Assessing the Effects of Voluntary Youth Service: The Case of Teach for America

If you read only the coverage of this study,
you’d come away with a vastly more negative view of TFA graduates than
you should. So let’s put the record straight. The study asks whether the
TFA experience “make[s] citizens”? The authors seek to compare the
“civic engagement” of TFA “graduates” (those who finished two years of
TFA), “dropouts” (those who began the program but did not finish it) and
“non-matriculants” (those who were accepted but declined). They find
that though graduates display the highest attitudinal scores on civic
awareness, non-matriculants actually perform the most service.
They attribute this difference to such factors as post-TFA burnout and
disillusionment with TFA itself. That may be so, but TFA is an
organization dedicated to recruiting and keeping talent in our nation’s
classrooms, not creating Mother-Teresas-in-tr
aining, even if Wendy Kopp commissioned the study herself. It is upon
those metrics--and the effect that TFA teachers have on student
achievement--that we should be evaluating the program. Even if you
accept the premise of this inquiry, however, the findings are no black
mark against TFA. For example, though “only” 89 percent of graduates
said they voted in the last presidential election (compared to 92
percent for all three groups), that’s still 50 points higher than their
similarly-aged peers. The lesson is that TFA doesn’t turn disengaged
students into participatory citizens; rather, it tends to select the
civic-minded from the get-go. You can order a copy here.

Doug McAdam and Cynthia Brandt, Stanford University
Social Forces
February 2010

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