TFA applications plummet for 2015

You may have seen posters advertising for yet another deadline to join Teach for America (TFA), but while the organization keeps recruiting, other students are being turned away. Even students who have been accepted to the two-year teaching position have recently faced blockades, with two Colby students unable to interview in Maine after those offices closed recently. Having to commute to Boston not only places strain on those individuals who are now forced to travel a greater distance, but also may pose a new deterrent for Colby students looking into the organization as an option for post-undergraduate work.

According to the New York Times, after 15 years of continual growth, 2015 is the second consecutive year of a decline—applications are down ten percent since last year—in applicants. Those who oppose Teach for America claim that a number of factors could contribute to this decline. Not only does the movement support standardized testing, but student scores on those standardized tests have an impact on teacher evaluations. Other students have lost faith in the timeline for the program, not feeling ready to enter a classroom after five weeks of training while that criticism has come from teachers’ unions from the outset. Some even view this decline as the inevitable end to Teach for America, which some have viewed merely as a temporary fix to a long-term problem.

Still, Teach for America has sent students to locations where there simply are not enough teachers. And Teach for America boasts diversity and approval from school principals, citing the following statistics on their website: “the ratio of TFA teachers identifying as people of color is more than double that of teachers nationwide…TFA corps members represent more than 850 colleges and universities…95 percent of principals working with TFA corps members say these teachers make a positive difference…1 in 3 TFA corps members applied as graduate students or professionals…most TFA alum teachers work in traditional district schools, not charters, and TFA ranks in the top 1 percent of nonprofits for fiscal transparency, efficiency, an reporting quality.”

Of their training program, TFA states “Corps members’ pre-service training is part of a research-based, experiential two-year continuum of training, support, and professional development. Each corps member is assigned a coach who regularly observes lessons and offers feedback on all aspects of leading a classroom, from lesson planning to voice inflection.”

But it appears that even with the organization’s efforts to train, the criticism against TFA has been taking a toll on applications: the Washington Post reported that criticism “was a factor that influenced 70 percent of candidates who ultimately chose not to apply.” And it may not only be criticism against Teach for America that has an impact. The improving economy has given recent graduates more options in the job market with more competitive salaries, and teaching overall has become a less popular career path.

And Colby students forced to go to Boston for interviews are not the only ones who will be displaced. In Dec. 2014, TFA decided to close its New York training cite due to the lack of applicants. Those corps members will have to train in Philadelphia instead.

While that may be inconvenient, Chalkbeat, NY cited Charissa Fernandez as stating that the program is focusing on quality rather than quantity, attempting to better train teachers and find ways to keep those teachers in the classroom after the two year mandate.
On the whole, past employees on the website Glassdoor stated that the work/life balance was tough and that the program is not for the faint of heart, something many teachers—whether part of TFA or not—can relate to. This presents the dilemma: what will it take to make permanent change in education?

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