To : Wendy Kopp, CEO and Founder, Teach For America
From: Robert Pondiscio, The Core Knowledge Blog
Re: Taking TFA to the Next Level
First of all, congratulations on the huge surge in applications this year, and that New York Times editorial praising the impact of Teach For America’s teachers. TFA is hot, hot, hot! You’re well on the way to establishing the premier brand in education reform. Heck, you’re already there. That’s why you made this year’s TIME 100 list of the most world’s most influential people. It’s a good time to be Wendy Kopp and Teach For America. You’ve earned every accolade.
Because of all this success, you have built up a boatload of political capital. You’ve earned the right to innovate and really move the needle for our most disadvantaged kids. Now it’s time to break the mold and deploy your corps members in a way that could take TFA’s impact—already significant—to new heights.
You and I both know that the big knock on TFA is always going to be that its teachers are “two years and out.” Sure, you’ve got data to show that your smart, well-trained new teachers improve student outcomes. That’s great stuff. We also know that a third of corps members stay past their two-year commitment, and that’s even better. Even those who teach for just two years often go on to leadership positions, both in and out of education, deeply affected and energized by their experience. Bonus! But the more cache TFA gets, the more it’ll be used by some as a blue-chip resume item to catch the eye of recruiters on Wall Street, in the best law firms and corporations, and in top grad schools. Face it, that’s already an issue. These kids are no dummies, after all.
So here’s how we solve the “two and out” problem and kick TFA’s impact into the stratosphere: Instead of throwing TFAers into the worst teaching situations in the cities you serve, place them in some of the best, highest-performing schools. (Stick with me, Wendy, here’s the beauty part.) Place them in that high-functioning school for two years as pinch-hitters for some of our best, most experienced teachers, and send those master teachers to the same schools to which you’re sending TFA corps members now. We can call it the Teach For America Fellowship, and throw in a nice extra chunk of change to incentivize those master teachers without worrying about whether it’s merit pay.
Here’s why it makes sense:
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