Teach for America

Teach for America is a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by Wendy Kopp, who realized during college, that not everyone was as fortunate as her in their educational opportunities. Kopp's senior thesis envisioned a corps of excellent teachers for inner-city and rural areas where chronic teacher shortages occur. Through the organization, recent college graduates commit two years of service to teaching in disadvantaged communities. For the 2003-2004 school year, it will place nearly 2000 corps members in schools.


Teach for America is a nonprofit organization whose vision is that "one day, all children in our nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education" (Kopp 2001, 174). Its goal is to provide a corps of excellent teachers for inner-city and rural areas where chronic teacher shortages occur. These new teachers are recent college graduates who commit two years of service to disadvantaged communities. The hope is that these personal experiences will motivate young leaders to either continue in education careers or to become strong advocates for education reform in the business and public sectors.

Teach for America actively recruits at the most prestigious colleges around the country looking for young people who want to make a difference. Often, these college graduates do not having teaching degrees and are not necessarily looking at teaching as a career. The organization takes the energy of recent graduates who are eager to be leaders, and channels that energy to the pursuit of education for all. In a recruitment article in the Harvard University Gazette , Harvard and TFA alumni Daniel Jones explains how he was planning to attend law school and, instead, joined Teach for America. He says, "for recent college graduates who really want to make a difference, Teach for America is a great option" (Potier 2002). He continues, "it puts you on the front lines right away. You're a leader immediately. I don't know of any other job out there where you have so much responsibility. [Teacher for America] really changed the path of my future" (Ibid.).

Historic Roots

Teach for America was the vision of Wendy Kopp while she was a student at Princeton University in 1988. Kopp grew up in Dallas, Texas, in an excellent school system and she realized, soon after leaving Texas, that not everyone was as fortunate as her in their educational opportunities. While at Princeton, Kopp led a service organization called the Foundation of Student Communication. This organization included Princeton students and business leaders from the community who came together to discuss social issues. One of their meetings was focused on education in the public schools. From this discussion, Wendy discovered that many of her colleagues had an interest in teaching, even though they were not pursuing an education degree. This inspired her thinking about creating a national teacher corps of young college graduates, much like the Peace Corps but for our own country. This idea eventually became the subject of her senior thesis and the focus of her life (Kopp 2001, 3-11).

In April 1989, Wendy turned her senior thesis into a proposal for funders which she ambitiously sent to chief executive officers and foundations across the country. Union Carbide donated office space in Manhattan and Mobil Corporation gave Kopp a seed grant of $26,000. From there, she spent the next year raising $2.5 million and hiring a staff to get the first year of Teach for America up and running (Ibid., 13-16). The staff recruited college graduates during the fall and spring 1989-90, and held their first training institute in summer 1990 (Ibid., 47). The organization's entire administrative staff was composed of recent graduates who had virtually no business or management experience. However, they all shared the same passion and vision that shaped Teach for America, and they worked tirelessly to make it successful.

In its twelve years of operation, Teach for America had some difficult financial times, on the verge of bankruptcy more than once. The staff was so focused on goals that they neglected the internal operations of the organization, causing them to run inefficiently and without the needed structure. In 1999, Wendy Kopp and her staff, with the help of some prominent leaders in the business community, reorganized Teach for America to become a strong solvent organization that had good strategic planning, a strong focus on program development, and a responsible fundraising strategy (Ibid., 127-145).

The growth of the organization since its inception is astounding. In its first year of operation, it received 2500 applicants and chose 500 teachers for the program (Ibid., 40). It had a staff of five and twelve recruiters who traveled to different universities looking for good corps candidates (Ibid., 24-28). In November 2002, it received 5500 applicants and hope to place 2000 corps members in schools for the 2003-2004 school year. It now has an executive staff of fourteen, regional support staffs in all communities with Teach for America schools, and recruiters at each of the universities who participate. By 2005, the goal is to have 4000 corps members teaching in twenty-five areas around the country (Jaramillo 2003, 1).


Teach for America is a wonderful example of how the energy and passion of young people can make a difference in the world. It is one of the few programs available that is actively providing a teaching service to underserved communities and trying to change the systemic problems in education. Teach for America exposes very bright, energetic young people to the socio-economic challenges of children in rural and inner-city communities. These challenges include poor health care, inadequate housing, little economic development and virtually no early childhood resources. The corps members experience, first-hand, the reality that schools are expected to compensate for these

challenges, which inherently causes large achievement gaps between students in low-income neighborhoods and students in high-income neighborhoods. The hope is that with their energy and leadership, TFA teachers will inspire students, as well as other teachers, administrators, and policy makers to seek progress, reform and improvement for their communities and schools.

While Teach for America only provides short-term help for these disadvantaged students, several studies have been done that support the work. The largest was by CREDO (Center for Research on Education Outcomes at the Hoover Institute, Stanford University) in August 2001. This study looked at the performance outcomes of students in the Houston public schools working with Teach for America corps members and comparing their outcomes with students working with other teachers. The results showed that "TFA is a viable and valuable source of teachers and that they perform as well as, and in many cases better than other teachers hired by HISD" (Raymond et al. 2001).

This study, however, only compared TFA teachers with other under-certified teachers and not with fully certified teachers in Houston's public schools. Since TFA teachers generally have alternative certification, some critics believe that they are actually hurting students more than helping them. One recent study from Arizona State University by Ildiko Laczko-Kerr and David Berliner looked at the effects of Teach for America in the Phoenix Public Schools. Their results showed that

[S]tudents of Teach for America teachers did not perform significantly different from students of other under-certified teachers and students of certified teachers out-performed students of teachers who were under-certified. [S]tudents of under-certified teachers make about 20% less academic growth per year than do students of teachers with regular certification. (Laczko-Kerr & Berliner 2002, 33)

Critics of Teach for America say that this program is not fixing the problems but merely providing a band-aid approach to an already limping system. TFA teachers often feel resentment within their schools from other teachers, and they often do not get the support they need from the districts they work in or the TFA support networks. Other critics feel strongly that the eight-week training session at the Teach for America

Institute does not give teachers adequate time to prepare for these difficult classroom situations and cannot possibly replace the student-teaching requirement placed on traditionally-certified teachers (Ibid., 7).

That being said, the success stories from Teach for America are tremendous. These young people are committed to making a difference, doing whatever it takes to serve their students. This includes becoming involved with their families, providing after school and Saturday morning tutoring sessions, being strong leaders and inspiring students and their families to pursue a good education (Kopp 2001, 158). In an independent study conducted by Kane, Parsons and Associates after the ten-year

anniversary of the organization's founding, results showed that "ninety percent of principals rated corps members as good or excellent on twenty-three indicators of successful teaching, including achievement orientation and drive to succeed, openness to feedback, choosing effective instructional strategies, creating a classroom environment conducive to learning, and working with other faculty and administrators" (Ibid., 151).

More importantly, the alumni of Teach for America have the potential to make substantial and effective changes to this country's educational system because of their first-hand experience in the classroom. In their first ten years, eighty-five to ninety percent of all corps members finished their two-year commitment to Teach for America. Sixty percent of the alumni are still working in education, with thirty-seven percent teaching and twenty-one percent in graduate school, administration or working with an educational organization. Notably, of the forty percent no longer directly connected with teaching, seventy percent of them are in a career that is related to education (Ibid., 152).

Wendy Kopp claims that three things need to happen in order for all children to have an equal opportunity in learning. The first is to be committed to the vision that "one day every child in our nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education (Ibid., 174). The second is that accomplishing this takes "more of everything" including resources and time. She firmly believes that colleges of education and other teaching institutions need to actively recruit young people into teaching as a career and, fundamentally, teachers need better salaries (Ibid., 175). Third, she believes that the long-term solution needs to be an all new institutional-building approach to teaching. This approach requires providing stronger systems that "achieve results, respond to change, and continually improve" (Ibid., 176-177).

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Teach for America depends entirely on donations and grants from private corporations, individuals, foundations and the government. In the beginning, Union Carbide, Mobile Corporation and Morgan Stanley were major supporters providing start-up support and office space rent-free. Other supporters that first year were The Carnegie Corporation who contributed $300,000, the Kellogg Foundation contributing $40,000, Merck & Company as their first corporate sponsor, and Ross Perot personally offered a challenge grant of $500,000. With those gifts in place, the remaining dollars came in rather quickly to meet a $2.5 million budget (Ibid., 42-46).

What the organization learned in its early years was that these foundations were willing to help begin the process, but sustained giving was not something they were interested in continuing. Eventually, Wendy Kopp realized that she needed to hire a full-time fundraiser to keep TFA's efforts going. Today, fundraising efforts take place in each city in which Teach for America is located, as well as on a national level. Wendy Kopp has become an astute business woman, meeting with numerous chief executive officers of major corporations. She has been recognized in such publications as the New York Times , Time , and Fortune and television shows like Good Morning America and Sixty Minutes . At every opportunity, she pleads the passionate case of Teach for America, and convinces the philanthropic community to give to her cause.

In 1994, the Corporation for National Service committed $2 million to Teach for America, making it a part of the AmeriCorps program. This was the first federal money allocated to the organization and was twice as much as what is normally allocated for such programs (Ibid., 93). This September, the Department of Education announced that Teach for America received a federal grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Education in the amount of $1 million to expand their recruitment initiatives (Babyack and Glickman 2003).

Other strong supporters include the Knight Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Echoing Green Foundation, Edith and Henry Everett Foundation for the TFA Endowment, and the Pisces Foundation. In total, Teach for America has over 350 corporations, foundations and individuals who donate annually. In addition, they receive state support from four states and local support from twenty-two school districts and city governments.

Key Related Ideas

Charter schools: Charter Schools are "nonsectarian public schools of choice" that function without many of the restrictions of traditional public schools. They exercise increased autonomy with a performance "charter" contract that details the mission of the school, the programs and goals, the students served, methods of assessment and measures of success. They are accountable for their academic results and financially responsible to their sponsor (usually a state or local school board), the parents of the students who attend and the public funding them. Several TFA alumni have gone on to work in and start their own charter schools throughout the country.

Education reform: A national bipartisan movement to change the public education system to better the curriculum, use more effective pedagogical methods, promote efficient internal management, and create the ability to meet the needs of children and their families. TFA is a leader in this cause and is actively trying to build leaders for this effort.

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 : This law, signed on January 8, 2002 by President George W. Bush represents the Bush Administration's education reform plan. "The act contains the President's four basic education reform principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work" (No Child Left Behind 2003). The Bush Administration is a strong supporter of Teach for America and believes in the work the organization is doing in the country's underserved communities.

Important People Related to the Topic

Wendy Kopp, Founder and President of Teach for America: At twenty-two, Wendy Kopp decided to undertake a dream to build a teacher corps of young college graduates who would provide excellent education in America's inner-city and rural areas for those students who lacked resources. Over a decade later, Kopp's dream has gained federal support and created a corps of young Americans committed to social and educational reform.

Sue Lehmann : Sue Lehmann is an executive consultant who donated her services to work with Wendy Kopp and her staff in the internal reorganization of Teach for America in 1999. Lehmann has been an independent consultant for over 25 years and has worked with such prestigious organizations as American Express Company, Dell Computer, IBM, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was the board chair of Teach for America for the latter half of the 1990s and continues to be involved with the organization today.

Daniel F. Oscar, Founder and President of The Learning Project: Daniel Oscar was Wendy Kopp's first employee and partner in Teach for America. He is a fellow alumnus of Princeton University. A native of New York City, he spent a year after college teaching English in China and mathematics in Korea. He became president of the Teach for America summer school division in 1993, which involved the development and management of six innovative summer schools in Houston, Texas. In August 1994, Oscar left Teach for America and founded The Learning Project.

Rod Paige, U.S. Secretary of Education: Secretary Paige has been in education his entire career and is committed to education reform. He was a trustee and officer for the Houston Independent School District's Board of Education from 1989-1994 and co-authored the board's statement of purpose and goals that called for decentralization in schools, a focus on instruction, accountability, and core curriculum development. He became superintendent of HISD schools in 1994 and developed new ways of providing innovative teaching and educational standards for his district including performance contracts, incentive pay for teachers, and the Peer Examination, Evaluation and Redesign (PEER) Program. Secretary Paige is a strong supporter of the Teach for America vision.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

AmeriCorps is a part of the Corporation for National and Community Service. It was created in 1993 and is a network of national service programs that engages over 50,000 people every year to meet intensive service needs in the areas of education, public safety, environment and health. Its members serve in more than 2100 nonprofits, public agencies, and faith-based organizations.

Center for Education Reform "is a national, independent, non-profit advocacy organization founded in 1993 to provide support and guidance to parents and teachers, community and civic groups, policymakers and grassroots leaders, and all who are working to bring fundamental reforms to their schools" (The Center for Education Reform 2003).

The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) is a charter school model begun in 1994 by two alumni from Teach for America, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin. These college preparatory schools are situated in underserved communities and focus on fostering the education and skills needed to make students competitive candidates for the country's top universities. The success of KIPP is based on five principles: high expectations, choice and commitment, more time, power to lead, and focus on results.

The Learning Project was originally part of Teach for America and became its own nonprofit organization in 1993. Founded by Daniel Oscar, the Learning Project is "an educational management organization that launches and manages high performing schools in underserved communities" (The Learning Project 2003). Its teaching philosophy emphasizes such things as longer school days and longer school years, interdisciplinary learning, direct instruction and cooperative learning, management systems that are professional and highly developed, in-house governance, and committed parent involvement.

Public Allies is a service organization begun through the AmeriCorps program in 1992. Its purpose is to recruit and inspire diverse young leaders to serve and strengthen their communities through involvement in local nonprofit organizations and civic projects. Its leadership is based on four core values, which include collaboration, diversity, continuous learning, and community participation. Since its inception, Public Allies has placed 1000 young people in over 400 non-profit organizations across the country sponsoring their full-time apprenticeships and participating in team service projects.

Related Web Sites

The No Child Left Behind Act Web site , at http://www.nclb.gov/ , gives a detailed description of President Bush's Education Reform Plan, as well as information and educational resources for parents..

The Peace Corps Web site , at http://www.peacecorps.gov/indexf.cfm , provides information on the global service corps that was the model that inspired Wendy Kopp's Teach for America vision.

U.S. Charter Schools Web site provides a good description and history of charter schools, outlines their benefits, gives national statistics, and provides the laws of charter schools. Visit at http://www.uscharterschools.org/pub/uscs_docs/home.htm .


Babyack, Stephanie and Jane Glickman. Teach for America Awarded $1 Million to Extend Its Reach . Inside OPA: Press Releases (25 September 2002) . U.S. Department of Education. [Updated 24 October 2002; cited 27 January 2003]. Available from http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2002/09/09252002b.html.

The Center for Education Reform. Homepage . [updated 28 January 2003; cited 2 February 2003]. Available from http://www.edreform.com/ .

Corporation for National and Community Service. AmeriCorps: Who We Are. [cited 2 February 2003]. Available from http://www.americorps.gov/about/ac/index.asp.

Jaramillo, Monique. About Us: Recent Press: Teach for America's Application Numbers Continue to Rise. Teach for America. [updated 12 November 2002; cited 27 January 2003]. Available from http://www.teachforamerica.org/pdfs/press/2002_applications_2003.pdf.

Knowledge is Power Program. Our Focus: History . [cited 2 February 2003]. Available from http://www.kipp.org/aboutkipp.cfm?pageid=nav6.

Kopp, Wendy. One Day, All Children.The Unlikely Triumph of Teach for America and What I Learned Along the Way. New York. PublicAffairs, 2001. ISBN 1-891620-92-4.

Kopp, Wendy. "Ten Years of Teach for America," Education Week 19 (21 June 2000): no. 41, 48, 52-53. [cited 27 January 2003]. Available from http://www.edweek.org/ew/ewstory.cfm?

Laczko-Kerr, Ildiko and David C. Berliner. "The Effectiveness of 'Teach for America' and Other Under-certified Teachers on Student Academic Achievement: A Case of Harmful Public Policy," Education Policy Analysis 10 (6 September 2002): 37. ISBN 1068-2341.

The Learning Project. About TLP. [cited 28 April 2003]. Available from http://www.learningproject.org/history.html.
No Child Left Behind. Introduction: No Child Left Behind . [cited 12 February 2003]. Available from http://www.nclb.gov/next/overview/index.html .

Bibliography and Internet Sources (continued)

Potier, Beth. "Teach for America Seeks Seniors Ready to Make an Immediate Impact," Harvard University Gazette (31 January 2002). [cited 27 January 2003]. Available from http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/01.31/13-teach.html .

Public Allies. Overview: Vision and Mission . [cited 27 January 2003]. Available from http://www.publicallies.org/au_visio n .html .

Raymond, Margaret, Stephen H. Fletcher, and Javier Luque. Teach for America: An Evaluation of Teacher Differences and Student Outcomes in Houston, Texas. Stanford University. Center for Research on Education Outcomes at the Hoover Institute. August 2001.

Teach for America. About Us . [cited 27 January 2003]. Available from http://www.teachforamerica.org/about.html.

US Charter Schools. Overview of Charter Schools . [cited 12 February 2003]. Available from http://www.uscharterschools.org/pub/uscs_docs/gi/overview.htm .

U.S. Department of Education. Rod Paige U.S. Secretary of Education - Biography . [updated 11 March 2002; cited 3 February 2003]. Availble from http://www.ed.gov/news/staff/bios/paige.html?exp=0.

YouthNOISE. About YouthNOISE: Meet our Advisory Board: Sue Lehmann. [cited 3 February 2003]. Available from http://www.youthnoise.com/site/CDA/CDA_Page/0,1004,769,00.html .

This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Grand Valley State University. It is offered by Learning To Give and Grand Valley State University.