Teach For America has become one of the most sought after post-graduation options, but a recent Stanford University study finds discrepancies with participants’ motives to be part of the two-year educational corp.
The study “Assessing the Effects of Voluntary Youth Service: The Case of Teach For America” found participants who completed the two years of service were “less active in areas of civic involvement, charitable giving, and even voting,” compared to student who were dropped out of TFA or never enrolled in the program.
Doug McAdam and co-author Cynthia Brandt, both from Stanford University, published their findings of TFA participants from 1993 through 1998 in the December 2009 issue of Social Forces, a University of North Carolina publication.
Kaitlin Gastrock, TFA regional communications director, said a deeper look at the study actually aligned with the program’s mission statement. Overall McAdam’s study found participants had more of a commitment to education reform and advocacy.
“A growing body of rigorous research demonstrates the effectiveness of Teach For America corps members as classroom teachers,” Gastrock said in an e-mail interview.
She included research studies such as the 2008 Urban Institute study and a 2004 Mathematica Policy Research study that show TFA helps close the achievement gap in low-income students.
The program can foster overall success in students, but participants may be using TFA as a stepping-stone in post-graduation plans.
“One out of 10 Teach For America alumni had not considered the teaching profession before joining Teach For America,” Gastrock said. “[Although,] about two-thirds of our 17,000 alumni continue to work in education.
Jami Perez, a senior international relations and Spanish major, applied to TFA as something to do after June graduation.
“I have no idea what I want to do,” Perez said. “I thought it would be something to hold me over.”
TFA recruitment director for UC Davis MacKenzie Moritz said students apply to the program because of genuine interest in helping education in America.
“Young people these days are taking time to evaluate what is really important to them and are seeing an opportunity to pursue more meaningful careers than they may have considered previously,” Moritz said in an e-mail interview.
Senior political science major Chintan Desai will be living in the Mississippi Delta for the next two years with TFA. For him, the program is all about pursuing education as a career.
“I think education is the civil rights issue of our generation,” Desai said. “I wanted to do something meaningful with my degree instead of going to [graduate] school or law school. [I wanted] something that would benefit the community.”
The opportunity to do something meaningful through TFA is only for the select few. The 2009 application period saw a record number of applicants, Gastrock said. Over 35,000 students applied, including 11 percent of all seniors at Ivy League universities. The acceptance rate hit 15 percent – about 4,100 college graduates will be teaching in 35 U.S. regions this year.
At UC Davis, two percent of the senior class applied to be part of the corps.
With this competition against the top students in the nation, the application process becomes rigorous, which Gastrock said is all for the benefit of the program and schools.
“The competitive application process allows Teach For America to accept candidates who are most likely to drive high levels of achievement in their classrooms,” she said. “Our large applicant pool also results in a diverse corps of teachers.”
Desai said the competition is positive as it finds the college students who are serious about committing two years of their lives to some challenging situations. Perez also found the application process thorough. After the online application her phone interview lasted almost an hour, questioning her past experience to extreme detail.
Regardless of participants’ intentions and qualifications, Moritz said the focus is really on improving the system.
“When you think about it, it’s extremely inspiring that so many people are applying to teach in our nation’s low-income communities,” he said.
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at email@example.com.