Wednesday, December 11, 2013

TFA Context -- one interesting table

On the heels of Gary Rubinstein's recent post on his first year in Teach for America (reviewed here) and this piece by Jennifer Berkshire on the generous contributions the organization gets from numerous corporate donors like FedEx and Subaru, and given TFA's way of popping up in various ed reform discussions, this seems like a good time to review some basic and uncontroversial facts about this very controversial subject.

Let's start with Wikipedia's introduction:
Teach For America (TFA) is an American non-profit organization whose mission is to "eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach" for at least two years in low-income communities throughout the United States.
Of course, TFA does other things, but this is very much the persona-mission of the organization, so it's useful to evaluate the performance of TFA as a teacher recruiting organization. There is a great deal of disagreement over how to interpret the data on TFA members' effectiveness and retention, but some other aspects are much more clear-cut.

TFA is a small, expensive program.

More precisely, this was a very small and expensive program; it's become a merely small but very expensive one.

Year# of Applicants# of Incoming Corps Members# of RegionsOperating Budget

The cost per recruit has increased dramatically

In order for the TFA model to be scalable, the cost per recruit needs to drop sharply at some point. No sign of that yet.

There is reason to be concerned about selection effects

Actually, double selection effects. First there's self-selection. TFA is known for a daunting and highly selective application process that tends to attract high-achievers with solid resumes. Second, there's the process itself:
In 2010, 46,366 candidates applied and 5,827 were initially admitted, making the acceptance rate 12.6%. However, that number does not include those who earned eventual acceptance into the program from the waitlist of 932 candidates. If all on the waitlist were given acceptance, the acceptance rate would be 14.6%. Since some but not all were accepted from the waitlist, the exact 2010 acceptance rate is unknown, but it ranges from 12.6-14.6%. The acceptance rate for 2011 corps members was less than 11%
The result of all this is a tremendously unrepresentative sample of the pool of potential teachers. As a result, it's difficult to apply anything we learn from TFA data to general policy questions in education.

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