Career Advice

TFA, Not Just a Plan B

By Elizabeth Rich — July 12, 2010 1 min read

The New York Times reports that competition for a slot in the Teach for America program is stiff. This year—the program’s 20th—a total of 46,359 people applied for 4,500 openings. Applications have risen 32 percent since 2009 and 40 percent since 2007. The numbers tell the story of a worsening job market and a less than ideal economy: At both Harvard and Yale, 18 percent of the graduating classes applied for a coveted spot.

TFA, which has a $185 million operating budget, requires that recruits commit to two years of teaching at a high-poverty school, but what’s less clear is the longevity of that commitment. After reviewing two dozen studies, two researchers determined that “by the fourth year, 85 percent of TFA teachers had left” New York City schools.

A TFA press release refers to a 2008 Harvard doctoral thesis that found 61 percent of recruits stay beyond their two-year commitment, according to the Times. But the same thesis says that “few people are estimated to remain in their initial placement school or the profession beyond five or six years.”

Recent Harvard graduate Alneada Biggers could be one such case. Biggers plans to teach elementary school for two years in Houston, but then will attend either Harvard or Vanderbuilt Law School—both of which accepted her. She told the Times she hopes to do something in education once she graduates.

Update: The Times continues this discussion today with a number of educators weighing in on TFA. If you’re interested in reading a range of opinions on whether TFA has earned its stripes, check it out.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.