The share of new teachers stepping out of Teach for America training and into New York City classrooms is continuing to shrink.
The organization, which places new teachers in hard-to-staff public schools, said Tuesday that it will send 230 teachers into city schools this fall. That’s down from 400 teachers last year and the lowest number since 2010, a decline that reflects the recruiting difficulties Teach for America has faced this year as the job market for college graduates has improved and criticism of the organization’s preparation has persisted.
“We are certainly feeling it,” TFA New York director Charissa Fernandez said of the national recruitment challenge, adding that the group is also shrinking to allow TFA to improve the support it offers to city teachers. “Our partner schools are feeling it.”
In other parts of the country, other job prospects from the improved economy has led to teacher shortages, a trend detailed by the New York Times this week. In New York City, the latest recruitment numbers for Teach for America come as the organization continues to reorient itself, putting a new focus on encouraging teachers to stay in the classroom beyond their initial two-year commitments and recruiting more people of color into its ranks.
All told, the city will have about 5,500 new hires this fall, 100 of which will come from TFA, according to education department spokesman Jason Fink. NYC Teaching Fellows, another alternative certification program, will account for roughly 1,000. (Another 20 incoming TFA teachers will work in community-based organizations as part of the city’s expansion of pre-kindergarten, and an estimated 100 more will teach at charter schools.)
TFA has placed teachers in New York City schools for 25 years and is now the country’s top supplier of public school teachers. Over that time, the organization grew in prominence by attracting top college graduates to work in education with a clear formula: An intensive summer training program, followed by a teaching position in a high-poverty school and a two-year commitment. As recently as 2008, TFA was placing more than 500 teachers in New York City schools at a time, though the size of its presence has fluctuated.
Applications to Teach for America have declined in the past two years after a 15-year growth streak. Still, 44,000 people applied for the 4,100 open slots nationwide this year, which a spokeswoman noted was twice as many applications as they received in 2007.
Its growth has also fueled intense criticism. TFA corps members are more likely than teachers who come through other programs to stop teaching after two years, and detractors say that the organization doesn’t do enough to reduce the steady churn in schools that rely on TFA teachers. Meanwhile, independent research has found that TFA teachers are equal to, or do slightly better than, their non-TFA counterparts in boosting student learning.
“I don’t know if it’s an outright rejection of the TFA model, but I’ve certainly noticed an uptick in former TFA-ers who are speaking out about it,” said Joshua Starr, former superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland and the current CEO of PDK International, a professional association for educators. “The reputation might be a little bit more tarnished than it has been in the past.”
Responding to that criticism has been a focus of TFA’s new leaders, who have begun new initiatives to improve training and increase teacher retention and diversity.
Two-thirds of TFA’s incoming New York City teachers identify as people of color, up from 60 percent last year, making this year’s group the most diverse in the organization’s history. That’s also more diverse than the city’s overall teaching force, which is about 58 percent white, while 70 percent of students are black or Hispanic.
Having a smaller group of incoming teachers will allow TFA New York to focus on supporting alumni and improving the experience teachers have in their first two years, encouraging more of them to stay in the classroom, Fernandez said.
“Once we have rolled some of those changes out, we want to grow again,” Fernandez said.