Teach for America:
It’s More About Leading
There are some drawbacks to this fast-track solution.
Barbara Torre Veltri
There’s no disputing it: Teach for America (TFA) holds a seat at the education policy table. The media, corporations, state and
national policymakers, and venture philanthropists like Bill Gates present the
program not only as a viable approach
for teaching poor children and achieving
education equity, but also as a promising
model for all teacher training programs
(Alter, 2011; Gerdes, 2007; Will, 2011).
And its clout seems to be growing. The
program projects that it will have 16,000
“diverse leaders” in its ranks by 2015 and
that its 44,000 alumni will be a force for
Nor is money lacking. Funds have
arrived in the form of a $50 million grant
from the U.S. Department of Education,
a $100 million grant from the Walton
Family Foundation, and an endowment
of $100 million pledged by Eli and Edith
Broad and four other philanthropists.
62 Educational lEadErship / May 2012
So the question understandably
arises, How effective is Teach for America’s teacher preparation model? This
is particularly important because these
teachers go on to teach some of the
neediest students in the United States.
To look into this question, I spent
the past seven years interviewing hundreds of current and former Teach
for America corps members. I also
extensively reviewed member training
materials to acquire an updated understanding of the organization’s priorities.
This is what I found.
The Business of Teaching
Teach for America combines a social
service agenda with a business culture.
The program is designed to attract
high-ranking recent college graduates
who agree to teach for two years in
economically distressed rural and
urban public schools before going on
to other careers. Many combine their
first year in the classroom with evening
education coursework to pursue
certification. Some remain in education,
and some even continue to teach at
their original placement schools.