After James Ceronsky's article in the The American Prospect "Teach for America's Civil War" went viral last week, the Free Minds, Free People conference in Chicago gained national attention for its roundtable "Organizing Resistance to Teach For America," comprised mostly of Teach For America (TFA) alumni and current TFA corps members With a surplus of highly qualified, well-educated teachers seeking employment, Teach For America needs to refine its vision and find new ways to reshape public education in the 21st century.
Teach for America, founded in 1989 by Wendy Kopp (and based on her undergraduate Princeton thesis), offers graduates of prestigious colleges the opportunity to teach for two years in an under-served urban or rural school district. The program has grown significantly since its inception from six to 26 geographic regions and nearly every state has at least one school district contracted with Teach for America.
TFA has glamorized the profession of teaching, something that is admirable in a late 20th century American context, a time when the economy was stronger and well-educated college graduates were less likely to consider a career in education, let alone working with at-risk students. In the 1990s, Teach for America put its talented and enthusiastic young teachers in the classrooms where no one else wanted to teach. It was an imperfect system, but it filled a real need.