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TFA Alumni Principals Are the Harshest Critics of TFA Teachers

How successful are Teach For America corps members at creating classroom environments that support student achievement? The answer depends on whom you ask. Principals who were once corps members tend to judge current TFA teachers' performance more critically than other principals do, according to a recent survey. Charter school principals, many of whom are former corps members, are also harsher judges of corps members' performance. 

These findings come from the Teach for America 2017 National Principal Survey, conducted by Rand Corp. and paid for by TFA. The aim of the biennial survey, given this time to all principals employing TFA teachers in the 2016-2017 academic year, is to collect data that will help the national teacher-training program to strengthen school partnerships and improve its support of corps members. Of the more than 2,500 principals employing TFAers, about 1,100 responded to the survey. 

Since its founding in 1990, Teach For America has deployed more than 40,000 college graduates to disadvantaged schools across the country. Critics accuse the program of "deprofessionalizing" teaching by providing young people with a shortcut into the classroom: five weeks of training in the organization's summer institute. Another bone of contention is that recruits only commit to teaching for two years, a standard that critics argue doesn't encourage TFAers to stick around.

Still, the survey showed that the majority of principals (86 percent) were satisfied with TFA corps members. Eighty-two percent said they would hire corps members in the future, and 88 percent said they would recommend that other principals do the same. But the numbers tell a bit of a different story when you break them down by principal background.

The TFA Alumni Principals' View

Principals who went through the TFA program as new teachers were consistently more likely than non-alumni principals to rate corps members lower in the ability to create classrooms that support student achievement. (See the chart below.) They were also less likely than non-alumni principals to say that corps members helped their students develop positive social identities (64 percent versus 70 percent) or that they helped students develop the know-how to seek out relationships and resources (53 percent versus 64 percent). 

alum_chart_1.jpgThe survey revealed other differences between principals who were once affiliated with the teacher-training organization and those who were not. Alumni principals were much less likely to strongly agree that corps members had the skills and knowledge to succeed (9 percent versus 21 percent) or that corps members met or exceeded expectations (17 percent versus 26 percent). They were also much less likely to choose these reasons for hiring future corps members: instructional delivery, content knowledge, collaboration with parents, and support and training provided by TFA. (See the chart below.)  

alumni_chart2.jpgThe Charter School Principals' View

All in all, charter school principals had a less favorable impression of TFA corps members than non-charter school principals. Charter leaders were significantly less likely to agree strongly that corps members demonstrate a positive, collaborative professional culture in the school (41 percent versus 32 percent). What's more, charter school principals consistently rated corps members lower in their ability to create classrooms that support student achievement. (See the chart below.)

charter_chart.jpgAnd that's just the start. Charter principals were much less likely to strongly agree that corps members had the skills and knowledge to succeed (11 percent versus 23 percent). They were also significantly less likely to say that either corps members' instructional delivery (69 percent versus 80 percent) or the support and training by TFA was a reason to hire a corps member (51 percent versus 67 percent). 

What the Findings Tell Us

Why were TFA alumni principals and charter school principals the most critical of TFA corps members? The answer can't exactly be found in the data, but the researchers did posit a theory. Principals who are TFA alumni (1 of every 5 survey respondents) may expect more from corps members than other principals do. Their firsthand knowledge of the program could make them more critical. (Although their expectations may reflect a training model that has since changed. Read Stephen Sawchuk's article on TFA at 25 to learn how the program has evolved.) How do charter school principals fit into this theory? It's in the numbers. Forty-five percent of charter school principals are TFA alumni.  

To discover the actual source of dissatisfaction with corps members' performance, the researchers suggest that TFA interview or conduct focus groups with principals who served as corps members and with charter school leaders. 


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