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U of M, TFA reach first-of-a-kind teacher-training deal

The University of Minnesota and Teach for America-Twin Cities Wednesday announced an agreement to develop the state’s first alternative teacher preparation program. A first-of-its-kind for both organizations, the training program is expected to welcome its first 40-member cohort next summer.

MinnPost photo by Beth Hawkins
Crystal Brakke

“It’s an opportunity to bring more people who are committed to the profession into teaching,” said Jean Quam, dean of the U of M’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD).

“We can truly take the best of what each of us knows,” said Crystal Brakke, head of TFA’s local branch. “We can really tailor what we do here and allow our folks to have more time getting situated.”

TFA recruits top college graduates, gives them intensive training and helps place them in high-poverty schools. It was started in 1990 but arrived in Minnesota in 2009. Since then, 220 corps members have been hired by 100 Minnesota schools, including Minneapolis Public Schools.

Eight weeks instead of five

The Twin Cities program will be the first in which TFA’s summer training is conducted in collaboration with a university. The new program will take place at the U of M and will last eight weeks instead of TFA’s customary five.

The recruits will continue their relationship with the university throughout their two-year commitments to TFA with on-the-job coaching and support during the day and coursework nights and weekends. They may apply the academic credits earned toward a master’s degree. 

(Learning Curve’s standard Kramer disclaimer: TFA’s national Co-CEO Matt Kramer is the son of MinnPost CEO and Editor Joel Kramer. Matt Kramer’s wife, Katie Barrett Kramer, is a TFA alum, as is his brother, Eli. Eli’s wife, Jessica Cordova Kramer, works for TFA. None of them were involved in the preparation of this article.)

The announcement puts to rest months of tension over the future of Teach for America (TFA) here. Last spring, Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a $1.5 million appropriation that would have enabled the program’s expansion.

Weeks later, the state Board of Teaching ended an arrangement that had smoothed the process for placing recruits, known as corps members in TFA parlance, in local classrooms. Prospective teachers were forced to appeal individually to the board quite literally days before they were to begin working, making it uncertain whether the schools that hired them would start the year fully staffed.

Conditions of ‘alt cert’ law

The teachers were eventually permitted to take their jobs, but the board made clear that it wanted TFA to move forward with creating an alternative preparation program. In part as a concession to Education Minnesota and the state’s existing teacher colleges, the 2011 “alt cert” law that created the nontraditional pathway to licensure requires applicants to work in conjunction with a university for five years.

TFA was already in talks with the U of M about the possibility of a partnership. A number of teachers’ union activists and graduate students began pressing the university not to move forward with the relationship.

News of the agreement drew a tart response from Education Minnesota, whose new president issued a statement questioning the need for the program.

“The University of Minnesota appears to be designing a new training program for TFA, with more instruction time and higher standards than what TFA uses around the country,” said Denise Specht. “We’re hopeful this more rigorous approach will improve the effectiveness of TFA corps members, because research has shown they have typically been less effective than traditionally trained teachers.”

New research results positive for TFA

A mounting body of evidence suggests that in fact TFA corps members do as well or better than their counterparts. A study released last week by the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education found that students taught by TFA middle- and high-school math teachers make an average of 2.6 months more gains than even their more experienced peers.

Under the terms of the agreement here, TFA’s recruits will pay a fee to the U of M for the summer training, which the university will use to conduct research into what is most effective when it comes to alternative teacher training.

“I am really excited that they want to do intense, rigorous research,” said Brakke. “In what can feel like a divisive environment about education and teachers and schools, I’m really hopeful that this collaboration between the university and TFA, as people who care about kids, can be a model.”

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 09/19/2013 - 11:20 am.

    …an average of 2.6 months more gains…

    A pretty misleading statistic.

    In terms of test scores and changes, it’s moving a student from the 27th percentile to the 30th percentile.

  2. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 09/22/2013 - 05:24 pm.

    Teach for Awhile

    Eight weeks instead of five? I feel much better.

    Can someone explain to me how hiring people who aren’t trained as teachers and don’t want to be teachers is the solution to anything?

    • Submitted by Chris Stewart on 04/07/2014 - 11:54 pm.

      Principal’s Choice

      Principals interview large pools of teachers, and in the end they hire from a variety of sources – including TFA. Last year I heard some of these principals explain to the Board of Teaching their experiences with hiring TFA teachers. From their perspective it fulfills a need.

  3. Submitted by Pat Missling on 09/23/2013 - 03:48 pm.

    TFA recruits top college graduates?

    TFA requires a college 2.5 GPA on a 4.0 scale. That is considered top of the class?

    Maybe TFA uses other criteria for determining “top graduates”, and not academic achievement (test results). How ironic that would be….

    Or do these recruits come from “top colleges”, and that is all that matters?

  4. Submitted by Pat Missling on 09/23/2013 - 04:32 pm.


    The Washington Post’s September 16 Answer Sheet “New Teach For America Study: What it Really Proves” unpacks the Mathematica study, which is cited in this article to prove the superiority of TFA teachers. The article details the problems with the sample, which the author determined does not represent public school context or even TFA, and other elements of the study; resulting in this final paragraph:

    “Considering the limited focus of the sample, size of the effect, wacky results relative to decades of research, and other specific findings that controvert TFA’s basic reform model, clearly, the Mathematica TFA studied has stimulated irrational exuberance, celebration, and other festivities on the part of TFA and supporters that are not warranted.”

  5. Submitted by Jennifer Kelly on 11/15/2013 - 09:00 pm.

    “Part of the Problem”

    As part of the touted problem, I’m interested in going through induction. I’d like to experience this and see what skills I could pick up. I’ve spent a lot of time as a traditional teacher (read traditionally certified but out of the box) learning about teaching as well as disabilities and currently serve as an instructional facilitator. I have worked hard to advance teacher accountability as well as educational reform. I’m interested in learning more.

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