Absence of TFA in Ohio has larger implications

An editorial in the Dayton Daily News from this Monday argued that Ohio should bring Teach For America (TFA) into the state. The piece rightly outlines the steps necessary to create an Ohio TFA presence--for example, changes to teacher certification rules, funding for TFA training, and buy-in from unions. Not to gloss over the importance of such regulatory changes (TFA's entry here is impossible otherwise), but it is the question of "why TFA?"--rather than "how TFA?"--that I find most compelling and deserving of elaboration.

One commonly-hailed justification for an Ohio-based TFA site is its potential to recruit smart, energetic young people into a state that is suffering from an exodus of talent. Earlier this year, Fordham explored this trend in the Losing Ohio's Future report , which elucidated some of the causes behind Ohio's brain drain. But would the creation of TFA Ohio (say, in Cleveland, Cincinnati or Appalachia) promise to retain young talent? In other words, is Ohio losing talented college graduates to other TFA-friendly states? According to recent data illustrating which national universities and colleges send the most graduating seniors into the 2009 TFA corps, the answer is a resounding "yes."?? Of the top twenty large schools (defined as 10,000 undergraduates or more), two are in the Buckeye State: Ohio State University and Miami University. Although Ohio doesn't make the list for medium-sized schools, three of its colleges are in the top twenty small schools (defined as 2,999 or fewer undergraduates) sending the most graduates into TFA: the College of Wooster, Kenyon College, and Oberlin College. In fact, Ohio has more schools on TFA's top sixty colleges than any other state except Massachusetts (6) and California (7), and is the clear winner of the Midwest (Michigan had 2; Indiana had 2; Illinois had 4; Minnesota had 3).

Whether or not you think this TFA exodus matters or not depends on your opinion of 1) Whether or not TFA teachers are successful in the classroom and 2) To what extent TFA alumni role add to innovation and entrepreneurialism in the larger community. The first debate has raged on for a while and for the sake of brevity, I'll just cite here , here , and here . The second question, however, is one that we in Ohio can't afford to ignore.

Regardless of whether you believe the studies that claim TFA teachers have positive impacts on student achievement, the data regarding the positive impacts made by TFA alumni is indisputable. I won't even bother to profile the outstanding Michelle Rhee (an Ohio native herself) and Dave Levin types (they might be extraordinary outliers), but consider the following stats from a 2008 TFA Alumni Social Impact Report (pdf):

    • Two-thirds of TFA alumni are currently working or studying full-time in the field of education
    • 91 percent of alumni working in schools are having a positive impact on low-income communities
    • 320,000 students across the country are impacted by alumni school leaders (293 principals and 23 superintendent/district/charter leaders)

I wish more of these remarkable change-agents were located in a place like Cleveland or Columbus, Appalachia or my hometown of Mansfield. Ohio's achievement gap isn't any narrower than anywhere else in the United States, but we are sorely missing part of the solution to close the gap--the tireless dedication of the TFA types. To be fair, Ohio is home to many brilliant, reform-minded educators who are already doing great work in places like DECA , e-Prep , and scores of others. But oh, how we wish there were more.

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