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Funders Heart TFA - But Not For What TFA Corps Members Actually Do

Lincoln Caplan provides us with some impressive new numbers in his recent Slate magazine article on Wendy Kopp's Teach For America: Almost $500 million raised, a goal of 4,000 new teachers per year by 2010, a 98 percent acceptance rate, annual revenues nearing $120 million (up from $10.5 million seven years ago). Caplan names TFA the country's largest reform effort in the K-12 education space.

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I've got no argument with any of that. But Caplan seems to buy into the idea that TFA is "leveraging" widespread school reform success. That I just don't see. I don't think TFA deserves all the credit for what TFA alums do after they leave. (I don't think TFA alums think so, either.) I don't think the direct impact of TFA's classroom corps members is nearly as long or strong as it could, despite the popularity of the program. And, I don't think that the cumulative effect of TFA alumni is much more than a drop in the bucket when it comes to improving public education, writ large.

To be sure, Caplan alludes to some of this. He refers to the TFA "fable." He points out that no one has yet written a major investigative take-down of the organization (someone has, actually, it just hasn't been published yet). He jokes that depending on who you talk to, TFA is either Google -- or Enron. But Caplan's main focus is how TFA is shaping up to be a powerful and self-sustaining nonprofit institution. Mine is whether TFA is -- or will anytime soon be -- shaping up to have anywhere near as big an impact on public education as its accolades (and revenues) suggest.
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