Creating a Corps of Change Agents

Education Next Issue Cover

What explains the success of Teach For America?

By , , and

24 Comments | Print | PDF |

Summer 2011 / Vol. 11, No. 3

Question: What do former D.C. Public Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, KIPP Academy cofounders Mike Feinberg and David Levin, and Colorado state senator (and author of that state’s nationally noted teacher-quality legislation) Mike Johnston have in common? Answer: They’re all alumni of Teach For America.

While much of the debate around Teach For America (TFA) in recent years has focused on the effectiveness of its nontraditional recruits in the classroom, the real story is the degree to which TFA has succeeded in producing dynamic, impassioned, and entrepreneurial education leaders. From its inception as Wendy Kopp’s senior thesis project at Princeton more than two decades ago, TFA has sought to bring more teaching talent to some of the nation’s most disadvantaged communities and create a corps of change agents like Rhee, Feinberg, Levin, and Johnston. How well has TFA fared on that second score? Here, in a new line of research, we seek to answer that question.

Since its founding in 1989, TFA has placed more than 24,000 high-achieving college graduates in some of America’s neediest schools. This has produced an alumni network populated by impassioned former educators. TFA aims, proclaims the web site, to turn these alumni into “lifelong leaders for fundamental change, regardless of their professional sector.” Its efforts include keeping close connections with alumni and providing a variety of opportunities to volunteer at schools, join education-oriented political campaigns, advocate, and connect with a wide-reaching education network.

To date, the vast majority of research on TFA has focused on the classroom effectiveness of corps members and how long they remain in classrooms. Very little is known about TFA corps members who leave teaching but stay involved in education reform more broadly. In a recent study of TFA alumni, Doug McAdam and Cynthia Brandt (2009) argue that corps members are more likely to remain in education, whether in administration, educational policy work, or charter school management, than those who opt not to enter TFA or drop out of the program. This suggests that TFA has a lasting influence on corps members’ careers, but does not address the question of whether these individuals become the kind of change agents envisioned in TFA’s mission of eliminating “educational inequity by enlisting our nation’s most promising future leaders.”

We pursue that question here, as part of a larger analysis of organizations that successfully “spawn” education entrepreneurs. Examining the work histories of founders and top management team (TMT) members at nationally prominent entrepreneurial education organizations, we find that TFA appears more frequently in the professional backgrounds of these proven entrepreneurial leaders than does any other source in our sample. We don’t know whether it is the TFA experience, the criteria by which TFA selects its corps members, or institutional relationships that account for this. However, the research does find that TFA is producing a large number of entrepreneurial leaders. How and why this is so, and what might be learned from TFA’s success, are questions that deserve careful scrutiny.

Entrepreneurs Needed

The education sector has long struggled to attract and retain high-quality professionals. At the same time, stubborn achievement gaps, increased competition among school providers, and a heightened focus on performance have created an appetite for creative problem solving and scalable, transformational initiatives. In a world of online learning, school turnarounds, Race to the Top, and the Investing in Innovation Fund, there is room for leaders who are able to lever change by creating and expanding organizations of all kinds. Turning these opportunities into results requires people able to create and lead new, high-quality ventures.

With the proliferation of teacher residency and principal leadership programs, education has seen many efforts to recruit, develop, and retain quality teachers and administrators in recent years. However, there are fewer organizations aimed at developing leaders to direct reform initiatives outside the classroom or the schoolhouse. TFA is one among a small cadre of organizations that currently includes New Leaders for New Schools, Education Pioneers, and Teach Plus. TFA is particularly notable for its efforts on this score, as it engages former corps members through “Alumni Summits” and initiatives to advance alumni in positions of leadership as nonprofit board members, public officials, and leaders at the school and classroom level. It also supports alumni through partnerships with graduate schools and employers to help them transition to the next steps in their careers.

Recently, TFA started a new program, the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, which explicitly promotes innovation and entrepreneurship in the education sector. The program facilitates connections between alumni interested in starting education ventures with established social entrepreneurs. The initiative supports TFA alumni who are applying for fellowships such as Echoing Green and the Mind Trust, provides tools for developing fundraising plans and grant proposals, and publishes a newsletter that includes information about funding opportunities and management strategies.

Today, there is a sizable network of TFA alumni who have become education entrepreneurs. We have already mentioned KIPP Academy cofounders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, who started a single charter school in 1994 that has evolved into one of the most well-known charter organizations in the U.S., with 99 schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia. TFA alum Chris Barbic founded YES Prep Public Schools, which has grown to serve 4,200 students at eight campuses throughout Houston. Sarah Usdin began New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) in 2006, after Hurricane Katrina devastated public schooling in that city. Before heading up the D.C. school system, Michelle Rhee established The New Teacher Project. Accounts sometimes suggest that these individuals are intriguing outliers. Our research suggests that they are evidence of TFA’s success at recruiting and creating change agents.

Research Methods

The methods used in this study mirror those applied in research on entrepreneurial spawning in other sectors, such as biotechnology. We first identified a group of entrepreneurial organizations within the education sector and traced their founders’ and TMT members’ work histories. We then identified organizations that appeared multiple times as previous employers across the sample and, hence, could be considered “spawners” of entrepreneurial leaders.

To create our list of entrepreneurial education organizations, we limited our search to nonprofit and for-profit organizations that were founded after 1989, TFA’s inaugural year; that focused on domestic, K–12 public education reform; and that could be considered nationally prominent. We drew on three distinct sources to identify organizations for our sample. The first was an electronic survey of 14 widely recognized experts in public school innovation. We asked participants, “From your perspective, what are the top 15 U.S. entrepreneurial education organizations that have emerged in the sector since 1989?” All 14 participants responded, and we identified 16 organizations that more than one respondent identified as a top organization. Next, we identified organizations supported by a donor clearinghouse of venture philanthropies and foundations whose mission is to support social entrepreneurship in K–12 public education across the nation. Finally, we conducted publication searches in popular and academic media using Lexis Nexus and Google Scholar. The searches were conducted in November 2009 and used the following search terms: Education, Entrepreneur*, Organization, and K–12.

These methods yielded a comprehensive list of 49 organizations; many are charter management organizations, some recruit and/or train human capital, and others offer supplemental resources to the public education sector, such as software technologies for data management and assessment or afterschool programs (see sidebar).

We then constructed a database of the work histories of the 49 organizations’ leadership members, comprising 71 founders and cofounders and 320 TMT members. We make the distinction between founders and other management team members in the event that there are noteworthy differences between those who start organizations and those hired to manage daily functioning, growth, and stability. Often, the organizations in our sample publicly listed the founders and members of the management team, along with their work and educational histories. When these data were ambiguous or not publicly available, we called the organizations to request the information.

We term the organizations that appear in founders’ and TMT members’ work histories “originating organizations.” To ascertain which originating organizations were the most prolific spawners of entrepreneurs, we identified those that had at one time employed a founding member of at least 2 of the 49 entrepreneurial organizations in our sample.

Entrepreneurship and TFA

Of all the originating organizations that appeared in work histories, TFA appeared the most frequently. Let’s look first at the 71 founders or cofounders of the 49 entrepreneurial organizations. TFA appeared in the work history of at least one founder of seven of these organizations, or about 15 percent. The next most-represented originating organizations—the San Francisco Public Schools, Newark Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools, AmeriCorps, the White House Fellows program, McKinsey & Company, and the United States Department of Education—each appeared in the work history of a founder of two (or about 4 percent) of these organizations. In other words, the drop-off from TFA to these other large and/or esteemed organizations is stark indeed.

To get a sense of whether TFA’s outsized success is simply the result of its size or TFA is indeed punching “above its weight,” it’s worth noting the comparative size of these various ventures. TFA is today an organization with almost 10,000 employees, including 8,200 current corps members. But TFA’s size a decade ago was only about one-quarter of what it is today, meaning that the alumni pipeline is much thinner than its current size suggests. TFA estimates that it has produced more than 20,000 alumni. TFA is clearly smaller than organizations like the Chicago Public Schools, with around 41,000 employees, and McKinsey, with some 17,000 employees. TFA is dwarfed by the approximately 75,000 current AmeriCorps members and some 500,000 alumni (some AmeriCorps volunteers are also TFA corps members), but is far larger than the White House Fellows program, with 13 current fellows and some 600 alumni. In short, TFA has fared impressively for its relative size.

While many founders have participated in TFA, there is little evidence of their having had other work or internship experiences in common. One reason for this homogeneity may be that approximately 23 percent of the founders had only one job prior to starting their own venture. A lack of experience created fewer opportunities to build professional networks, making the large number of TFA alumni among founders all the more salient.

TFA stands out in the work histories of the TMT members at the 49 organizations on our list as well (see Figure 1). Fourteen of the 49 entrepreneurial organizations had at least one TMT member who was once a TFA corps member or employee, and 10 of these organizations had at least one member who had been a TFA corps member and worked for TFA national. Compare this to the next three highest-ranked originating organizations: 10 entrepreneurial organizations had at least one TMT member who had been employed by the New York City Public Schools, nine entrepreneurial organizations employed KIPP alumni, and the work histories of seven entrepreneurial organizations’ TMT members included Andersen Consulting.

A Look at the Spawners

Only two of the originating organizations that spawned at least two founders, the White House Fellows program and McKinsey & Company, operate outside the public education sector. McKinsey, a management consulting firm, is the only private institution on the list. When it came to spawning TMT members, McKinsey was joined by its consulting brethren Andersen and Deloitte. For TMT members, consulting was a common professional experience with about 10 percent of all TMT members having this practice in their backgrounds.

It is interesting to consider why experience in the consulting industry is not unusual in the career histories of TMT members. Members of top management teams, including chief finance officers, chief operating officers, and even those leading growth and marketing divisions, face complex challenges. Consultants are commonly hired to solve problems in these functional units in both the private and public sectors. Perhaps their skills translate well in the entrepreneurial world. Former consultants may be particularly adept at addressing tough management issues in entrepreneurial organizations in the education sector, where challenges arise both internally and externally, due to the complicated political and financial dynamics of meeting public education needs in the U.S. There may be certain functional roles on TMTs for which having a consulting background prepares leaders particularly well.

Additionally, consulting firms such as McKinsey are increasingly offering their services in the education sector. For example, McKinsey’s Social Sector Office supports an education practice that focuses on systems strategy and transformation, talent and performance management, administration and operations, and institutional strategy and innovations. Teams in McKinsey’s education practice regularly publish reports on the education sector, including a recent analysis of the economic impact of the achievement gap and strategies for attracting top undergraduates to and retaining them in the teaching profession. Such work may be exposing their employees to the overwhelming need in the education sector for solutions to challenging problems. That exposure, coupled with entrepreneurial aspects of the organizational culture, employee selection criteria, or institutional relationships may create an environment similar to TFA. Again, we cannot be sure at this stage what factors may be at play, but it is certainly an intriguing finding.

Another leading spawner of team members is KIPP. Nine organizations in the sample had at least one TMT member who had worked for KIPP’s national office or in a KIPP school. Given that KIPP was started by two TFA alumni, maintains close ties with TFA, and recruits many of its teachers from the TFA ranks, it is no surprise that five organizations in the sample had TMT members who had previously worked both for TFA and for KIPP.

Several school districts were also among the organizations that showed up most often in TMT members’ work histories. New York City appeared most often. Other districts were Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles.

Looking across all the spawning organizations, one returns to the question of why, given the many sources feeding into the education talent pipeline, TFA seems so prolific. It seems clear that explanatory factors include the criteria by which TFA recruits, the organization’s strong and purposive culture, the skills that corps members develop, and the opportunities provided to alumni. Just to take one example, by providing talented young college grads with classroom experience, TFA confers upon them a degree of credibility that opens doors that might open less readily for others. Sorting out the relevant import of these elements is far beyond the scope of our current effort, but it is an exercise well worth pursuing for those reformers eager to identify, emulate, and amplify TFA’s successes.

TFA’s Influence

Is there cause to suspect that there are any systematic differences between those education entrepreneurs who are TFA alumni and those who are not? Given their classroom experience, for instance, are TFA alumni more likely to wind up in instructional or curricular roles than are TMT members who are not TFA alumni?

To investigate this possibility, we looked at the 30 TFA alumni who are TMT members at organizations in our sample and identified the specific nature of their jobs. As seen in Figure 2, less than one-third of these TFA alumni are in administrative positions like operations or finance. Most are involved in human resources, such as hiring and training teachers or other support staff; academic affairs, such as developing curriculum for instructional programs or schools; or working to develop new schools or expand existing ones. This first cut suggests that entrepreneurial TFA alumni disproportionately take on roles more closely related to instruction and staffing. As mentioned earlier, it is not uncommon for TMT members in operations and finance to have consulting experience in their professional backgrounds.

Looking Ahead

The findings presented here on the leadership pipeline signal many avenues for productive future inquiry. First, TFA specifically sets out to recruit individuals with leadership potential. As TFA explains, it seeks college graduates who have demonstrated “past leadership and achievement…perseverance and sustained focus in the face of challenges, strong critical thinking skills…[an ability to generate] relevant solutions to problems, superior organizational ability…and superior interpersonal skills to motivate and lead others.” The TFA selection process consists of an online application, a phone interview, and a final interview, which includes multiple individual and group activities, plus a personal interview. Sorting out the impact of TFA acculturation and training from its success as a talent identifier will require additional research that examines the alumni’s career expectations and decisions over time, with an eye to their experiences during and after their corps engagement with TFA.

Second, we found that certain of TFA’s geographic regions appeared more likely to generate entrepreneurial behavior. TFA corps members with work experience in New York City and San Francisco seemed especially likely to become top managers in entrepreneurial organizations in education. Perhaps there is something distinctive about the TFA experience in these locales. Maybe, and more likely, there was something about the place at that particular time that worked in concert with the TFA experience to produce entrepreneurial leaders in a particularly effective way.

In the 1990s, when many of the entrepreneurial organizations in our list were being founded, San Francisco, and the Silicon Valley more generally, was a hotbed of entrepreneurial behavior, which included unprecedented levels of capital funding for those wanting to start their own ventures. At the same time, New York City, with its similar culture of entrepreneurialism and capital funding activity, was going through a period of political and educational reform that would lead to the era of mayoral control. This period of fl ux created opportunities for new organizations and programs to enter the education market. The combination of an entrepreneurial culture, access to funding, and openings within the education market may have made these cities particularly conducive to TFA’s mission of creating entrepreneurial leaders; indeed, the two cities were among the first to bring TFA teachers into their schools. Therefore, it may be useful to think about the TFA experience more expansively and with an eye to its place within a larger context of reform and opportunity.

Third, working for TFA at the national level appears to be a more common experience for those who end up working for an entrepreneurial organization, rather than founding one; TFA members who were founders of organizations were more likely to have been TFA corps members. This suggests that different TFA experiences may equip alumni for different roles. It raises a variety of important questions, most notably, what it is about the TFA experience that imparts to individuals the skills and desire to tackle certain challenges.

Certain kinds of organizations, such as TFA and KIPP, and professions like consulting may be especially conducive to producing educational entrepreneurs. It is worth asking whether there are particular jobs, roles, or work environments that contribute to the cultivation of entrepreneurial behavior.

Finally, our research suggests the value of rethinking how TFA and its alumni have been studied in education and also how we think about retention. Rather than assume that it is good or bad when TFA members leave classrooms or school systems, we focused on the role that TFA alumni may play in launching entrepreneurial ventures. While TFA members may not be retained as teachers, the findings suggest they may still have an impact in education, perhaps an outsized impact.

Another intriguing question is how to weigh the impact of a single Mike Feinberg, Mike Johnston, or Michelle Rhee. Is their impact equal to that of having 100 teachers stay another year? Of 1,000 teachers staying another five years? Is it worth having thousands frequently depart classrooms if it increases the likelihood that a single game-changing entrepreneur—a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates—will emerge? Conventional debates about retention and TFA teacher effects may start to seem trivial when we compare the potentially enormous impact of a few such individuals.

Monica Higgins is professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of Career Imprints: Creating Leaders Across an Industry. Frederick Hess is an executive editor of Education Next and author or editor of several books, including Education Unbound and Educational Entrepreneurship. Jennie Weiner and Wendy Robison are doctoral students in Education Policy, Leadership, and Instructional Practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Comment on this article
  • Rick Martinez says:

    I’m pleased and thankful this article was written. Respectfully, though, I came away asking myself WHY?
    What did I learn? Do I feel any better? What’s the “education-next” reason for it?

    Yes, I jotted down all the buzz terms to sincerely see where and how I can better utilize them in my life as educator.
    Ideals like leadership; management of daily activities, growth and stability; passion; education entrepreneur;
    change agent; enhanced relationships; heightened focus;
    attracting and retaining top staff members; innovation;
    and maximization of human capital. And introspectively
    my own critical thinking skills, interpersonal abilities,
    insitutional relationship talents, and talent identifiers.

    However, my wish is not to leave my community school
    and launch a competitive entreprenuerial one. And, God forgive me, my wish is not even to seek the top undergraduate teachers: I believe the many average yet passionate teachers who really want to do a great job in this community must be and can be “unfolded.”

    What bugs me is this. With all due respect, Wendy Kopp’s
    thesis is theoretically right and good. However, we need TFA’s products and byproducts in the public sector–either in the classrooms or in leadership positions–and not splintoring education in their own entrepreneurial entities.

    You see, education, like medicine, is not a business and can
    never be sold: It can only be practiced. Professionals in teaching–like doctors in medicine–will always be concerned and motivated in terms of human need and their student’s wellness. One families expense is another’s income, and buyer’s and seller’s do not deal on equal terms with their knowledge of education. So, it’s a bit disturbing to hear education described as an industry. It’s really not private property to be traded over the counter, and withheld from those who are unable to pay, for example.

    Yes, I wish I had or I wish I could afford–or better yet, I wish TFA would sponsor a team to come to my 2 schools
    and teach me their leadership “student-success” secrets.
    I promise never to become commercial, or compete, or be self-serving–and always to give TFA all the credit.
    Thank you.
    —Rick Martinez

  • Geri Stengel says:

    Perhaps the reason Teach for America contributes so much to education reform is contained in the phrases you used: “The program facilitates connections … The initiative supports … provides tools for developing …” Networking is a valuable tool. Supportive resources are essential to the success of entrepreneurs] . TFA seems to have incorporated both into its alumni association.

  • MBW says:

    Rick, I understand where you’re coming from but i disagree.

    You must first ask WHY all of these alums are starting their own ventures.

    A few guesses:

    1) In public schools, leadership is often awarded as a function of years served, rather than talent. These folks are leaving because it would take them years to work their way through the system to a position of influence.

    2) Public schools are inflexibile…I know because I work in them myself. Why keep doing things the old way when you can leave the system and try something new?

    3) Many of the lowest performing schools have a culture of mediocrity/stagnation that only reinforces itself. Sometimes the only way to offer parents and kids a change that is to go around it, not through it.

  • MBW says:

    Another fact that we must face:

    These non-profits, charters, etc. are clearly responding to a demand.

    If the general public thought our schools were just fine, these organizations wouldn’t have the support or the need to exist in the first place.

    Many in the public want change…and these movements are simply a manifestation of that.

  • mbw says:

    Rick says: “Professionals in teaching–like doctors in medicine–will always be concerned and motivated in terms of human need and their student’s wellness. ”

    Right. That’s what’s driving many of these non-profit entrepreneurs. They don’t think the schools are meeting those human needs & student wellness.

  • […] Harvard study recently concluded that TFA alums represents an insane percentage of entrprepreneurial […]

  • JPM says:

    I like the study’s methodology to determine the nation’s “most influential” education entrepreneurial organizations. As a TFA alumn, I’ve always wondered if there was a way to quantify the impact of educational leadership coming from the organization. There probably isn’t a perfect way of conducting such study, but the three step process used in this article comes close enough to recognize its validity.

    One question comes to mind, however, and that is the educational background of these entrepreneurs, founders and TMT’s. Namely, the colleges from which they obtained their undergraduate and advanced degrees, and even the content areas in which they specialized, as I imagine that those factors probably played a role in how they got to their current positions.

    As a final thought, to reply to Rick, it’s interesting that you mention the concern over TFAers leaving their placement districts or splintering the education system by creating their own ventures. Houston ISD, which is one of the top 10 districts by size in the nation, recently surveyed all the TFA alumns in its ranks and those who have recently left. The overwhelming majority mentioned lack of educational leadership opportunities within the district as their top reason for seeking roles elsewhere. The district is now piloting a leadership fellowship and an administrative “pipeline” in an effort to retain TFA teachers past their two year commitment.

    TFA alumns are highly driven and ambitious leaders and problem solvers, not to say that other classroom teachers aren’t, but TFA specifically “selects” for evidence of those traits during their application process. Thus, its ranks are filled with well-connected, socially conscious, young and idealistic leaders who attended top colleges and universities nationwide. Additionally, most of them hold non-education degrees, which likely gives them a unique perspective, one not necessarily shared by teachers graduating with traditional education degrees.

    It is no surprise then, that after two years “in the trenches” and with limited opportunities to take on leadership roles in conventional school districts, many TFAers decide to “splinter” – to put it in Rick’s terms- and seek (or start up) more dynamic organizations that are also working to address the issue of educational inequity. Bear in mind, however, that most of those newly founded organizations are in fact non-profits and charter schools, which continue to serve students from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds. As for your invitation to get TFA corps members in your school, reach out to the organization! If your schools are located in one of TFA’s “regions”, I’m sure they would happily send them to work for you!

  • Rick Martinez says:

    Thanks Geri, MBW, New Eyed, and JPM:

    I stand corrected! I was and am wrong in my angst and in my thoughts. I apologize without excuse or explanation.

    With all due respect, I learned more from the insights and
    the heartfelt comments of my colleagues than I did from
    the article on TFA per se.

    Thank you for “teaching” me. —Rick

  • Maria Wahlstrom says:

    I am currently a 2009 TFA corps member in Chicago. Although TFA has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life, I must say, it has definitely transformed and enriched both my personal and professional goals. Like many incoming TFA CMs, I too was on a path for law or policy. I always knew that I wanted leadership roles, but I didn’t realize where my skills were most needed. I saw TFA and working in inner city schools as a stepping stone in my work, not a life mission. However, as I built strong relationships with my students and the community, I realized that I had an opportunity to influence lives on a different more fundamental level. My “success” was no longer about me. It was about “them.” Now, some of my fellow TFA friends and I have been both inspired and driven to continue this life long mission of demanding and developing a superior education for inner city children. Instead of law school, I am now looking to get the skill set and resources to co-found a new set of schools to give more underserved communities access to a great education. If you are interested in transforming urban education, check out the school blog I started at my placement school. Teachers, students and admins share their thought and stories on transforming urban education:

  • Rick Martinez says:

    Wow! I am so humbled today. Just a few days ago I thought
    I was the leader, educator, manager, humanitarian and educational spokesperson for all students, teachers, schools, and communities. No so today, and not after I saw and read thoroughly and carefully Maria Wahlstrom’s Blog and her shcool’s (Village Leadership Academy) website.

    Both are the most vibrant, dynamic, insightful, and output
    and outcome-oriented I’ve seen. They are not about serving the organization per se, rather serving the “goal” of the organization (and thus, as a byproduct, the organization). Maria’s BLOG is not only Maria’s…the array of “wonder-full” articles are also by other teachers and
    even students. I even reluctantly clicked on the Huffington Post, and to my surprise saw and read a grand array of balanced articles on various aspects of education
    and its many facets.

    So impressed am I with Maria’s educational dedication and
    talent that I am willing to sacrifice my professionalism in order to attract her attention to my schools–that I’m willing to propose marriage here and now. Or, I can simply ask Maria to email me so I can ask my million questions.

    One of my first questions would be this: I have this theory
    that happiness is the secret motive of all we do and of all we are willing to endure. So without money as motivator, I want to create and launch a “teacher fulfillment” program
    to enhance and enrich the personal and professional life,
    living, being, and doing of the “person” titled teacher–
    ultimately so they can enjoy their relationship experience
    with students in the classroom. First, though, is a principal’s
    focus on them–as person.

    Maria, please either marry me–or email me at Thank You. —Rick

  • Joanne says:

    I respect TFA for its injection of new ideas and fresh perspectives, but let’s not abandon all known practices, ye who enter there.

    Thus, the questions:

    1. Do any of these reforms result in verified improved learning outcomes?

    2. How does one assume to have deep knowledge of teaching and pedagogy after only two years of teaching practice? And why do so many TFA “teachers” leave teaching so soon?

    3. What does the turnover implied in question 2 do for the continuity of a school’s policies, staff, and student outcomes?

    4. How could traditional public schools embrace the talents of and entrepreneurial spirits of TFA graduates?

    5. And what could public schools and TFA-inspired charter schools learn from each other?

  • […] (2) Ample evidence exists of a “corps of change agents.” […]

  • […] my big take-aways from the conference I already knew. Ultimately, Teach for America’s success will probably not be building the profession of education directly. It will be creating people like Michelle Rhee, Cami Anderson, Dave Levin, Michael Johnston, Andrew […]

  • […] about Teach for America as an “educational entrepreneurial incubator”. A study titled “Creating a Corps of Change Agents” analyzed the career histories of founders and top-level management at organizations […]

  • […] profession. Wading into this argument is EducationNext, a Harvard education think tank, that just released a study investigating the impact TFA corps members have on the broader movement of bettering public education in […]

  • Dan Adiletta says:

    I thought the article’s premise was well-grounded. As someone that’s worked besides TFA members in Oakland, I can understand their likelihood for being a part of an entrepreneurial TMT.

    There was a line that I found totally objectionable. “The education sector has long struggled to attract and retain high-quality professionals.” I think this is a grotesque mischaracterization of the current problems in the educational sector. The implication of that line is that there is a weakness among the candidates and not the field itself. As someone who is struggling to claw my way further into the educational field, I can assure you that the limited number of players on the field is not due to a lack of effort. The limited jobs, the even more limited pay and the discouraging red tape is the prohibitive factors at play, not a lack of talent.

  • Erika Burton says:

    I too wish more of our TFA alumni would invest 3-5 years in the public system adding to it, creating the new ideas to make necessary changes before moving on to the private sector. Too many children do not get to reap the benefits of their ideas and innovative techniques to learning.

    Erika Burton, Ph.D.
    Stepping Stones Together, Founder
    Empowering parental involvement in early literacy programs

  • Lorraine Richardson says:

    How can we eliminate inequity and teach ALL of our children to become indispensable members of the new world order if teaching becomes a pit stop on the journey of life? “I’m just here until I figure out an entrepreneurial opportunity,” won’t close the achievement gap. Urban education needs long term answers and not interim solutions. Repeated turnover disrupts the stability, continuity, and cohesiveness of a school and negatively impacts student achievement. Institutional memory for the content pedagogy, testing programs, and extracurricular activities is an illusion when schools and classrooms become a revolving door.
    Who will cry, “Give me your tired, your poor,” I will educate them day after day, year after year (at least five years, please)

  • […] year’s 9,300 corps members will reach 600,000 students. A 2011 Harvard research studyfound that Teach For America produces more founders and leaders of education organizations than any […]

  • […] “Many TFA alumni leave the classroom and enter into an echo chamber where the ideologies and industri… This causes many of them to view education policy through a narrow lens and fail to recognize what causes the inequities in the first place: unequal distribution of resources, income inequality, and poverty.” […]

  • […] principals and parents love them) or to the fact that the graduates who go into other professions often create social change in education far beyond the impact they would’ve had in the classroom – The Age didn’t ask the most […]

  • Quora says:

    Has Teach for America improved the quality of education in America?…

    (Full disclosure: I am a Teach For America alumnus and a former staff member in the organization’s corporate office) I think there are few who doubt that Teach For America has positively altered the landscape of public education in the United States. …

  • […] public schools, hoping to inspire a lifelong commitment to education. It does the job well: A 2011 study found that the program creates more founders and leaders of education organizations than any other […]

  • John McDaniel says:

    A one month training program — these corps are ready to change education. But, rather change the direction of public monies into their private pockets. TFA has no clue — they don’t understand the purpose of education. They are indoctrinated to drill and kill for high-stakes tests that thinly measure achievement. TFA is the number one organization in perpetuating a nation of consumers, not creators. Let’s rethink to not think about TFA.

  • Comment on this Article

    Name ()


    Sponsored Results

    The Hoover Institution at Stanford University - Ideas Defining a Free Society

    Harvard Kennedy School Program on Educational Policy and Governance

    Thomas Fordham Institute - Advancing Educational Excellence and Education Reform