Fewer Apply to Teach for America for Second Year in a Row

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Applications for Teach for America have dropped for the second year in a row after 15 years of increases.

Applications are down “by about 10 percent from a year earlier on college campuses around the country as of the end of last month,” reported an article in The New York Times. Kassondra Granata of Education World writes that the organization’s mission is to transform education in much the same way as the charter school movement has, and yet, the group has announced that its teacher corps for the coming school year could be down as much as a quarter. Two of its eight national summer training sites, in New York City and Los Angeles, will be closed.

“I want the numbers to be higher, because the demand from districts is extremely high and we’re not going to meet it this year,” said Matt Kramer, a co-chief executive of Teach for America. But, he added, “it is not existentially concerning.”

The program is known for its selectivity, accepting just 15% of its candidates last year. Kramer says standards will remain exactly the same in spite of the dip in applications. But some say the program seems a bit faded since it was in the spotlight in 1990 for beginning a crusade to teach needy children with a group much like the Peace Corps. Teach for America is a movement that has called attention to testing and standards, teacher evaluations tied to student test scores, and a more serious look at teacher tenure. But now, leaders of the program say the fewer applicants are because of the improving economy which has given excellent graduates more job opportunities.

Kramer disagrees that the organization’s philosophy is the reason for fewer applicants. Motoko Rich, reporting for The New York Times, writes that the teaching profession in general has been losing favor among college graduates. The number of those who enrolled in teacher training programs fell 12.5%, according to government data, between the years of 2010 and 2013.

As Teach for America grew, criticism came from teachers unions, schools of education, and some policymakers about the two-year commitment of time, which they say causes instability, and the requirement of just five weeks of teacher training. Teach for America has made changes in preparing their teachers and the group’s methods have given way to the creation of a number of alternate paths to becoming a teacher. Still, some college students are campaigning against the program.

“Teacher turnover really destabilizes a learning environment,” said Hannah Nguyen, a University of Southern California junior who aspires to be a teacher but has helped organize protests against Teach for America. “So having a model that perpetuates that inequity in and of itself was also very confusing for me.”

Enrique Calvo of Reuters writes that Teach for America is “the controversial education program known for supplying inexperienced college graduates to teach at often low-performing schools.”

“Having experienced the national recession through much of their adolescence, college graduates today are placing a greater premium on what they see as financially sustainable professions,” Kramer and co-CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard stated in the letter, according to the Washington Post. “Teaching and public service have receded as primary options.”

Beard and Kramer added that the decrease will hurt their school partners and students who are planning for 6,000 teachers, but the overall health of the program is good.