Teach For America Keeps Forward Momentum After 24 Years

June Kronholz  junekronholz@me.com

Teach For America Keeps Forward Momentum After 24 Years

Growth is fueled by a common vision, regional independence, data-driven improvement, and pioneering alumni

CAMBRIDGE, MA—In a new analysis, June Kronholz examines the recipe that has made Teach For America’s nearly quarter century record of growth possible.  Among the key reasons, she finds, are TFA’s accountable, analytical, and adaptable managerial practices.  “Still Teaching for America” will appear in the Summer issue of Education Next and is now available at www.educationnext.org.

TFA placed 10,400 teachers in 2012 and its plans call for expansion to 15,000 teachers by 2015.  Its teachers worked in 3,200 public schools in 2013.  Of the 48,000 applicants for TFA openings in 2012, which included 11 percent of Yale’s graduating class, only 8,200, or 17%, were accepted.  TFA reports that 550 alumni have become school principals, 100 are system leaders, and 70 hold elected offices.  Almost three-quarters of TFA’s revenues came from philanthropy in 2011—$194 million, up $40 million from 2010.  To meet the new goals, including projects in another 18 countries, TFA will need revenues of a half billion dollars a year.

TFA founder, Wendy Kopp, has recently passed the baton to two co-chief executives, Elisa Villanueva Beard and Matt Kramer.  Kopp became TFA’s board chair and is chief executive of Teach For All, a sister organization she co-founded in 2007 to assist entrepreneurs in Britain, Germany, India, China, and other countries.

There are probably a number of reasons for TFA’s growth, say those interviewed, but the success of the organization’s approach depends on a nimble, decentralized managerial structure with some key features.

• State-level TFA executive directors are held accountable for raising their entire operating budgets (schools pay the corps members’ salaries).  Chicago TFA, for example, has 500 corps members in 187 schools, a staff of 64, and an operating budget of $12.8 million.  Kronholz reports that Chicago executive director Josh Anderson already is on pace to meet his 2015 goals and is setting 2017 targets.  He also sets his region’s education agenda; among his plans is an “inspire zone” in seven contiguous neighborhoods, concentrating corps teachers in zones, installing alumni as principals, and inviting in high-performing charter networks to help leverage the impact.

• TFA frequently uses outside consulting organizations to analyze its work and then implements pilot projects to test recommended changes.  In 2011, for example, a firm’s studies and surveys pointed to gaps in TFA’s teacher coaching practices.  TFA launched a pilot project that added content and classroom-management coaches in Houston and several other cities.  It has since cut the number of corps members that each coach oversees from 50 to 30.

• When the data show that something isn’t working, TFA adapts, redesigning its approaches.  It also implements new programs when progress toward goals is too slow.  For example, an annual alumni survey showed a disconnection between members’ interest in becoming superintendents and the numbers moving into such posts.  TFA initiated a part-academic, part on-the-job fellowship to prepare former corps members for district posts; some 160 alumni applied for 20 spots; 25 districts asked for fellows.

Kronholz notes that TFA is sometimes criticized for placing teachers in disadvantaged districts for just a short time (a two-year term is required).  Its managerial practices seem to promote a longer view among many corps members, however.  TFA reports that 63 percent of its teachers go into education as a career.

About the Author

June Kronholz is an Education Next contributing editor and a former Wall Street Journal education reporter, foreign correspondent, and editor.  She is available for interviews.

About Education Next

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform.  Other collaborating institutions are the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  For more information about Education Next, please visit:  www.educationnext.org.

For more information on the Program on Education Policy and Governance contact Antonio Wendland at 617-495-7976, pepg_administrator@hks.harvard.edu, or visit www.hks.harvard.edu/pepg.

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