In June 2019, ProPublica published a report revealing that a much-heralded $20 million donation to Teach for America from the Walton Family Foundation came with secret strings attached. The donation, which aimed to help Teach For America recruit and train nearly 4,000 teachers for low-income schools, stipulated that the Walton Family Foundation would provide $4,000 for every teacher placed in a traditional public school—and $6,000 for every one placed in a charter school. As ProPublica’s Annie Waldman noted, the Walton Family Foundation has been a “staunch” supporter of school choice—and charter schools; and it is also Teach for America’s largest private funder.
The Walton Family Foundation’s original press release about the Teach for America donation made no mention of the grant’s unusual terms.
However, as Waldman reported, two-year grant was “far removed from Teach For America’s original mission of alleviating teacher shortages in traditional public schools.” Instead, as one of the internal Walton Family Foundation documents stated, the funding was intended to “generate a longer-term leadership pipeline that advances the education movement, providing a source of talent for policy, advocacy and politics, as well as quality schools and new entrepreneurial ventures.”
Over the years, TFA has shifted its mission, from an original focus on preparing “idealistic graduates of elite universities to teach at traditional public schools in high-poverty areas” to become an “informal but vital ally” of the charter school movement, Waldman wrote. For example, although just seven percent of students go to charter schools, in 2018 Teach For America sent almost forty percent of its 6,736 teachers to them—up from 34 percent in 2015 and thirteen percent in 2008. In 2016, a number of large school districts terminated contracts with the non-profit, citing its teachers’ low retention rates.
Teach for America operates with a preparatory program consistent of a five-week training course and unlike public school teachers, members of TFA along with charter school teachers often do not require traditional certification. However, lack of in-depth preparation has not hindered the growth TFA alumni, at least not of those who work in the charter sector. In fact, TFA alums are gradually growing in their involvement, both politically and socially, in the charter school movement and many have climbed into powerful administrative and political positions that have pushed for the expansion of charter schools. Large charter networks—including KIPP, Rocketship Education, IDEA and YES Prep—have been launched by TFA alumni.
Although the organization officially maintains an impartial stance on school choice, many of its contributing donors, including those who serve or have served on the organization’s board, are advocates of the charter school movement.
ProPublica’s report has received only minimal corporate news coverage. NPR was the only corporate media company to report on it. NPR interviewed ProPublica education reporter Annie Waldman about her report. Notably, the Walton Family Foundation is a financial supporter of NPR. Beyond NPR, other corporate news outlets have failed to cover ProPublica’s findings on the connections between the Walton Family Foundation, Teach for America, and the promotion of charter schools. Truthdig and RawStory and other independent news outlets republished Waldman’s original report.
Source: Annie Waldman, “How Teach for America Evolved Into an Arm of the Charter School Movement,” ProPublica, June 18, 2019, https://www.propublica.org/article/how-teach-for-america-evolved-into-an-arm-of-the-charter-school-movement.
Student Researchers: Andressa De Oliveira, Xiaoyu Jia, Michael Migliore, Jordan Nemes (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)