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Cloaking Inequity: Sneak Preview: How Citizens Can Hold Teach For America Accountable

Following the comprehensive 2010 National Education Policy Center (NEPC) TFA brief (See Teach For America: A review of the evidence (The research that TFA loves to hate…), we received many requests for input from parents and educators across the nation regarding the impact of TFA in their community. Many of the requests came from communities in the 8 states to which TFA has expanded in recent years, such as Seattle. It is important to note that the numbers of TFA teachers, attrition rates of TFA teachers, cost to communities amongst other aspects do vary by community.


To address this variation in the upcoming 2013 NEPC brief we have created a template for citizens to conduct research on Teach For America in their own communities. We will suggest that stakeholders in communities across the U.S. conduct citizen research to understand the various aspects (cost, attrition, achievement) of TFA in their districts and schools. The vast majority of records relating to TFA in each community are available via public records requests. In preparation for this brief, we created a template list of public information that individuals in regions across the US can request from districts to better understand the breadth of TFA. Follow Cloaking Inequity (enter email in the upper left hand corner of this page) and check the NEPC website for the 2013 brief and the new template. It will be released soon.

However, we did have a word limit for the 2013 NEPC TFA brief, so some of the text ended up on the cutting room floor. During the design process for the new Citizen Research Template, we piloted the template by submitting public information requests to the Houston Independent School District, Dallas Independent School District and San Antonio Independent School District. Houston and San Antonio readily provided the information about TFA in their districts. In response to the same request, the Dallas Independent School District relayed our request through their legal team and asked for several thousand dollars for the same information that was provided for free by Houston and San Antonio. We amended our request to ask for existing data. Dallas then took about three months to respond to our amended request— which incidentally we believe is a violation of the Texas public information statue. Considering our pilot study, it appears likely that some districts will be more cooperative than others relative to public information requests that inquire about TFA.


We reviewed the documents provided by the three large, urban districts in Texas. As an example of the types of information that a public information request will yield, we have highlighted some of the facts gleaned from our Texas district requests. For example, in terms of financial information, it appears from the contracts that we obtained that TFA allows inequality in the amounts that they charge in fees to districts for TFA placements. In Houston, each TFA teacher costs the district $2,000 annually in finder’s fees, while in Dallas and San Antonio the cost is $3,000 per teacher annually. In San Antonio, TFA “finder’s fees” total about $483,000.  Also, even though TFA teachers have less experience, the San Antonio’s expenditures for TFA teachers are the same per FTE as for non-TFA teachers, $59,513. (Note: There will be allot more information on TFA’s cost in the upcoming brief)

The dependence on short-term TFA teachers varies from community to community. The data gathered from the public information requests show that the penetration of TFA teachers into the largest urban districts in Texas is substantial. The district data revealed that 30% of all new teachers hired in San Antonio ISD were TFA. In Houston, 9% of all teachers were TFA.


The TFA contracts obtained from the Texas districts via the public information requests also include some interesting provisions. For example, in the 2010 NEPC TFA brief it was posited that “there is substantive evidence that TFA is not exclusively focused on filling teaching positions for which other qualified candidates cannot be found.”[i]The Houston TFA contract we reviewed specified that the district must attempt to place corps members in schools with more low-income students, but that the districts may not limit its request to ‘critical’ or ‘shortage’ subjects or grade levels.”[ii]

HISD shall make reasonable efforts to assist Teach For America candidates in securing teaching positions across the full range of grade levels and subject matters offered by Teach For America, and may not limit its request to Teachers credentialed in so-called “critical” or “shortage” subjects or grade levels. Page 4, Section I. D. 2.


Also stated in the 2010 NEPC TFA brief was that the practice of laying off experienced teachers and replacing them with inexperienced TFA teachers— or of “laying off people to accommodate Teach For America”— had been reported in Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Chicago, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., among other cities.[iii]A review of the Houston ISD contract reveals why TFA teachers are not typically laid off— it’s contractual:

…HISD shall use its reasonable best effort not to terminate any Teacher from his/her teaching position in the event of a reduction in force (RIF), layoffs, “leveling”, or other elimination or consolidation of teaching positions within HISD.”  Page 6, Section I.H

The Houston contract also stipulates that there is a no money back guarantee when hiring TFA teachers. In other words, district and communities must hire TFA teachers at their own risk. Once TFA has received its hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from Houston, the funds are non-refundable. TFA apparently does not want to legally stand behind their claim of 2.6 months additional learning because they make no “representation” of a TFA recruits’ potential success.

HISD hereby agrees and acknowledges that Teach For America does not make and has not made any representation and warranty as to the fitness of any candidate presented by Teach For America…” Page 11, Section IV.D

Mr. Universe competition

Stay Tuned. The Citizen Research Template will soon be available in the upcoming 2013 NEPC TFA brief. For all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on TFA click here.

This post was written in collaboration with Dr. Su Jin Jez.



[ii]Education Professional Services Agreement between TFA and Houston Independent School District, dated 11/5/12.

[iii]Miner, B. (Spring 2010). Looking Past the Spin: Teach for America. Rethinking Schools Online, 24(3). Retrieved June 2, 2010, from

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Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Western Michigan University. His research and practice are primarily focused on K-...