NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 28, 2009

Teach for America (TFA) -- the privately funded program that sends college grads into America's poorest school districts for two years -- received 35,000 applications this year, up 42 percent from 2008. More than 11 percent of Ivy League seniors applied, including 35 percent of African-American seniors at Harvard.

So poor urban and rural school districts must be rejoicing, right?  Hardly, says the Wall Street Journal: Union and bureaucratic opposition is so strong that TFA is allotted a mere 3,800 teaching slots nationwide, or a little more than one in 10 of this year's applicants. Districts place a cap on the number of TFA teachers they will accept, typically between 10 percent and 30 percent of new hires.

This is a tragic lost opportunity, adds the Journal:

  • TFA picks up the $20,000 tab for the recruitment and training of each teacher, which saves public money.
  • More important, the program feeds high-energy, high-IQ talent into a teaching profession that desperately needs it.
  • Unions claim the recent grads lack the proper experience and commitment to a teaching career; it's true that only 10 percent of TFA applicants say they would have gone into education through another route, but two-thirds stay in the field after their two years.
  • But some districts may be wising up; Mississippi's education superintendent has asked TFA to double the size of its 250-member corps in the poor Delta region and is encouraging local superintendents to raise hiring caps.
  • Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has also sharply increased the percentage of corps members among its new teachers, to 250.

But why have any caps?  TFA young people should be able to compete on equal terms with any other new teaching applicant.  The fact that they can't is another example of how unions and the education establishment put tenure and power above student achievement, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "Teach for (Some of) America," Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2009.

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