Monday, February 09, 2015

Teach for America

This story from the front page of today's NYT is sure to elicit much joy from defenders of the status quo (who correctly recognize – and HATE – that TFA is the primary talent pipeline that fuels the entire ed reform movement), but I think the modest decline in TFA's applications (after 15 consecutive years of increases) almost entirely reflects an improving job market and nothing more. The article presents no evidence to the contrary – just a couple of anecdotes. Yawn…

Teach for America, the education powerhouse that has sent thousands of handpicked college graduates to teach in some of the nation's most troubled schools, is suddenly having recruitment problems.

For the second year in a row, applicants for the elite program have dropped, breaking a 15-year growth trend. Applications are down by about 10 percent from a year earlier on college campuses around the country as of the end of last month.

The group, which has sought to transform education in close alignment with the charter schoolmovement, has advised schools that the size of its teacher corps this fall could be down by as much as a quarter and has closed two of its eight national summer training sites, in New York City and Los Angeles.

…Some say the decline in applicants could point to a loss of luster for the program, which rose to prominence through the idea that teaching the nation's poorest, most needy students could be a crusade, like the Peace Corps. Teach for America has sent hundreds of graduates to Capitol Hill, school superintendents' offices and education reform groups, seeding a movement that has supported testing and standards, teacher evaluations tethered to student test scores, and a weakening of teacher tenure.

"We are sort of at 2.0 of education reform, and its future direction seems a little bit uncertain at this point," said David M. Steiner, the dean of the Hunter College School of Education in New York.

Leaders of the organization say their biggest problem is that the rebounding economy has given high-achieving college graduates more job choices.

"It's so different from three years ago, where suddenly you have candidates that may have an offer from Facebook and Wells Fargo and an offer to join the T.F.A. corps, and clearly, the money is going to be radically different," said Lida Jennings, executive director of the Los Angeles office of Teach for America.

PS—TFA was founded in 1989, not 1990 as the article says (1990 is when the first corps members were placed).

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