Are 85% of TFA alumni really “working in education or careers serving low-income communities”?

In a recent podcast on ‘Getting Smart,’ they interviewed TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva-Beard.  At the 0:56 mark the host gave this series of numbers, straight from the TFA PR department, “Of the 53,000 alumni, 85% work in education or in careers serving low-income communities. That includes 1,260 school leaders, 471 school system leaders, 500 policy and advocacy leaders and 200 social entrepreneurs.”

A major critique of TFA is that the teachers use TFA as a way to pad their resumes — that they teach for two or maybe three years and then go on to law school, medical school, or business school.  If this 85% number is accurate, it would serve as a great counter to any critique of TFA that the corps members do not commit long enough.

Six years ago in a HuffPost editorial, Elisa Villanueva-Beard said that it was 80%.  Over the last few years this has grown, at least in theory, to 85% and it is something that is now quoted on the Teach For America website in the section about their impact.

Teach For America has a 28-year track record of advancing educational excellence and equity in the United States through our network of remarkable and diverse leaders working to expand opportunity and access for all children. With nearly 60,000 alumni and corps members in 51 regions around the country, our network now includes 14,000 teachers; 3,700 school principals, assistant principals, and deans; more than 300 school system leaders; 500 policy and advocacy leaders; nearly 200 elected leaders; and almost 200 social entrepreneurs. And while only one in five Teach For America corps members had plans to teach before applying to TFA, 85% of alumni are now working in education or careers serving low-income communities.

This 85% statistic, if to be taken literally, would mean that 43,350 out of 51,000 TFA alumni have a career in education or serving low income communities.

The first question to ask is:  How was this data collected?  Did TFA track down all 51,000 alumni?  Did they do some kind of random sampling?  Or is this based on their alumni survey?  I know it is based on their alumni survey since when I fill mine out there is this question:


So what they should say is that out of the people who self-selected to take the alumni survey, 85% of the responders answered yes to one or both of these questions.  There are two types of bias at work here.

The first is selection bias since this is not a random sampling — it is the people who choose to answer which likely has a higher percent of people likely to answer ‘yes’ to these questions.  We don’t really know what percent responded.  Since there is so much selection bias it probably doesn’t matter if the response rate is 60% or 70%.  But if the response rate is something like 10%, that would make the statistic even less reliable.

The other type of bias comes from the wording of these questions.  What qualifies as “relates to improving the quality of life in low-income communities”?  Since it is up to the responder to decide, we really don’t know.

The way these questions are worded, something I’m really wondering is:  What percent of college graduates, in general, would answer yes to one or both of these questions.  Since we don’t have this control group to compare to the TFA group, it is hard to know if 85% is actually impressive.

Another thing kind of ironic about the 85% number is that, in general, 85% is the percent of corps members who don’t quit during their first two years of teaching.  Since this statistic is just about ‘alumni’, those people who quit are not included and that further skews the numbers.

In the past six years TFA has found a way to say that this number has grown from 80% to 85%.  Who knows what they will be saying it is six years from now.  Whatever it is, people should know, as TFA absolutely does, that this number is complete nonsense, something that it would not even be fair to call a half-truth.  If TFA continues to use this 85% number and they didn’t realize it was bogus before, they know now and they will be purposely using something they know is misleading at best.

There are two ways to get more accurate data.  One is for TFA to try to fully account for all 51,000 alumni.  This is a difficult thing to do and something that TFA is not going to invest the time and money into since it can only make that number more accurate and make them look worse for it.  The other way is to do a random sampling where they pick about 10,000 people who started with TFA out of the about 65,000 alumni plus quitters.  Then they would have to track down all 10,000 of those and that would be a pretty good random sample, I think.  They won’t be willing to to this either.

So I’ve decided to do a little crowd sourced experiment.  In the early days of TFA, they sent me an alumni directory with the name of every corps member from 1990 to about 2000.  So here is my experiment.  There were 522 corps members in the first cohort of 1990.  I had WolframAlpha picke 100 numbers between 1 and 522.

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 9.25.29 PM

Then I alphabetized the 522 corps members from 1990 and assigned each a number and then picked the 100 people who corresponded with the 100 numbers that were randomly chosen.  This is a true random sampling and it is about 20% of the total population which is a pretty good size sample actually.

215 Holifield, Erin
278 Lienhard, Bill
111 Darby, John
308 McGlone, Thomas
19 Arsuaga, Maritere
461 Tan, Chin
425 Simes, Jeffrey
115 Davis, Geoff
253 Koo, Chiray
171 Gomez, Carlos
184 Groom, Ileetha
392 Rivera, Richard
370 Polen, Michael
277 Lewis, Kimberly
299 Martinez, Jane
271 Lerntouni, Tank
113 Davis, Andrew
60 Brown, Daryl
320 Miller, John
401 Sabin, Caroline
3 Abell, Jennifer
273 Levine Grimaldi,
72 Can, Kristen
95 Cobb, Kendall
265 Lay, Corey
384 Rehl, Michael
Livingston, Therese
485 Wade, Andrea
122 Dennis, Terrence
379 Ramsey, Lukman
512 Winiecki, Marc
236 Jones , Stephanie
397 Roth, Sharon
429 Skolaslci, Renee
499 Wickliff, Derek
364 Phoa, Cynthia
193 Hamilton, Donna
413 Seligman, Miklci
95 Cobb, Kendall
125 Dineen, John
467 Thompson, Julia
56 Brooks , Daniel
361 Peterson, Lisa
99 Collins, Philip
502 Willey, Kristin
136 Ebby, Rachel
514 Wright, Ernest
41 Boatright, Laura
194 Harrigan, Lisa
505 Williams, Brandi
501 Wilkinson, Wendy
173 Gonzales, Emilio
373 Price, Wendy
20 Aumou, Elizabeth
367 Plaman, Kathryn
180 Grado, Danielle
Ruvoli-Gruba, JoAnne
444 Steensland, Lara
478 Utley, Stephen
57 Brooks, Hoff
27 Beck , John
517 Yudell, Michael
384 Rehl, Michael
185 Guerrero, Scott
116 Davis, Lorna
Palazzolo, Rayann
513 Wolf, Matthew
467 Thompson, Julia
203 Heitmann, Noel
Hendricks Richman, Susan
68 Bushnaq, Faith
109 Crean, William
129 Donoho, Lori
186 Gulling, Egypt
339 Nicholas, Robert
210 Heyl, Densie
257 Kruse, Jennifer
137 Edge, Kecia
204 Held, Robert
Zimmerman, Andrea
313 McPherson, Maria
224 Israel, Todd
63 Brown, Michael
106 Cox , David
251 Klender, Kimberly
336 Newkirk, Jennifer
64 Buckley, Michael
333 Nagler, Mary
25 Basich, David
181 Graham, Elliott
299 Martinez, Jane
146 Eppolito, Veronica
201 Haynes, Michael
216 Holmes, Tiffany
464 Taylor, Olu
437 Snyder, Christina
460 Tabb, Kathleen
226 Jacobs, Sandi
297 Marie!, Kecia
237 Jones, Brian

OK, now I did not then go through and start tracking down each of these 100 people.  There was a time a few years back where I may have had the energy for such a project.  But, with six degrees of separation and all that perhaps some readers will know some of these people who are all about 51 years old right now and graduated college in 1990.  Or maybe readers can pick someone off the list at random and write a comment, something like “297 is a banker at Wells Fargo” with some kind of link to prove this.  I haven’t really thought this through fully, but if these 100 people can be researched, it would be interesting to see if approximately 85 of them are “working in education or careers serving low-income communities.”


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16 Responses to Are 85% of TFA alumni really “working in education or careers serving low-income communities”?

  1. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein: Do YOU Know Any of the 100 Names of TFA Alumni on This List? | Diane Ravitch's blog

  2. mrobmsu says:

    I’ve never heard of any of these persons.

  3. Jen says:

    Is Julia Thompson listed twice?

  4. Kitty says:

    Here’s Rachel Ebony. Dr. Rachel Ebby-Rosin is a research-associate on the Academic Innovations team at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, whose areas of expertise include qualitative methods and K-12 education policy. She began her career in education as a charter corps member of TFA and taught bilingual elementary school in Los Angeles, New York City and Redwood City.

  5. Kitty says:

    She graduated from Yale in 1990. About Faith

    Faith Bushnaq has an office in Louisville, KY and handles cases in Appeals, Immigration, General Practice, Criminal Defense. This attorney has been licensed for 22 years and attended Duke University.

  6. Cindy Watter says:

    My daughter’s friend is twenty years younger than this, so she’s not on the list. However, the girl spent most of her first year on Xanax and left by the second year. Full nervous breakdown. No, she did not go back into education. She said nothing TFA said/did had prepared her for the extreme poverty of the Deep South. I have a former student, yes, a grad from an elite school, teaching now for TFA. It is in one of the most deprived areas in the state. Charter school. No books. Computers everywhere.He told me I would have a heart attack.

  7. jlsteach says:

    Gary, once again I wonder why do make your point (and the person even misspoke). But here’s my question – how many other times in other cases have educators misused data? Time and again I’ve seen districts use survey data to make “data driven decisions” only to learn that the n for the survey is either a biased sample OR a very small sample.

    My point – why pick on one organization over and over. We get it., You are not a fan of TFA, and I think that many of you points are valid ones about the organization. The head of TFA misspoke or made an exaggerated claim. I am sure that such a claim could get three or four pinnochios in the Washington Post Fact Checker test. But, at the same time, one can come back and show how other organizations or school districts have misused, misinterpreted, or used data poorly. Why not instead focus on the systemic issue in education of misusing data instead of targeting one group?

    • “Why not instead focus on the systemic issue in education of misusing data instead of targeting one group?”

      Hello Jlsteach!
      You have repeatedly questioned my questioning of that misusing data insisting that standardized test scores are valid for all sorts of things. Why not put your efforts into understanding that your insistence on using said invalid data is “misusing data”? Why target one person as you have done here?
      Should I now assume you are a TFA alumni?

  8. Kitty says:

    Is this #253, Chiray Koo. CHIRAY KOO, PROGRAM ASSOCIATE

    Chiray Koo
    Chiray Koo is a program associate for the Institute for Business Ethics and Sustainability in the College of Business Administration. Chiray came to Loyola Marymount University after three years working in government ethics as an ethics advisor for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Prior to that, she worked in the nonprofit field at the Community Nonviolence Resource Center and the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center developing community mediation and training programs with an emphasis on cross cultural conflict resolution. She holds a B.A. from Georgetown University and a M.S. from the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.

  9. Kitty says:

    #379, Lukman Ramsey.
    Math Teacher, Secondary
    Los Angeles Unified School District
    September 1990 – June 1992 1 year 10 months
    Dorsey High School, South Central Los Angeles
    Lukman Ramsey
    Cloud Solutions Architect for ML at Google
    Hastings On Hudson, New York
    Information Technology and Services
    Taught high school math for two years via Teach For America. Also taught BASIC programming and AP Computer Science. Worked with IBM on a partnership to provide new computers for the school.

  10. Kitty says:

    #364, Cynthia Phoa.

    Teach for America
    Charter Member1990 – 1993

    English Teacher/ ESOL Contact
    Broward County Public Schools
    August 2013 – Present 6 years 1 month
    Margate Middle School

    •Create and curate digital lessons that utilize a variety of media
    •Maintain a classroom website to help students and parents easily access instruction
    •Write individualized educational and behavior plans for struggling students with academic team
    •Evaluate language proficiency and maintain records of all English-language learners
    •Communicate state and federal requirements to administration, faculty, and parents
    •Implement Broward’s new computer software, ELLevation, made for ESOL programs

  11. kitty says:

    #517, Michael Yudell. Tufts 1990. Doesn’t mention TFA.

    Michael Yudell
    Chair & Associate Professor, Drexel University School of Public Health
    Greater Philadelphia Area

  12. kitty says:

    #25, David Basich

    University of Illinois 1990

    Teach For America
    June 1990 – June 1993 3 years 1 month

    David Basich
    Director at Davis Advisors
    Greater New York City Area
    Financial Services

  13. donna.i. says:

    #19: Maria T. Arsuaga, “Maritere”, is an Associate at the Miami office of Charles A. Ross and Associates, LLC.

    Maritere graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio with a B.A. in French and Government. During her undergraduate studies, she studied one year in Montpellier, France. After graduating from Oberlin College, Maritere worked for three years as an elementary bilingual school teacher in Washington Heights, New York, through the program Teach For America.

  14. H. F. Watts says:

    I know 15 of those listed here from the Charter Corps. 10 of the 15 still work in education and/or nonprofits in education, one is a big-time lawyer, the other 3 work in industry, and the last I do not know her whereabouts.

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