In The Game…

The number of RSVP’s for the Teach For America summit in February should put to rest the idea that corps members just do two years and move on…eye popping.

15 Replies to “In The Game…”

  1. There are two separate issues here:

    1.) Do TFA corps members remain in the classroom?
    2.) Do TFA corps members remain engaged in education?

    It’s a fact that most do not teach long, if at all, past their two year commitment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it impossible for TFA in its current format to be a large-scale solution for the teacher quality problem.

    But I’ve always argued that the second question is more important. There’s a bevy of anecdotal evidence that TFA members move on to other careers (both within and outside of education) that impact our educational system. We’re already seeing TFA alums serving as principals and superintendents, and in the next decade I think we’ll see a growing number of TFA alums taking leadership roles in academia, government, and other fields as well. To me, this will be the largest impact of TFA in the long run.

    So, to your post, I don’t think a large turnout would say anything about the first debate, but it *would* say an awful lot about the second.

  2. Good time to mention Wendy Kopp’s new book:

    re: two year commitment, generally the erroneous claim is that TFA teachers leave the classroom and never look back, so both #1 and 2 are referenced there.

    As to 1), surely the “most do not teach long, if at all” is a bit of an exaggeration? We’ve discussed this here before:

  3. Chris,

    I wrote that “it’s a fact that most do not teach long, if at all, past their two year commitment”. You left out the last three words.

    The blog post you reference to refute this says that 61% of TFA members teach at some point after their 2nd year and that 32% of current alumni (which includes more people 1 year out of their commitment than 10 years out, due to the growth of the program) are currently teaching.

    Let’s say that the average TFA alum is 5 years out and 32% of those 5 years out are still teaching. That would be mean that over 2/3 of TFA members teach fewer than 5 years after their two year commitment. That would mean that few alums stick around very long in the classroom. Just as I wrote before.

    I think TFA needs to stop being so defensive about these numbers. Like I argued above, the main effect of TFA in the long haul is going to be the large number of people in power who have taught in high-poverty schools and care about the issues they face — not the creation of a long-term teaching force that accounts for less than 1% of teachers in America. I think it’s more than possible fort 2/3 of TFA alums can quickly move out of the classroom *and* the program to have a significant positive effect.

    In other words, I don’t see the exodus of TFA alums from the teaching profession as something that’s necessarily, or at least entirely, bad. TFA can still do a lot of good even if every single teacher leaves after their second year.

    Phillip — thanks

  4. Corey:

    You stated that most do not teach long after 2 years, if at all. That was the exaggeration I was referencing. Their retention rates are comparable to teachers who start in low-income schools. Yes, the majority do not stay in the classroom the rest of their lives. Yes, that is generally the case for other teachers who start in such schools as well. It’s common in other industries, as well.

    As to the defensive posture taken, I don’t think I’d personally have to get defensive if it weren’t for the countless times that data concerning TFA are misrepresented. I’ve seen my share of it on this blog and otherwise. You yourself have just done the same, if unintentionally.

    If you talk with TFA directors, you’ll notice that they tend to not peg long-term retention of TFA teachers as a priority of the organization, so I think they would agree with you that their retention numbers are not the point. On the other hand, it’s important that they respond to critics when arguments arise that TFA is hurting children because their teachers are leaving the classroom at disproportionate rates.

  5. Chris,

    I never said anything about disproportionate attrition. I said “it’s a fact that most do not teach long, if at all, past their two year commitment,” which you called “a bit of an exaggeration”.

    I then argued that this doesn’t really matter. You seem to agree with me on this. But I still have yet to see any evidence that my statement is actually untrue.

  6. The “most don’t teach long past 2 years, if at all” part implies numbers very different from the 61% of TFA teachers who continue teaching after their 2nd year. It also tends to imply that there are great divides between TFA retention and non-TFA retention in low-income schools, when the numbers are roughly the same, although you’ve now clarified that’s not what you meant.

  7. “It’s a fact that most do not teach long, if at all, past their two year commitment.”

    -39% of TFA alums have not taught past their two-year commitment
    -68% of current alumni are not teaching, which means that probably two-thirds or more of alums don’t teach more than a handful of years past their commitment

    Do you take issue with my definition of “most” or of “long”?

  8. 39% is not most, and it sure isn’t anything near 100%. That was what I found contentious about your initial comment.

    The other issue was the implication that TFA numbers were widely different compared to non-TFA teachers, which you’ve clarified is not what you meant.

    You had said there were two separate issues, and I agree, but I wanted to add as to where TFA stood on that first issue. The 2nd issue is absolutely addressed with this summit.

  9. the sad reality is that even if every corps member who ever served had stayed in the classroom over the past 20 years the program would still be too small to have made a difference over all. (even if TFA took everyone who applied, that would still be the case.) classroom teachers are one of the largest job categories in the nation, numbering in the millions, while TFA numbers are, relatively speaking, in the five and sometimes six digit range.

  10. Alexander:

    By what metric are you measuring if TFA has “made a difference over all”? The program is continuing to scale up, and the number of their alumni active in education is quickly rising as well. The TFA summit is one indicator of the difference made overall.

  11. For those TFAers in town that weekend who DON’T want to hear Justin Beiber, come out and hear The Rgoues.
    They are playing two venues that weekend:
    Friday, February 11 10:00 pm
    RIRA: 2915 Wilson Boulevard, ARLINGTON, VA, USA (MAP)
    Saturday, February 12 10:00 pm
    RIRA: 4931 Elm Street, BETHESDA, MD, USA

  12. I’m a 97 corps member (positively ancient!) who worked in public education for 11 years after I left the classroom as part of the district administration before it was common place (do I have stories about what people would say to me in 2000 when I told them I did TFA- it’s certainly a different world today). I think that there are some valid points here about the size of the impact, but it doesn’t speak less of the individual contributions many of us made to make the world better for young people in ways that spoke to our interests and talents as adults.

    If you’re attending the TFA Summit, I am co-hosting a Tweetup for those of us who use Twitter to connect and advocate on Saturday, February 12 at 12:45 in the Google Lounge. For more information, follow the official @TFA20 account or my account @oppsproject on Twitter. Finally, for live updates from the Summit (and leading up to it), you can follow the Twitter stream at or the hashtag #TFA20.

    Hope to meet many of you there!

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