Wendy Kopp Doesn't Care About Classroom Dropouts

I had the chance yesterday to hear Wendy Kopp speak to a group of TFA and school reform folks in Chicago, and -- this may be news to no one but me -- it struck me that Kopp and TFA are not only an amazingly successful and positive-thinking outfit but also that they frankly may not care about the retention of their teachers, an issue that frustrates so many educators.

Sure, they want their teachers to make it through the two year stint they've signed up for, and of course to have a positive impact on student learning. But there isn't a lot of imperative from what I could make out for TFA to make sure that TFAers make it past two years, or stay in the classroom. Instead -- this is the "secret" plot -- Kopp seems to be focused on the diffuse impact of the alums, who frequently remain in education as school leaders, reform group folks, and policymakers.

In this sense, TFA isn't really just about what it was originally designed to do --bringing smart if untrained teachers to urban classrooms. It's a movement, a broader effort hidden inside a popular and concrete initiative. I wonder if everyone knows that but me, and what it feels like to the TFA corps members when they realize that their efforts -- often heroic -- aren't really what's most important to the organization that recruited them. Teaching in the 408 was right.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

But Alexander, this IS what TFA was originally designed to do - it was one of Wendy Kopp's twin goals for the program. And you make it sound like this might be shocking news to TFAers. I'm a TFA alum, and I can tell you that I heard this message throughout my two-year commitment - in my initial interview, at institute, at regional orientation, and in all the emails we got about alumni career placement services. I think this "secret" mission is probably somewhere on the TFA website, too, but I'll leave it to someone else to look for it. I'm now working for the leader of a large urban school district, btw, so hopefully Wendy is happy... ;)

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree that there is a two part mission - and it is made clear to TFA applicants, corps members, and alumni. We're you're wrong is in the statement that teacher's efforts aren't what's most important to the organization. TFA is so focused on gains in the classroom that it, at times, drives teachers crazy getting them to document the successes of their students. The dual mission - teachers making an impact in the classroom AND a broad network of alumni working for change - can't happen unless TFA teachers are making an impact in the classroom during their two years (and, 60% of the time, longer than that).

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with both prior posts. I was in TFA when they were still getting their act together. I also agree, Alex, that they may not have their eye trained hard enough on teacher preparation. Too many of their recruits still go in unprepared, unsupported, or end up burning out. Making a difference in needy schools certainly does require innovation, but not at the expense of wisdom.

12:05 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Whenever this newly discovered fact is presented to TFA apologists they inevitably counter with: "But that's the model! They're s'posed to leave!" As if the problem was we didn't understand that this was the goal all along. "Ooohhh! It's the model. Well, that's okay then. Do whatever you want so long as you write a mission statement about it."

9:58 PM  

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