Teach for America, an educational program that has sent thousands of graduates to teach in some of the most troubled schools in the nation, "is suddenly having recruitment problems," the New York Times reports.
Since its founding 25 years ago by Wendy Kopp, a Princeton University student, Teach for America
has sought to transform education by working with the charter school movement. Hundreds of program graduates have ended up on Capitol Hill and in school systems around the country.
The group has strongly advocated rigorous academic standards and student testing, along with teacher performance evaluations closely linked to student test scores.
Last year, Teach for America, a highly selective program, accepted approximately 15 percent of applicants. But recruitment has fallen off. For the second consecutive year, the number of applicants for the program has dropped, ending a 15-year growth trend.
Teach for America has notified schools that the size of its teacher corps in the fall could be down by as much as one-fourth. It has closed two of its eight summer training sites, located in Los Angeles and New York City.
Senior officials with the group say they have no plans to lower standards to compensate for the decline in applications.
Leaders of the group saytheir biggest recruiting problem is that a rebounding U.S. economy is providing more high-paying employment options for prospective teachers.
But other factors may also be at work.
One is that interest in teaching in general may be waning, with the number of student candidates in teacher training programs falling by more than 12 percent between 2010 and 2013.
Another is that some students have grown disillusioned with corporate donors who support Teach for America, who include Wells Fargo, Comcast NBCUniversal and the Walton Family Foundation, run by the family that founded Walmart.
And some students – who were initially attracted by the prospect of entering teaching more quickly and avoiding the expensive, time-consuming process of going to a teachers college after graduation – concluded that they would benefit from additional training before entering the classroom after all.
Despite its problems, however, education experts say Teach for America trains more new teachers than any other source in the United States.
Many school systems say the program is highly successful in bringing minority teachers, many from low-income backgrounds, into classrooms. They say Teach for America has proven to be critical to ensuring that classrooms are staffed.
In Warren County in eastern North Carolina, a poor rural district of 2,460 students, 20 percent of teachers came from Teach for America.
The county is located in a remote area of the state, making it difficult to recruit teachers, school officials said.
"If we didn’t have [Teach for America], we would really have some very serious problems," said Ray Spain, the Warren County schools superintendent.
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