Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 24 2012

#44: Mission creep

When TFA was conceived twenty some-odd years ago, founder Wendy Kopp outlined four goals in her senior thesis at Princeton for the organization:

A. To help solve teacher shortages.
B. To focus positive attention on the education system and on the profession of teaching.
C. To attract the ‘best and the brightest’ to teach.
D. To provide the opportunity for a group of individuals who would not otherwise teach to do so.

This was pre-NCLB, pre-Race to the Top, pre-Charter School Fever.

Perhaps Gary Rubinstein remembers when the goals changed and TFA became what it is today.  If you listen to the sales pitch now, TFA’s approach is two-pronged:

  1. Place mostly recent non-education major college grads in low income schools for at least two years to have as large an impact in the classroom as possible.
  2. Put these people on a path to later hold positions of major power/influence in or out of education to fix the things that are wrong with education.

There is an expression in the military called “mission creep” which occurs when the scope and scale of a project expands beyond the initial commitment.  Kopp’s first idea of a talented corps of young go-getters taking teaching jobs when there were no teachers to be found is not bad.  If faced with the prospect of a long-term substitute who may not even hold a Bachelor’s degree versus someone who has been successful academically and is at least committing a couple of years to teach, I’d choose the latter 9 times out of 10.  And, I’m sure those teachers struggled much the way all first-year teachers do, but the alternative for the kids could have been worse.

But, I fear that TFA as an organization is struggling to make sense of its vestigial organs.  Since the goalposts have been moved and we are no longer aiming to address teacher shortages, does it make sense to place a cadre of 22-year-old novices with little to no education background in teaching positions hundreds if not thousands of miles away from home in ever-increasing numbers?  If the newer goal is to address the bigger picture problems facing children in poverty, does this model work?  Why couldn’t TFA recruit local, existing, experienced teachers around the country to be put on the pathway and given the benefits to later become a lawyer or policy guru or administrator or start a non-profit or whatever po-faced important non-classroom teaching dream job TFA sells its applicants on?

2 Responses

  1. LOVE this.

  2. G

    I know some amazing, local teachers that would do great things with TFA…:-)

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