Teach for America, the private program that recruits graduates of prestigious colleges for two-year teaching stints, said last week that a record 17,000 candidates have applied to teach at rural and urban public schools next year.
Candidates for 2005-06 had to apply by Feb. 18. Teach for America said it expects to place about 2,000 of the applicants in teaching positions in 22 locations across the country in the fall. About 1,600 people were hired last year.
“For the last few years, we’ve been gunning for that number,” Elissa K. Clapp, the New York City-based organization’s vice president of recruitment and selection, said of the goal of placing 2,000 teachers in hard-to-staff schools.
As a result of Teach for America’s stepped-up recruiting campaigns on more than 500 college campuses, applications by college seniors for the teaching apprenticeships increased by 39 percent over last year.
At both Yale University and Spelman College, 12 percent of the senior class applied to work with Teach for America, the group reported. At Dartmouth and Amherst colleges, 11 percent of the graduating seniors applied, as did 8 percent of the seniors at Princeton and Harvard universities.
Recruitment at 12 of the top 15 schools, as defined by Newsweek magazine’s list of the best colleges in the nation, increased by 47 percent and produced more than 1,600 of the total applications, according to Ms. Clapp.
Teach for America also recruited at 21 historically black colleges and universities to increase the racial diversity among its corps of teachers.
Teach for America spent part of its $38.5 million annual budget to hire 13 more recruitment directors, adding to its staff of 17, and doubled the number of campuses where it recruits. The recruitment directors keep track of student attendance at Teach for America’s campus events and other data to adjust their recruiting strategies and attract as many students as possible, Ms. Clapp said.
All 30 recruitment directors have been through Teach for America’s training program and have taught at public schools. They are able to give college students firsthand accounts of what the job entails, Ms. Clapp said.
“Part of our effort is to bring corps members back to go back to their own schools,” said Ms. Clapp, a graduate of Northwestern University who taught at Marion Abramson High School in New Orleans before working in recruitment for the past six years.
Despite the program’s popularity on the Spelman College campus, Marshalita S. Peterson, the chairwoman of the education department at the historically black Atlanta college, expressed concern about whether Teach for America corps members will have enough teaching skills to improve student performance.
“One can be very, very grounded in the content, but the pedagogy can be very, very different,” Ms. Peterson said.
Roughly 12,000 people have participated in the program since it began in 1990, according to Ms. Clapp, and about 60 percent continue to work in education as teachers, administrators, or policymakers.
Tom Carroll, the president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a Washington advocacy group concerned with teacher quality, said school districts need to hire strong principals and well-prepared teachers, give pay incentives to teachers, and provide supportive teaching conditions to improve schools in the long run.
“I have the highest regard for the commitment of these young people,” he said of Teach for America applicants, “but I have serious concerns about the conditions of the school districts that continue to treat them like cannon fodder.”
Ms. Clapp said she realizes each corps member’s two-year stint is short, but said “that’s why we need to recruit the best college graduates to make that impact on the first day [of school].”
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2005 edition of Education Week as New Recruiting Efforts by Teach for America Yield Record Applicants