Is Teach For America Our Largest Provider of New Teachers of Color?

Yesterday I noted that Teach For America is likely our largest provider of new teachers. Although it’s impossible to prove definitively given current data limitations, TFA is also likely our largest provider of new teachers of color.

First, let’s go with TFA’s estimate that half of their corps members identify as people of color. Since they’re currently placing about 3,500 teachers a year overall, that means TFA is responsible for about 1,750 new teachers of color entering America’s public schools every year.

There are very few teacher preparation programs that prepare that many teachers overall. Even if you count all bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education, only seven institutions train as many total teachers as TFA does teachers of color. And for those other institutions, that’s the total number of prepared teachers; it includes people of all races, people who earn education degrees but never teach, and people who are earning in-service Master’s degrees and aren’t strictly new to the profession.

Once you take those caveats in mind, it’s almost guaranteed that TFA is the largest single provider of new teachers of color.

Maybe this comparison isn’t completely fair. After all, TFA is one national program, but it’s made up of 51 regions across the country. In that way, you could argue TFA is more like a system than one standalone entity.

But even viewed more expansively, TFA is still likely at or near the top of the list. On a cumulative basis, the 101 HBCUs with education programs operating in 2016-17, the most recent year for which we have data, granted a total of about 3,000 bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education.* Again, not all these people will teach, and not all of them are new teachers.

As I mentioned yesterday, the California State University system is probably the closest parallel. It’s impossible to know given current data systems, but it’s likely that TFA’s placement of 1,750 new teachers of color probably outpaces even Cal State.

I went through the evidence on TFA’s impact in more detail yesterday, but it’s worth remembering that TFA is placing its corps members into disadvantaged schools with high concentrations of poor and minority students. On average, TFA corps members are at least as effective with those students as other teachers in the same schools, but there’s also suggestive evidence that TFA corps members have an especially strong positive effect on black and Hispanic students.

We don’t know exactly why TFA gets the results it does, whether it’s the “grit” of their corps members, or the expectations they set for their students, or whether there’s something about the teacher-student race match. But regardless, TFA is helping to diversify our schools, and those efforts are paying off for the students it serves.

*Note that TFA also recruits from and partners with colleges and universities. In the event someone earned an education degree and participated in TFA, they would be double-counted in these numbers. But if they attended the college, graduated with a non-education degree, and then joined TFA, TFA would get the credit in these totals.

Disclosure: Bellwether has worked with TFA in the past. 

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman