Teach for America (TFA), a well-known organization that has received federal funding in the millions and much more than that from private donors, is having problems in the recruiting department.
TFA hires young people who are fresh out of college, puts them through a five-week summer boot-camp, and then places them in some of the most needy schools in the country, according to Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post.
Strauss’ Post colleague Emma Brown reports that the organization is eliminating 15% of its staff nationwide so that its regional offices will have more independence. Diane Ravitch, an education activist and scholar, blogged information from a person she said was a TFA insider.
The person who was “in-the-know” said that this was the second year in a row that TFA has laid off employees, which up until 2015 had never before occurred. This year, however, more than staff employees were let go. The Office of the Chief Diversity Officer position, said the insider, will not exist after September, but this news was announced only a few months after a new diversity chief was welcomed on board.
The current executive vice president, Massie Ritsch, who has been CEO Villanueva Beard’s chief assistant and was previously a senior member of the US Department of Education working under former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, will be leaving, He directed communications at the DoE, which is what he has been doing for Beard.
Terrenda White, a former TFA corps member and now an assistant professor of educational foundations, policy, and practice at the University of Colorado, wrote an article titled “Teach For America’s Paradoxical Diversity Initiative: Race, Policy, and Black Teacher Displacement in Urban Public Schools.” In it, she writes that the diversity gains made by the organization have proven to be problematic for teachers of color. The number of teachers of diverse ethnicity has decreased dramatically in the same cities where TFA has grown.
The erasure of 250 jobs and the addition of 100 both come following 200 job eliminations in 2015. These changes are taking place as TFA celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, writes Laura Moser of Slate.
TFA is calling the layoffs a “simple reorganization.” And in its announcement letter, it adds that the changes are a way for the organization to support its regions across the country. Over time, the TFA national office has worked at giving its 50 regional offices more control over certain responsibilities such as fundraising. But over the past two years, TFA has been unable to recruit enough teachers.
Ravitch continued in her blog by suggesting that the organization is failing:
“Sources say several senior leaders are ‘voluntarily’ resigning amid alleged rumors of mismanagement and questionable business practices by the nonprofit organization.”
A press release published by TFA said:
“… we determined that the essential work of diversity and inclusiveness should sit squarely with those closest to and supporting the people who are most directly impacted” instead of in one central office.
Beard said in an article written by Amy Scott for Marketplace that the changes in the organization are not because of a lack of money. She explained that TFA is in a strong financial position. The downsizing of the central office will allow regional offices to hire more staff members and become more self-directed.
Beard says the work that TFA offers is entirely local.
“As the economy has improved, fewer and fewer new college graduates look at Teach for America as such a great option,” said Michael Hansen, deputy director of the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy.
One method the organization plans to use to increase teacher numbers is to begin its recruiting at an earlier point in time since by the time students graduate, most seniors have locked into the career they want to pursue.
Former TFA member Jameson Brewer co-edited a book of critical essays written by former TFA teachers, and concluded that:
“[TFA is] laying off, they’re shrinking, they’ve shut down institutions, so I think the writing is really on the wall for them.”