Is Teach For America the New I-Banking?

Award winning journalist Donna Foote spent a year in the Teach for America trenches in RELENTLESS PURSUIT and now considers whether public service jobs are now gaining the lustre once associated with Wall Street.

Some interesting facts to consider:

* For the past several years, TFA has been one of the top recruiters on some 400 college campuses across the country. Despite its offer of miserly salaries and two years of grueling hard work, it has remained competitive with the Morgan Stanleys and Lehman Brothers of the World, attracting some of the best and the brightest among America’s top graduates. This year, TFA has the field almost to itself. With the collapse of wall street and the economy, TFA is swamped with applications–up 50% over last year’ s bumper crop which included 11 % of Yale seniors,10 % of Georgetown graduates and 9% of Harvard’s class of 2008. Feb 13, 2009 marks the last of 4 application deadlines and TFA expects total applications to come in somewhere north of 40,000 –for some 4,000 spots. Already, 8% of all Princeton seniors have applied; so have 25% of the African American seniors at Harvard. TFA has instituted a waiting list.
*TFA is not only attracting elite college grads. It is aggressively recruiting top flight staff to grow its capacity. Today, it is recognized as one of the best run social entrepreneurships in the country. Its staff has grown from 250 in 2005, to 1200 in 2009. And it is still growing. Just as Business Week and Princeton Review rank the organization as one of the best places to launch a career post-college, it is a perennial winner of the Monitor Group’s social capitalist awards and charity navigator gives it 4 stars for fiscal management. Run like a Fortune 500 company, it has created a culture of accountability, aggressively rooting out non-performers and recruiting high achieving talent.

*The idea behind TFA is that in the short run, smart graduates will coax significant academic gains out of poor kids. Longer term, TFA expects its alumni to lead the charge on education reform. That is beginning to happen. DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is a TFA alum who is shaking the education establishment by encouraging teachers to forego tenure in exchange for higher salaries linked to student achievement. The founders of the KIPP charter schools are also TFA alums. They too have shown that the actual proves the possible–i.e. poor kids can achieve at the same academic levels as their wealthier peers.

Donna will be appearing on Talk of the Nation next Tuesday (3/17)


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