Sunday, May 29, 2016

TFA's enrollment woes – the importance of putting numbers into context

[Originally posted at the statistics blog.]

This Washington Post piece by Emma Brown on the problems at Teach For America is interesting on a number of levels, definitely something you should take a look at if you've been following the story. [emphasis added]

Applications to Teach for America fell by 16 percent in 2016, marking the third consecutive year in which the organization — which places college graduates in some of the nation’s toughest classrooms — has seen its applicant pool shrink.


TFA received 37,000 applications in 2016, down from 57,000 in 2013 — a 35 percent dive in three years. It’s a sharp reversal for an organization that grew quickly during much of its 25-year history ["grew quickly" is certainly true in terms of budget, not so much in terms of members. See below -- MP], becoming a stalwart in education reform circles and a favorite among philanthropists.

Teach for America now boasts 50,000 corps members and alumni; some have stayed in the classroom and others have gone on to work in education in other ways, joining nonprofits, running for office and leading charter schools. Its alumni include some of most recognized names in public education, including D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and her predecessor, Michelle Rhee.


The declining interest means that TFA is providing fewer corps members to school districts each year: The organization generally accepts about 10 percent of its applicant pool, and it refuses to lower its bar for admission, [Elisa Villanueva Beard, TFA’s chief executive] wrote. This year’s corps is likely to be several hundred smaller than last year’s.

“These shortfalls matter. Corps members are good at their work,” she wrote. “Our school and district partners want to hire far more of them than our current recruitment effort is producing.”

This certainly sounds like a big deal, but a few seconds on Google and some very quick, back of the envelope calculations reveal just how small these numbers are in relative terms.To put things in perspective, there are over 3 million full-time teachers. A drop of several hundred applicants won't be all that noticeable, even if all of them were going to high-need areas (and quite a few aren't).

As previously discussed, TFA is a minor player viewed as a supplier of teachers, but in terms of fundraising, it's a big deal.

From Wikipedia:

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

If all TFA did was recruit six thousand new teachers a year, there would be no way to justify these budgets, but of course, that was never the main focus. TFA is an advocacy group with a stated mission to "enlist, develop, and mobilize as many as possible of our nation's most promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence." [again, emphasis added]

Though the organization is sometimes coy on the point, the focus has never been on leading from the classroom. The positions of real value are administrators, think-tank fellows, politicians, and education journalists, and the program is set up to help them rise to those spots, often at exceptional speed. We can go back and forth on whether a decline in the influence of TFA would be a good thing or a bad, but we probably don't need to worry about what the loss of "several hundred" prospective TFA members will do to the teaching pool.

No comments:

Post a Comment