Has TFA attrition improved since the first corps?

Going through some old stuff I located a copy of an article from the New York Times on June 26, 1991, just after I arrived at the Los Angeles TFA institute to begin my training.

The headline was ‘For Freshman Teacher Corps, a Sobering Year’ and I located it on the New York Times archive which you can access here.

One part that resonates true today (which has some extra words that don’t fit at the end, and which are not on my original, so I cut out those.)

But Ms. Abell, along with some other Teach for America corps members and some school district officials, also believes the program promises more than it can deliver.

“I felt like to solve the problems in my classroom I would have had to solve the violence and poverty in the community,” said Ms. Abell, who now works in a center that aids Central American refugees. “Teach for America came to be 500 points of light, the idea that certain individuals with enthusiasm can help a troubled system. But I think much more profound changes are needed.”

Since TFA is all about numbers, one of the most telling numbers with regard to how well TFA trains its teachers is the attrition rate.  Currently the attrition rate, they say, is about 8% the first year and 11% overall.

In the recent Steven Brill book, ‘Class Warfare’ he wrote (page 63) “One-third of those first 489 recriuts would not last through their two-year commitments.”  Now Brill did not do a lot of fact checking for this book, but this statistic presumably came from TFA.  If it did, it turns out to be inflated, maybe to make it seem like the current 11% attrition rate is a vast improvement.  But according to the article:

Of the 489 teachers who walked into classrooms last fall, 53 have resigned. That is an attrition rate of almost 11 percent, slightly higher than the national rate for first-year teachers, but far lower than the 25 to 50 percent turnover rates in the school districts where most of the newcomers were placed.

Now the 25 to 50 percent turnover rate is an unfair comparison.  Just because a school has turnover does not mean that the teachers have quit the profession, altogether.  Also, that number, just like today, includes people who retired.

This statistic from the article means that the current attrition rate isn’t much lower than it was 21 years ago.  To me that means that the training hasn’t improved that much.

There is, though, a reason for that.  Back then there were no alumni yet so the institute hired a crack team of great veteran teachers and even principals.  They didn’t have a unified ‘vision,’ which may have confused us a bit, but also maybe gave us a better picture of how complicated the reality was.

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7 Responses to Has TFA attrition improved since the first corps?

  1. Pingback: Remainders: Australian company rules teacher training market | GothamSchools

  2. Linda says:


    I thought you would find this article interesting. Sounds like she was the only good teacher in the school. So much for those who dedicate their lives to teaching. They must be lazy good-for-nothing union slobs.


  3. Katie says:

    “Just because a school has turnover does not mean that the teachers have quit the profession, altogether.”

    But it usually does mean the teacher has left an underserved low-income school for greener pastures. I think the statistical comparison, if retirements were to be excluded, is definitely valid.

    • Gary Rubinstein says:

      There is a big difference between a teacher who leaves a school because they have moved or because they go on maternity leave, or other reasons why people leave, including needing a change of scenery after they have been at the same school for a few years, and the TFAers who quit mid-year. The 11% of TFA people who quit had just been at it for less than one year, so it is not valid to compare the two attrition rates. Some charter schools have 60% teacher attrition each year, but that doesn’t mean that 60%, or close to that, actually quit the profession during their first year. That’s why the ‘apples to apples’ comparison I am considering is the 1990 attrition rate to the 2010 attrition rate. I’d like to see that rate go steadily down since for everyone who quits, I suspect there are two others who probably should quit (imagine a bell curve).

  4. Mavor says:

    Gary, I may have crossed paths with you in L.A. In 1991 I started teaching in LAUSD. I was a 40 year old rookie teacher at Towne Ave. and Saturn St. elementary. I had been working in the hotel industry and attended CSU Dominguez Hills at night to finish my degree and obtain my teaching credential. I quit work to student teach. I started teaching in Feb. of ’91, a second grade class. I was their third teacher that year. The next year, at Saturn St. fifth grade, then 5-6 combination. Then we reorganized and I did 6th grade middle school at Emerson MS. Then seventh followed by eighth. I did science, math and then. In my first five years of teaching I never had the same grade level two years in a row.

  5. 2011 CM says:

    The 2011 NYC Corps lost around 10% so far this year. We started at 360 and now we’re down to 302

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