Teach for America is shrinking
Teach for America is shrinking, write Ben Backes and Michael Hansen on Chalkboard. The nonprofit recruits college graduates for two-year teaching assignments in high-need schools. Controversially, they get only a summer's training before they start. Corps membership is down by nearly two thirds from its peak 10 years ago.
TFA is very selective, often recruiting from elite colleges. Compared to other teachers in high-need schools, multiple evaluations show "TFA corps members are at least as good as — and in math, often better," write Backes and Hansen. "Our own study in Miami showed similar TFA performance advantages against peer teachers in the same schools in math and in English Language Arts," as well as modest improvement in attendance and behavior.
Principals are very satisfied with TFA corps members and most say they'd hire them again.
High turnover is a drawback: Just over half of TFA corps members leave their placement school after two years, they write. "However, several different studies have found that the TFA advantage is large enough to offset the lack of experience, including ours in Miami."
Principals in low-income schools are having the most trouble filling vacancies, "especially in the STEM subjects in which TFA teachers appear to excel." So why isn't TFA filling those slots.
Recruiting has become harder "with fewer candidates willing to undergo the selection process for a position in a relatively low-paying occupation in a high-need setting," they write. Other alternative programs based in universities are having recruitment problems too, and "traditional university-based training programs have seen enrollment declines for more than a decade."
New alternative certification programs, especially for-profit programs, have been growing to meet demand, write Backes and Hansen. Many are "minimally selective," such as the rapidly expanding Teachers of Tomorrow program. "It is completely online and has received criticism for low program completion rates and academic rigor."
Enrollment is booming at non-college-based alternative teacher-preparation programs, but completion rates are low, reported Madeline Will on Education Week last June.