Teach for America Popularity Soars

Published September 1, 2006

When students walk into class as school opens this fall, chances are greater than ever their new instructor will be a graduate of the Teach for America (TFA) program.

This year, a record 19,000 top college students nationwide applied to spend the next two years teaching in under-resourced public schools. Though only 15 percent of those applicants are accepted annually, the 17-year-old nonprofit TFA program now counts more than 3,500 corps members teaching in more than 1,000 schools nationwide. In 2000, 900 recent college graduates participated in the program; last year, 2,300 did.

“Our goal is that by 2010 we have 4,000 new teachers per year,” said Abigail Smith, TFA’s vice president for research and public policy. She said she hopes to see the program double in size by 2010.

Changing Education

Though the job market is stronger this year than in recent memory, Ivy League graduates are opting for TFA’s low pay and long hours like never before. While TFA’s recruiting tactics–the program employs 90 full-time recruiters–and growing ranks of alumni play a role in its success, Smith said students are interested in TFA’s holistic aspects.

“We have found that what motivates them is the appeal of the challenge the program gives them,” said Smith, herself a TFA alumnus. “The students who join our program are looking for a challenge and looking to do something important for the world.”

Kristen Wong, a Dartmouth grad starting her first year of teaching at a school in Hawaii, told The Associated Press in June she wasn’t looking to become a teacher when she was recruited.

“I told them right up front that I was going to go to med school,” Wong said. “They liked that even better. They pick people who become leaders in the community, who make policy, who vote.”

Over the past few years, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., a nonpartisan group with three East Coast offices, has released several independent studies demonstrating TFA’s effectiveness in the classroom on math achievement. No impact was made on students’ reading, according to the most recent report.

Daschell M. Phillips ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Chicago.

For more information …

Teach for America, http://www.teachforamerica.org

“Alternative routes to teaching: The impacts of Teach for America on student achievement and other outcomes,” by Steven Glazerman, Daniel Mayer, and Paul Decker, published by Mathematica Research in April 2005, is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.heartland.org, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and search for document #19523.