Teach For America to see major layoffs in latest shakeup

Tech For America, once at the center of a heated debate over education reform, will cut more than a quarter of its staff by June.

According to a video shared with employees in mid-December, the organization will reduce its workforce by approximately 400 positions. Officials this week acknowledged the internal shake-up that occurred after the 2022 TFA had the lowest number of first-year teachers in more than a decade.

The organization anticipates its incoming pool will be larger and says it will focus more on alumni support and other programs, such as the Virtual Teaching Fellowship. But the layoffs are a sign that the organization is in limbo, as TFA is no longer hiring in 13 of the 51 communities it served a few years ago, such as San Diego and Austin, where the organization now focuses on “graduate innovation.” .

“We have to transform — we all do,” CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard told Chalkbeat. “It’s difficult, but we have to set our minds in such a way that we have the greatest impact on our children. Period. End of sentence.”

Spokeswoman Erin Bradley said the organization will have a smaller, more nimble team of about 1,000 employees by summer.

The need for teachers is especially high as schools across the country continue to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, and demand for TFA services has not faded. But in recent years, those demand factors have also disrupted TFA’s recruiting efforts, said Melissa Arnold Lyon, associate professor at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.

“At a time when districts are facing significant staffing challenges in a very tight labor market, one would think that a recruiting and training organization to help districts fill hard-to-fill positions would be especially helpful,” she said. “But instead of TFA coming in and helping districts with these staffing challenges, TFA is shrinking.”

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The reorganization will allow the company to become a “total talent partner for our districts and schools,” Beard said, connecting graduates with jobs.

Since its inception in 1989, Teach for America has gained strong supporters and fierce critics. Its opponents argue that its structure — a relatively short curriculum and a two-year commitment — is inadequate. Critics say that by relying on the ambition and idealism of its recruits over preparation, TFA contributes to high-needs students experiencing a revolving door of educators.

Its allies have hailed it as a groundbreaking program to equip school districts struggling to fill teaching roles many of whom might not have considered becoming educators. Numerous studies have shown that her teachers have a positive academic impact, although researchers have also noted high turnover.

The organization has expanded over the past decade and says that roughly half of its educators since 2014 are people of color.

It also shrank from its recent peak after the Great Recession, when a weak labor market boosted TFA applications. in 2013 the organization received approximately 57,000 applications and recruited nearly 6,000 new employees to schools.

Over time, this number has steadily declined. Until 2022 new corps members dropped to less than a third of that number.

TFA isn’t the only one struggling to recruit. The number of traditional teacher education programs is also declining, and there is growing evidence that interest in becoming a teacher in the US has declined. Meanwhile, the pandemic has made recruitment efforts even more difficult.

However, the organization has seen positive recruiting signs this year.

This week, TFA president and chief operating officer Jemina Bernard said the organization had “about 2,000 arrivals this year for 2023.” corps members” is 25% more than in 2022. number of teachers. Beard said there was also a 30% increase this year.

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The organization also pointed to its Ignite Fellowship, a virtual program that connects undergraduate mentors with schools, as another example of growing recruitment. That program grew 100% in its second year, sending 1,500 new undergraduate teachers to 74 schools, Bradley said.

TFA still receives interest from major philanthropists such as MacKenzie Scott, who recently donated $25 million, and Oprah Winfrey, who donated $1 million.

However, public audits and financial statements show some signs that TFA has faced financial difficulties. Last fiscal year, the nonprofit reported more than $274 million. USD operating expenses, but only about 197 million. USD revenue. The value of its funds and investments has also fallen sharply in recent years, which Beard attributes to its sensitivity to the stock market.

The TFA insisted it remains a “financially strong and healthy organisation”, citing a cash balance of around £200m. USD and additional more than 200 mln. USD of cash and operating reserves.

Addressing staff this week, Bernard acknowledged that the organization will need to ensure that what we spend and what we collect are fully aligned in the coming financial year.

The recent layoffs aren’t the first time the organization has eliminated positions. According to its latest fiscal audit, TFA spent about $4.4 million in fiscal year 2021. USD for severance and related expenses due to “strategic reorganization”. Redundancies also took place in 2016.

Jack Schneider, a professor of education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, attributes TFA’s astonishing rise — and its outsized role in the school improvement debate — in part to its embodiment of the reform philosophies of the 1990s and 2000s. But as education policy changes and schools struggle to help students recover from the pandemic, the staffing debate seems irrelevant, he said.

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“The battle right now is between people who want to completely privatize education … and people who are fighting for the existence of public education,” Schneider said. “TFA in this context feels like rearranging the berths on the Titanic.”

Now, some districts that once relied heavily on TFA have turned to other means of hiring teachers.

For example, one rural county in eastern North Carolina, according to a New York Times report in 2015. relied on TFA employees, who made up about 20 percent. Today, Warren County Schools Superintendent Keith Sutton isn’t sure the district has a single member left. He would like more, but was told there were none.

“If I can get a few years out of recruiting, I’m glad I got it,” he said. “I find it much more difficult to recruit high-quality candidates to a small, rural community that doesn’t have the lights, glitz and glamor that Raleigh, Durham or Charlotte do.

Three TFA teachers left at the end of last school year, but the district was unable to replace them, Sutton said. He added that the district is working with historically black colleges and universities and other universities, as well as other teacher education and international education programs, to diversify its recruiting efforts.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be where we were before, where we were so dependent on TFA,” Sutton said. “But I’d like it to be our choice.”

Patrick Wall contributed reporting.

Julian Shen-Berro is a reporter covering national issues. Contact him at [email protected]


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