February 3, 2015

What Teach For America Learned Over the Past 15 Years

By Bellwether

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Today, Bellwether is releasing a new report on the history and lessons of Teach For America’s growth over the past 15 years. The report, which draws from hundreds of internal Teach For America documents and historic data, as well as interviews with more than 40 current and former Teach For America staff and stakeholders, is the first in-depth, comprehensive look at how Teach For America grew over the past decade, the opportunities and challenges it faced, and the strategies it adopted in response, Although we had unprecedented access to Teach For America data and staff, the conclusions and analysis are our own. Here are four of the main takeaways from this report:

  1. Teach For America grew a LOT. Over the past 15 years, the number of Teach For America corps members increased nearly 10-fold and the number of alumni rose even faster. Teach For America grew at double-digit rates every year from 2005-2012, with annual growth of more than 20 percent from 2007-2011.
  2. While growing, Teach For America placed an equal emphasis on improving quality. Teach for America didn’t just seek to grow in scale, it also worked to increase the impact of its corps members and alumni, by continuously improving corps member recruitment, selection, training, and support, as well as support for alumni to build careers in education.
  3. Although Teach For America has achieved great successes, it’s also faced challenges and made mistakes as it has grown. Between 2000 and 2010, Teach For America had to figure out how to effectively structure a multi-region national organization, recruit and retain talent (including diverse staff), and improve the quality of its programs. In recent years, it has grappled with an increasingly complex political environment. At times, it’s made mistakes. But it’s learned from those mistakes.
  4. Other organizations can also learn from Teach For America’s experience. Based on our extensive experience supporting education organizations that seek to scale their impact, we know that the questions Teach For America faced as it grew are common to scaling organizations–and that many of these organizations can learn from Teach For America’s strategies–as well as its mistakes.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing more of the lessons of that work. In the meantime, please check out the report here.

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