Teach for America: A Review of two programs in two States

In June 2011, the Nord Family Foundation approved  two large grants to support Teach for America in two geographic areas.  The first, in Northeast Ohio is $450,000 over three years and the other was $150,000 as a match to help launch TFA in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina – featured in a Nord Family Foundation supported video, “The Corridor of Shame.”  Their reports reflect the complexity of introducing innovative and effective solutions in two different political, cultural and economic contexts.


Teach for America in NE Ohio anticipated that 100 corps members would be teaching in the Cleveland and Lorain area in 2012-2013.  Many of the corps members were scheduled for placement within the Cleveland Municipal School Districts.   Conversations had already given indication that the Elyria Schools would also hire teachers. In the spring of 2012, due to a massive budget deficit, the CMSD laid off over 500 teachers. Elyria experienced similarly drastic budget cuts and laid-off teachers as well.  Lorain City Schools continued under administrative upheaval with an interim Superintendent, a massive budget deficit and construction of a new high school.    All of the districts mentioned continued to place in the Academic Emergency or Continuous Improvement status, lowest on the State Reports.  Under the 2013 revised report card, each of the districts would earn an F status.   Despite efforts on the part of the major foundations, none of the public districts could hire new teachers given the rules of collective bargaining.  As a result, TFA in NE Ohio reduced its projected numbers to 50, earning placements in some of the highest achieving, charter schools that serve impoverished communities yet continue to place in the range of “Academic Excellence” and/or “Effective” rankings due to excellence in teaching.  Each of the charter schools welcome TFA recruits with open arms and continue to be grateful for the talent and energy they bring to the schools.


Negotiations continue with the CMSD academic leaders as well as with union officials.  It looks at if the CMSD will agree to 15 TFA candidates for 2013-2014 school hear.  We hold out the same hope for Lorain County where Nord Family Foundation staff as well as Stocker Foundation staff continues to meet with the school Superintendents and curriculum directors at both Elyria and Lorain Schools.  In each case the leaders are willing to have the students, but the union leaders are likely to continue to protest those efforts.  In the meantime, corps members will be placed in charter schools. One area of hope is the Innovation Districtsin the CMSD.  These are districts that by law can elect to exempt themselves from many of the administrative restrictions including hiring.    These districts must be in academic emergency for three years or more to qualify.   These districts would be able to hire TFA recruits.  CMSD has schools within the district that meet these qualifications and Nord staff is currently in negotiations with the Superintendent of the Lorain Schools to have his school board consider such a designation.  TFA remains convinced that these innovation Districts will serve as the portal for more TFA staff to participate in the education leadership in the region.  Next year, TFA plans to have 65 new recruits in service.

A personal frustration is that some schools in the State of Ohio are not unlike the schools one could find in the Corridor of Shame in South Carolina.  Despite that reality, Ohio remains resistant to any significant changes to the way schools have always been, despite many incentives from both philanthropy and from the State.  We need to make more concerted efforts to work with School Boards who play a critical role in blocking or ushering innovation into schools.





[1] Innovation Districts were introduced in the 2011-2012 State budget in Ohio