drop out of the program. This suggests that TFA has a lasting influence on corps members' careers, but does not address the question of whether these individuals become the kind of change agents envisioned in TFA's mission of eliminating "educational inequity by enlisting our nation's most promising future leaders."

We pursue that question here, as part of a larger analysis of organizations that successfully "spawn" education entrepreneurs. Examining the work histories of founders and top management team (TMT) members at nationally prominent entrepreneurial education organizations, we find that TFA appears more frequently in the professional backgrounds of these proven entrepreneurial leaders than does any other source in our sample. We don't know whether it is the TFA experience, the criteria by which TFA selects its corps members, or institutional relationships that account for this. However, the research does find that TFA is producing a large number of entrepreneurial leaders. How and why this is so, and what might be learned from TFA's success, are questions that deserve careful scrutiny.


Creating a Corps of Change Agents

What explains the success of Teach For America?

By Monica Higgins, Jennie Weiner, Wendy Robison, and Frederick Hess


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