Indianapolis Teach for America attracts fewer teachers but they are more diverse

While critics of Teach for America have long accused the teacher training organization of sending underprepared young, white teachers into struggling schools, the organization has made recruiting a more diverse teaching force a priority in recent years.

That effort appears to be paying off here in Indianapolis. This year, 32 percent of incoming Teach For America corp members are people of color — up from 21 percent last year, the organization reports.

The latest group of TFA educators are one piece of a larger campaign to diversify teachers in Indianapolis schools, where more than half of students are black or Hispanic, but 88 percent of teachers are white.

Nationally, TFA has been lauded for its successful efforts to diversify its teaching force, but it has also faced criticism for promoting policies that might push other black and Hispanic educators out of the field, such as closing schools or expanding charter networks.

TFA recruits recent college graduates to teach in low-income school districts across the country. The program is controversial in part because instead of going through traditional teacher-training programs, TFA educators spend just a couple of months training prior to entering the classroom. Those in the program commit to teaching for two years, and about half of Indianapolis alumni are still working in schools, according to TFA.

The Indianapolis office of TFA brought on a new leader in June.

Since it launched in Indianapolis nearly a decade ago, TFA has made a significant impact on the education landscape. In addition to bringing new teachers to the city, many graduates of the program hold influential positions in the city’s education scene.

There are over 60 alumni in leadership positions in Indianapolis schools, according to TFA. They include a growing cadre of Indianapolis Public Schools leaders, such as innovation officer Aleesia Johnson, recruitment head Mindy Schlegel and school board member LaNier Echols.

In total, 78 new TFA teachers began working in Indianapolis schools this fall. That’s down slightly from last year, when the program attracted 85 teachers to the city. TFA recruits teachers from around the country, but the Indianapolis office is also leading a regional recruitment effort aimed at attracting more local candidates. Just 11 of the 78 teachers in the latest group are from Indiana.