Teach for America

Teach for America is a nonprofit organization that provides leadership to strengthen the movement for educational equality. Through the organization, recent college graduates (now called corps members) commit two years of service to teaching in disadvantaged communities. With extensive training and support, these corps members work relentlessly to ensure that students growing up in low income communities are given the educational opportunities they deserve. In 2017 there was a total of 6,400 corps members in schools.

Written by Casey Ruschman with some content from an earlier edition by Melia Tourangeau

 

Definition

Teach for America is a nonprofit organization with the vision "one day, all children in our nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education" (Kopp, 2001, p. 174). Its goal is to make both a short-term and long-term impact by leading students to reach their full potential and becoming lifelong leaders for educational equality. 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.

The mission of Teach for America is to enlist, develop, and mobilize as many as possible of our nation’s most promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equality and excellence. 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 have 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.

Historic Roots

While at Princeton, Wendy 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 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, p. 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., p. 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 28 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 September 2015, the organization reached a milestone of 50,000 corps members and alumni, who have collectively taught more than 5 million students across the nations. In 2017 there were 49,000 applications, 50,000 alumni and corps members were teaching in 53 regions.

Importance

Teach for America is an important 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.  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.

Critics of Teach for America say that the 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 8-week training session at the TFA institute does not give the teachers adequate time to prepare for these difficult classroom situations and cannot possibly replace the student-teaching requirements 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 10 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).

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 10 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).

Teach for America has a focus on diversity, equity and inclusiveness. They are investing in recruiting a corps staff that is diverse in every aspect, specifically those most impacted by educational inequality. Teach for America is working to interrupt and replace inequitable practices in schools as well as within their own organization. They build authentic relationships across lines of difference and value the unique perspectives and contributions of all in our community (Teach for America.com).

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Teach for America depends entirely on donations and grants from private corporations, individuals, foundations and the government. 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).

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).  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).

In 2011, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation was the first philanthropic organization to commit to an endowment fund with a pledge of $25 million and called upon other funders to match this figure. Three addional philanthropic donors, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, The Robertson Foundation and Steve Mandel stepped up and each provided $25 million matching funds. In total, Teach for America has over 350 corporations, foundations and individuals of which 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

  • Common Core - The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live. Forty-two states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) have voluntarily adopted and are moving forward with the Common Core (http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/).
  • 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

  • Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America: Villanueva Beard began her education career as a 1998 corps member of Teach for America, teaching first and second grade bilingual eudcaiton. After three years in the classroom, she became the leader of the organization’s Rio Grande Vallley region. Four years later, in 2005, she became the COO. In September 2015 she became the sole CEO of Teach for America.
  • Wendy Kopp, CEO and Co-Founder of Teach for All: Shortly after graduating Princeton in 1989, Kopp founded Teach for America. A non-profit organzation dedicated to improving educational outcomes for low-income students across America. In 2013 Kopp transitioned out of the role of CEO at Teach for America but remains an active board member. Now she is the CEO of Teach for All, a global network of independent nonproift organizations working to expand educational opportunity in their own countries.
  • 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 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.

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.

 

Reflection Question - Does Teach for America inspire more youth to care about the inequality of Education in America?

 

Bibliography

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This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.