TFA Alum Michelle Rhee Explained, in the WaPo

Teach For America‘s most controversial alum Michelle Rhee has garnered media attention for her iconoclastic, unbureacratic ways as the Washington, DC, chancellor of public schools. The Washington Post published a column by Jay Mathews today tracing Rhee’s basic philosophies about what works and doesn’t work in schools back to her time as a TFA Corps member in Baltimore.

“‘It was a zoo, every day,’ she recalled. Thirty-six children, all poor, suffered under a novice who had no idea what to do. But within months, for Rhee and other influential educators in her age group, the situation changed. She vowed not “to let 8-year-olds run me out of town….

“She found unconventional but effective ways to teach reading and math….Students became calm and engaged. Test scores soared. She kept one group with her for second and third grade. She was convinced that her students, despite their problems, ‘were the most talented kids ever.'”

But Rhee couldn’t teach them forever. According to Mathews, Rhee explained: “‘All of those kids would go on to other teachers and totally lose everything because those teachers were’ lousy. (Rhee used an earthier adjective.)”

The experience of working against convention to get those kids to succeed — and then the crushing disappointment of watching them go on to fail — shaped Rhee’s outlook and mission running DC’s public schools.

Teach For America, the nation’s most famous and elite education service corps, strives to eliminate educational inequities by placing graduates of top universities for two years in critical needs school districts throughout the United States. The program doesn’t aim to develop the teacher work force or address teacher shortages so much as to make it possible for all children to achieve in school, no matter where they are born, or under what circumstances.

It makes sense that Rhee works outside conventions. The two-year program trains its Corps members somewhat differently from a traditional academic program for teacher preparation. Because Corps members receive a couple months of training before becoming full-time teachers for the first time, their training tends to be very concrete, focusing on assessment, planning, and instruction, rather than emphasizing philosophy and content that are detached from the classroom application.

Hired through school district’s alternative certification programs, many Corps members earn certification through credits they earn through out their two years.

Corps members earn a starting salary for teachers in their district; benefits such as student loan deferment and the Eli Segal Education Award come through a partnership with AmeriCorps.

About a third of TFA alums go on to pursue careers in education. Most go on to leadership roles in other fields and sectors, informed by their years in the classroom. (Read about the impact of TFA Corps members and alumni. Read more about TFA’s career transitions support.) TFA has established partnerships with graduate schools who offer scholarships, application fee waivers, admission deferments and other benefits to TFA alums.

In the past year, applications to Teach For America (TFA) soared to over 25,000, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy earlier in the year, while only 6,200 TFA Corps members served last year.

That’s a lot of applicants who are turned away.

Many of these tens of thousands of applicants are drawn to Teach For America’s mission. Other applicants may be drawn to service more generally, and have applied to TFA because it’s hands-down one of the most prestigious, best-known, and best-funded AmeriCorps programs. Other applicants still may be attracted to the honor of serving with such an elite Corps of young people.

This week The New Service blog is going to look at a few other education service corps, including Chicago’s Inner City Teaching Corps and the Mississippi Teacher Corps. While many service corps programs have application due dates in the spring for a fall start date, most education service corps have deadlines throughout the winter and start in the summer.

For graduating college seniors interested in applying to TFA this fall, note that the second for four deadlines is coming up Nov. 7. Read more about TFA admissions.

TFA has been a cosponsor of our graduate admissions fairs for years and this fall financially sponsored two of our grad fairs, including the upcoming event in Atlanta, Nov. 3.

Columnist Jay Mathews hosted a chat online about the column on Michelle Rhee.

Tuesday 10/28, Eli Lilly and Company and Teach For America announced a new networking partnership in Indianapolis that aims to strengthen the TFA Corps members as well as the students they teach.

Building strong ties to local college career centers

Your service corps program and your Corps members can benefit from a good relationship with local college and university career services offices.

This afternoon I have the honor of working with directors of Oregon’s AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps*VISTA programs around the topic of career transitions for Corps members. One message I want to drive home is that developing ties to local career centers can help both with recruitment of new Corps members, and also helping current members with their next steps. Here are some ideas:

Getting Started: Invite career center staff from local colleges and universities for a brown bag lunch in your office to share resources and compare complementary needs. Some schools are part of a consortium that hold regular meetings; you could ask about presenting at one of these meetings. Some career centers have a counselor who focuses on public service; when you make your first call, you might ask for that person.

Be a presence (not just a flyer) on campus when it’s time to recruit: Staff tables at the school’s career fair, and let the career counselors know that you are available to speak at panel and round table discussions. Ask if there is a way to post your general and recruitment information on the career center’s website or resource library, or to staff a general information table on campus. ( also organizes nonprofit career fairs hosted by career centers on college campuses throughout the United States.)

Be a resource on national service: Work with the career counselors to put together a panel on national service opportunities for college students. Help find current or former AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps*VISTA, and NCCC members, Jesuit Volunteers, Jewish Coalition for Service program participants, Peace Corps Volunteers, Teach For America, Public Allies, or City Year Corps members (seek people from a variety of service programs) to speak on a panel discussion, to help clarify college students’ options and understanding of the differences among the programs. Students may not understand how to apply to a program, or may be confused about the de-centralized application process for some programs. Be ready to offer guidance at least for your program!

Educate counselors about the benefits of national service: Let career counselors know that for some graduating or even gap-year students, doing a year of national service is a really good way to serve your community in a more concentrated, intense way than you may be able to through traditional, episodic volunteering. It’s also proven to be a  launching point for a public service career. Students looking for a year of work experience before going to graduate school will benefit from serving – often with a high level of autonomy, challenge, and responsibility – for an organization that doesn’t expect a long-term commitment. If they can think of the term-of-service as a fifth and/or sixth college year – during which the students serve the community, learn tuition-free, and may not have to pay student loans – the investment makes more sense. Not to mention the networking and the educational benefits!

Exchange career transitions support: As you develop relationships with career centers in your area, you might:
•    Ask if Corps members can attend resume and other workshops at the career center.
•    Arrange for college students to shadow Corps members for a day; establish a list of members who would be open to informational interviews and share it with career office contacts; invite college students on community service projects.
•    Offer for you and your Corps members to play the “employers” for mock interviews with college students – it is a great exercise for your members to be on the hiring side of an interview process.

Find more career resources for national service members on Encorps‘s Beyond the Service Year and What’s Next, and on through the career center, career guides, and Term-of-Service page.

This blog post has been adapted from a section of the forthcoming Service Corps Companion to the Guide to Nonprofit Careers, due out this coming spring from

Service alumni needed to blog about grad school

Bloggers Needed for
School seekers and students write about grad school

Tomorrow’s civic leaders learn about grad school through Idealist’s events and resources.

Soon they can learn from each other.

In fall 2008, Idealist will link its Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center to bloggers who take on grad school.

The resource center is a collection of articles and advice about researching and choosing schools, applying and financing a degree, and more. The resource center will not host the new blogs, but link to blogs elsewhere on the web.

Types of bloggers we are looking for
We aim to look at grad school from 9 different lenses

Current or prospective…
1. Participant in a term-of-service program (Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Teach For America, etc.) who is taking advantage of an educational benefit associated with service2. International student pursuing a graduate degree in the United States who is a resident of the United States and intends to stay (immigrant)
3. International student pursuing a graduate degree in the United States who is a nonresident/alien who plans to leave the United States upon graduation (F1 Visa)
4. U.S. citizen pursuing a degree outside the United States
5. Grad student enrolled in a joint degree program
6. Part-time grad student working full-time
7. Doctoral Candidate
8. Undergraduate applying to grad school, with the aim of enrolling the fall after college graduation
9. Masters degree candidate

To learn more, go to!