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After 25 Years, Teach For America Reflects Back, And Plans Future

As it celebrates its silver anniversary, Teach for America says it’s learned a lot and is reexamining its recruitment strategy.

Elisa Villanueva Beard is the CEO of Teach for America. She grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and served as a TFA corps member in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1998.
Elisa Villanueva Beard is the CEO of Teach for America. She grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and served as a TFA corps member in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1998.

This year, Teach for America turns 25-years old. During that time, Houston has been one of its oldest partners.

More than 270 TFA corps members are teaching this year in local districts, including HISD, Spring Branch and YES Prep. And across the country, the organization counts some 50,000 members and alumni.

As it celebrates its silver anniversary, the group still faces criticism about the best way to train new teachers.

News 88.7 Education Reporter Laura Isensee recently talked with Teach for America’s CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard about the group’s history and its future.

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

  • What does being “clear-eyed” about what it’s going to take to move the needle mean: “So we have lots of progress, but we are still so far from moving the needle, and so when I say being clear-eyed is understanding the complexity of this work and also the long-term nature of the work.”
  • If education reform has contributed to the school-to-prison pipeline: “It is not a fair statement to say that reform has created or exacerbated the school-to-prison pipeline. I think that that has existed for many, many years. No doubt that there are some schools that are not doing their job well enough and it’s causing the dysfunction and the injustice that’s being referred to, but I would not attribute that to the reform work.”
  • On criticism about TFA’s teacher preparation and turnover: “Some of the criticisms, I think, are worth stepping back and really reminding ourselves of the world that we live in. For one, I would say I’m excited that we have moved into a world where, hopefully, we are not all obsessed with inputs only, instead focused on outputs.” 
  • On recruiting, which was down about 10 percent last year: “The trend has not changed. We are in an incredibly challenging context. The context of our economy has improved, us being able to ensure that we’re getting ahead of that and able to attract the next generation of corps members, you know, it’s a tough context. And with the sort of criticisms of the change efforts broadly, I think the polarization of the conversations and the vitriol just does not help. You know, people don’t want to run into that. And so we’re managing how to work through all of that and ensure that our strategy from a recruitment perspective is incredibly sound. And what we have started to learn is that we’ve got to start recruiting people so early on, even before senior year. So we’re just reexamining our entire strategy. So it’s going to take a us a few years to get back to the scale that we were at a few years ago.”
  • On the idea that Teach for America’s core mission is not teacher training, but leadership development: “Our whole theory of action, though, is that it’s going to take leadership at every level because we believe this is a systemic issue. I personally believe if we went and recruited a million excellent teachers to the classrooms today, we wouldn’t solve our problem of educational inequity, because I think it’s a systemic problem, I don’t think teachers are the problem. I think that you need to fix this at every level.”

 

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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