recruitment troubles

Teach for America’s presence in New York City hits 11-year low

The number of Teach For America recruits walking into New York City classrooms this fall is at its lowest point since at least 2005.

That’s according to recruitment numbers released by the organization Tuesday, which show that 200 corps members entered city schools this year, down from 230 last year and 400 two years ago. Its 11-year peak in New York City was in 2008, when 536 recruits started teaching in local classrooms.

TFA, which is known for placing new teachers in hard-to-staff public schools, has said its recruitment problems reflect national drop-offs in enrollment in a wide range of teacher-training programs. Officials have also pointed out the organization faces strong headwinds: an improving economy, for instance, and a polarized conversation around education reform.

“Everybody who is doing this work and invested in the future of the country is concerned about these numbers, and that includes us,” said Dinean Robinson, spokeswoman for New York’s TFA chapter. “The problems that we’re seeing are definitely emblematic of something bigger.”

Lower-than-usual recruitment is not limited to New York. Nationally, the organization received 37,000 applications this year, down from a six-year high of 57,000 in 2013. Just 3,400 TFA recruits will start teaching this year nationwide, down from 5,900 three years ago.

In April, TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard acknowledged that the recruitment problems stem partly from a “failure to respond to warning signs” and pledged changes to the recruitment process. Now, for instance, the organization is working to attract students earlier in their college careers.

Josh Starr, CEO of PDK International, a professional association of teachers, said the improving economy and other external factors are having an impact. But he also pointed to issues with TFA’s model itself. As the 25-year-old program ages, he said, college students may be less willing to accept the narrative that they can “change the world” with just weeks of training before stepping into the country’s neediest schools — a feature of the program that has often attracted criticism.

“We’re at a time in public education where it’s clear that the reform agenda of the last 16 years has not delivered the results that perhaps folks thought it would,” Starr said. “The selling point of a few years back that may have caught the eye of the college student … may not do that anymore.”

Robinson, for her part, pointed out that the recruits headed to New York City are among the most diverse in the program’s history. Out of the 200 recruits, 62 percent identify as people of color, 53 percent were Pell Grant recipients, and 43 percent were the first in their family to attend college. As of last year, by contrast, roughly 60 percent of the city’s teachers were white.

The majority of the new New York recruits — 59 percent — are headed to traditional district schools, while 33 percent will teach in charter schools. The remaining 8 percent will be placed in community-based organizations that focus on early childhood education.

Still, it’s been a tumultuous year for the national organization, which cut 15 percent of its national staff this spring. The organization said that would give the local offices more autonomy.

In New York, that leeway will mean that new corps members will be trained by local staff and will focus specifically on state standards. Local training will also enable recruits to learn about the communities in which they will be teaching, Charissa Fernández, executive director of TFA’s New York office, told Chalkbeat earlier this year.

Find your school

How many students apply to Chicago’s most competitive high school programs? Search by school.

PHOTO: Hero Images / Getty Images
CPS released school-by-school results from its new GoCPS high school application system

How many students ranked each public high school program among their top three choices for the 2018-2019 school year? Below, search the first-of-its-kind data, drawn from Chicago Public Schools’ new high school application portal, GoCPS.

The database also shows how many ninth grade seats each program had available, the number of offers each program made, and the number of students that accepted offers at each program.

The district deployed the GoCPS system for the first time in advance of the 2018-2019 school year. The system had students rank up to 20 choices from among 250 programs in 132 high schools. Through the portal, applicants had the choice to apply separately to, and rank, the city’s 11 in-demand, selective enrollment programs. Before the GoCPS system streamlined the high school application process, students lacked a common deadline or a single place to submit applications.

A report released Thursday by the University of Chicago Consortium of School Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found that the system is mostly working as intended. The majority of students who used GoCPS ultimately got one of their top three choices. But the study also disclosed problems that the district now faces: There are too many empty seats in high schools. Main findings of the report are here.

School choice

New data pulls back curtain on Chicago’s high school admissions derby

PHOTO: Joshua Lott / Getty Images
Chicago's new high school application system has provided a centralized inventory of school-by-school application data

Before the online portal GoCPS system streamlined the high school choice process, Chicago schools lacked a common deadline or single place portal to submit applications. Some students would receive several acceptances, and others would get none. But a new report shows that the new, one-stop application system is working as intended, with the majority of students ultimately getting one of their top three choices.

But the study, released Thursday by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, also lays bare a major problem with which the city’s public schools must wrangle: There are too many empty seats in high schools.

And it shows that demand varies by income level, with students from low-income neighborhoods casting more applications than students from wealthier ones and applying in greater numbers for the district’s charter high schools. Click here to search our database and see demand by individual school. 

The report leaves unanswered some key questions, too, including how choice impacts neighborhood high schools and whether a streamlined application process means that more students will stick with their choice school until graduation.

Deployed for the first time in advance of the 2018-2019 school year, the GoCPS system let students rank up to 20 choices from among 250 programs in 132 high schools. Separately, applicants can also apply to, and rank, the city’s 11 in-demand selective enrollment programs through the GoCPS portal.

The data paints a never-before-seen picture of supply and demand for seats at various high school programs across Chicago Public Schools. One in five high school options is so popular that there are 10 applicants for every seat, while 8 percent of programs fall short of receiving enough applications, according to the report.    

CPS CEO Janice Jackson said the new data presents a full, centralized inventory and will help the district “have the kind of conversations we need to have” with communities. The district is facing pressure from community groups to stop its practice of shuttering under-enrolled schools. Asked about what kind of impact the report might have on that decision-making, Jackson said that “part of my leadership is to make sure that we’re more transparent as a district and that we have a single set of facts on these issues.”

As for declines in student enrollment in Chicago, “that’s no secret,” she said. “I think that sometimes, when when we’re talking about school choice patterns and how parents make decisions, we all make assumptions how those decisions get made,” Jackson said. “This data is going to help make that more clear.”

Beyond selective enrollment high schools, the data spotlights the district’s most sought-after choice programs, including career and technical education programs, arts programs, and schools with the highest ratings: Level 1-plus and Level 1.

“What that says to me is that we’re doing a much better job offering things outside of the selective schools,” said Jackson, who pointed out that 23 percent of students who were offered seats at both selective enrollment and non-selective enrollment schools opted for the latter.

“Those [selective] schools are great options and we believe in them, but we also know that we have high-quality schools that are open enrollment,” she said.

Programs in low demand were more likely to be general education and military programs; programs that base admissions on lotteries with eligibility requirements; and programs located in schools with low ratings.

Other findings:

  • Chicago has far more high school seats than students — a dynamic that’s been clear for years and that the report’s authors stress is interfering with the admissions process. About 20,000 freshman seats remain unfilled across CPS for the upcoming school year. At least 13,000 of those empty seats are a consequence of plummeting enrollment at CPS.
  • It’s still not clear how neighborhood schools, which guarantee admission to students who live within their boundaries, affect demand. About 7,000 students are expected to enroll at their neighborhood high schools. When CPS conducts its 20th day count of enrollment at district schools, more complete details will be available. Lisa Barrow, a senior economist and research advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said one of the things researchers weren’t able to dig into is the demand for neighborhood programs, because students didn’t have to rank their neighborhood schools.
  • The report suggests that the process would be more streamlined if students could rank selective enrollment programs along with other options. “If students received only one offer, there would be less need to adjust the number of offers to hit an ideal program size,” the report says.
  • Students don’t participate in the new process evenly. The report shows that students from low-income neighborhoods were more likely to rank an average of 11.7 programs, while students from the wealthiest neighborhoods ranked an average of 7.3. The authors said it was not clear whether that meant students from wealthier neighborhoods were more willing to fall back on their neighborhood schools.  
  • Students from the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods were also more likely to rank a charter school as their top choice (29 percent), compared to students from the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods (10 percent). The same was true of low academic performers (12 percent), who chose charter schools at a percentage considerably higher than their high-performing peers (12 percent).
  • While the new admissions process folded dozens of school-by-school applications into one system, it didn’t change the fact that schools admit students according to a wide range of criteria. That means the system continues to favor students who can navigate a complicated process – likely ones whose families have the time and language skills to be closely involved.

Barrow, the researcher from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said one final question the report cannot answer is whether better matching students with high schools on the front end increases the chance that they stick around where they enroll as freshmen.

“If indeed they are getting better matches for high schools,” Barrow said, “then I would expect that might show up in lower mobility rates for students, so they are more likely to stay at their school and not transfer out.”