Is this part of Teach for America’s rejuvenation effort — or a PR stunt?
Things aren’t going all that well for Teach for America, what with recruitment significantly down and the bloom off of its rosy cachet, so it is now trying to rejuvenate, so to speak.
This story by my Post colleague Emma Brown spells it out, noting that applications have fallen 35 percent during the past three years and that the organization is working to find new ways to attract recruits and putting a broader mission front and center.
What’s that broader mission? Social justice, apparently. How is it getting out the word? Any way it can, including on social media with some rather unusual advertising. In fact, one former TFA member calls its a “PR stunt.”
Formed 25 years ago by Wendy Kopp from an idea she developed in a thesis at Princeton University, TFA is famous for recruiting new college graduates, giving them five or so weeks of training in the summer, and then placing them in high-needs schools, all on the theory that smart young people can, presto, be great teachers with little training and that such a program could help end teaching shortages and student achievement gaps.
TFA became the darling of the pro-market school reform crowd, taking in millions of dollars from wealthy education philanthropists and the Obama administration. What drove critics crazy, along with the minimal training, was that TFA asked its corps members to commit to only two years in a classroom, building in a revolving door that many educators say was unhealthy for students with high needs who need consistency. The two-year commitment was part of TFA’s overall goal, as Kopp said, to create an army of educated people who would take powerful jobs in American society and advocate for public education. As education historianJack Schneider wrote:
TFA’s message about promoting national political and economic aims was equally clear. The organization’s early recruiting letters, for instance, noted that “our nation faces a number of internal threats that call for the help of our brightest young minds.” Implicitly referencing the decline of American manufacturing and the increasing importance of a college education for maintaining economic competitiveness, they asserted that “one thing on which business and government leaders from different industries and political parties agree is that the state of the educational system is threatening America’s future.” As the organization’s first recruiter at Harvard University noted, TFA’s effort to “make America stronger” was “clearly patriotic.”