Over the past 15 years, Teach For America has grown to a scale, and at a pace, that is virtually unprecedented in education and the domestic nonprofit sector more generally. From 2000 to 2014, the number of Teach for America corps members rose nearly tenfold, the number of alumni increased even more rapidly, and the organization expanded from a handful of communities to 50 cities and rural areas nationally. In the process, it became both the nation’s largest source of new teachers and the largest single recipient of philanthropic funding for K-12 education. Even as it grew, however, Teach For America also sought to increase the impact of its corps members and alumni by improving its approach to corps member recruitment, selection, preparation, and support, and by supporting alumni to take on increased leadership in education.
The strategies Teach For America used to both grow in scale and improve in quality offer numerous lessons for other education organizations seeking to increase their impact on education, as well as for policymakers, funders, and nonprofits outside of education.
In a new report, Bellwether’s Sara Mead, Carolyn Chuong, and Caroline Goodson describe the history of Teach For America’s growth over the past 15 years, the challenges and opportunities it has faced, the strategies it has adopted in response to those challenges and opportunities, and the lessons it has learned. This report draws from extensive analysis of hundreds of internal Teach For America documents and data from the past 15 years, interviews with more than 40 current and former Teach For America staff members and stakeholders, and Bellwether’s own experience advising scaling education organizations. Although Bellwether had unprecedented access to Teach For America historical materials and staff, the report is a fully independent presentation of Bellwether’s analysis and conclusions.
The report draws several types of lessons from Teach For America’s experience, including:
In addition to these concrete lessons for specific audiences, the report also identifies several broad principles related to scaling effective organizations: