Teach for America Dissolves National Diversity Office, Shifts Focus to Local Efforts

For the third year in a row, Teach for America (TFA) is reporting a shortage in applications for its teaching corps, which works primarily in underserved and often low-income and minority K-12 school districts. To make up for the deficit, the nonprofit organization has announced that it is restructuring and rethinking its recruiting methods.

As a result of the reorganization, the national TFA Office of the Chief Diversity Officer will be dissolved
in September, along with roughly 15 percent of staff positions nationwide. TFA also announced it will simplify its application process and begin recruiting corps members in their sophomore and junior years of college, rather than their senior year.

TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard said in an April 12 letter on the organization’s website that the decline in applications has been the result

of rhetoric surrounding the teaching profession and better job opportunities amid a rebounding economy. TFA applications peaked in 2013 at 57,000; this year, only 37,000 recent college graduates and young professionals applied to be corps members.

“Companies have become much better at marketing themselves to a socially conscious generation with rising college debt,” Villanueva Beard wrote. “Additionally, the toxic debate surrounding education — and attacks on organizations that seek to bring more people to the field — is undeniably pushing future leaders away from considering education as a space where they can have real impact.”

TFA prides itself on the fact that roughly half of its teaching corps is composed of people of color and that one in three members are first- generation college students.

Sharise Johnson, managing director of TFA’s national communications, said in an email that with the closing of the office, the work of diversity and inclusion will now be the responsibility of local and regional offices, thereby leading to greater accountability.

“This shift will ensure that diversity and inclusiveness are integrated throughout our work and sit squarely with those closest to that work,” Johnson said. “For example, our

staff focused on teacher leadership development — who work most closely with our regional program staff on corps member support — will own our work on culturally relevant pedagogy; our staff focused on recruiting a diverse corps — rather than being with others working on diversity — will

sit with the recruitment team, since they all have the same overall objective to recruit great people to the corps. This will increase accountability and clarity on the streams of work and the outcomes expected.”

Johnson also said the motivation behind cutting nearly 200 jobs aligns with TFA’s new strategic direction.

“This strategic shift is pointing us toward a leaner, more agile central structure — resulting in the elimination of some roles and the creation of others — and a change in how we’re approaching the critical work of diversity and inclusiveness,” she said. “Attrition and individual moves into other open [positions] at TFA should appreciably reduce the number of people impacted.”

TFA’s current chief diversity officer, Irma McClaurin, PhD, says she plans to continue the work of diversity and inclusion in all areas of her personal and professional life.

“Every organization has to figure out its synergy for getting its work done,” she said in an email. “TFA has determined that centering control at the regional level is the model they wish to pursue. In doing so, they wish to make diversity and inclusiveness everybody’s work. … I remain deeply committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion and am taking time to consider how best to leverage my talents and expertise to make this country the democracy it should be for all its citizens and newcomers who want to claim it as home.”