Teach for America and Teacher Ed: Heads They Win, Tails We Lose

Feb. 28, 2010

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1-2) 48–55. (January/February 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article is a brief analysis of the roots of TFA’s extraordinary rise as a major player in the world of educational reform and educational policy. In particular, the author focuses on the enormous marketing advantage that TFA enjoys over teacher education (TE) programs in recruiting students into the role of teacher.

Teach for America (TFA)

Teach for America (TFA) is a marvel at marketing, offering elite college students a win-win option: By becoming corps members, they can do good and do well at the same time. They can do good by teaching disadvantaged students for 2 years, and then they can move on to their real life of work with high pay and high prestige. They can do well by joining a very exclusive club, TFA, where only the best apply and only the best of the best gain admission.
The end result is a program that is enormously attractive to college seniors who are professionally ambitious as well as socially committed.

Teacher education (TE) programs are in a hopeless position in trying to compete with TFA for prospective students. They cannot provide students with the opportunity to do well, because they can offer none of the exclusiveness and cachet that comes from being accepted as a TFA corps member. TE has always offered students the chance to do good, but this prospect is less entrancing when they realize that TFA’s escape clause allows graduates to do good without major personal sacrifice. More than that, it promises to be a great career booster that will pay off handsomely in future income and prestige.

In short, the competition between TFA and TE is a case of “heads they win, tails we lose.”

Updated: Mar. 14, 2010