Huggy, Snuggly, Cuddly: Teach For America and Mathematica


Wanna Cuddle? A new study paid for by the U.S. Department of Education enlisted the services of Mathematica, Inc., a research organization that has studied Teach For America and its subsidiaries, consistently for over a decade.[1] The reports have one thing in common: Teach For America and  the growing network of charter schools affiliated with TFA , end up with glowing reports of corps member effectiveness.

The most recent study released this month is focused this time, on the “gains” made by Teach For America’s Secondary Mathematics teachers. The report released by Mathematica, Inc., notes that gains attributed to TFA teachers, in secondary math education, which includes middle and high school teachers only teaching math, equated to two months of additional math instruction for students in mostly low-income schools. Julian Vasquez Heilig took issue with their conclusions here on Cloaking Inequity. See New Mathematica TFA Study is Irrational Exuberance

There are few huggy, snuggly, cuddly coincidences between Mathematic and TFA. A review of Teach For America’s Business Plan (2010-2015) entitled, “Building and Enduring Institution” notes how taxpayers’ funds were indirectly used to promote the current study, as Mathematica, Inc.’s $5 million dollar fee, to study TFA teachers, was paid from funds garnered through the U.S. Department of Education. According to Teach For America’s Business Plan narrative:

Teach For America was successfully awarded a “scale up” grant as part of the Department of Education’s “Investing in Innovation” competitive grant program, and will receive $45 million over four years (an additional $5 million will be granted to Mathematica, Inc. to conduct a study examining the effectiveness of our corps members as we scale.) (p. 24).

Consider this: A research firm is generously paid to study an alternative teacher education program, TFA, over and over again with funds procured by the U.S. Department of Education, every time.[2] Hmmmmm. Huggy, Snuggly, Cuddly.

And, that’s not all.  What does it mean when a research organization maintains an ongoing relationship with both the Department of Education and TFA? What would you think if you knew that the TFA network also enlisted the services of Mathematica, Inc. for its charter school math assessments?  TFA charter subsidiaries, KIPP Academies and YES College Prep Public Schools employ the services of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. for their outside, independent consulting, too. (TFA 2012, p. 8). From the Mathematica, Inc. website:

New Leaders for New Schools (NLNS) is implementing an innovative initiative called the Effective Practice Incentive Community (EPIC). The program offers incentives to educators in schools with significant student achievement gains to help document and disseminate their practices—to address the need for information on what is working in some urban public schools across the country. EPIC is funded by the Teacher Incentive Fund program of the U.S. Department of Education. In 2006, New Leaders, together with four partners—Memphis City Schools, the District of Columbia Public Schools, Denver Public Schools,and a consortium of over 100 charter schools nationwide—received four grants to implement EPIC. Mathematica is evaluating the EPIC initiative in Memphis, DC, and the charter consortium. We are also identifying effective schools and teachers in these schools

Is it coincidental or does it appear slightly curious or professionally irregular (or huggy, snuggly, cuddly), that the same research firm is responsible for multiple studies across the TFA landscape without a concern for bias, favoritism, or subject selectivity, when the identical reporting agency, that generates millions of dollars annually from repeat clients in the same educational network, is hired repeatedly?

And, speaking of repeat clients, both TFA and Mathematica seem to share a similar client/donor list. Philanthropic clients of Mathematica, Inc., generous funders of Teach For America, have also been known to fund TFA’s effectiveness studies. [3]

From the looks of things, Mathematica’s reports are prepared for the same government agencies that oversee teacher effectiveness, and Teach For America including the Department of Education. [4]

Mathematica, Inc. also conducts hired research for The U.S. Congress, The U.S. Budget Office, and The Corporation for National Community Service (CNCS) –– the agency that offer TFA corps members an $11,000 AmeriCorps stipend for two years of teaching poor children, which is considered ‘service.’ This comes in addition to their teaching salary. Most graduate schools that partner with TFA, double that government stipend when corps members commit to graduate school (and yes, Mathematica, Inc. conducts research for a long list of research one universities).  The government stipend is not offered to non-TFA teachers who actually commit to teach for more than two years in under-resourced communities, and see their work as professional career choice and not ‘service’ when directed to particular children in America.

Ongoing associations with corporate, policy-making, and philanthropic clients might trigger philosophical alliances— might these be viewed as huggy, snuggly, cuddly?  It seems as if Mathematica, Inc. is the go-to research provider for philanthropists who donate to TFA, the charter schools that are offshoots of TFA, the government agencies who select researchers for TFA  policy studies, the universities that partner with TFA and benefit financially from a stream of corps member tuition dollars, and the U.S. Congress. Wow! That’s some huggy, snuggly, cuddly network of clients that pay multi-million dollar fees to Mathematica, Inc. So, can someone really do the math (mathematica. hehehe) here, and perhaps the ethics, while you’re at it?

Who, within the TFA network, does Mathematica NOT prepare reports for? From the looks of things, Mathematica Policy Research seems to garner repeat business from agencies that fund studies, and also fund TFA and its charter franchises. But, what if government contracts were automatically awarded to particular providers annually, without adhering to an independent bidding process?  Every few years shouldn’t the Department of Education, who is funding studies with taxpayer monies, stipulate that an independent research agency be hired, so that the public might trust the results, without wondering whether or not “researcher vested interest” (aka huggy, snuggly, cuddly) presents?

Can one assume that when researchers garner funds over consecutive studies from the same network, they can remain independent? Every business entity recognizes the importance of retaining generous and loyal clients, who provide significant revenue.  Repeat business warrants keeping the customer satisfied. Big bucks are paid for studies that offer credibility from agencies who are procured to conduct the assessments.  The public relations, recruiting, lobbying and marketing is strategically timed and inundates media outlets, donors, policy-makers, and prospective applicants, and tends to steamroll one distinct message –– TFA teachers score big, all others fail ––while obscuring studies conducted by truly independent researchers or TFA critics.

The third huggy, snuggly, cuddly coincidence seems to be tied to this studies’ release. The timing coincides with an upcoming Congressional vote on whether to confer highly-qualified status on teachers-in-training. Among them the 6,000 novice TFA teachers who are currently teaching in high poverty communities across 46 regions of the United States for the 2013-2014 academic year.  The upcoming vote, on the Continuing Budget Resolution is due soon.  That resolution was slipped into a budget bill passed in the wee hours of December 17, 2010, as the 110th Congress, readied for a holiday recess and a throng of incoming, newly elected first term House Members in January 2011.  For three years, Teach For America’s teachers have continued to be viewed as “Highly Qualified” HQT, under that resolution imposed by Congress. But, how does teacher quality and budget bills coalesce, anyway? It’s all about economics, my dear, retorted my professor, who served as a longshoreman on the New York waterfront as a youth.

Teach For America’s organization is well aware of two things: The importance of funding, and how timely studies support TFA’s lobbying efforts. In fact, TFA directs millions of dollars to lobbying to influence members of Congress to agree that TFA’s corps members are highly qualified. How many millions, you ask? Well, Teach For America paid, $760,285 during the one year period October 1, 2009-September 30,2010. (p. 4).[5] Teach For America’s Schedule C, Form 990, Part IV, designates what that lobbying activities conducted by the organization were directed towards:


Teach For America emphatically states that they direct money to contact and lobby legislators, their staffs, government officials, and legislators. Would it be safe to assume that currently, funds paid for purposes of lobbying elected officials is in the millions of dollars? Mathematically speaking, of course and the Mathematica, Inc. study supported that goal.

Curious huggy, snuggly, cuddly coincidence number four:  How does the study of TFA’s mathematics teachers effect kids, when more than 90% of TFA’s corps members are assigned to non-math assignments. How do kids fare in the elementary, special  education, and literacy classes, when placed consistently in the classrooms of minimally trained TFA teachers, who arrive with less than 16 hours of practicum in general education prior to assuming their roles of teacher for populations of children who are English Language Learners, Autistic, or struggling to read?

Currently a coalition of 90 agencies that advocate for children, are opposed to the HQT continuance, that is up for a Congressional vote this fall.  The advocates for children note that CM’s (Corps members) who are placed as the teacher of record in classrooms, are doing so without minimal qualifications, experience and guidance to do their jobs.  And while the Mathematica, Inc. study is meant to shed new light on TFA corps member abilities, and support the organization’s massive lobbying efforts, the stakes are higher than ever for children.

Thus, one of the most disconcerting aspects of Mathematica’s problematic recent study relates to its potential to effect important decisions. The U.S. Congress deemed TFA as “highly qualified” overturning the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision (reaffirmed in 2012) that teaching ‘interns’ were not highly qualified and were broadly placed in classes with high numbers of poor, minority youth (Affedlt, 2011). How are our most vulnerable children, expected to receive a fair and appropriate public education if huggy, snuggly, cuddly alliances prevail over justice?  Is it really true that  ‘who you know matters’?

The Mathematica, Inc. huggy, snuggly, cuddly relationship with TFA and their network suggest that possibility.

Want to know about Cloaking Inequity’s freshly pressed conversations about educational policy? Click the “Follow blog by email” button in the upper left hand corner of this page.


Affeldt, J. (October 18, 2011). Congress must demand effective teachers for all students. EdSource Today.

Carter, K. & Gonzalez, L.  (1993). Beginning teachers’ knowledge of classroom events. Journal of Teacher Education, 44, 223-232.

Hamilton, M. L. (1993). Think you can: The influence of culture on beliefs. In C. Day, J. Calderhead, & P. Denicolo (Eds.), Research on teacher thinking: Understanding professional development (pp. 87-99). London: Falmer.

Saltman, K. J. & Gabbard, D. (2003). Education as enforcement: the militarization and corporatization of schools. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Teach For America (2010-2015). Building the Movement to Eliminate Educational Inequity Teach For America Business Plan 2010 – 2015

Veltri, B.T. (July 2008). Teaching or Service? Education and urban society. 40 (5). Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, California.

[1] “We are conducting studies of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), a national network of open-enrollment college preparatory charter schools in underserved communities; charter management organizations (CMOs), nonprofit organizations that start and manage new charter schools; a national set of charter middle schools that hold admissions lotteries; and charter school outcomes in several

[2] Mathematica conducted a five-year impact evaluation of a version of TAP as implemented in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The Chicago pilot program, dubbed Chicago TAP, was funded by a $27 million Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Mathematica’s study is the first evaluation of a TAP-based program to use random assignment to study the program’s effects on student achievement. It is also the first evaluation of a TIF-funded intervention that uses random assignment.

[3] “The 
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation,
Joyce Foundation,
KIPP Foundation
Lumina Foundation for Education, Inc., 
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, School Choice Foundation, Venture Philanthropy Partners,
The Walton Family Foundation, William T. Grant Foundation,
W.K. Kellogg Foundation,”

[4]“ Mathematica’s clients include: The U.S. Department of Education -Institute of Educational Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation, National Center for Education Research, National Center for Education Statistics,Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Planning Evaluation and Policy Development, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.”

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Dr. Barbara Torre Veltri, Associate Professor in the College of Education at Northern Arizona University (USA) is the author of the award-winning book, Learning on Other People’s Kids: Becoming a Teach For America Teacher, (Information Age Publishers, 2010).

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19 Comments on “Huggy, Snuggly, Cuddly: Teach For America and Mathematica”

  1. September 21, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    Nice stuff. One addition:

    How did so many members of the press — many of whom were sympathetic to TFA in their reporting — manage to put out their stories on the same day that the Mathematica report was released to the public?

    Did they get the study early under an embargo? Which allowed them to read it, prepare their reports, then file their stories immediately on the heels of the public release?

    If so, they gamed the debate. You and I and anyone else who would be inclined to be critical would be late to the party. We’d be reacting to the message that was already out there.

    I’ve asked several reporters about this via social media — no response yet.

    • September 21, 2013 at 11:26 am #

      Mainstream and even progressive media appear to align with TFA initiatives, as high-profile media outlets support TFA. The organization sends out timely press releases meant to bolster TFA’s brand on a continual basis. Usually at the start of the academic year, every single TFA region (Kansas City, Memphis, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, etc. will run a story about TFA’s new teachers who arrive to teach in their schools.

      And same PR feed goes out with The Mathematica release, and it coincides with lobbying on the hill, as well as recruiting now on campuses– it’s definitely mechanized.

      It’s beginning to unravel, though because even the Associated Press ran a story last year, entitled, “Has Teach for America betrayed its mission?” USBRE87F05O20120816?irpc=932.

  2. September 21, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Question are there other randomized trials/studies being done for the 90% of TFAers who don’t teach secondary math? Can we find out?

  3. September 21, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    It’s like when all the pictures in the high school year book are of the people who were on the yearbook committee.

  4. HispanEduca
    September 22, 2013 at 12:20 am #

    Both are immoral. TFA/Mathematica AND the US Department of Education! I expect anything from private ventures to get the most out of the government, but we need to keep a closer eye on the Department of Education “It’s Christmas all year” policy of giving away taxpayer money.

    This shows Arne Duncan is not to trust (well, has any of you trusted him before?).


  5. September 22, 2013 at 2:11 am #

    Good work. I suggest (if you are continuing to unveil more huggy, cuddly goings on) that you do an POIA for the US Dept of Ed Contract and Grants Office that issues the Grants to TFA with subcontracts to Mathematica. As a DOE Grantee, TFA is bound to follow strict rules for contracting under the DOE grants. Based on experience I had as a Program Grant Analyst (pretty old but probably still relevant) the Federal Grants Office does not routinely check these subcontracts to see if proper procedures were followed (of particular interest is the use of non-competitive award procedures, which are not to be used unless specified or pre-approved by the federal grant program). Such awards might be challenge able in court or by appealing to Administrative Law Judges associated with the government agency.

  6. September 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    Reblogged this on Crazy Crawfish's Blog and commented:
    Thoughts on too close relationships between Mathematics, TFA and their mutual donors and connections.

  7. John Young
    September 24, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  8. October 8, 2013 at 4:51 am #

    Excellent work, JVH. Add to the cuddle party a non-curious and non-critical media.

  9. October 22, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    I don’t think you are only playing devil’s advocate. There are lots of alternative reforms spread throughout Cloaking Inequity. For one, check out Community-Based Accountability. Also check out the post 100 year war. That frames the discussion about the differences between types of reformers.

  10. Cristian
    October 23, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    We cannot expect the schools (and their teachers) to solve all the deep seated social problems created by a stratifying and rampart capitalist system (at least what we have made of the capitalist system due in great part to greedy and power hungry individuals—could we really say greed and quest for power is just “the nature” of well-meaning and intending human beings?), but we must be critical of the unintended consequences of a “we are the saviors” and a “we have an answer” mentality (if we are ethical beings, that is)—which still sounds to me too much like a neo-colonial (and profitable!) type of project camouflaged under the banner of “good intentions”… I mean, think about the difference between these kinds of project (many of them disguised as socially responsible endeavors) and one in which one would be facilitating or helping to create the conditions for self-determination and not conditions for reliance and dependency on a particular model promoted by those who own the means of production (of “good” teachers in this case). It is only logical that those who own the means of production would not be prone to create conditions which will bring about the destruction of their enterprise—I mean if you sell milk to hungry children, you will need more hungry children to sell milk to… You will not sell a cow to the children’s family because this would be a self-defeating endeavor. But this is the difference between promoting self-determination and creating conditions for reliance/dependency while making things better…

  11. October 23, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    You’re correct, I wasn’t really only playing devil’s advocate to the specific article. I suppose to be very narrowly focused on the “Huggly, Snuggly, Cuddly…” article I would simply say that just because TFA or KIPP or YES or whatever other ed reform entity hires Mathematica to do a study, it doesn’t mean there is something nefarious afoot. Mathematica has a unique staff that delivers a unique service, and they do studies for lots of organizations. They also make available the data from their studies, so with the massive amount of peer review that takes place in the research realm of education I’m not too concerned with some massive “cooking of the books”. If Dr. Veltri sees some huge conspiracy theory, fine… conspiracy theorists are usually very zealous in their line of thinking. Occasionally they’re right, but often are proven to be paranoid nutjobs or tunnel-visioned shills..

    On the larger issue of my original post of educational traditionalists vs. ed reformers, I’m not sure I’m really buying the substance of your “alternative ed reforms” that I’ve read through on Cloaking Inequity and other sites. Self disclosure — I’m not a fan of high stakes testing, I deplore teaching to the test, I’m not surprised by the cheating scandals that have resulted from the high stakes environment, I’m not too keen of merit pay, full spectrum implementation of trigger laws is much more complex than the average citizen realizes, I would like to see more art & music & P.E. teachers in schools, I would like to see more guidance counselors and nurses in schools, I would like run-down facilities to be updated, I would like to see cutting edge (not bleeding edge) educational technology in all schools, I would like to see reasonable class sizes in all schools, I would like to see free, compulsory, opt-out pre-school for all children 6 months-5 years old nation wide, I’m all for making the teaching profession a much more prestigious/coveted/valued profession with new teachers being paid on the level of new engineers/architects/doctors/lawyers and being given significant professional development pre-service and trans-service, etc. etc. etc. etc. In many ways, I sound more like an advocate for Diane Ravitch than a supporter of TFA or KIPP.

    Here’s the rub though. Even though I’d be much happier if our educational system looked more like Finland than what we have, the bottom line is that at this point in time our educational system “is what it is”. Our country took centuries to produce the societal inequities that exist, and our school systems took decades to morph into what we have now. Our education system is like that Titanic, a huge, unwieldy, hard to adjust mega-ship that takes along time to change course. I lived in East St. Louis for years — let me describe the crisis that was/is East St. Louis neighborhood and public school systems. Most kids are born out of wedlock, into high poverty families, no male role models, significant physical abuse, high sexual abuse rates, marijuana in high percentage of homes, gang violence is a daily occurrence, alcoholics and drug users wander the streets [Jackie Joyner Kersee even noted this in her autobiography], pimps and prostitutes walking daily, multiple legal brothels protected/supported by law enforcement in the city, police/firefighters/politicians constantly entangled in corruption schemes, etc. etc. etc. Less than 10% of kids at elementary, middle, and high school levels are on grade level for math or reading. The teachers are for the most part, bottom of the barrel — no one wants to come teach at East St. Louis for fear of being stabbed or mugged outside of the classroom, and for being bullied and disrespected inside the classroom. The Praxis scores of the teachers is pitiful, and dedication to the craft even worse (teachers scurrying for their cars immediately at end of the day). For decades the graduation rate was <50%, with those graduating probably functioning at a 7th/8th grade level. In this type of community, how is community based accountability going to work — you don't have enough competent, skilled, educated role models to make it work. The entire community is almost past a tipping point. I don't believe that some community based accountability model will help a broken community like East St. Louis solve a problem, that in my estimation, is unsolvable solely by the people organic to the community. That is why I'm a supporter of some of the ed reform ideas — we need organizations like TFA to come into East St. Louis schools and see first hand the dysfunction, and also see the dysfunction in the community itself. We need people like Dave Levin and Mike Feinstein to come into East St. Louis and completely shatter the current educational paradigm. This is a crisis in East St. Louis and other highly impoverished areas that the community itself is unable to address (in my opinion), and we need outside help, out of the box thinking, game changing mindsets to save our kids now. Not something that might transform things 15 years down the road.

  12. October 23, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    :-) There’s a whole cavalry out there that hasn’t even been tapped yet !

    Dr. Barbara Torre Veltri Associate Professor Social Studies & Elem. Education (480) 221-1826


  13. October 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    You’re an exceptionally eloquent writer with philosophically substantive thoughts on self-determination vs. reliance/dependency. A few observations on your post:

    1. “We cannot expect the schools (and their teachers) to solve all the deep seated social problems…” I suppose this is a philosophic divide I share with you and others. I do believe that a targeted, focused, well-designed program [don't care if insiders or outsiders design it, don't care if insiders or outsiders fund it] that includes pre-natal care, parental counseling and education, free pre-school, thoroughly revamped K-12 experience, free access to arts/music/athletics, frequent access to and contact with adult role models, etc. etc. etc. can drastically change the trajectory of lives touched, and ultimately change entire trajectory of communities and generations. My gut tells me this type of change can’t happen solely organically in completely dysfunctional communities like East St. Louis, and is completely feasible if an organization like KIPP or Noble were to come into our community to help us change. If others don’t believe this approach can “…solve all the deep seated social problems…”, no problem. I believe it can address a lot of issues our community alone isn’t equipped to handle, and will ultimately promote generational change.

    2. “We must be critical of the unintended consequences of a “we are the saviors” and a “we have an answer” mentality…” I’m all for transparency, and I’m not naïve to “we are the saviors” opportunists in a multitude of areas. The Iraq war, Halliburton, KBR, etc. scarred us all recently enough. But our community is in a crisis, and I don’t care if the people who have the answers to help fix it come from inside our community or outside our community. I don’t care if the funding to help fix it comes from U.S. tax dollars or private funds from Bill Gates or Donald Fisher. Whether an organization is characterized as “we are the saviors” zealots or “we promote self-determination” collaborators, if they actually help turn our schools around, help our kids graduate high school with college-ready skills, help increase college/trade-school acceptance rates, etc., I want them in our community. I’m not concerned with how others characterize their motives. We’re in a crisis and we need results. Period. Many highly successful charters (I’m not naive to the fact a lot of charters underperform) do have their high school graduates turned college graduates return to teach in their own communities, tutor and coach in their own communities, work in health care in their own communities, start small businesses in their own communities. I would suggest this is a form of self-determination — previously marginalized youth given an opportunity to change trajectory in life who return to their communities as adults to give a hand-up to others.

    Again, while I admire your eloquence and philosophically substantive thoughts, I’m not sure you understand viscerally the crisis our communities are in. There is a difference between having the debate philosophically in a “Ethics 101″ university class or on an education blog, and actually living out the crisis on a daily basis. We need help now, not in 15 years.


  1. “Does Not Compute”: Teach For America Mathematica Study is Deceptive? | Cloaking Inequity - September 23, 2013

    […] Professor Barbara Veltri discussed here on Cloaking Inequity the huggy, cuddly, snuggly interactions between Mathematica and the TFA network over the past decade. I also asked Dr. Francesca A. Lopez, a […]

  2. New Mathematica TFA Study is Irrational Exuberance | Cloaking Inequity - September 25, 2013

    […] P.S. For another technical evaluation of the study see “Does Not Compute”: Teach For America Mathematica Study is Deceptive? Wonder about the interaction between the TFA network and Mathematica over the past decade? See: Huggy, Snuggly, Cuddly: Teach For America and Mathematica […]

  3. Debate Rages: Response to TFA’s supposition that new brief is “retreat from evidence” | Cloaking Inequity - January 9, 2014

    […] inconvenient evidence, the authors finally deign to discuss an actual study. Ignoring the 2013 Mathematica Policy Research study commissioned by the Institute for Education Sciences wouldn’t be good form for scholars, and […]

  4. Top 10 Reasons to Join Teach For America | EduShyster - February 3, 2014

    […] Since these results are critical to garnering major donations, it is essential they are produced by unbiased researchers with advanced skills in manipulating data. By encouraging corps members during institute to change […]

  5. Top 10 Reasons to Join Teach For America | Edushyster - February 4, 2014

    […] these results are critical to garnering major donations, it is essential they are produced by unbiased researchers with advanced skills in manipulating data. By encouraging corps members during institute to change […]

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