Yo Teach…! Or how to avoid teaching like Jason

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 26 2012

An Ambivalent Look at TFA Expansion Part I

When I joined the 2011 corps I was slated to be a high school social studies teacher. At institute I was trained as such. However, once I arrived in Detroit, it turned out there were fifteen high school social studies and ELA teachers competing for many fewer jobs. By mid-September ten of us were still unplaced. Because we could receive a phone call at any minute for an interview, TFA staff advised us to stay in the region and be ready to spring into interview/teach mode. As the days went by, our confidence of finding a placement or a backup job diminished.

After a month of waiting, I got a call in mid-September about a potential position as a second grade teacher. Convinced this was my only chance to teach this year, I went to the interview. It turned out the job was actually a long-term sub position for three different teachers going on maternity leave, one after the other, in first and second grade. After a week of shadowing, the second grade teacher had her baby and I took over the class.

Most of the other corps members eventually got placed, some after another month of waiting, others in elementary positions or math/science positions they were not specifically trained for. A few CMs with families were unable to hold out, and had to quit the corps and find a steadier form of employment.

As you can imagine, I was not an enthusiastic advocate of TFA at this time in my life. My experience, combined with the fact that many of my friends in the region were placed at business-run charter schools championing diminished teacher autonomy led me to believe TFA was expanding much too quickly, at the expense of the unplaced, the misplaced, and the CMs and students suffering in the infamous charter schools TFA implicitly supports. Given these experiences, I was dumbfounded when I learned TFA was going to accept over 200 corps members to the Detroit region for 2012 (a growth of over 100%). How can an organization that has such trouble placing corps members make a rational choice to double their presence in a region? How can TFA argue that this decision is in the interest of the students of the region?

Before I reflect on this question, I wanted to point out that I do not believe my region is unique. Indeed, TFA is predicated on an ambitious growth model. I looked up their enrollment numbers over the past decade (of course Wikipedia was the only place I could find in under five minutes) and made the follow graph:

As I suspected, TFA has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down its growth. In fact, as I tried to graph a line of best fit (disclaimer I know very little about statistics and just now taught myself how to use excel in this way), it was clear that TFA’s growth rate was increasing with each passing year (see polynomial equation above). If this pattern of growth continues, by 2020 there would be 12,000 admitted corps members each year, and a total of 110,000 alumni just since 2003. Of course, TFA’s growth trajectory will likely change over the next decade, but I think it is of immense importance to consider the implications of a world with 12,000 annual corps members. As the title suggests, I’m ambivalent on the matter, torn between many optimistic and pessimistic thoughts. I will extrapolate on them in part II, but I would be interested in hearing people’s views on the matter as I formulate my own.


7 Responses

  1. Hannah

    Don’t forget when you look at that number that TFA has also rapidly expanded the number of placement sites (alleviating some of the problems with growth that rapid, although bringing along those too-familiar problems with bad staff and upreparedness). I wonder if they’re bringing in some many new CMs to Detroit because of the high attrition rate and the number of 2010s who are leaving…

    • yoteach

      Very true. Initially I thought regionally growth was more likely to slow as TFA ran out of convenient urban or rural areas, but I think your second point is interesting and worth evaluating: what is the growth trajectory within each region? I wonder (and will see if I can find out) if more established regions are growing at a slower pace than Detroit and other new regions (I’m sure their percent growth is much less, but perhaps they still have a steadily increasing stream of CMs). If so, then perhaps as the growth of new regions slows, so too will TFA’s overall growth. Interesting.

  2. hill

    This is something that’s often puzzled me. My region didn’t place close to 20 CMs last year, but we’re bringing more this year. It just doesn’t make sense…

  3. parus

    Where are all these new openings coming from? It’s not like districts are increasing faculty and staff numbers.

    • TFA’s moving heavily into Early Childhood Education in some regions. I’ve heard that this will dramatically increase the size of the Corps in some regions.

      One of the unfortunate impacts of a hugely growing Corps in districts that aren’t growing is that CMs who have finished their commitment but would like to stay may not be able to. Even back in 2003, other ’01 CMs lost their jobs – not because they had bad evaluations or due to staff cuts. They were probationary employees dismissed without cause (legal in CA), who were then replaced by incoming CMs.

  4. concernedaboutTFA

    Great question, parus. I thought Detroit was laying off veteran teachers. I’d hate to think that TFA kids who only received a few weeks of training are displacing professionals who chose teaching as their career.

  5. TFA Heretic

    The Detroit Corps got expanded to 200 becuase TFA signed a contract to provide the EAA with 200 new teachers. The contract is online at the EAA site and can be downloaded. This is out of a total of 600 teachers that EAA planned to hire. Obviously, the 15 DPS schools that closed and laid off their faculty must have had something like 600 teachers, too. So TFA corps members are replacing 200 veteran teachers. We don’t know how talented and motivated those teachers were… but it wasn’t clearly disclosed to the new corps members that teachers were being fired to make room for them. I find this rather disturbing.

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