TFA application growth astounding

An Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal which, if you can get past the polarizing anti-union language, has some very interesting statistics on Teach for America:

Here’s a quiz: Which of the following rejected more than 30,000 of the nation’s top college seniors this month and put hundreds more on a waitlist? a) Harvard Law School; b) Goldman Sachs; or c) Teach for America.

If you’ve spent time on university campuses lately, you probably know the answer. Teach for America — the privately funded program that sends college grads into America’s poorest school districts for two years — received 35,000 applications this year, up 42% from 2008. More than 11% of Ivy League seniors applied, including 35% of African-American seniors at Harvard. Teach for America has been gaining applicants since it was founded in 1990, but its popularity has exploded this year amid a tight job market.

So poor urban and rural school districts must be rejoicing, right? Hardly. Union and bureaucratic opposition is so strong that Teach for America is allotted a mere 3,800 teaching slots nationwide, or a little more than one in 10 of this year’s applicants. Districts place a cap on the number of Teach for America teachers they will accept, typically between 10% and 30% of new hires. In the Washington area, that number is about 25% to 30%, but in Chicago, former home of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, it is an embarrassing 10%.

The sheer numbers here – 35,000 applications and 11% of Ivy League seniors – are remarkable. Growth of 42% in applicants should not necessarily result in an increase of 42% in slots, but one hopes that districts recognize the situation and act accordingly.

The changing economic climate has created a window of opportunity  to revitalize and expand the teaching pool. Never waste a good crises.

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