To Whom does Teach For America Give Power and Influence?

A new peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Education Policy reveals the relationships between Teach For America (TFA) and federal charter school “reform” to interrogate how policy decisions are shaped by networks of elite individuals, organizations, and private corporations.

Mapping the Terrain: Teach For America, Charter School Reform, and Corporate Sponsorship provides evidence that TFA is a central and important node in a network promoting the rapid expansion of charter schools, a reform effort that amplifies the voices of an elite network of privately sponsored organizations and individuals, while potentially disenfranchising the voices of community members and educational professionals.

Each year, TFA places over 4,000 recent college graduates, the vast majority of whom have not studied education, in classrooms in low-income communities. TFA teachers are trained in a five-week summer institute before being hired as teachers of record for two years by school districts. TFA founder Wendy Kopp started the organization with the stated dual missions to fill teaching shortages in urban and rural districts and develop leaders for a movement to close the growing “achievement gap.”

Most research on TFA focuses on its effectiveness and impact as a teacher preparation program. Researchers have only recently begun to address the second aspect of Kopp’s mission as it has become increasingly clear that TFA seeks to develop a movement that is undergirded by the fundamental assumptions of market-based ideology, championing choice, competition, corporate sponsorship, and deregulation as the solution for educational inequity. This paper addresses these concerns empirically through an interrogation of the ways in which TFA serves to connect individuals, organizations, and funders with aligned missions to infuse education policy with market-based principles—namely charter reform.

Using policy network analysis, the authors create a visual representation of TFA’s key role in developing and connecting personnel, political support, and financial backing to create a powerful network of interdependent organizations and individuals who promote and implement the expansion of charter schools. They show that TFA alumni networks unfold at a local level by zooming in on a case study of New Orleans, which has served as an experimental laboratory for  charter-district reform, at the helm of which is TFA. The New Orleans case depicts the broad scope of connections within TFA’s alumni network and demonstrate that the organization is not only an important actor in charter school reform policy, but also a preeminent incubator for personnel who leave the classroom after two years (typically) and go on to quickly lead and staff existing and new pro-market reform organizations. Given the rapid expansion of charters driven in part by the strategic and extensively funded TFA network outlined in this article, it is readily apparent how TFA is influencing policy decisions are being made and to whose benefit. While TFA’s network is intricately connected, extremely powerful, and rhetorically committed to “equity and justice”, the impact of their promoted policies on students and communities must be evaluated with a critical eye for its actual impact on the children of our nation.

The full peer-reviewed article and network maps can be found here: Kretchmar, K., Sondel, B., & Ferrare, J. (2014) Mapping the Terrain: Teach For America, Charter School Reform, and Corporate Sponsorship. Journal of Education Policy.

[Update 3/19/2014: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, the publisher of this article, has banned Cloaking Inequity from providing a link to the article.]

See also UW-Madison alums decry Teach for America’s connections to charter schools

For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on TFA go here.

For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on Charters go here.

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