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Gary Rubinstein’s Blog: Why I Opted Out of the TFA Alumni Survey

As a Teach For America alum (Houston 1991), I am invited each year to participate in the annual TFA alumni survey.  This year I decided to ‘opt out’ of it since I don’t need them misusing my information to help them gain any more money and power that they have already undeservedly secured.

For example, just a few days ago TFA released a ‘research’ paper in which they contradict everything we know about TFA attrition and claim that, what do ya know?, TFA teachers don’t have low attrition at all.  According to their new analysis, about half of TFA alumni teach for more than 7 years!  (I’ll analyze this report in a future post.  I’m first awaiting some relevant data from TFA if they’re willing to share.)

Perhaps the most ubiquitous statistic that TFA infers from the annual alumni survey is the one that says that 2/3 of all alumni are still in education.  Here it is quoted as far back as 2004.  For the past ten years this number hasn’t budged one way or another.

One issue with this stat is that about 10 to 15 percent of TFAers don’t make it through their two year commitment so they never, technically, become ‘alumni’ so they don’t get surveyed.  Though some of them probably did end up ‘in education’ also, those TFAers would likely bring down the numbers.

Also, a survey isn’t the most accurate way to measure what percent of alumni are still ‘in education’ since the alumni survey is voluntary and there could be bias in who chooses to answer the survey.  The way to reduce bias is to create a representative random sample of alumni, it doesn’t have to be a very large sample, maybe 30% surprisingly, and then to work diligently to track down every one of that random sample and find out how many of them are ‘in education.’  This would be more accurate than what they get from the self-selected 70% who do respond to the voluntary survey.

Finally, there is the expression ‘in education’ which can mean so many things.

When I didn’t answer the survey, I started getting emails from TFA asking if I’d be willing, at least, to do an abbreviated survey, just two yes/no questions.  Here they are:

  • Q1: My current position impacts the field of education or issues affecting education (Yes/No)
  • Q2: My current position serves low income communities or relates to improving quality of life in low-income communities (Yes/No)

Notice that the first question does not ask what my current profession is which could give them the chance to determine if I’m ‘in education’ or not.  But even more troubling, the question doesn’t even ask if I’m ‘in education.’  It asks if my current position ‘impacts’ the field of education or issues affecting education.  I could argue that if I’m a nutritionist, for example, then my current position impacts issues affecting eduction.  Anyone who answers ‘yes’ to this question immediately becomes a member of the 2/3 of alumni ‘in education.’

Next time you hear someone from TFA say that 2/3 of alumni are in education, remember that this is the way the data for that statistic was collected.

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Gary Rubinstein

Gary Rubinstein is a high school math teacher. He is the recipient of the 2005 Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship. ...