A corps of change agents

Teach for America‘s former teachers have formed a powerful corps of education change agents, according to  an Education Next study.

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.

” TFA is one among a small cadre of organizations that currently includes New Leaders for New Schools, Education Pioneers, and Teach Plus” that are developing education leaders.  It’s an explicit part of TFA’s mission.

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.

The KIPP network,  YES Prep Public Schools, New Schools for New Orleans and The New Teacher Project were founed by TFA alumni.

The study looked at founders of entrepreneurial education organizations. Where did they start?  TFA was the most common answer with fewer leaders coming from 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.  Top managers also came from KIPP, founded by TFA alumni, and from consulting firms and large urban school districts.

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.

TFA looks for leadership ability in recruiting new corps members, the study notes. TFA alumni who become education entrepreneurs are more likely to have worked in New York City or the San Francisco area, which have strong entrepreneurial cultures. As education entrepreneurs, they tend to focus on instruction and staffing rather than finance or management.

TFA should be judged not only on whether its recruits continue as teachers but also on the impact of those who leave the classroom, the authors conclude.

About Joanne


  1. I am not surprised that TFA graduates flee the rigors of the classroom for the relative comfort of Policy Land. But I worry that two years in the trenches is not nearly enough to develop a sound judgment on educational matters. In my case, it took a good ten years of teaching in several different schools to get my first kernels of what I think might be wisdom. Red flags go up when I hear stories like that of Michelle Rhee who seems to have discovered The Answer in a mere two years of TFA teaching.

  2. There are plenty of “dynamic, impassioned, and entrepreneurial education leaders” already in public education, especially in the classroom.

    I find it interesting that if the answer is constantly “the teacher, the teacher, the teacher”, then why are we not looking at teacher retention as the issue? BTW, wages are not the top reason (look at the statistics) for teacher’s leaving the profession. And while the retention rate is bad for non-TFA teachers, the rates of TFA teachers that stay in the classroom for five years plus is absolutely sick.

    I’m not saying that TFA teachers are any less dedicated, I’m saying that TFA isn’t solving any problems while it promotes itself as being the solution. Simply getting a group of talking heads together with teachers that have been in the profession for less than a decade, and getting a visit from Arnie Duncan will not bring about the change necessary for student success.

  3. Put another way how do you decide private education is really worth it? Overcrowding of public school classrooms is one of the most common complaints about the public education system a significant problem that inspires parents to seek private school alternatives. We think the option of private school makes all schools better and gives parents alternatives they may certainly want to pursue in finding the right education for their children.