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Study Finds Teach For America Teachers Stay in the Classroom Past Initial Commitment

Posted: May 21, 2008

The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education released today new research showing that Teach for America (TFA) corps members teach in their low-income placement schools considerably longer than the TFA two-year obligation. As the first and only nationwide, longitudinal study of Teach For America corps members’ voluntary career decisions, the research also revealed that African American and Latino corps members stayed in teaching longer than their Asian or White counterparts.

“Most people assume that TFA teachers are in and out of their schools in just two years. It turns out that many choose to stay in their low-income schools and in teaching much longer,” said Project Director and Professor Susan Moore Johnson, M.A.T.’69, Ed.D.’81. “For them, teaching is more than a stint of public service. As with all new teachers, however, workplace conditions and pay prove to be crucial in their decisions to stay or leave.”

TFA is a national program that places high-achieving college graduates as teachers in some of the nation’s most challenging schools and requires them to teach for at least two years. Since 2007, TFA applications have increased by approximately 39 percent and the program will place 3,700 new TFA teachers into the classroom this fall.

The study’s author, Morgaen Donaldson, Ed.M.’97, a Harvard Graduate School of Education advanced doctoral student and Project research assistant, surveyed all TFA corps members who entered the classroom between 2000 and 2002, which garnered a 62 percent response rate and a sample of 2029 individuals.

The results were as follows:

  • 43.6 percent of TFA corps members voluntarily remained in their initial low-income placement schools for more than two years and 14.8 percent stayed in those placements for more than four years.
  • 60.5 percent voluntarily remained in the teaching profession for more than two years and 35.5 percent stayed in teaching for more than four years.
  • 13.2 percent of TFA corps members’ transfers and 2.4 percent of their resignations from the profession were involuntary.

Additional findings:

The survey also examined trends based on the race of TFA corps members, which revealed that Black/African American and Latino corps members were at a lower risk of voluntarily resigning from the teaching profession than Asian or White corps members. For example, after their second year of teaching, 24.4 percent of Black/African American corps members and 32.0 percent of Latino corps members voluntarily resigned, compared to 37.5 percent of Asian and White corps members. Black/African American corps members who were themselves related to a teacher had a particularly low risk of voluntarily leaving teaching. After their second year of teaching, 21.2 percent of Black/African American corps members with a teacher relative resigned, compared with 29.1 percent of those without such a relative.

“The fact that African American and Latino corps members tend to stay in teaching longer than their White counterparts is very important, given the nation’s shortage of teachers of color and increasing numbers of children of color in our schools,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson’s survey also provided insight into why TFA corps members chose to leave teaching. The top reasons TFA corps members said they left teaching were to pursue a position other than K–12 teacher (34.93 percent), to take courses to improve their career opportunities within education (11.79 percent), to take courses to improve their career opportunities outside of education (10.26 percent), and poor administrative leadership at their school (9.83 percent).

In teaching, where pay continues to fall below other fields with comparable requirements, Black/African American corps members were more than twice as likely than their non-Black/African American counterparts (7.30 percent vs. 2.63 percent) to cite “better salary or benefits outside teaching” as the main reason they left.

About Project on the Next Generation of Teachers:
Based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers is a multiyear research project that addresses critical questions regarding the future of our nation’s teaching force. The Project, led by Professor Susan Moore Johnson, examines issues related to attracting, supporting, and retaining quality teachers in U.S. public schools. For more information, please visit http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~ngt/index.htm.

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