Big expansion, big questions for Teach for America

Teach for America gathers information on how its teachers are performing, but it does not release any data to the public. “We just don’t feel it’s responsible to show,” Kopp said. “There are so many flaws in our system.”

One consistent finding is Teach for America’s high turnover rate. According to the organization, 33 percent of its graduates are still teaching. But in many districts, retention rates are significantly lower. A study published last year from North Carolina, for example, found that after five years, 7 percent of Teach for America corps members were still teaching in the state.

Kopp and others at Teach for America note that turnover rates are high across low-income schools. But among teacher preparation programs, Teach for America has one of the highest.

She said requiring a two-year commitment is critical to attracting high-quality candidates. The main reason Teach for America teachers leave the classroom, Kopp said, is because they want to have a bigger impact. Sixty percent of the program’s graduates are still working in education, whether it’s in policy or for a nonprofit or government agency, according to TFA.

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Throughout their time with Teach for America, corps members are frequently told about the organization’s “theory of change.” It’s the idea that, no matter what field they ultimately enter, they will remain committed to fixing educational inequalities.

Many of the graduates interviewed for this story did leave teaching.

Hopkins, the Phoenix teacher, earned a doctorate in education and has focused much of her research on English language learners.

“But what if their theory of change would encourage their teachers to stay in the classroom as a form of change, as a form of leadership in the field of education?” she asked.

High stakes

At Holmes Elementary, much is at stake.

If the state isn’t granted a waiver from the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, the school could close unless it significantly improves math and reading scores on Florida’s standardized assessment.

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