Teach for America
Making the Grade on Fixing Educational Inequity
An A+ .ORG: Teach For America Makes the Grade on Fixing Educational Inequity
Children come to school with all kinds of unmet needs—they may have inadequate housing or nutrition or healthcare, for example. Most schools are not set up to meet these needs, and that means kids often don’t have the support to meet their full potential.
This disproportionately impacts children of color, who are more than two times more likely to be born into poverty and who bear an additional burden of low expectations and other biases. They constitute half of all children in American public schools.
This educational inequity isn’t a failure of individuals—of teachers, school leaders, or families. It’s a systemic failure, and TFA believes education is the most powerful and transformational lever we have. Teach For America believes achieving systemic change on this scale will take a broad and diverse coalition of people who differ in their identities, affiliations, experiences, and political views, all working in different sectors of society. It will take people united around a shared purpose and set of values, and the work must be shaped by those who are directly impacted by inequity. And corps members’ proximity and relationships with students, families, communities drives them to be all-in on solving this problem, no matter what they choose to do next.
Founded more than 30 years ago as a leadership development organization, TFA’s mission is to give all children access to an excellent education. “You do not join Teach for America unless you deeply believe in the power and potential of each and every child,” says Meghan Cressman, Managing Director, Annual and Major Giving at Teach For America. “There is this unwavering belief [here] that while potential is equally distributed, opportunity is not. It’s our job to increase access to opportunity, so that every kid can achieve their dreams.”
“There’s definitely a message sent when an organization is on the .ORG domain–it’s understood that you are stamped with approval and working towards creating a better world.”
TFA’s successful model for advancing leaders and improving educational outcomes is a sort of “leadership lifecycle,” comprising four key components: TFA finds promising candidates who commit to teaching for two years in a low-income community; supports their success to advance student growth; cultivates and develops their lifelong leadership skills through classroom teaching; and fosters alumni’s collective leadership as they continue to build lives and careers. Hailing from across the country and serving both urban and rural areas in more than 50 regions, TFA teachers are often recruited and apply to TFA through the website, which also provides content for current teachers and alumni alike.
“The only way for us to really keep alumni connected to our current educators for inspiration and encouragement is through a digital platform–our .ORG website,” says Cressman, who believes that “.ORG” represents people and organizations working for the betterment of society. “There’s definitely a message sent when an organization is on the .ORG domain–it’s understood that you are stamped with approval and working toward creating a better world.”
TFA receives funding from a variety of sources, including corporate and community partnerships, as well as individual donations. The organization was proud to be honored with the 2019 .ORG Impact Award for Outstanding Fundraising Campaign for their fundraiser, The Teach for America Alumni and Staff Challenge. The fundraiser featured a donation match and internal awards program that incentivized regional fundraising teams to meet and exceed goals. The campaign also increased alumni participation by 13% and generated a whopping $2.5 million in funds.
Cressman says the .ORG Impact Award not only made TFA proud but also benefited their work, because “it provided a unique opportunity to learn what has been successful for other organizations. Being front and center discussing success for different causes is a beautiful opportunity that .ORG has created.”
TFA defines success as raising national awareness about how important education equity and excellence is, says Cressman. “Children in our country are worth the hard work needed to solve educational inequity. It won’t be immediate or easy, but it is deeply important.”
Through their vast alumni network and ever-growing roster of corps members, TFA is helping to meet the needs of students of all races, backgrounds, and socio-economic levels. Many alumni, inspired by their service, continue to contribute to the community in different ways, as doctors, lawyers, or business leaders—and often, as educators. In fact, according to TFA, eight current state education chiefs are TFA alumni.
Message to Other Mission-Based Organizations from TFA:
“Perseverance, humility and resilience. You won’t have all of the answers, so be open to learning along the way to success. You have to have the determination to keep going, even when you don’t see results right away.”
TFA focuses on recruiting corps members from broad backgrounds. In fact, more than 50% of 2019 corps members are people of color, in contrast to 20% of educators nationally.