Why does the education establishment so hate Teach For America? Turf and politics aside, one reason might also be the incredible amount of misinformation floating around. As 10K alumni descend on Washington to celebrate the organization’s 20th anniversary it’s a good time to look at some persistent myths – for instance that the research on Teach For America’s effectiveness is “mixed” or that the organization shows that just anyone can teach. So that’s what this week’s School of Thought column at TIME is about:
In 1989, when Wendy Kopp proposed the idea in her senior thesis at Princeton of quickly training outstanding college graduates to teach in high-poverty schools for at least two years, her adviser told her she was “quite evidently deranged.” The comment has become legend since Kopp, unfazed, went on to launch Teach For America after she graduated, and on Saturday more than 10,000 of the nonprofit’s alumni will gather in Washington to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
Kopp ultimately earned an A on her thesis, but when it comes to learning from her organization’s experience, the education field deserves a big, fat F. Over the past two decades, Teach For America (TFA) has grown from a scrappy start-up to a national corps with an annual budget of $212 million and a staff of 1,400. Along the way, it has generated a great deal of research about how to improve the teacher training and selection strategies that are commonly used today. Yet the reaction from the education establishment remains one of intense hostility, which echoes through state capitals, Washington and even the courts, where lawsuits have been filed to curtail the use of TFA teachers. (See 11 education activists to watch during 2011.)
Update: Question in the comment section below about TFA-producing schools. The list cited in the comments below is based on a profile of 2009 TFA Corps members. In the TIME column I was referring to cumulative data over the organization’s history. Cumulatively, the top 10 TFA-producing schools are (in order): University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, University of California – Berkeley, University of Texas at Austin, University of Wisconsin – Madison, Cornell University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of California – Los Angeles, Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Harvard University.