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Teach for America Recruitment Shrinks for Third Year in a Row

April 12, 2016

On April 12, 2016, Teach for America (TFA) President Elisa Villanueva Beard posted a letter on TFA’s website. Beard’s letter included the news that TFA’s recruitment is down for the third year in a row:

At our recruitment peak in 2013, 57,000 people applied to TFA, yielding a corps of 5,800. In 2014, for the first time in more than a decade, our recruitment season took an abrupt dip at our final deadline.

Recruitment in 2015 saw further decline, with 44,000 applications yielding a corps of 4,100.

The downward trend in recruitment continued through this year. We closed our 2016 recruitment season with 37,000 applicants. While we won’t know the final corps size for several months, we do know it will be smaller than last year’s by several hundred corps members. This will impact our school partners and our regions, some of which will choose to make organizational changes to ensure our costs are appropriate for our scale.

As it is, TFA is cutting back on its national and regional staff As Emma Brown of the Washington Post noted on March 21, 2016, many of the 150 TFA staffers who are being cut plan to depart on Friday, April 15, 2016.

Even though TFA is known as a major player in efforts to secure a place for market-driven reform in American education, Beard believes market forces are in part the reason that TFA recruitment is suffering:

Tackling educational inequity ranks below other issues that concern young Americans. Companies have become much better at marketing themselves to a socially conscious generation with rising college debt.

Still, Beard hints at a “toxic debate surrounding education.”However, Beard does not acknowledge TFA as part of the toxin. Instead, TFA’s critics are the toxin– despite the fact that increasingly more criticism is emerging from TFA alumni who see TFA as the corporate reform incubus and diversity displacer that it is.

Here is Beard’s spin:

Additionally, the toxic debate surrounding education—and attacks on organizations that seek to bring more people to the field—is undeniably pushing future leaders away from considering education as a space where they can have real impact.

The bottom line is that for TFA to exist, solid recruitment numbers is “the bottom line”– the fewer the recruits, the lower the profits.

In order to try to combat those lost profits recruits, Beard notes that TFA is changing its recruitment strategy to try to reach a more solid recruitment pool (as opposed to a larger pool that needs trimming by 90 percent) and to recruit college sophomores and juniors rather than targeting college seniors. As Beard writes:

We are changing how we recruit.

We’re rethinking how we communicate with prospects, and simplifying our application process. We’re doubling down on our recruiting investment by putting more resources toward appealing to prospects who will be competitive in our process.

We’re engaging college students as sophomores and juniors, instead of waiting until their senior year. Companies are shifting recruitment to ensure college students have internships and other opportunities to spend time experiencing what the job is like before they commit. We need to do the same.

However, in the end, it might be ill-advised for TFA recruitment to allow potential TFAers to become familiar too soon with the realities of being ill prepared to spend two years as a full time teacher based on TFA’s crash-course, five-week prep. It just might shock many younger co-eds into escaping TFA before signing on that proverbial dotted line– and it might also backfire on TFA as some change their majors to become legitimately-trained classroom teachers.

We’ll see as TFA tosses some cargo from the decks of its seemingly-sinking ship in 2016 and strategizes for improved recruitment numbers in 2017.

tossed ship


Coming June 2016 from TC Press:


school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Stay tuned.



Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

From → TFA

  1. That may because teachers teach children to take tests rather then think for themselves.

  2. I guess TFA can’t afford so many high salaries that they pay recruiters, one recruiter I know having received $160,000 per year.

  3. State governments use flawed test data to rate teachers. Mass media conducts teacher witch hunts with numerous and on going teacher bashing articles. Is it any wonder no one wants to join the profession?

  4. aagabor permalink

    Apropos TFA changing its recruitment strategy to “recruit college sophomores and juniors rather than targeting college seniors”: I just learned from some of my students that that’s exaclty what Goldman Sachs and other major investment banks are doing to stanch the loss of MBA recruits who are choosing other professions. Another case of edreformers following the lead of business?

  5. TFA recruiting sophomores and juniors? I feel sorry for the kids – including the alleged teachers who are still just kids. Of course that’s the military’s approach – get’m while they’re young and maliable. If they’re lucky they’ll survive untraumatized. If not? Oh well, seems to be TFA’s answer.

    Teaching is a hard job even with experience and training, but worse for sheltered youngsters. A young acquaintance was lamenting not having time to add TFA to her resume, when she ran into a recruit – a tiny, quiet woman who quit her her inner city TFA job after students threw chairs at her. TFA is either naive or indifferent.

  6. Teach for America … little more than camp counselors without the pine trees on their shirts.

    Imagine for a moment the instant promotion of butchers to surgeons … or deck builders to bridge engineers. Imagine Cub Scout troop leaders as military generals … or menu makers as the next classic authors.

    There’s something so odd about teaching … and it’s seldom mentioned. Everyone thinks they can teach. Everyone.

    Just because you taught your child to knot his sneakers in record time doesn’t make you the next Mr. Chips. Everyone is so seduced by Hollywood and tv-land that they actually think they could sail right into a classroom and every kid would sing the theme song “To Sir, with Love”. And the world would cry because of their greatness.

    II’m certain that five week preparation period offered by the Teach for America leadership is gonna arm those greenhorn teachers to the max. However, I’am certain of much more.

    Here’s the real ugly underbelly of Teach for America … and the ill-prepared idealists they let loose on lots of youngsters: the schools that take them on are almost always the poorest of the poor … because authentic teachers will not take on that challenge without proper compensation. These are the children most in need of real teachers … with real preparation … ready to change lives and manage all that such an effort entails.

    Please don’t dismiss the compensation issue. The public needs to understand that the same rewards that motivate others in varied professions also applies to teachers. They are not undisguised priests or ministers. They’re family men and women with all of life’s aspirations and obligations. If society wants the best-of-the-best in the most challenging circumstances, then this society should do what is done all across the world of work … pay the deserving salaries.

    To foist these ill-prepared teachers on the most disadvantaged children seems like an over-costly outrage in order to soothe some young idealist’s commitment to mankind. These young learners need our most seasoned professionals … even if the cost exceeds the usual. There is no greater long term cost to a society than a child ill-educated for the complexities of this intricate world.

    Teach for America is yet another “feel good” folly that’s become so voguey among those smugly satisfied with easy imagery rather than hard reality.

    Denis Ian

    • Donna permalink

      Oh, but there ARE teachers willing to work in downtrodden/dangerous neighborhoods. I know several young teachers who applied to Newark Public schools. They were not even given the time of day during Cami Anderson’s tenure as appointed/anointed Superintendent b/c she was busy putting veteran teachers in rubber rooms (while she herself was drinking at noon in a local bar — photographed doing so on several occasions) and contracting with TFA. It wasn’t a matter of teachers not wanting to work in Newark b/c the pay wasn’t enough–it was about Cami Anderson, Dave Hespe, Christopher Cerf, and Chris Christie wanting to bust the union, get rid of veteran/tenured teachers, and charterize/privatize the entire city. They are succeeding swimmingly, and moving city-owned real estate to private charters…all paid for with our tax dollars. Good, that.

      TFA–it is time for it to disband, and return monies to the taxpayers. Enough is enough. We’ve made Wendy, her husband, and their ilk quite wealthy. Our tax dollars pay those recruiter salaries, and the admin salaries, etc. TFA has millions of dollars in assets…time for this joke to stop.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. TFA is Shrinking Again | LWVeducation
  2. Featuring a Pointed Email Exchange Between a TFA Recruiter and College Prof | deutsch29

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