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Number of Brown grads entering TFA drops sharply

U. falls eight places in ranking of contributing colleges, with most Ivies slipping lower

Brown dropped this year from 10th to 18th place in Teach for America’s top contributing medium-sized college and university rankings. Only 17 alums joined the 2014 corps, compared to 31 in 2013 and 36 in 2012.

All other Ivy League universities in the medium-sized category also dropped in rankings between 2013 and 2014. Brown experienced the largest decrease in its number of corps members from 2013 to 2014.

In 2012 and 2013, TFA hired more Brown graduates than any other employer, said Jim Amspacher, acting director of the CareerLAB and coordinator for Careers in the Common Good, though he declined to reveal 2014 data.

TFA’s Manager of Recruitment Maura Douglas pointed to a recent shift in the organization’s recruitment efforts as a possible explanation for the drop in numbers. “Traditionally, we’ve always worked to engage the senior class, but in the past couple of years we have expanded our focus to engage underclassmen on campus through different events and programming,” Douglas said.

Underclassman-driven recruitment began in New England two years ago, and is now “trickling into more of the country,” Douglas said. “We want to focus on building relationships at a longer stage, to learn and grow with students and respond to their needs.” She cited TFA’s 2014 New England Latino Leadership Summit, which three Brown sophomores and three Brown seniors were chosen to attend, as an example of one of the organization’s relationship-focused initiatives.

TFA alum Christopher Saunders ’10 said there is no single reason that may explain the steep drop in TFA corps members from Brown alone. This number could just be an “outlier” in Brown’s history with TFA, he said.

In the 2014 rankings, Howard University topped the list, replacing Harvard, which fell to fourth place. Columbia dropped from 6th to 8th place, Dartmouth fell from 8th to 12th, Princeton fell from 12th to tying Brown at 18th and Yale fell from 12th to 15th. In the rankings of large schools, Cornell dropped from 8th to 13th place. Penn moved from the medium schools category to the large schools category; had it remained among the medium schools, its ranking would have risen from third to second, even as its number of corps members fell slightly.

TFA has been developing an initiative that involves “recruiting individuals who share the racial or socioeconomic backgrounds of the students (they) teach, 90 percent of whom are African American or Latino,” according to its website. “Corps members who share their students’ backgrounds serve as powerful role models and have potential for a profound additional impact based on their personal experiences,” the website continues.

Victoria Chen ’11, who taught in Houston with TFA for two years after graduating, said this recruitment strategy can be “off-putting,” particularly as an Asian American. “They’re alienating members that are doing work just as good as their peers,” Chen said, adding that she wished TFA put more of an emphasis on training corps members on how to leverage their own backgrounds to provide students with a diversity of experiences and role models that “more accurately mirrors the world we are preparing them for.”

Douglas said the diversity initiative is about bringing together students from a “variety of different perspectives. … We want to empower students with their own identities.”

According to TFA’s website, 50 percent of the 2014 Corps Members identify as people of color — 22 percent identify as black, 13 percent as Latino, 6 percent as Asian American or Pacific Islander and 6 percent as multiethnic. Nearly half of corps members are Pell Grant recipients, and more than one third are the first in their family to attend college.

Chen said she decided to join TFA after education classes at Brown inspired her interest in urban education reform.

“I wasn’t comfortable in the classroom until the end of the first year,” she said. During training, corps members were taught hypothetically about situations that may arise during their lessons, but “nothing prepares you like actual classroom experience,” she said.

While Chen said that TFA tries to give all members a voice, she said she would “love to see more of a dialogue … and partnerships with non-TFA teachers.”

In his first week of work, a coworker yelled at Saunders in the hall about his affiliation with TFA, which was something that he “didn’t expect” going in to the program. “There’s a huge amount of misinformation about TFA in the world,” he said.

Saunders said he enjoyed his experience with the program working in the Providence Public School District, in part because TFA gave him flexibility to plan his lessons. “They are willing to listen to ideas and let you try them with a constant focus on results,” he said.


A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to TFA corps members in some instances as “volunteers.” In fact, they are paid employees. In addition, due to an editing error, the article previously incorrectly stated that Penn fell out of the top 20 rankings. In fact, it moved from the medium schools category to the large schools, where it remained in the rankings. The Herald regrets the errors.


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