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.