Bright Lights, Small City
Amid growing pains that have raised questions about its financial stability, Teach for America announced last week that it would return to its roots.
The organization will again emphasize recruiting teachers and placing them where they are needed most. Beginning next school year, the teacher corps founded by Wendy Kopp in 1989 will no longer provide ongoing professional development to its members.
Instead, T.F.A. will transfer that responsibility to a spinoff organization it created last year. That organization, TEACH!, will now operate independently and will take on, among other functions, further training and evaluation of recruits.
The teacher corps will once again focus on its original mission, said Ms. Kopp, who added that she will probably move to the newer organization sometime after the transition is complete.
Ms. Kopp proposed the creation of a national teacher corps to serve urban and rural districts while she was a senior at Princeton University.
Though the idea has been controversial in some education circles, the organization has developed a national reputation for identifying bright, young teachers.
"When we first started out five years ago, this was a simple concept," Ms. Kopp remarked. "But there have been constantly building expectations about what T.F.A. can take on as an organization."
"We just came to the realization that we don't think [we] can sustain an $8.5 million budget."
Back to Business
Ms. Kopp plans to redirect T.F.A.'s resources to focus on meeting the needs of school districts with persistent teacher shortages.
The teacher corps will still recruit and place new members, organize national pre-service training programs, and sponsor other regional conferences and activities.
But it will try, whenever possible, to persuade districts to contribute their own resources to support corps members, she added.
"The last five years have been incredibly productive for us in terms of teacher professional development and assessment," Ms. Kopp said. "But we're going to apply that more broadly through TEACH!."
Teach! is seeking contracts with school districts that would give it broad authority to recruit, select, and train teachers locally. (See Education Week, Feb. 2, 1994.)
The shift should allow T.F.A. to cut its budget by about $2.5 million. The corps also plans to seek less traditional funders. Until now, it has relied primarily on donations from national corporations and foundations, Ms. Kopp said.
Funding tapered off after the first three years, she added, and T.F.A. has "basically been struggling financially for quite a while."
Some observers said the move should benefit the organization.
"I think it makes sense," said Arthur Levine, the president of Teachers College, Columbia University. "What they do that's really unique is the placement and recruitment."