Reformer ToolboxLogin

CancelRegisterLost your password?


The EdFly Blog

Desperation tactics continue against Teach for America

The EdFly Blog

  • Effective Teachers and Leaders

    Effective Teachers and Leaders

    We need to recruit teachers from all professions, and recognize and reward the effective ones. The Foundation supports ending tenure, the implementation of data-based evaluations and compensation, and alternative paths to certification/licensure.

Teach for America recruits bright, motivated university graduates and puts them in classrooms with low-income, disadvantaged kids. Normally, liberals would latch on to such a notion – think Peace Corps in urban neighborhoods.

But instead, TFA is criticized relentlessly for what boils down to three basic reasons:

  • TFA shows you don’t need an education degree and years in the classroom to get results.
  • TFA teachers do not belong to the union.
  • Some TFA teachers stay in education, where they have become advocates for school reform.

And so TFA comes under constant attack by advocates for the education status quo. Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, actually linked TFA to the Sandy Hook tragedy, with Diane Ravitch cheering her on.

And so it hardly is surprising to see this headline from Ravitch’s blog: “Why Does TFA Need Nearly $1 Billion?’’

As is her style, she simply lifted someone else’s material, doesn’t research it, and throws in some quips and a link.  In this case, the link went to a web site called “EduShyster.’’

It turns out the actual number is about $900 million collected over a five-year period. EduShyster does some misleading math, without understanding anything about how TFA operates, and implies some kind of scam is in the offing.

And so I did something that EduShyster and Ravitch failed to do. I checked with Charity Navigator, the leading evaluator of non-profit organizations in the nation.

Charity Navigator gives TFA its top four-star rating, a score of 68.2 out of 70. By comparison, the American Red Cross received three stars and 59.6 points and the American Cancer Society received two stars and 46 points.

The ratings include financial performance and accountability/transparency.  Less than 17 percent of TFA’s revenues go to administration and fundraising, a very impressive number. All the boxes are checked off: Independent voting board members. Conflict of interest policy. Process for determining CEO compensation. Audited financials. And so on and so forth.

The people at Charity Navigator do detailed homework. They don’t idly speculate on blogs.

But reality doesn’t matter to Ravitch, et al.

They do not like TFA inspiring young people to get involved in reforming an education system that has failed low-income kids for decades.

To quote Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association:  “We are part of that system—a system that has not successfully addressed the dropout crisis and allows kids who are poor to be stuck in schools that do not meet their needs—placed into classrooms year after year with the least qualified, least experienced teachers.’’

Gosh, where is the outrage, Diane?

There are more than 8,000 TFA teachers teaching a half-million low-income kids. TFA is generating lots of useful data and research on teacher selection and training. Top college graduates are competing to get into what once were the most neglected schools. Last year, 50,000 students applied for 4,500 openings.

Yes, please, somebody stop them.

About the author

Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet

Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at

6 responses to “Desperation tactics continue against Teach for America”

  1. Tom James says:

    TFA is merely cheap labor for big school districts and since they have no contractual rights they can be shuttled off into the schools no one else wants to work in.
    Almost 100% of TFA fellows LEAVE teaching after their three year contract expires.
    For most it’s just resume fodder helping them get into grad school, law school, etc.
    Sounds warm and fuzzy but their contribution accomplishes little except saving districts hundreds of millions in payroll costs.

  2. James says:

    “TFA shows you don’t need an education degree and years in the classroom to get results.”

    If you truly believe that TFA is wonderful, consistency demands that you make sure your children are taught by a first-year TFA teacher for every single year of their schooling, K-12.

    No teacher teaching your children should ever have even a minute of actual classroom experience prior to entering your child’s classroom on the first day of the school year, and not one of them should at any point be interested in pursuing teaching as a profession for the rest of their lives. Each and every one of your children’s teachers, to a person, must be using their TFA time to bolster their credentials to get into law school or an MBA program, or just because they couldn’t find another job and need something to pay the bills.

    If you fail to subject your own children to such teaching, then you have absolutely no place demanding that other people’s children be subjected to it. Time to put your money and your children where your mouth is.

    • This is one of the biggest criticisms I’ve heard about TFA. Why is everyone so up and arms about TFA fellows leaving after their 2 year contract expires? Does it really make a difference in their children’s education? Heck, I remember plenty of teachers in my school who stick around 5 or 10+ years who can’t teach to save their life. If you have a passion to teach, you can make a humongous impact on kids, regardless of how long you stick around. So my question is, who is more ineffective? I understand where you are coming from James, but you are assuming those who leave after 2 years were bad teachers. That is too broad of an assumption. Also I believe TFA has a rigorous screening process, far more rigorous than the state minimum requirement to be a teacher.

    • Jim Wisdy says:

      I hate that you brought “data” into a debate that did not necessitate it. (I mean would you rather a first year teacher teach YOUR kids, or would you rather a first year surgeon perform YOUR surgery rather than a veteran doctor?) Especially using data from statisticians and econometricians who have done more to hurt students, teachers, and schools more than even Jeb Bush and Bill Gates combined. Economics is hardly a science, for those of us that employ REAL science (which would be me, by the way, having taught biology, chemistry, and physics for decades) The reformers (and even their sworn enemies) ought to be ashamed of themselves for giving these ‘researchers’ the time of the day. Simply read the portion of the study you offered as to how the authors attempted to ‘tag’ the administrators of the EOC’s as to whether they were actually the teacher of the students they were administering the test for. This is complicated stuff (as are all social venues – so complicated that no matter what level of math and science are used – there are bound to be errors and bias – which eventually lead to correlations that arent worth a flip). I know that in several different counties in NC, where Ive taught, some counties wouldnt allow you to ever administer or proctor EOC’s, for fear of cheating, whereas other counties would allow you to administer all of your EOC’s to ALL of your classes. This alone is a huge issue as there were years in which I did not administer any of my EOC’s and my name appeared nowhere on any reporting forms. This issue should improve because of RttT and its mandate of concise longitudinal databases (required for the use of VAM), but during the time period of this study, especially for non-AYP courses, I highly question their ability to effectively determine what teachers actually taught the tested students. Of course, there’s always the issue of using scores from standardized test data as a dependent variable to begin with. In many cases, ive seen new teachers be assigned more advanced students and assign veterans with the rougher crowd. Anyways, you get the idea. Your data means as much to me as a weatherman’s predicted high temperature for some distant date. Too many variables, so much correlation, and so little causation.

  3. Tom James says:

    let me guess? a study commissioned by and paid for by TFA with pre-ordained results? I’m shocked I tell you! Just shocked!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *