Teach For America Roundup

Teach For America is definitely having a moment in the media sun this week.

First they announced their recruiting numbers for this year: a remarkable 37% increase over last year, up to 24,700 applications submitted.  This comes as TFA was able to add 800 new positions at schools around the US, now placing 3,700 new teachers at low-performing schools.  This is a huge endorsement for the organization, one that has faced it’s share of criticism over the years.  We don’t have solid numbers yet, but a good chunk of this year’s admitted Corps Members reported experience teaching with Breakthrough.  That’s nice.

Meanwhile, there is a new book out about the TFA story and its recent resurgence, Relentless Pursuit by Donna Foote.  I confess that I haven’t read it, but Slate’s Sara Mosle, an apparently-semi-disgruntled former Corps Member herself, provides a great writeup.  The crux of the book is that TFA hit a rough patch, one that it overcame through increased focus on training, support, and an investment in the strengths of its Corps Members.  Mosle makes the argument that TFA may be a good example of how to look at the education system in general, particularly as NCLB is being reauthorized.

I like that Mosle is looking at teacher quality and support as the key to improving performance, and I like that TFA is producing numbers to back up their efforts.  Surprising fact of the day, from Mosle’s article:

For example, by analyzing corps members’ personality traits, TFA discovered that those with an “internal versus external locus-of-control orientation” are less likely to drop out of teaching early and are generally more successful in the classroom. To translate into plain English, such a teacher typically takes “full personal responsibility for student achievement, refusing to blame outside factors, such as truancy or lack of parental support, for underperformance.”

Here at Breakthrough, we exist on this premise.  Our kids are facing challenges, but there is zero reason why they can’t excel at the levels of their wealthier/better prepared peers.  Our students have a lot of reasons to give up, but they don’t.  And Breakthrough won’t let them.  To totally bite from Uncommon Schools, you need to teach them until they learn.

TFA is an informal recruiting partner of Breakthrough’s and you will likely meet with a Corps Member at a staff meeting this summer.  Breakthrough appreciates TFAs efforts to close the achievement gap, but we do not have a stance on the sometimes-contentious issues surrounding the organization.  It suffices to say that TFA will be a GREAT option for some of you, while others will want to pursue certification and training through a longer, more traditional process.

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