Why is the North Carolina General Assembly continuing to fund Teach For America?
The state currently hands over $6 million dollars a year to this organization according to the May 2016 House Appropriations Committee report.
That same Appropriations Committee report stipulates these are to be “non-recurring” funds, yet tucked away on page 14 of House Bill 17 are instructions to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction not to reduce funding to three entities.
Those entities are Communities in Schools of North Carolina, Inc., Teach For America, Inc. and Beginnings for Parents of Children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, Inc.
Governor Pat McCrory signed House Bill 17 into law on December 19th, 2016.
Teach for America (TFA) has demonstrated that their organization is not the business of producing of quality teachers who stay in the classroom. Rather, their graduates seem to be flowing into D.C. offices, social justice outfits, elected positions or aides to elected officials and organizing Black Lives Matter protests.
Speaking of aides to elected officials, Governor McCrory’s former education aide, Eric Guckian, was a Teach for America Alum. Guckian left the governor’s office last year for Teach for America’s new social justice flavored offshoot:
“Guckian will become Vice President of Alliances for Leadership for Educational Equity, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering Teach For America (TFA) corps members and alumni to grow as leaders and help build the movement for educational equity. Guckian is a TFA alum having served as Executive Director for Teach For America, North Carolina. Guckian began his teaching career in New York City as a Teach For America elementary school science teacher.” – Source: NC Governor’s Office, July 14, 2015
The incoming North Carolina Superintendent, Mark Johnson, is a Teach for America alum as well. He didn’t stick around the classroom long either, spending two years at West Charlotte High before moving on.
Teach for America’s social justice offshoot, Leadership For Educational Equity (LEE) was a consistent part of Johnson’s campaign.
House Bill 17 was sponsored, in part, by Rep. Bryan (R-Mecklenburg, 88) — who happens to be a Teach for America Alum. LEE also helped Rep. Bryan with his campaign as he told WUNC in 2013:
But Bryan had more help from Teach For America than just a place to hang his hat for two years after college. During his campaign, Teach For America helped Bryan get elected – through a partner group called the Leadership For Educational Equity – or LEE. As a 501c4 organization, LEE can be more directly political than Teach For America.
Even noted Education Historian, Diane Ravitch thinks the organization is not the solution and wrote about their attristion rate and elected official’s fascination with the outfit:
The problem with TFA is that it grossly overstates its role in American education. This year, TFA sent 8,000 young people into high-needs schools; they agree to stay for two years; some stay longer, but most will be gone within three years.
This is a small number indeed when you consider that our nation has 4 million teachers. And our most compelling problem is attrition. Of those who enter teaching, 50 percent are gone within five years. These are terrible statistics. We need a stable teaching profession, not a revolving door. We need to recruit new teachers who plan to stay in teaching and make a career of it. New teachers should have a solid education and strong preparation for their work. They should have the mentors and support they need to survive the trials of the early years and to improve continuously.
TFA does not solve any of those problems and needs. Yet its spectacular public relations and communications strategy has encouraged policymakers in the federal government, the big foundations, and the major corporations to believe that TFA is “the answer.” But it is not. The more it succeeds in promoting itself, the more it sucks the air out of any public discussion about restructuring and improving the profession.
The numbers back Ravitch up. According to latest report on teacher attrition by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NC DPI), there were 449 Teach for America teachers employed in 2015. By 2016, 147 of them had quit.
That brings the turnover rate for TFA teachers to 32.74%. That is the highest attrition rate among the subgroups in the teaching profession in the state.
The NC DPI report also shows that out of the 147 that quit, 97 left because their 3 year contract had ended. In other words, around 65% of these teachers did not return after they fulfilled their 2 year contract. For an organization that has been around for 25 years, this is not a good track record.
Now consider that $6 million dollars. What if 32.74% of that money went out the door and didn’t come back? That’s $1,964,400 dollars or roughly the equivalent of 39 classroom teachers at the average of $50,000 a year.
What if that money went towards a North Carolina based teacher college? North Carolina has a number of schools with programs that would benefit and be strengthened by those funds being bled by program with a high turnover rate.
What it went towards teacher raises to fight attrition? That $6 million dollars translates to 120 teachers making $50,000 a year.
Questions like these should be considered by the legislature the next time the budget talks start up again.
Another question should be asked about this organization: How accurate is the data being provided about them? In researching this article, an attempt was made to look at the attrition history of TFA teachers in North Carolina over the last five years.
The Department of Public Instruction’s reports in this area did not give consistent numbers for TFA. A Freedom of Information Act request to NC DPI requesting the number of TFA teachers and their attrition information over the last five years was placed but the department was unable to fill the request.
Vanessa Jeter, Director of Communication and Information Services, responded to our request via and email generated by NC DPI’s ‘Let’s Talk’ portal:
We don’t have good data on that. In the “State of the Teaching Profession” report Dr. Tom Tomberlin did, he indicated that the TFA was probably not as accurate as it should be and will work with the NC TFA organization to improve the data.
That, of course, has not yet happened since we are in between reporting cycles. Additionally, we don’t have access to the actual contract data for TFA teachers. We assume that these teachers are on a two-year contract and if they leave before the end of their second year, they have left before the term of the contract. It’s probably a reasonable approximation, but I wouldn’t call it official.
So, by NC DPI’s admission, the data on TFA is not only incomplete, it’s likely not even accurate.
One final note — Teach for America is a financial behemoth. Their 2014 gross revenue was $294,928,420 million dollars, their end of year net assets totaled $437,830,876 million and their founder and chair, Wendy Kopp pulled in a cool $186,376 as the only salaried member of their board.