(Note: As you will see in the comments to this post, the numbers are currently being challenged by TFA. There is a chance that my numbers are not accurate, though the numbers they are claiming do not agree with the ‘eyewitness accounts’ of some of the CMs who have written to me. Regardless, this post along with the numerous comments tells a story which, though it was not the original intention, turns out to be even more interesting. More parenthetical notes by me at the end of the post.)
Before attempting to answer this question, first I should answer the question: How do I know that one out of every six CM assigned to the Mississippi Delta in 2010 quit?
TFA keeps this ‘quit rate’ a big secret. They don’t want it getting out to critics of TFA who might use it against them. They also seem to think that by hiding it from the new CMs, those CMs are more likely to be successful since they won’t go in thinking that it’s impossible.
The reason I know about the quit rate for that region last year is that one CM who was among those 16.4% of people who won’t be back next year emailed me two pretty decisive pieces of evidence.
First there was an email in April 2010 saying that the incoming corps was going to be 292.
Then, there’s the spreadsheet from a few weeks ago listing who is going onto the second year there, and there are only 244 on that list, making a 16.4% dropout rate, or about one in six.
So that settles the question about what percent of 2010 Delta CMs have quit so far. It is likely that there are some who completed their first year and are on this 244 person spreadsheet who won’t come back next year, and then there will also likely be some people who quit during their second year. I predict that over 20% of the 2010 will not complete the two years, when all is said and done. (One year from now, I will make an effort to find out how many of these 244 make it to the end.)
But this now leads to the bigger question, which is the title of this post: WHY did such a large number of people quit. Well, each person has his or her own story, but I think the very obvious answer is that they were not trained adequately. Like a teacher who is held accountable for the performance of his or her students, TFA needs to accountable if such a large percent fails.
And now the even bigger question: WHY were they not trained adequately?
I’ve narrowed this down to three possibilities:
1) TFA believes that they have perfected the five week training model, so it is not really possible to get a better quit rate than that through improving an already perfect training model.
2) TFA believes that training can and should be improved. They also believe that it is very important to improve the training, but they don’t fully know what needs to be done to improve it, and they don’t have the resources to implement some of the possible improvements.
3) TFA believes that training can be improved, and they know some things that would improve it, but are not willing to invest the money and resources into improving it since they are doing ‘good enough’ with the current model. What makes this failure rate ‘good enough’ is that they will still get their prerequisite number of ‘superheros.’ All they really need is a small percentage of success stories which can be used in PR campaigns and also to ‘inspire’ (fool into a false sense of security) the 2012 CMs.
Any of these three reasons would be shameful, though I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say it is probably reason number 1. They think they’re doing as good a job as possible at training the new CMs. I strongly disagree, though. As I’ve written in other posts (like my TAL critique) the fact that they only give each CM 3 days of student teaching (20 hours total over 20 days, in my opinion, is only 3 full teaching days) is the biggest reason why CMs are so unprepared. I also explained in an older post about the history of the institute why this ‘cohort model’ was adopted (spoiler alert: it wasn’t because it was the most effective way to train teachers.)
So if you’re a new CM, what are you supposed to do now that you’ve learned that you’re like one of those front-line Civil War fighters with the bayonets who nobody really expects will do much?
Well, for one thing, most of the answers are in my older blog posts.
Also, stay tuned for another post coming in a few weeks once more institutes are up and running.
Now that you know the truth about The Delta, you have a right to know the real quit rate for the region you’re about to go to. Demand that they tell you, and if they don’t, just ask a 2010 CM. They know the truth.
I invite the 48 people who quit to leave comments to this post explaining why you felt you needed to quit.
P.S. To put things into perspective, I emailed the head of a program similar to TFA that places people in Mississippi Delta called The Mississippi Teacher Corps. The program manager, Ben Guest, is a guy a really respect. I even had him write a blurb for the back cover of the recent edition of my first book (MTC uses my book as required reading, while TFA tries to shield you from mine.) I asked him what the quit rate was after one year for his program. He instantly emailed me a document which detailed how every person who did not complete the program had left. It turned out that 12% of them left by the end of the first year. They did have another 5% leave between the end of 1st year and end of 2nd year which is why I think TFA will get up to 20%, though it is still possible, I guess, that they will match them if nobody else quits. Now MTC doesn’t claim to recruit the ‘Best and Brightest,’ but, merely, the ‘Good and Bright.’ Yet, they are having much more success than TFA. Also, I appreciate their honesty and ‘transparency.’ I could never imagine TFA making a document explaining their attrition. They hide it from the public and even, in my opinion, from themselves. TFA needs to ‘own’ their attrition, even though it might be bad for their PR.
(I just want to add some more commentary here, rather than put this into the comments. We see from the different comments many of the different conflicts between different CMs, TFA staff, and even alumni throughout the comments. Of course the driving force was a man named Seth who has blossomed from someone who made a very poor impression in my first few exposures to him, but eventually proved to be someone who, like me, is quite outspoken yet is willing to really get into things and see what comes from the debate, rather than shy from it. The big conclusion as of 6/9/11 is that TFA Delta claims that the original denominator is not 292, but is actually 261 which would turn the retention rate from 83% to 93%. Defending my post, I also managed to do a lot of research and found that in TFA’s annual report they actually publish a statistic that the national percent of people who complete their two year commitment is approximately 89%, so it is not as secret — though also not very well known — as I thought. Still too high, in my opinion. It’s actually worse than the 10% quit rate I had read about and written about in an old post called ‘secret quit rate revealed’ a few years ago.
From all the comments we see that even suggesting that TFA could be playing around with numbers strikes a chord with a lot of different people in different ways. There were many comments where people explained some frustrations with some of what TFA is doing including, for example, little support in a region that just experienced rapid growth.
If I was wrong about my numbers, it wasn’t because I knew the real numbers and wanted to manipulate them for my own agenda. Still, there are things that don’t make sense about the new 261 denominator. A CM who has been in email contact with me says that the Delta is such a big site and that she personally knows 9 people who quit and that, in general, she didn’t know a large percent of the Delta corps, so to suggest that only 17 people quit seems very off. I’ve put in a request to see what the 292 represents. Apparently this number was mentioned a lot throughout their training. If it was not correct, then it reveals a different (though smaller) lie with data. As the CM pointed out to me in her email, when it benefits TFA to say 292, since it makes the region seem popular they say 292, but when it benefits to make the number smaller to make a lower quit rate, they do that. Now that they’re getting more transparent, I’d like an account of all 292 – 244 = 48 people that make the difference between the 292 that were at the institute vs. the 244 who now remain. They say 17 quit for different reasons, what about the other 31? Are they teaching in another region? Did they quit during induction? Did they quit between induction and the first day of school? I’ve heard some anecdotes suggesting this — that they were not getting placements and that much of the staff was weak and the CMs bailed out feeling like there was so much wrong that even if they were to get a placement, this was not going to be a good place to spend the next two years.
TFA saying the number is 261, for me, does not fully close the case, but I am willing to admit that this number could be accurate.
If anyone is a 2010 Delta CM and wants to help investigate, one thing you could do is put the first name and last initial and also a short reason if you know of who left and why. I still have ‘reasonable doubt’ about that 261 number which would give them a better than average retention rate despite a lot of agreeing testimony about what a mess it is there.
As for Seth, I’m impressed that he was so willing to defend his organization with more than just words and also to reveal some of what he thinks could change with TFA. Fifteen years ago I was on institute staff and I had a lot of opinions and they didn’t like what I had to say so I was not rehired the next time I applied. Maybe TFA is getting better with this. Time will tell if Seth finds himself in exile one day and then, years from now, will outlet his frustration on his own teachforus blog.)