Rethinking Retention (TFA)

by necs2010

Meaningful change is happening right there.

**Also, sorry if this is disjointed. I wrote it on the car ride home.**

One of the biggest complaints thrown at Teach For America is that the two year commitment and retention rate (debated by TFA and anti-TFAers) hurts education and wholly devalues the education profession. Wading into this argument is EducationNext, a Harvard education think tank, that just released a study investigating the impact TFA corps members have on the broader movement of bettering public education in America.

What EducationNext found was that in the work histories of founders, co-founders, and top management team (TMT) employees of 49 influential and entrepreneurial educations organizations (like KIPP, New Leaders for New Schools, and Uncommon Schools)  TFA lead the pack in being listed across biographies and resumes.

What I found significant and illuminating was the conclusion that the authors’ established: “Finally, our research suggests the value of rethinking how TFA and its alumni have been studied in education and also how we think about retention.” The authors’ argue that the debate around Teach For America’s retention rate should not be seen through the lens of “Teacher-in-the-Classroom,” rather what impact TFA Corps Members have in the field of education after their 2 years are up.

The authors’ wrap up their findings by posing a series of questions meant to challenge our traditional views of retention. These are questions I would like to pose to any of my 50 or so page viewers that feel the desire to chime in.

Another intriguing question is how to weigh the impact of a single Mike Feinberg, Mike Johnston, or Michelle Rhee. Is their impact equal to that of having 100 teachers stay another year? Of 1,000 teachers staying another five years? Is it worth having thousands frequently depart classrooms if it increases the likelihood that a single game-changing entrepreneur—a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates—will emerge? Conventional debates about retention and TFA teacher effects may start to seem trivial when we compare the potentially enormous impact of a few such individuals.

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