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Study Examines Civic Engagement Among Teach for America Graduates

Resource type: News

Philanthropy News Digest | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

Teach for America is an Atlantic grantee.

While Teach for America has managed to recruit thousands of recent college graduates to commit to teach in the nation’s most troubled schools for two years, their dedication does not necessarily extend to other areas of society, a new study finds.

The study, Assessing the Long-Term Effects of Youth Service: The Puzzling Case of Teach for America, found that in areas such as voting, charitable giving, and civic engagement, Teach for America alumni lag those who were accepted by the program but ultimately declined to sign up as well as those who dropped out before completing their two-year commitment. According to Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam, one of the authors of the report, the reasons for the lower rates of civic involvement include exhaustion, burnout, and disillusionment with Teach for America’s approach to the issue of educational inequity.

The idea for the study was suggested by Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp after she read McAdam’s book Freedom Summer, which found that young civil rights workers, many of them college students, who went to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 to register black voters became more politically active after that experience. Curious about whether something similar was happening with alumni of her program, Kopp suggested that McAdam conduct a similar study. Funded by the William T. Grant Foundation, the study surveyed every person who was accepted by Teach for America from 1993 to 1998 and found that while graduates of the program remained far more active in civic affairs than their peer group, the program neither achieves an earlier organizational goal of “making citizens” nor produces people who, in great numbers, take their civic commitments beyond the field of education.

To some observers, the results make sense. “To find that Teach for America graduates are more involved in education but are not serving in soup kitchens is interesting but not surprising — it’s consistent with their current mission,” said Monica C. Higgins, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. “They’re not trying to make global citizens. They’re focused on education.”

But Kopp, for one, disagrees with the findings. “It’s hard to see the incredible outpouring of interest among this generation,” she said, “and think of it as a lack of civic engagement.”

Fairbanks, Amanda. “Gauging the Dedication of Teacher Corps Grads.” New York Times 1/04/10.

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